DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES // “Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes” is the perfect sequel. Not only does it introduce new and exciting characters that refresh the world in which it is set, the entire piece feels like a completely new entity, with Caesar the ape (motion captured by Andy Serkis), some of his followers including Koba, Rocket, and Maurice, and their backstory being the only connective tissue to “Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes,” the first film in this series. Between the first and the second film, the airborne disease which killed Robert (Tyler Labine) and was passed onto Franco’s neighbor, who also turned out to be a pilot, which is dubbed the Simian Flu, is passed on and takes out most of the world’s population. The apes have started a colony in the redwoods outside San Francisco, where they were escaping to at the end of “Rise”. With Caesar as their leader and the humans dying off, they leave a peaceful existence, as Caesar and others start families of their own. Until one day, when Caesar’s son, Blue Eyes and Rocket’s son, Ash, stumble across a human on their way back from fishing. The human is the hot-headed Carver (Kirk Acevedo), a man that fears the apes because he does not understand them, and in that ignorance, he shoots before speaking.

Replacing James Franco as the main ape sympathizing character is the impeccable Jason Clarke as Malcolm. By Malcolm’s side are his son, Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and his girlfriend, Ellie (Keri Russell), as well as a crew of men, including Carver. There mission into the redwoods stems from power running out down in the post-apocalyptic San Francisco below. Their generators are almost out of juice, but there is a functional hydroelectric dam that just needs some finesse to offer the city below the power it needs. The problem: that dam sits in the heart of the new ape colony, and the humans and the intelligent apes have had zero contact since the outbreak. That all comes to an end when the small group of humans faces off with the entire colony of apes, being told to “go away and never return”. Guess what? They return. Leading the group of humans actually is not Malcolm, it is Dreyfuss (all the Spielberg names are not lost on me) played by the unequivocal Gary Oldman. Happy to oblige Malcolm in his peaceful actions with the apes, he also keeps close tabs on the military arms warehouse they have at their disposal, with an even bigger obligation to the surviving humans looking to him for leadership.

Caesar has the situation under control but the apes and gorillas around him are not so certain they are safe. Koba is the biggest antagonist of the group, breaking away from Caesar’s orders constantly, filling Blue Eyes with doubt in his father, and picking fights with the humans he comes into contact with. Eventually these actions, mixed with the actions of Carver bring the peacefulness to an end, leading to the war that is promised in the trailer and the print advertising for the film. As with “Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes,” the visual effects are unmatched, with motion capture offering some of the best CGI-acting I have ever witnessed. This begs the question whether the Academy will soon be creating a new category for performances like Andy Serkis’ who brings a talking ape to life, emoting some of the most heart-breaking acting in any film. In 2011, there were talks of Andy Serkis getting nominated for his role, and there are talks again this year, but with the Best Actor category always filled to the brim, it is hard to see this getting the recognition it deserves. Someday Andy Serkis will get an honorary Oscar for his motion capture work in both this and “The Lord Of The Rings” but for now we will just have to appreciate his amazing work ourselves.

Credit must be given to 20th Century Fox for seeing the potential in this franchise and giving this sequel a shot. Not only is it an amazing allegory for current day situations where factions simply do not understand one another, yet go to war anyways, it also takes a look at future possibilities, like world devastating outbreaks, the evolution of animals, and humans not understanding the world around them. Nailing every emotion on the spectrum, and nailing them well, “Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes” may be a science fiction film, but its richness and depth makes it transcend its Hollywood blockbuster demeanor. Clarke and Oldman are Academy level stars next to one of the most brilliant actors in history, Andy Serkis, creating a sense of high profile grandeur. Keep an eye out for some brilliant cinematography work as well, including a long take of Malcolm trying to escape an ape infested apartment building and yet another long take positioned on the side of a tank turret as Koba attacks the humans. No other film could make an ape wielding two machine guns whilst riding a horse seem completely possible and not in the slightest bit ridiculous. You feel for every single ape more so than you do the humans, and that is the sign of some next level filmmaking.


AS ABOVE SO BELOW // “As Above, So Below” is a smart horror film packaged to be consumed by the average viewer. Set in the claustrophobic nightmare that is the Paris Catacombs, one has to wonder why it took so long for horror filmmakers to capitalize on the built-in creepiness that comes from the bone-lined tunnels. Unsure where the real Catacombs end and the studio sets begin, the close quarters and claustrophobia really take hold and cause for some extremely stressful situations.

With dismal entries already this year and with a trailer that set it on track to be another horror disappointment, “As Above, So Below” actually muscles through its found-footage shakiness and delivers a unique and horrific adventure unlike anything you have experienced  before. One part “Tomb Raider”, two parts “The Descent”, the plot follows a group of treasure hunters into the unknown as they hunt for the Philosopher’s Stone.

British actress Perdita Weeks steps into her first major leading role, as the head of the expedition, Scarlett. Following in her deceased father’s footsteps, hunting down a stone created by Nicholas Flamel, a well-known alchemist from the 1400’s who, legend tells, found the secret to immortality through said stone. We meet Scarlett in Iran, where the punishment for trespassing is death. Instead of heeding this warning, she heads into a series of tunnels that are minutes away from being destroyed. Just before the explosion, she finds the Rose Key, allowing her to understand the ancient inscriptions on Flamel’s gravestone. Later, we meet her longtime partner, George (Ben Feldmen of “Mad Men”) and Papillon (François Civil of “Frank”) along with his crew, who are to show Scarlett and her cameraman, Benji, through the back passages of the Catacombs.

On the surface, the characters appear to be quite thin and not entirely fleshed out, but as the story progresses and the viewer pieces together different bits of information sprinkled throughout, their ambiguous nature, along with their sordid pasts, actually becomes quite clear in a clever storytelling device. Also, the main characters are extremely intelligent, providing a nice change to the normal run amuck spiral that most horror adventure devolve into. Scarlett is continuously working out what the next step will be and is certain they are headed in the right direction, while George is constantly keeping track of how far down into the earth they have traveled. This sense of control in an otherwise uncontrollable environment is crucial in allowing the audience some level ground to stand on. Not just that, but these intelligent characters greatly set this film apart from any of its found footage brethren.

Director and writer John Erick and Drew Dowdle are best known for another shaky camera horror film, “Quarantine”, the American remake of the Spanish film “Rec”. As the brothers descend the characters and the audience deeper into the unforgiving tombs, they are constantly using ancient inscriptions and cave drawings to not only provide context to what is happening but to also provide the much needed justification that there is indeed something to gain from this deadly scavenger hunt. The Dowdle Brothers handle themselves with an overlooked precision that will be lost on the general audiences because of the commercial nature of the film. But with a closer look and admiration for the art of horror, it is clear that these men know what they are doing.

The idea of found footage films continues to baffle me. Countless unnecessary questions arise from the use of this medium. Why would the characters continue to film under such duress? Why would they stand so close to one another during intimate moments that they are not even involved with? And what percentage of the time does the camera show what the audience wants to see and what percentage is indiscernible static and emptiness as the camera passes recklessly from moment to moment? Putting aside my strong resentment for the recent bastardizing of the genre and even though the shaky camera gets nauseating at times there is enough restraint and some stellar shot choices that eventually make up for it. One of my favorite shot selections comes at the conclusion of the film, where the laws of gravity are tossed to the wayside and some impressive maneuvers bring the narrative full circle.

Just as alchemy attempts to combine the physical world with the supernatural, determining the depths of hell with mathematics, “As Above, So Below” is able to make the existence of hell seem plausible, literally grounding it in some strange reality that makes one feel like it could be just beneath our feet. So give yourself over to the white-knuckle, stomach-wrenching ride that is the hell of the Paris Catacombs in what could be the best horror film of the year.

New Releases
As Above So Below
Cantinflas 2-denied2-small
The Congress
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
The Hero of Color City 2-denied2-small
The Hundred-Foot Journey

TV Box Set

  • Justified: Season Five  
  • The Legend of Korra – Book Three: Change
  • The Simpsons: Season Seventeen
  • The Strain: Season One
  • Young Justice: Invasion
Special Editions/Other Releases
  • 16 Stones
  • Antidote
  • Apaches
  • Dark Place, The
  • Design Is One: Lella & Massimo Vignelli   2-denied2-small
  • Fagbug Nation
  • Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead 2 2-denied2-small
  • Field Of Lost Shoes 2-denied2-small
  • Fifi Howls From Happiness  2-denied2-small
  • Guess Who’s Coming To Christmas
  • Gutshot Straight
  • Investigator, The
  • Kids For Cash  2-denied2-small
  • Last Summer
  • Le Grand Cahier (The Notebook)  
  • Rhymes With Banana
  • Sand Wars
  • Speak No Evil
  • To Kill A Man
  • Vortex

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