“As Above, So Below” (Film Review)

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By Shane M. Dallmann

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There’s this to be said at the very beginning: the trailers for AS ABOVE, SO BELOW managed to give us the gist of the movie without revealing any of the actual backstory… all I knew going in was “Paris catacombs, entrance to Hell.” So I was rather pleasantly surprised at the beginning when the latest from John Erick Dowdle (QUARANTINE, DEVIL) placed us back in Harry Potter territory with the legend of Nicholas Flamel and the study of alchemy… a family pursuit of a gifted young professor by the name of Scarlett (Perdita Weeks). After risking life and limb uncovering a soon-to-be-demolished secret in the Middle East, she finds herself on the trail of the legendary Philosopher’s Stone; and with the help of a reluctant assistant, some young local “tour guides” and (sigh) her ever-present documentarian…

Okay. The film begins interestingly enough, and I’ll also say (without spoilers) that the ultimate resolution of the film is well-handled and original for this type of thriller. Unfortunately, “this type of thriller” is simply yet another “found footage” expedition in which the footage couldn’t actually have been “found.” Multiple characters have “pen cameras” in their lighted headbands, so we can switch perspective whenever we like; and if you’re prone to vertigo and nausea (luckily, I’m not) with hand/head-held “shaky-cam” footage, you’re going to particularly hate this one.

My problem with AS ABOVE, SO BELOW is that despite the earnest research and thought that went into creating the situation in the first place (which at the very least gives us some NATIONAL TREASURE-type puzzle solving sequences which hold reasonable interest), once you get into the catacombs, it’s the same old weary thing yet again. Some potentially intriguing preliminary material (focus on a strange young lady on the outside who turns up leading a weird chanting cult in the passages) is completely forgotten, and all we have left is a series of incidents in which the crew is knocked off one by one while being haunted by visions of their deepest fears and guilt… never mind THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT–I liked this one “hell” of a lot better when it was called EVENT HORIZON.

You might find it strange to see me complaining about overly familiar material when I just praised THE NOVEMBER MAN for being formula that worked, but as far as I’m concerned, the majority of this movie simply DOESN’T work because I couldn’t have cared less what happened to anybody in it and because the f.f. technique comes with its own pre-set limits (essentially, you can get away with one or two “boo” scares and that’s pretty much it these days). Had the Brothers Dowdle (Drew contributed to the screenplay) fashioned this as a straight-up narrative film and NOT as a mock-doc, this could have worked and worked very well. As it turned out, I spent the majority of the running time bored out of my skull.

“The November Man” (Film Review)

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By Shane M. Dallmann

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In 1999, CIA agent/trainer Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan) resigns his position and drops his trainee Mason (Luke Bracey) after a protection assignment goes disastrously wrong. Fourteen years later, Devereaux is pressed back into action as the only man who can possibly extract a valuable source of information from hostile territory. This leads to another encounter involving multiple fatalities, leaving one survivor on each side. Guess who. Owing to the initial shock of recognition, each one lets the other walk away… this time. Stage set.

I could go on to provide far too many details regarding the social worker (Olga Kurylenko) who holds a vital key to the situation; the implications of a long-ago Chechen hostility; the relentless, athletic female Russian assassin on everybody’s trail, etc. etc., but why should I prevent anyone from merely letting the series of plots, counterplots, crosses and double-crosses play out?

The cast is excellent throughout; and Brosnan scores in particular by NOT lazily reprising his Bond mannerisms even when he’s called upon to say and do certain similar things–Brosnan sets the tone of THE NOVEMBER MAN at an early stage when confronted with photographs of the dead bodies of several of his former colleagues–you see the very real grief cross his face even as he mouths the familiar refrain “They knew the risks.”

When the cat-and-mouse games begin in earnest, a nice touch is provided when Devereaux discovers that Mason never even bothered to change his cell phone number: the teacher and pupil engage in relaxed, real-time conversation and barbs even as they attempt to outwit and destroy each other. And when the action happens, it’s brutal and to the point. Director Roger Donaldson (THE BANK JOB) handles the violence and dry humor equally well and never allows the pace to slacken.

There will be no complaints regarding “formula” from me, and I shamelessly confess that I knew from the moment I saw the first trailer for THE NOVEMBER MAN that it was one I definitely wanted to see. Sure, I was ahead of certain aspects of the game–but I was never completely sure how it would turn out until it actually did so. The promise of a good old-fashioned spy thriller (even if this one WAS based on a book named THERE ARE NO SPIES) still holds plenty of allure; and THE NOVEMBER MAN gave me everything I had hoped for.

“Calvary” (Film Review)

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By Shane M. Dallmann

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CALVARY begins with one of the most unforgettable opening lines in recent memory (unrepeatable on this blog) and and takes it forward from there. We’re in contemporary Ireland, and Father James (Brendan Gleeson) receives a startling “confession” from one of his flock: said parishioner was sexually abused by a priest as a child, and even though the miscreant is long dead and Father James is “innocent,” the victim is going to make an example of the good priest by killing him in one week.

The metaphor couldn’t be more apparent (and check the title of the film if you think otherwise), but CALVARY isn’t nearly that simple-minded. Nor can it be taken as a straight-up suspense thriller or “whodunit”–Father James knows exactly who threatened him but chooses not to tell the viewer (or anyone else). Instead, he’s resolved to spend what may be his last week on earth ministering to his flock–as well as his grown daughter Fiona (Kelly Reilly) who’s recovering from a suicide attempt (James joined the priesthood well after the birth of his daughter and the subsequent death of his wife).

But as the days wear on, James is forced to consider what his role (as a priest and as a human being) actually means to anybody. Numerous residents of his coastal village line up dutifully as he dispenses the Sacrament, but not a one seems to have any use for him or his teachings–whether or not they feel like opening up to James, they make it clear that they’re going to proceed exactly as always with their adultery, domestic violence, drug abuse, compensation for sexual frustration, etc. And while some do offer James a modicum of sympathy and a kind word, those NOT in his flock (from the atheistic doctor to the Buddhist pubkeeper) treat him with unbridled contempt. His only real friends include a young boy first seen at work on a prophetic seascape… and M. Emmet Walsh. God bless M. Emmet Walsh just for BEING there and offering some relief from the intensity of this story–the effects of which will inevitably bring out the devil in Father James. Has he helped anybody at all?

If approached as a cut-and-dried story, CALVARY plays fair–in other words, you’ll find out who “did” it without any ambiguity or cheating (although one unpunished atrocity could have been committed by almost anybody in the movie). Nevertheless, it’s quite apparent that CALVARY isn’t here to provide answers so much as to ask questions. The themes run deep and dark, and when you’re dealing with a perfectly-chosen cast such as this and the powerful writing and direction of John Michael McDonagh (I must “confess” that I haven’t seen any of his previous work), then you’re dealing with one of the most provocative and challenging films you’re likely to see this year.

Talkin’ with Walter Olkewicz (Actor)

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In this episode, Walter Olkewicz discuss some of his acting roles, the Indiegogo Campaign to save his leg, and his amazing outlook on life…

Please donate to Walter’s campaign here:       https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/help-walter-save-his-leg-and-get-back-to-acting

 

“Guardians of the Galaxy” (Film Review)

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By Shane M. Dallmann

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Well, the latest Marvel summer blockbuster is here, and I’ve heard almost nothing but great things about it–people all over the place are having a grand old time and proclaiming GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY one of the best ever. And… I’m very happy to see so many people enjoying themselves and I think it’s great that they’re being entertained so splendidly. Nor am I about to play killjoy here… don’t get me wrong–I DID enjoy the movie. Still, about it being the “next big thing” and that insurmountably awesome in my eyes? Well…

…in my eyes, what we have here is an enjoyable space adventure (not actually in the mold of Marvel’s “superhero” movies, comics-derived as it may be) which follows the STAR WARS pattern just as much as SW followed the serials of yore. New-fangled effects, a little modern “attitude,” the usual formula… I essentially saw it as a STAR WARS pastiche in which most of the heroes wanted to be Han Solo and one of them got pressured into being Luke Skywalker.

Everybody in the world seems to be seeing this one, so I’m going to skip the long, complicated setup of this particular galaxy, the rogues gallery and the mysterious “orb” that might as well be the one from THE ADVENTURES OF BRISCO COUNTY, JR. Everyone wants the orb and/or the would-be legendary interstellar outlaw “Starlord” (Chris Pratt as Peter Quill).

Let’s start with him. He’s great fun to watch, but director James Gunn goes for the heartstrings much too soon–the opening sequence with the dying mother made me wonder if I was in the right theatre for a spell and it sets up an even MORE mawkish moment in the finale. Call me coldhearted if you will–it’s just going to roll off my back. I can completely understand the effectiveness of pathos as a character’s sad origins are revealed, but right off the bat this movie put me in the wrong chair, as it were. And there are plenty of crying jags to come later, fear not…

Anyhow. Starlord wants to be Solo, but you know he has to be Luke in the end–from the beginning. Usurping the Solo role is Rocket (yes, the hybrid who resembles a raccoon). A little goes a long way with him, but he’s still very entertaining, and voice artist Bradley Cooper gets a heck of a lot more to do than does Vin Diesel, who seems to be there for the value of his name on the poster alone… virtually ANYBODY could have voiced Rocket’s plant/muscle Groot (once again, I’m not suggesting for a moment that Groot fails to entertain–I’m just saying that the Chewbacca character MADE a household name out of Peter Mayhew–this movie scarcely needs to “make” Vin Diesel?).

Zoe Saldana is looking good in green as Gamora… sorry, almost called her “Princess” due to her apparent alliance with the villains (led in this opening installment–seriously, did you think this was going to be anything but open-ended?–by Lee Pace as the black-robed Ronan …of COURSE he plays him to the hilt)–is she really looking to betray her masters and will she fall hard for the 80’s charms (and Walkman) of Starlord? Tune in next week…

Michael Rooker doesn’t appear as one of the team on the poster art, but he’s got a terrific role as “frenemy” Yondu, on-again-off-again partner of Starlord who wants to track him down for bounty and/or the orb, but who ALSO wants to be Han Solo.

Yet for my money (and with the 3-D surcharge, that’s saying a lot: for the record the conversion was pretty good, but the only 3-D moment that really made a difference for me involved Groot dealing with multiple adversaries during the climax), the movie was pretty much stolen by Dave Bautista as the muscle-bound “Drax the Destroyer.” His deadpan lack of irony or comprehension of metaphor provides some of the best laughs (“Why would I put my finger on his throat?”) and his first chance to actually get his hands on the villainous Ronan leads to some of the better drama in the film, as well.

Meanwhile, John C. Reilly gets some good amusing moments here and there, while Glenn Close and Benicio del Toro are largely wasted in glorified cameos (but you WILL want to stay for the post-credits gag and of that I’ll say nothing further).

Okay–aside from my impatience with “tearjerker” material, do you sense any real complaining coming from me? Don’t let the fact that I don’t personally raise it to the “pantheon” stop you from enjoying it. (Look, I’m the guy who looked for more than formula as far back as BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS–I’m the one who said “Why does it always have to be the normal-looking Earth kid? Why not let the lizard-man save the day and blow John-Boy Walton out of the stratosphere instead?”) GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is a perfectly entertaining movie even if I DO recommend it for a matinee diversion above all.

“Lucy” (Film Review)

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By Shane M. Dallmann

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I had no idea who Luc Besson was back in 1985 or so–I simply took the recommendation of a trusted friend that I ought to check the San Francisco arthouses for a French import by the name of SUBWAY. I did and was captivated by pretty much everything in the film–yes, it took a page from the phenomenally popular DIVA but it was completely its own experience. I saw the subtitled version at least twice on the big screen and later cringed when the dubbed version became the American video exclusive (they didn’t fix that for a VERY long time). It also took me a while to backtrack and catch up with Besson’s post-apocalyptic black-and-white debut LE DERNIER COMBAT. Still, SUBWAY was “my” discovery, so to speak, and by the time Besson struck international gold with THE BIG BLUE and LA FEMME NIKITA, I was already in the know. I also loved his underwater documentary ATLANTIS, and while THE PROFESSIONAL was terrific, there was no going back after seeing the original version of LEON.

After the success of THE FIFTH ELEMENT, things rather fell apart with THE MESSENGER, and while I enjoyed the occasional bright flash like ANGEL-A, Besson became far best known to us as an executive producer and occasional writer, giving us such franchises as THE TRANSPORTER and TAKEN. Meanwhile, his own work became completely unrecognizable (THE FAMILY).

Well, now Besson is back with LUCY, and the high-profile casting of Scarlett Johannson in the title role guarantees the film plenty of opening-weekend exposure at the very least. So now that Besson is back in the world of fantasy, what does he do with it?

You know from the previews that LUCY involves a young lady who inadvertently receives a powerful dose of a synthetic drug that has the power to increase one’s “cranial capacity”–that is, to unlock the entire vast potential of the human brain. Popular science has it that we only make 10% of the available combinations of neurons, whereas dolphins (and dolphins alone, so far) take it further. Besson’s script spells it out in greater detail and wisely uses Morgan Freeman as the voice of professorial authority and the person Lucy needs to seek out when she discovers what’s happening to her.

LUCY could easily have gone in the direction of a simple superhero adventure, but the film makes it clear that this is NOT necessarily something you would want to have happen to you, particularly when you learn that you’re not likely to survive (at least as you understand yourself to exist) more than twenty-four hours.

But I’d rather not spell out the details–I’m happy to report that the TV spots did NOT blow the entire movie (much as they seemed to). All you need to know is that Lucy is invested with this power completely against her will (not to mention inadvertently) as part of a global smuggling scheme into which she’s dragged by a lout of a boyfriend; and that mob lord Choi Min-Sik is on her trail from Taipei to Paris, hoping to reclaim what she has (and kill her, of course).

Now, as an action-adventure, LUCY delivers from scene one–the film is brutally efficient as Lucy makes good her escape and tries to accommodate her ever-expanding role in the universe… there’s no shortage of violent action, car chases and demonstrations of superhuman abilities, all state-of-the-art (though we were spared the inconvenience of a 3-D conversion–it’s just fine as it stands).

But Besson takes things so much further, traveling back in time as he does (both literally and metaphorically) to re-establish and expound upon the film-making identity he established back in the 80s… in addition to the slam-bang femme fatale (as in NIKITA), you have the fascination with nature (THE BIG BLUE, ATLANTIS) and the responsibilities inherent in life itself (THE FIFTH ELEMENT) as well as the bits of whimsy that made SUBWAY such a treat (the innocent bystander witnessing the car chase comes to mind)–and yes, the icing on the cake is that none other than Eric Serra is back in the composer’s chair.

LUCY goes everywhere and will drive some people to distraction with its refusal to simply play “superhero.” The science can, no doubt, be picked apart and shouted down should experts desire to do so… well, be my guest, because it doesn’t alter the wonders of science fiction in the least. LUCY is equally visionary and entertaining from beginning to end, and I think it’s Besson’s best work since LEON (yes, I quite liked THE FIFTH ELEMENT, but LUCY does not feature an appearance by Chris Tucker. Need I say more?).

And I think it’s safe to say that there won’t be a franchise in the making. LUCY stands alone and comes with my enthusiastic recommendation.

“The Purge: Anarchy” (Film Review)

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By Shane M. Dallmann

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You KNEW this was coming… the major success of James DeMonaco’s THE PURGE last year guaranteed the sequel would be out by now… and at least it was written and directed by the same guy (although the copyright infringement battle has just begun… here we go again…).

THE PURGE: ANARCHY is about as good a sequel as could have been made to DeMonaco’s original–at least it opens up the concept and takes it to a variety of locations instead of trying to re-create the “siege” format of the first film. You know the premise: twelve hours of legal crime (with certain restrictions to protect the New Founding Fathers themselves) every year; they say it’s to cleanse our souls while we know it’s really to eliminate the burdensome, costly underclass one year at a time.

A nameless protagonist with an obvious police/military background (Frank Grillo–get used to him as the American face of the upcoming RAID remake franchise) sits on a bed “getting ready” while photographs and newspaper headlines regarding some guy who was “freed on a technicality” are posted on the wall behind him. There. Now you know everything about this guy, what he plans to do and why he plans to do it. We get the bickering couple on the verge of a separation until a scary masked street gang sees to it that they become free-range targets on Purge Night. And we get the low-income Hispanic waitress and her daughter… Papa has excused himself for the evening and what HE’s doing constitutes one of the more disturbingly effective elements of the sequel.

Circumstances throw all of the above together on a quest to make it to safety and “survive the night.” Bad things continue to happen. But this time (like in DEATH RACE 2000) there’s a rebel faction looking to strike back at the N.F.F.A. (and looking and sounding almost exactly like the Black Panthers in the process, for those few possible audience members remaining that still don’t “get it”).

That’s really all there is to it… but DeMonaco still has the chops to make the terror/violence sequences work quite well… make no mistake, this is a slick and efficient thriller for all its formula…

…that is, until we get to Act III as it were. And on the off chance that you didn’t see this sequence spoiled a thousand times over in the trailers and TV spots, I may as well tell you that at this point we’re essentially thrown into a “HOSTEL meets THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME” scenario and things just get more and more predictable and humdrum from there… right down to the character who absolutely has to spell out in painful detail what any viewer with a reasonably functioning brain has surely managed to figure out for himself. “You mean… they were IN on it?”

THE PURGE: ANARCHY supplies the horror, suspense and action; and at this rate there’s likely to be a third one. The problem is that it has nothing new to say… but insists on saying it anyway.

Doomsday and More in “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice”

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The other day a few sources from the “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” production reached out and whispered in my ear a few interesting tidbits. Now I have no idea if these are truly factual about the upcoming 2016 film or not, but I figured I would throw them out there for those who enjoy scraping the internet floor looking for breadcrumbs.

I do wonder how long it will take before someone notices these goodies are on here. You see, Obnoxious and Anonymous is not a huge site. We do have a strong and loyal readership, but we’re not on the same playing field (viewer wise) as many of the other film blog websites. However, if what I’m about to type is deemed newsworthy, well… I guess there will be a new big boy seat at the table.

I’m glad. There have been a few times where our original stories have been stolen by other outlets (I’m looking at you Yahoo) and we weren’t given any credit. So let these tasty morsels be a reminder to any big, esteemed websites that act like gods on a throne that the little guys have sources too.

Now that I have your attention, let us begin.

1. The movie opens in a flashback to “Man of Steel” showing the effects the ending had on the characters, both old and new: Clark Kent, Lois Lane, Martha Kent, Lex Luthor and Bruce Wayne.

2. There is an astronaut named Hank Henshaw. The black hole that was created to send the Kryptonians back into the Phantom Zone creates a a mass rift outside the Earth’s atmosphere destroying Hank’s pod. When it closes, the rift reverses and the pod is left whole–but with no Hank.

3. Dick Grayson (aka Nightwing), Tim Drake AND Batman will take on Superman somewhere in the middle of the story. They have been mislead to think that the Man of Steel is their enemy. However, after Superman saves Tim Drake’s life during the battle, Dick Grayson/Nightwing becomes convinced there is something good about him after all.

4. There will be a variation on the Doomsday origin.

When Zod’s Genesis Chamber crashed, there were 12 surviving fetuses. These were then taken by Lexcorp in the panic (cue flashback scenes). Lex has them scanned and notes the genetic difference. He then injects one with with an XO gene causing the baby to mutate and die.

(The XO gene sample is Amazonian–and Wonder Woman is hot on his trail to find out how Lex could have obtained this.)

Lex then extracts a sample from the now dead fetus and injects it into the second fetus and so forth until the 10th fetus not only lives but thrives–creating the abomination known as Doomsday.

The other two fetuses are kept aside (with one becoming Hank Henshaw’s basis for The Cyborg).

Doomsday hates the Kryptonians because his cells seem to remember everything, and his first thoughts are of Jax-Ur experimenting on him by trying grow him without the Codex.

5. There will be a huge battle (storyboarded at 27 minutes) between Doomsday and Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman/Aquaman/Nightwing near the end of the film.

6. Dick Grayson/Nightwing will return in “Justice League” as a member of the team.

7. Near the end of the film when Doomsday bests Superman, Hank Henshaw will assimilate into a cyborg-like organism within one of the two remaining fetuses. (Not to be confused with Victor Stone’s Cyborg character.)

8. Starter villains for the “Justice League” film will be The Cyborg (aka Hank Henshaw), Mongul and Sinestro.

So if this is true, we’re going to have multiple Robins, multiple Cyborgs and all hell breaking loose in this DC cinematic universe. Sounds pretty cool to me and I’m not even an avid comic book reader.

What do you all think?

Please send your scoops/news to obnoxiousandanonymous@hotmail.com

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“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (Film Review)

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By Shane M. Dallmann

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I shouldn’t have to go into a lot of detail about an unquestionable summer blockbuster that just about everybody here is going to see anyway, but the PLANET OF THE APES franchise in particular has always been near and dear to me.

Tim Burton, of course, made a fine-looking and perfectly watchable “re-imagining” a while back, but in the end it was pointless and forgettable, adding nothing of lasting value to the concept. It took RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES to really re-establish a grip on the material, and while it had “sure thing” branded on it for the opening weekend at the very least, it was actually quite a risk-taker… imagine a PLANET OF THE APES movie with almost no talking apes?! I pegged that one as the start of what was going to be a truly exciting new series… and it should come as no surprise that the sequel did NOT disappoint me…

RISE was often described as a remake of sorts of CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Well… not really. But DAWN certainly takes more than a mere page from the original series finale, BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES. Most people didn’t really care for that one, but that was more due to its threadbare resources than anything else… compared to the original, it was a cheapjack letdown–but I still like it. After all, you still had Roddy McDowall as Caesar, you got Paul Williams as Virgil, you got a finale that managed to come full circle and remain open-ended simultaneously… and the film made its own indelible contribution to the mythology with the intense “Ape has killed ape!” climax. If you ever wanted BATTLE with a budget, well, here you go.

It’s been thirteen years since the foreboding end-title sequence of RISE, and the “simian flu” has done a Captain Trips number on the world. The community of intelligent apes is still living peacefully in Muir Woods, but a genetically-immune pocket of humanity still struggles to survive in the ruins of San Francisco. And the two factions inevitably meet. The humans certainly don’t want or intend to mess with the apes, but they DO need to reach the hydroelectric dam in their territory in order to restore power to their city. And before any sort of cooperation can be established with Caesar (Andy Serkis), the apes are obliged to make a show of strength and make it clear that the nearly-forgotten human race is NOT to interfere with them. Caesar (who now has two sons) knows full well that the human race is not inherently evil and ultimately allows a small faction of their kind (Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Kodi Smit-McPhee in the main) to accomplish their mission. But of course, there are bad apples on both sides…

The character development may seem a bit slow and obligatory in the early going (“You had a daughter?”) but it all pays off richly in the human and ape camps alike. The teasers and trailers fooled me into thinking that Gary Oldman (as community leader Dreyfus) was going to be the “Governor Kolp” BATTLE figure devoted to exterminating the apes just for a little excitement, but nothing could be less true… Dreyfus is no villain but an experienced combat veteran and leader who has every reason and right to protect his people, as frustrating as that might be to those seeking a peaceful resolution to the escalating situation. And in the “General Aldo” role, we have Toby Kebbell as Koba, who understandably hates humans thanks to his previous existence of torture and mutilation as a lab animal–his demonstration of how to “play the role” in order to disarm the humans in one of the best scenes is a masterful combination of deception and self-loathing. Offering a more hopeful note is the returning orangutan character Maurice (who knew sign language even before Caesar artificially enhanced the intelligence of the ape population); he’s not as loquacious as Virgil, but his interplay with humans and apes alike is one of the sequel’s nicest touches.

Further details would only serve as spoilers–it’s enough to say that DAWN recognizes and honors its roots (right down to the human corral) while simultaneously functioning as its own… er… animal. The quality of the special effects goes without saying in this day and age, but these new ape-meisters (Matt Reeves of LET ME IN took the director’s chair for this outing) paid equal attention to the characters and stories involved and have done what Tim Burton could not… PLANET OF THE APES continues to thrive for an all-new generation AND us old-timers alike.

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