Better Than The First One. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) Review

Despite the issues I have with the main antagonist, I consider Dawn of the Planet of the Apes to be a strong sequel with its empathetic characters and engaging drama.

Since the simian flu wiped out most of humanity, Caesar has established a small colony, where he enjoys a harmonious existence with his fellow apes. Suddenly human survivors appear and ask the apes for help with fixing a nearby dam. Caesar agrees but there are some humans and apes who are disturbed by the alliance and start to take action.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes pic
Come at me.

All the Characters Have a Motive and Their Actions Advance the Plot

One big issue I had with Rise of the Planet of the Apes was its antagonists. I thought they were two-dimensional and didn’t feel real as characters. In Dawn however, all the characters have reasons behind their motives and attitudes.

Malcolm, for example, wants to fix the dam for the human survivors at the city. He’s met Caesar and is aware of his intelligence so he tries to collaborate with him, avoiding any violent confrontations.

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Jason Clarke as Malcolm, working with Andy Serkis’ Caesar [Credit: Fox]
Dreyfus on the other hand shares Malcolm’s desire but not his attitude. He is just as concerned about the peoples’ survival as Malcolm but he does not see the apes as sentient beings. He sees them as animals and a threat to the city, hence he is more willing to wage war against them.

While Dreyfus is clearly an antagonist, he has a desire and an attitude and therefore feels more three-dimensional than the antagonists in Rise.

The Plot and Its Intensity

The first act establishes the history and tension between the humans and the apes, showing where particular characters stand in regards to the opposing species. So when Malcolm’s group start collaborating with the apes you feel anxious because you don’t know how long the alliance will last until someone strikes.

Incidents occur that divide the collaboration briefly but each time they happen you see the trust between the two groups weaken, which creates more tension. You feel that there’s going to be an eruption, an incident that divides the groups completely and leads to conflict. For me personally this makes Dawn of the Planet of the Apes a lot more powerful than Rise.

Koba

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Toby Kebbell as Koba [Credit: Fox]
The only main criticism I have of the film is the character of Koba, an ape who hates the humans and triggers most of the conflict. On the surface he’s a good character, he has a motive and an attitude just like Malcolm and Dreyfus. He suffered vicious experiments performed by humans and wants to protect his village and fellow apes.

I understand why Koba hates humans, but for most of the film all we see is him simply displaying his prejudice. He’s never presented sympathetically. Not a lot of time is committed to establishing his character and attitude. He at least has a motive unlike the antagonists in Rise, it just wasn’t developed enough for me.

However, I forgive Koba because with its distinct characters and engaging plot, I think Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a solid film and I give it a great 8 out of 10.

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Good Reboots DO Exist! Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) Review

Since War for the Planet of the Apes is out at the moment, I thought I should review the previous films in the new reboot series.

I think Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a strong sci-fi film with its empathetic characters and engaging plot. However, the cliché antagonists were a weakness for me.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes pic
My monkey face 

In this first entry of the franchise reboot, a scientist is developing a drug that he hopes will cure his father’s Alzheimer’s disease. When he is fired from his company he suddenly becomes the parent of Caesar, an infant chimp who was exposed to the drug in-utero. The scientist experiments with the chimp in secret as Caesar displays great intelligence, intelligence that could threaten man’s dominion over the planet.

The Characters

Caesar is a child who is taken away from his parents and forced to thrive in a brutal environment. Charles Rodman, the scientist’s father, is a good loving man who is slowly deteriorating. These are archetypes that we can all understand. We can empathize with a lonely child trying to grow up or a loved one losing his character due to age or illness. These understandable qualities make the characters in Rise very empathetic.

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John Lithgow as Charles Rodman [Credit: Fox]
I appreciate the film for its focus on character and emotion rather than world building or referencing past films, as many recent prequels, reboots and sequels have tended to do.

The Tension and Plot

Due to assaulting a neighbor while protecting Charles, Caesar is taken to an animal shelter. Knowing his character and vulnerability, there’s a feeling of great anxiety when Caesar meets the other apes. We know how innocent and childlike he is, we know that he’s never been around other monkeys so we dread what’s going to happen.

As the plot progresses more tension arises, particularly in the third act when Caesar starts his revolution. At this point we know how much control the people have and how easily they can oppress apes, it honestly feels like Caesar is fighting a battle that he cannot possibly win.

If there’s one thing Rise of the Planet of the Apes exceeds at, it’s attracting empathy with the characters and creating tension with the plot.

The Antagonists

Steven Jacobs, the scientist’s boss, and Dodge Landon, the chief guard at the shelter, I think are very unconvincing characters. I understand that they’re supposed to represent humanity’s dominance and arrogance in the animal kingdom, so they don’t need to be particularly empathetic or multidimensional. However, their presentation made them appear too selfish and sadistic.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes pic2
David Oyelowo as Steven Jacobs and Tom Felton as Dodge Landon [Credit: Fox]
Steven talks of the chimps at the laboratory with no sympathy and seems more concerned about making money, while Dodge displays clear joy as he torments the monkeys at the shelter. They don’t feel real hence it’s difficult to dislike them as antagonists. If Steven spoke more considerably about the chimps and Dodge acted more professionally and less playfully around the apes, then I think they would have been more convincing as people and as antagonists.

Overall, with its strongly empathetic characters and intense antagonism, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a solid film despite its one-dimensional villains.

I give Rise of the Planet of the Apes a great 7 out of 10.

Most Underrated Remake EVER! The Blob (1988) Review

There seemed to be a trend in ‘80s Hollywood of remaking old science fiction films, the most famous examples being John Carpenter’s The Thing and David Cronenberg’s The Fly.

However, Tobe Hooper’s Invaders from Mars and Chuck Russell’s The Blob seem to have faded to obscurity in the last 30 years. The Blob, while it may not be as timeless as The Thing, is a very underrated remake.

The film’s premise is pretty much the same as the original. A meteor crashes in small town California and is discovered by a homeless man. As he prods the strange red goo with a stick, it slithers up his arm and sticks to his hand. He’s found by three teenagers and is taken to a hospital, where the Blob devours his body and escapes. Now it’s up to a couple of youths to convince the authorities of the Blob’s existence before it consumes the whole town.

The Blob pic
This was my exact expression after I’d seen the film.

The Tension

In the first half-hour we are introduced to a large cast of characters, all of them of different ages, occupations and positions in the community. In the 1958 original when characters and relationships are established, it’s an indication that they are the main characters who we’ll follow all the way through the film.

In the 1988 version however characters and relationships are established but are abruptly killed off. Within the first act, characters you assume would be the protagonists are devoured by the Blob. This creates a persistent tension that the 58 film did not possess. When a character encounters the Blob, it’s terrifying because you know that there’s a good chance he or she will get killed. No one is safe.

The Characters Are More Complex

When reviewing a remake I think it’s important to consider the film it’s based on, so we can see what the remake is building on. Nowadays the characters in the 88 version may appear like typical film archetypes but compared to the original the characters are a little more complex.

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[Credit: TriStar Pictures]
Brian Flagg for example is more three-dimensional than Steve Andrews (McQueen) was in the 58 film. At first, he comes across as selfish, amoral and overall very unlikable. The complete opposite of the confident and charming Steve Andrews. However, as Brian encounters the Blob and its victims, he takes action and protects others rather than himself.

Another example is Dr Meadows, the leader of the biological containment team trying to stop the Blob. Like Brian he is more than he appears. He and his team come across as allies at first. You think they’ll work with the youths to help find and catch the creature, but when Brian listens in on a conversation Meadows has with his colleagues, we discover that the doctor is willing to go to extreme lengths to contain the Blob, even if it means endangering the townspeople.

The selfish rogue who starts caring for others and the villain who resembles an ally are common archetypes in today’s media. Hence the film’s characters are not that complex seeing them now but as I said I think it’s important to consider the original when reviewing a remake as a remake should be an improvement on the original. So, when comparing 88’s characters to 58’s, I think that the remake is indeed a fine improvement.

The Effects

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[Credit: TriStar Pictures]
Like Cronenberg’s The Fly and Carpenter’s The Thing, the special effects in The Blob are so good they almost overshadow the other elements in the film. The use of puppets, both miniature and large-scale, gives a clear sense of the creature’s size. You are convinced that this thing is a living, expanding flood.

The make-up effects enhance the tension as we see in gruesome detail what happens to people when they’re consumed by the Blob. People dissolve like they’re in acid, we see their skin and flesh burn inside the creature. Whenever it appears you’re on the edge of your seat because you know how fast the Blob can move and what happens when it touches you.

Overall The Blob is a very strong remake with multidimensional characters, persistent tension and outstanding special effects. The only major issues regard the film’s longevity as like the original it’s a product of its time. With the clear ‘80s fashion and music The Blob lacks the timeless aesthetic of films like Carpenter’s The Thing. Those issues aside, I think The Blob is still a strong ‘80s horror film that deserves a lot more attention.

I give The Blob a solid 7 out of 10.

HOW DID I MISS THIS PARTY?!! Get Out (2017) Review

Get Out is a mature and disturbing horror film with its unpredictable plot and clear but unique commentary on American race relations.

Rose invites her boyfriend Chris to a weekend getaway at her parents’. When Chris meets Dean and Missy, they’re friendly but over polite. He interprets their behaviour simply as a demonstration of tolerance of their daughter’s interracial relationship. However, as the weekend progresses Chris discovers that there are more sinister motives behind the parents’ display.

Get Out Pic
I was quite impressed by Get Out.

Chris and his ‘Vulnerability’

The first act quickly establishes the protagonist and his weakness. Chris is a normal man like everyone else with a job and a girlfriend but he lives in a world where, because of his race, he is not considered a person. This is shown in a scene where Rose and Chris call the police, after running over a deer on their way to her parents’ place. When the officer approaches them he asks Chris for his ID, even though he wasn’t driving. With this scene, we know that Chris’ ‘blackness’ is a vulnerability.

The plot then exploits Chris’ weakness, with the threat escalating each time. For example, when he first meets Dean and Missy, they constantly bring up Chris’ race. Dean uses black slang, praises Barack Obama and discusses his interest in other cultures. Knowing Chris’ weakness, you feel anxious and cringe at his exchanges with Rose’s parents because even though he isn’t being discriminated against, you can feel that he’s being socially alienated.

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Missy and Dean, Rose’s Parents [Credit: Universal Pictures]

The Element of Surprise

I think one of the most affective elements of horror, similar to comedy, is the element of surprise. Usually the spontaneity and unexpectedness of a scare is more frightening than the contents of the scare itself. Get Out is full of shocking twists and turns that create a disturbing and tense atmosphere. Following his introduction to Rose’s parents, Chris witnesses some unsettling incidents such as the groundskeeper and housekeeper’s oddly ‘white’ behaviour.  There’re moments of relief, when we think there’s a character Chris can trust but later we discover they’re no better than Missy and Dean.

Get Out’s tone is very balanced, while the majority of the film can be described as dark and intense, there are comedic moments with Chris’ friend Rod. Even though I never really laughed at any of his lines, I appreciated the film for including some comic relief as most modern horror films tend to be dark and depressing all the way through, which is very boring to watch.

The Social Commentary

The social commentary is of course the most striking and original quality of the film. Unlike Blair Witch and The Bye Bye Man, the horror of Get Out is terrifyingly real. With Missy and Dean’s awkward behaviour, the film argues that racism hasn’t died, its adapted. Today’s racists are not rednecks or neo Nazis. They are normal, everyday liberals who claim to be tolerant of black people but in reality, they just see them as exotic objects.

Overall, I think Get Out is one of the best and most original horror films to come out this decade, with its setup, unpredictable plot and the reality of its horror. I highly recommend it.

I give Get Out an outstanding 9 out of 10.      

Well Done DC. Wonder Woman (2017) Review

Wonder Woman is a good, simple superhero film with a coherent plot, defined supporting characters and a strong protagonist that learns and evolves.

This instalment in the DC Extended Universe is an origin narrative, showing Diana leaving her mythical island home to find and destroy the Greek God of War, Ares. She does this by helping an American pilot uncover a German plot during World War I. As she fights and sees the brutal consequences of war, she discovers her powers and becomes Wonder Woman.

The film is focused on telling Diana’s story. Unlike Suicide Squad and Batman V Superman, no subplots establishing storylines for upcoming sequels are shoehorned into the narrative. There are little to no references to the DC Extended Universe in Wonder Woman, the film is standalone.

Now I wouldn’t call Wonder Woman ground-breaking or perfect as it is just another origin story like Thor, Dr Strange and many other superhero films, but it’s the first DC film in a while to get the origin story right and its thematic question of whether anything is worth fighting for knowing that humanity will inevitably be violent, makes Wonder Woman a little more original.

Wonder Woman pic
Just to be clear, I’m smiling at the film that the poster is promoting. Not the woman on the poster.

Diana is the archetypal superhero protagonist. Like Peter Parker in Sam Rami’s Spider-Man she wants to help people. She hopes to achieve this by killing Ares, which will rid the world of pain and suffering. However, she encounters obstacles in the form of man’s tendency to wage war. She sees these obstacles in vicious detail as she travels across the Western Front. She overcomes them, gradually growing stronger and wiser, learning the causes of war. I felt invested in Diana. Whenever she won or lost a battle I felt something and I definitely can’t say the same in regards to Suicide Squad and Batman V Superman.

The supporting characters are also strong. They all reflect the various outcomes and consequences of war. For example, Steve Trevor, the American Pilot, accepts war as an inevitable phenomenon. He fights to reduce as much suffering as possible, rather than trying to stop war and pain all together. Another good example is Charlie, a Scottish marksman who accompanies them to the front. While he seems to be just as enthusiastic about fighting as Steve is, we see that war has scarred him mentally.

The plot of Wonder Woman is easy to follow and has a clear predetermined goal. We learn that the German army are developing a deadly gas bomb. Diana, along with Steve and his team, try to infiltrate an army base and destroy the bomb before it is used. No subplots or supporting villains clutter the story, the film is always focused on Diana’s journey and struggle.

I do of course have a few issues with the film, the main one being the pace. The story takes a while to get going. A lot of time is spent on Themyscira, Diana’s home, at the beginning. I know it’s necessary to establish the world and mythology but, without getting into spoilers, there are a lot of scenes showing Diana with her family that I don’t think add much to the story.

I think the climax could’ve been shorter as it went on for so long it got to the point of getting boring. I know some people have problems with the climax and the villain but, once again avoiding spoilers, I don’t think the climax is inappropriate, not in thematic terms. The villain’s method made sense and was set up beforehand. If a few scenes were cut from the first act and the climax I think the film would’ve been more engaging.

Overall Wonder Woman is the best film in the DC Extended Universe to date. It is the archetypal origin story we all know but the historical setting and thematic question regarding war and suffering are original qualities. I recommend it.

I give Wonder Woman a strong 7 out of 10.

 

 

 

Icesica: An Introduction

Icesica Poster

I was an action figure kid. I had a big blue box full of them, all from multiple franchises like Doctor Who, Star Wars, Power Rangers. I played with them for years, enacting my own stories with epic plots and huge battle scenes.

One weekend, a friend of my father’s came over and showed me a moviemaking software, which came with a camera. Digital Blue Movie Creator was designed to introduce primary school children to animation and filmmaking. That weekend changed my life. I made countless animations with that software using action figures, army men, cuddly toys and even my own characters I made out of plasticine. For months my father’s friend would bring the camera over, let me keep it for a few weeks, take it back only to let me borrow it again until finally, at Christmas that year, he gave me one of my own.

Not many people know this but I actually had another YouTube account before I started MetalicoOfMeltron. Among the many films I made, a lot of them were Doctor Who themed, featuring my stop-motion Dalek toys. I was attracted to the Doctor Who fan film community on YouTube. So towards the end of 2008, I made my channel and uploaded my fan films.

It was in the middle of 2009 however, when while running the channel and enduring secondary school, that something magical happened. I discovered a film, a film that would have a profound, life-altering effect on me. That film was David Lynch’s panned 1984 adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune.

I’d watched many Sci-Fi, Fantasy epics at that point but Dune was unlike anything I’d seen. It was a space opera yet it was artsy, dark, political, disgusting, beautiful and overall amazing. To this day it remains as one of my favourite films.

So, I had an animation software, a ton of action figures and an inspiration. In my head, a fantasy took shape. A Sci-Fi epic set on an ice planet. It would be big, visual and weird just like Dune. Instead of giant worms there’d be giant sharks. Instead of a floating, repulsive baron there’d be a monstrous, alien general. Instead of a fictional spice being ‘the most precious substance in the universe’, it would simply be water. This epic would be called ‘Icesica’. This was a fantasy purely because I didn’t think I could do it. It was too big, it would take forever to make. The fantasy stuck with me for months until one afternoon, at age 13, I got out some cereal boxes, cut out some doors, got some figures and started animating.

My original plan was to make a trilogy; three episodes chronicling a civilisation’s struggle to overthrow a tyrannical empire, a bit like the Lord of the Rings trilogy. There was no script. I improvised the whole plot, stealing characters, lines and images from Dune, with no knowledge of story structure.

After months of animating scenes, voicing scenes, animating them again because they were no good, I finished ‘Episode One’ and uploaded it to YouTube. It was the same process for the second episode, only longer. ‘Episode Two’ was uploaded mid-2010. The audience I had on the channel wasn’t that much bigger than the audience I have now but they were certainly loyal. They enjoyed the Icesica episodes and couldn’t wait for the third one.

Unfortunately, my audience wouldn’t see ‘Episode Three’ or any more videos because, in October 2010, I deleted my account.

There are many reasons why I shut down the channel; one of them being boredom. I was cranking out a lot of videos and was, rather naively, expecting a much larger following. Since that never occurred, I didn’t see the point of continuing. The main reason however, was that my peers at school were discovering my videos. This resulted in some unwanted attention. It was difficult to make videos knowing I had a rather unpleasant audience, hence I deleted my account. However, despite having no platform, I continued with Icesica.

I noticed that ‘Episode One’ was 5 minutes long and ‘Episode Two’ was 12 minutes long. These were not the runtimes of Sci-Fi epics. Being a naïve 13-year-old I was hoping these episodes would be over an hour long and, when watched together, would be true 3-hour saga. I abandoned my original plan and focused on merging the two episodes together, making Icesica into a single film. As I re-watched the episodes I spotted more mistakes, more scenes that had to be done again. By the end of 2010 I was 14-years-old, I had now been working on this thing for over a year. Once the two episodes were bound to my liking, it was now a case of finishing the rest of the film. By the summer of 2011 Icesica was complete.

I felt fulfilled and proud. It was done. It was finally done. This fantasy that’d been born from my love of Dune was here, in the flesh, ready to watch.

Why it has taken me this long to get the film online I’m not sure; a combination of fear, procrastination and lack of time. I had many nightmarish fantasies about all my hard drives dying and Icesica being lost forever but now I will no longer be haunted by such anxieties.

Looking back at the film with the experience and knowledge that I have now, I can say with a smile on my face that it is god awful. The animation is too fast, there are countless plot holes, subplots are started but not finished, the dialogue makes no sense (in terms of both logic and grammar) and the music ranges from sounding distorted to so loud you can’t hear what the characters are saying.

Despite the many flaws I still feel that Icesica, for what it is, is quite amazing. It is an expression of many weird and bizarre passions. Passions for epic battles, giant monsters, political waffle, a panned 80s film. It’s an ambitious and pretentious film that shouldn’t have been made, yet it was. I’m proud of Icesica and I am happy that it’s finally out here in the world, for people to see.

I hope you are amused, impressed and entertained.

And Now For Something Completely The Same. Alien: Covenant (2017) Review

Alien: Covenant technically gives the fans of the franchise what they want, with the familiar plot and visuals and provides answers to the questions many audiences had at the end of Prometheus. While the film does have some good characters and original material, the recycled plot and certain revelations make it less than what it could’ve been.

A colony ship tracks a strange transmission to its source and discovers a rich, habitable world. There they find David, the android who served on the Prometheus. Suddenly, a hostile alien-lifeform appears and the colonization mission becomes a fight for survival.

Alien Covenant Pic
I call this my ‘positively neutral face’.

The premise is exactly the same as previous Alien films; crew lands on a planet, someone is impregnated, aliens are produced and everyone tries to survive. As expected, most of the crew are one-dimensional characterizations, as their sole purpose is to be cannon fodder so the aliens can showcase their aggression.

Daniels appears to be the main protagonist. As a character I thought she was a bit boring; she doesn’t do a lot in the story except try to survive and get everyone off the planet. Even though she has a desire, which is to colonize a world and settle down with her husband, its only mentioned occasionally hence it doesn’t really feel relevant.

One character who I found compelling was Christopher Oram, the assumed captain. Unlike Daniels he has weaknesses and vulnerabilities that are challenged and exploited in the plot. He is a first-time captain, having to take responsibility for thousands of lives, his wife is on the planet with him and he is a religious man, trying to maintain his faith in a horrific situation. My favourite character however has to be David. He is capable of both emotion and intellectual ambition, I thought he was a very conflicted character hence I found him the most attractive.

Covenant does provide some original content despite the recycled plot. The aliens in the film for example are significantly new. Rather than infecting the crew with the classic facehugger, these aliens enter their hosts as spores through their ears and nostrils, forming embryos deep inside their skulls. The dubbed ‘Neomorph’ erupts via the back or throat. These ‘birth’ scenes I thought were, quite honestly, more gruesome than the previous chestburster scenes.

Another example of Covenant’s original content is its continuation of the storyline established in Prometheus. The film does answer questions many had following Prometheus, whether or not I thought these answers were believable will require going into spoilers.

So for those who haven’t seen the film I will state my overall conclusion here, while those who have seen the film can read ahead to my spoiler thoughts.

Alien: Covenant recycles a lot of old plot points but the film does have some genuinely compelling characters (like Oram and David) and does tie up the loose ends left by Prometheus. It isn’t great but it’s certainly one of the most gruesome and philosophical Sci-Fi films out there right now so I recommend it.

I give Alien Covenant a worthy 7 out of 10.

 

Ok, spoiler talk.

I found the idea of David wiping out the engineers and creating the xenomorphs to be a bit far-fetched.

I know a lot of people didn’t like Prometheus, but I appreciated its originality, it didn’t rehash old ideas and characters like most prequels and reboots do. It was the start of an epic science fiction series that would comment on religion, God and the relationship between creation and creator. After watching Covenant I was a little sad because it seems apparent now that we’re not going to see that series.

However, David’s backstory of experimenting with the black liquid and desiring to create does seem to continue the themes of Prometheus. I thought it was an interesting notion, but I didn’t expect the film to show us where the xenomorph came from. I’d thought that’d be something we’d discover later in the series, not in the second film.

The last twenty minutes, once again, recycles plot points we’re all familiar with. The xenomorph goes on a rampage and then gets sucked out the airlock, just like in previous Alien films. I liked the cliff-hanger at the end with Walter being revealed as David, having full control of the ship and the thousands of embryos. It looks like he’s going to be a major character in the series, which I’m happy about.

While Covenant didn’t go where I hoped it would, there’re some things about this new course the series is on that I like and I’m going to keep watching to see where it goes.