‘Apes’ sequel ‘Dawn’ is even better than ‘Rise’

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Moot contributor Lewis Bostock checks out what could be one of the year’s best blockbusters.

The reboot to the original Apes series continues to deliver. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the stunning sequel to the surprise hit Rise of the Planet of the Apes, will thrill sci-fi fans, but excite general audiences. Both will enjoy its compelling human-ape drama and combat. This is a blockbuster that is thoughtful and engaging of head and heart even after it delivers stunning visual effects and action, which will bristle the hair on the knuckles of either human or ape.

10 years after the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a deadly virus has nearly wiped out the human race. A team of desperate survivors led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) search for the key to their survival in the forests north of San Francisco, where the apes and their formidable leader Ceasar (Andy Serkis) have thrived in greater numbers. Ceasar remains fiercely protective of his ape family, despite Malcolm’s efforts to cooperate with him and the apes, but ape Koba (Toby Kebbell) and human Carver (Kirk Acevedo) have other plans, which have devastating consequences for both sides.

The director Matt Reeves of Cloverfield and Let Me In fame plums the themes of the original Apes series; The fact that we humans share this planet with creatures who may have an evolutionary future beyond our own. “Damn dirty apes!” However, the way his camera captures the powerful ape collective presents that future as a terrifying prospect. The way this film treats the complexity of war and sees how both sides act in a way that is justifiable to them will likely draw parallels with Middle Eastern conflicts. And its evidence that this film has an intellectual substance beyond the draw of apes wielding weapons, riding horse back.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is certainly the best blockbuster of the year, hell, it may just be one of the best films of the year. See it at the earliest opportunity.

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The Unanswered Questions of Godzilla

Godzilla 2014So did you hear there was a new Godzilla movie out? Yeah? After all that awesome marketing, some of the best trailers in recent times and a kick ass creature design there was a lot to expect from this blockbuster monster-fest. Did it live up to the hype? I think I can confidently say that it wasn’t a boring movie, and it does what it says on the cover: there’s big monster fighting action. If that’s what you’re after then have a ball, the movie is perfect. I’m pretty neutral on the film itself, so I’ll leave the reviews for a more eloquent blog than this one. Instead I want to discuss some of the questions I found myself asking friends after seeing Godzilla. Sometimes movies expect you to suspend disbelief, but sometimes there are some things that make such little sense they’re hard to ignore. Obviously spoilers below, read on at your own risk, yadda yadda. Let’s begin.

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Why did NATO take over the power plant site in Japan?

I get why the Monarch scientists were there but how did NATO become involved? Seemingly immediately after Daddy MUTO broke free and flew off NATO troops swooped in on a helicopter announcing they were taking over jurisdiction of the area. Now, Japan is not part of NATO, it was never stated which countries make up Monarch but Dr Serizawa is Japanese, so it would stand to reason that an organisation headed by a Japanese scientist investigating a creature in the ruins of a Japanese power plant in a Japanese city would call on the assistance of the Japanese military to control the situation. I can’t make the connection here about why NATO, a military alliance of North Atlantic countries on the other side of the world, would be able to take over a Japanese incident. They didn’t know the MUTO was heading towards the US at the time. Which brings me to my other point…

If the MUTO was looking for radiation why didn’t it go to the other Japanese power plants?

Right? A quick Google shows that Japan has 54 nuclear reactors. Why didn’t Daddy MUTO go to any of these? If it was really hungry for radiation to give to Mama MUTO why fly all the way across the Pacific in the hopes of finding a nuclear sub to snack on?

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Why did Godzilla make a tsunami once but never again?

It’s safe to say Godzilla well and truly fucked Waikiki up when he came ashore by literally causing a destructive tsunami. It’s super effective! It would’ve been more believable if that had happened in San Francisco either when he came ashore or left again. He seems to flop in to the water of San Francisco Bay at the end of the movie and barely make a splash. Is the tsunami something he can control? In that case why’d he choose to cause widespread destruction to Waikiki?

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How did the fight in Honolulu end?

Speaking of the Hawaii part of the movie… How exactly did that end? Godzilla took on the Daddy MUTO at Honolulu International but the film quickly cuts to news footage of the attack in the Brody house in San Francisco and the MUTO flies away. Um, what? Why? Why didn’t Godzilla use his atomic breath or tsunami powers to stop him?

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How did no one notice the MUTO attack the nuclear waste disposal center in Las Vegas?

This is one of the hardest points to overlook. Ok, so suddenly aware of where the MUTOs may be heading the military quickly rush to their nuclear waste disposal center to check all their waste is still where they left it only to discover Mama MUTO has taken some of it and half the mountain with it. I’m slightly worried at how little security this place seems to have.

Why did Dr Serizawa bring up Hiroshima if it had nothing to do with the story?

Weak connection to Godzilla’s thematic origin as a Japanese representation of the horrors of nuclear war? Perhaps. But it really brought nothing to the story. As soon as the idea is raised it’s dropped and never brought up again. Cool. Thanks for that.

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Would the military really fly a nuclear weapon suspended by ropes over a highly populated city?

I’m no expert on military procedures but it seems strange to me that they’d tie an active nuclear warhead to a helicopter and dangle it over millions of people with flying monsters around. That doesn’t sound like Air Force best practice.

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Why did the authorities stop civilians in front of Godzilla on the Golden Gate Bridge mid-evacuation?

They knew Godzilla was heading for San Francisco Bay. They even said it just after they left Hawaii. They were following him there the whole time. Why would they use the Golden Gate Bridge, the one piece of infrastructure between Godzilla and the MUTOs, to evacuate the city? They even set up tanks on the bridge awaiting Godzilla’s arrival. Why wouldn’t they send people North and South, away from the bridge at all costs?

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Why are there still people working at their desks after the MUTOs have begun digging a nest in Downtown San Francisco?

Check out this GIF. There are people still working at their desks, seemingly quite some time after the MUTOs first arrive in San Francisco. I don’t know about you but my Twitter would be blowing up if giant monsters suddenly appeared in my city and there aren’t many reports important enough for me to stay at my desk working on while shit like that is going down. People, what are you doing? There’re monsters digging a nest and another one swimming over from Hawaii after causing a major tsunami and destroying the airport. Go. Home.

Would the plot be any different if the characters weren’t there?

This is one I’ve been struggling with. I look at the movie, the whole movie, and I like it a lot. It’s stylish, beautiful, dark and brooding. But the characters don’t really have anything at all to do, plot-wise. The Monarch scientists are on-screen purely to explain things to the audience.

The military spend their time literally chaperoning Godzilla around. Bryan Cranston’s Joe Brody never gets to release his research and is killed far too soon by falling debris.

The HALO jumping soldiers fly past Godzilla with zero effect on the monster battle raging around them, get to the warhead, try a couple of times to open it, give up, and then decide to carry it all the way back to the waterfront by hand to try to drive it into the harbour on a boat while fully aware that the MUTOs have EMP powers to shut the boat down. They’d have had more of a chance throwing it into the water and hoping the tide took it out.

Elizabeth Olsen’s Elle Brody does nothing but cry.

Only Juliette Binoche’s cruelly short-lived Sandra Brody makes any sort of decision in sacrificing herself to save the city from contamination. Yes, Ford Brody manages to blow up the MUTO nest but only after promising his wife to rescue her and his son, and then immediately and completely ignoring that promise.

Anything else you’ve noticed about Godzilla that hasn’t really made sense to you?

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The Fault in Our Stars makes boyfriends weep

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Let me get something straight right off the bat. I have never read The Fault in our Stars, and before seeing the movie I didn’t really know what it was about. What I got from the trailer was “sick girl love story.” But what I got from seeing the movie this week was so much more.

Firstly, this was a special screening, the audience made up of hardened film journalists, fangirls, their boyfriends, and me. From the minute I sat down the whispers had started, girls and boys (mostly girls) who clearly were huge fans of John Green‘s original book eagerly sharing gossip about the movie. As the lights dimmed and the screen flickered to life the whispers quickly evolved into excited squeals, nervous laughter and genuine shouts. Then the movie started.

TFIOS follows the story of Hazel Grace Lancaster, a witty and intelligent teenager living with cancer who reluctantly attends a cancer support group where she meets the charming and handsome Augustus Waters (“He’s hotter than I expected,” said a girl a few rows behind). The two hit it off and begin what would be expected to be your stock standard big screen young people romance dripping in Nicholas Sparks-style melodrama. Except it wasn’t. What followed was a genuinely sweet, upliftingly funny and heartachingly honest story about two young people in love, and dealing with one of life’s cruelest situations.

Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort ooze chemistry and there’s a definite spark between them. Shit, they were so adorable I couldn’t decide if I wanted to date them or be adopted by them. Sure, they play brother and sister in that forgettable Divergent movie, but here they’re entirely believable. Oh, did I mention Hazel’s mother is played by Laura Dern? Yeah, like as in Jurassic Park‘s Dr Ellie Sattler. She’s so damn good too, she needs to play an awesome on-screen mum more often.

Know what else is awesomely refreshing? The dialogue feels real. As in these kids are actually talking how kids actually talk. From the Hazel Grace’s dry sarcasm to Gus’ adorable text-flirting, these are lines written by someone who gets the internet generation. As funny as the film is, there’s a real heart here. As the movie plays out there are some seriously sweet moments that’ll thwack you over the head. Or heart.

If I could impart some advice at this point: Take. Your. Tissues.

A few times during the film there was audible weeping from around the cinema. A cinemaful of people were desperately trying to quietly sniff their way back to dry-eyedom. It was surreal. When the credits finally rolled and the lights came up I turned around quickly to see everyone with tissues out, the boyfriends dragged along to “the chick flick” with shirts up, wiping their eyes before too many people saw.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a movie move an audience so much and despite the tears you don’t leave sad. Ultimately the movie is uplifting, precious and adorable. By the sound of the audience on the way out, fans of the book will love this adaptation. There’s also a lot here for people who haven’t read the book. I highly recommend it. I’ll see it again, I’ll just take more tissues.

The Fault in Our Stars
In NZ cinemas June 5, 2013.

Documentary Edge Festival is coming

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Guys, who doesn’t like a good doco? The Documentary Edge Festival is the best time of year for us to check out the world’s best documentaries, and luckily we’re spoilt for choice with this year’s line up looking as impressive as ever. The programme features a stunning 58 films from all around the world, but one of the highlights is sure to be the opening night premiere of Erebus: Operation Overdue, a New Zealand film about the tragic loss of Air New Zealand Flight 901 when it collided with Mt. Erebus in Antarctica. The film is a highly anticipated feature of the festival which TVNZ Documentary Commissioner Jude Callen describes as “a powerfully emotional account of one of the darkest moments in New Zealand history.”

Another highlight will definitely be God Loves Uganda, a movie from Academy Award-winner Roger Ross Williams which looks at the role of the American Evangelical movement in fuelling Uganda’s terrifying turn towards the proposed death penalty for homosexuality. This will close out the festival this year.

For a full list of films, head to the Documentary Edge Festival website and be sure to get your tickets now!

Documentary Edge Festival

Auckland (21 May – 2 June 2014)
Q, 305 Queen Street, Auckland Central

Wellington (5 – 15 June 2014)
The Roxy, 5 Park Road, Miramar

The LEGO Movie is awesome!

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Holy crap you guys The LEGO Movie is freaking awesome!

Ok seriously from time to time a kids movie comes out that is legitimately awesome. The LEGO Movie is one of them. This is like The Lion KingToy Story trilogy, How to Train Your Dragon level awesomeness.

Directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord have managed to make a movie that brings out all the feelings of joy you get when you’re playing with Lego. You feel like you’re making the movie yourself, like you could go home and bust out your Lego sets and have more adventures or make the sequel yourself. Which I guess is the point. Sure this movie is a giant ad for plastic brick toys but it’s the best ad you’ll ever see. The story follows a generic construction worker Legoman whose life revolves around following the instructions. When his world is threatened he must embrace the idea of free thinking and creativity instead of simply following instructions.

It’s charming, it’s hilarious and it makes you feel like a kid again in all the best ways. Go see The LEGO Movie right now.

Divergent aka The Hunger Games lite

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Remember how awesome both The Hunger Games movies were? Don’t expect similar awesomeness from Divergent.

Here’s a movie that’s only been made because The Hunger Games, and you can really tell. The story is kind of all over the place, and even though they spend the first 30 minutes or so literally explaining the world they exist in it still doesn’t really make sense. The problem is that the film asks you to believe in this harmonious community made up of co-existing groups of people based on values that seem to have been plucked out of mid-air. There’s no explanation of why the factions are important, or why they work, or who chose those specific values to create the factions. Putting all of that aside the movie is filled with plot holes and weird non-twists.

On a positive note the acting is amazing. Shailene Woodley and Theo James are captivating as Tris and Four, respectively. Talented as they are their performances aren’t enough to rescue the rest of the film. Average, unsurprising, run-of-the-mill, other cliche sayings. That said, it’s not as awful as Twilight. Nothing could be as awful as Twilight. Just watch The Hunger Games again, instead.

Captain America sequel thrills

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The Winter Soldier represents a more sophisticated Marvel movie.

Captain America: The First Avenger is my favourite non-Avengers movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so I was as excited as a superhero movie buff could be when the opening credits credited away on screen for Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The trailers were awesome (did you SEE The Winter Soldier catch Cap’s shield mid-air?!), and the film itself doesn’t fail to live up to the trailer.

What directors the Russo brothers have done here is strip back some of the pomp and explosiveness of previous MCU movies and focus on the core of Captain America as a character, which is being the moral compass of this entire cinematic universe. What made The First Avenger so refreshing was the timeless, almost lost, core values of honesty and doing the right thing no matter what, being brought into the big, loud, sarcastic Marvel universe. The Captain’s role is to bring a little class and all-Americanness to the screen.

In The Winter Soldier the villain is less obvious. Less a person than an idea. Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers goes up against everyone and everything he knew before to figure out who the hell the bad guys are and whether he has the resolve to do what he knows is right. The political tones in this movie are achingly relevant with what’s happening right now in world politics, touching on issues like surveillance of citizens and the loss of freedoms and privacy “for the greater good.”

There are some great twists here and certainly events in this movie will have far-reaching consequences for future MCU movies and TV shows. “Game-changer” is a term thrown around a lot these days but in terms of this ever-growing and incredibly intricate cinematic universe game-changing is an accurate descriptor.

Chris Evans is awesome (as always) in a role he seems born to play. From the opening shot you see he embodies the Captain, especially physically. Seriously. How the heck did he get so big? Robert Redford brings some amazing political weight to the film, and slinks on to the scene to take a blender to right and wrong. Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson return as Black Widow and Nick Fury respectively, and continue their pitch perfect performances as the Cap’s right-hand lady and the ever-tough head of SHIELD.

Marvel-heads will love this solid entry into the MCU canon, for non-fans there is also lots here, particularly the relevant political undertones and a particularly explosive climax.