Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

If it’s not hard enough to remake/reboot one of the more loved cult movie series in cinema history without alienating fans of the original, film-makers make it harder on themselves when the films in question are about talking apes. Tim Burton had already tried  – and largely failed – to recreate Planet Of The Apes in 2001, with a film high on visuals but low on most other things. So when it was all tried again – this time from the beginning – in 2011’s Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, expectations were not high. How wrong we all were. It was an intelligent, chilling, engaging triumph – most of all in Andy Serkis’ brilliant motion-capture performance of lead-ape Ceasar; but there was more. The human interest story worked; the performances worked throughout the story had a brilliant momentum. It was, at times, genuinely disturbing; and it never forgot to entertain or amuse.

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes picks up right where the previous film left-off; a credits sequence portrayal of the spread of the simian flu virus setting us up for an advanced colony of apes outside of San Francisco and a decimated, bruised and battered humanity struggling in vain to make some kind of life for itself. From there human and apes come into contact, and conflict builds: between ape and human, ape and ape, human and human. Andy Serkis is back again, with a wider supporting cast of motion-capture performances. His colleagues are good – he remains utterly outstanding, and long overdue major award recognition. It’s a performance provoking awe, fear and joy in equal measure and is a masterclass of its type.

In a blockbuster season which again sees Michael Bay return to milk the Transformers cash machine with all attendant hype, cynicism and disregard for the viewer, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes represents everything the big blockbuster could and should be. Thrilling, intelligent, artful, entertaining – and not overlong. It’s a worthy sequel; not a perfect one. Like the predecessor, the script has weaknesses. Occasionally the inter-human interplay is somewhat forced. Other than that, it’s as it should be, and all the better for it. Entertainment with heart, guts and a soul.

I rated this film 4/5 on rottentomatoes.com and 8/10 on imdb.com

A story

I often write here about stories. They could be films, they could be books, they could be parts of  my own story. It’s because I like stories. Stories are a fundamental part of human existence. We are the only beings on the planet with the capability of telling stories to one another. Stories worm under our defences, help us walk in another’s shoes, see something from a way we haven’t seen before.

Large parts of the Bible are in the form of stories – histories, parables, gospels. They burrow away with truths that detonate in our heart and mind repeatedly days, weeks, months, years after encountering them.

I’m increasingly of the opinion that the debates we enter into as Christians would be changed for the considerably better if we stopped and listened to some stories for a while. Stories take debates out of the abstract and into the everyday. They give a theory a name, an idea, a face, an argument flesh and bones. It’s much harder to use rude names when you’re confronted with someone with their own name.

I was born and raised and remain one of those Christians who broadly fit under the label evangelical. I’m also, in many ways, what you might call an evangelical of a charismatic flavour. I’m not going to explain what those labels mean for me, now: that’s my story and that’s a story for another time. Part of that story is, though, that I grew up with a conservative view of homosexuality. That view of homosexuality remained static over many years; more recently I’ve tried to take a walk round the issue and examine it from different perspectives. It occurred to me that I’d never really examined other points of view on the subject; I’d simply gulped one in with the air I breathed. That can’t be good. As I walked I’ve learned that there are many other stories out there. I’ve learned that there are people in churches of the flavour that I like, who are gay; and they’ve received the message that they’re vile, hated by God and detested. That they can’t love Jesus.

I haven’t finished my wandering around this subject. I can’t say where that wandering will finish, if it ever does. I’m don’t want to call all conservatives homophobes; neither do I want to accept any lifestyle or choice or practice unquestioningly. But I do need to listen. Wherever I finish my wandering, I want to commit to always listening to stories, and always listening well.

So listen with me, will you? And before you and I opine, call people vile or abominations or detested or not-Christians, let’s remember we’re not talking about ideas. We’re talking about a person Jesus died for. A name, a face, a history, a person for whom their sexual orientation is just one part. An important part, to be sure, but only one part nonetheless.

Let’s start by taking 10 minutes to listen to this engaging, humbling, disturbing story.

What, then, shall we say?

We need more stories like this, don’t we? Stories of Jesus and grace and cross and iron nails and visions on beaches. Jesus often seems to do important things on beaches, doesn’t He? Who am I to call this man vile? Who are you?

You’re not, you say. You say you’re just repeating what God says.

Well, Jesus had many hard words to say to those who claimed to speak for God, didn’t He?

What, then, shall we say?

Let’s find a better story.


Movies that move me 5: Amadeus

I don’t speak the language of classical music. Not because I don’t like it, not because I can’t recognise it as beautiful or brilliant, not out of some sort of inverted snobbery. It’s simply that it takes much work for me, like a very alien language. I don’t have the time or energy for another language in my life, so I leave well alone.

As proof that this is the case, not dislike or ignorance or whatever else people have opined to me as the reason, I offer consistently one of my favourite films. Amadeus was released in 1984, the year of my eleventh birthday. I can’t recall when I first saw the film – I suspect about 3 years later on its television premiere – but it made a huge impact on me. In the year of forty-first birthday that impact hasn’t diminished.

It’s directed by Milos Forman (most famous for One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and adapted by the great Peter Shaffer from his own stage play. It tells the story of Mozart’s professional life through the lens of court composer Antonio Salieri, a man tormented by his own relative mediocrity. It opens with an elderly Salieri in some kind institution for the mentally ill, claiming he killed Mozart and unburdening himself to a priest. Through that relationship, with the priest claiming to offer God’s forgiveness, Salieri confesses his awe, jealousy and manipulation of the young genius, ultimately playing a key role in driving him to an early, overworked death.

It’s majestic, moving and utterly beautiful. It’s a study of guilt – who doesn’t reach Salieri’s age without secrets they need absolution from? It’s a study in the corrosive powers of success – the film’s Mozart is perhaps most akin to a modern-day elite sportsman, feted with praise and money he doesn’t have the maturity to handle. It’s a study in marriage under pressure – Constanze, Mozart’s wife, is brilliantly played by Elizabeth Berridge; devoted to her husband, but one partner always just out of reach of the other.

Most of all, it’s a study in creativity and what we who benefit from the creativity want the creators to be like. Mozart should be as sublimely beautiful, dignified and upright as his creations. Instead, as this film and Tom Hulce’s performance renders him, he’s an obnoxious brat with an annoying laugh, no discipline and no self-control. It’s that laugh that divides viewers; it’s that laugh that Salieri hears even before he first lays eyes on the man he discovers to be Mozart. How can this man create such beauty? Thereby hangs the crux of the film, and Salirei’s existential torment. It drives deals he strikes with himself and with God; it defies belief and offends the ears as much the music entrances them. It reaches its height in a spellbinding, unforgettable scene where Salieiri helps a bed-ridden Mozart work on his Requiem (a piece commissioned by a shadowy figure Mozart doesn’t realise to be Salieri himself). Mozart hears the music in his head and dictates it to Salieri, who even then can barely keep up. Even with his nemesis at death’s door, he can’t hope to match him.

Based in truth as it is (though how true it actually is, I don’t know), the film achieves a kind of truth much more true than mere facts, uncovering the deeper realities of limited humanity’s quest for transcendence. That’s why, for instance, the American accents the actors keep throughout the film don’t bother me one jot. The film is so true that the accents are frankly irrelevant; I’m not distracted by them, which I most certainly would have been by bad European accent imitations.

It’s a film which teaches me about beauty, hope, work, creativity and the freedom to take all my prayers – not just the safe, nice ones – to God and leave theme there. In my life as I live it, it’s unmatched, unique and irreplaceable. I can’t imagine my life without it; and I don’t own a single note of Mozart’s music.

I rated this film 5/5 on rottemtomatoes.com and 10/10 on imdb.com

Also in this series: 



Fire In Babylon

Pan’s Labryinth

Shaun Of The Dead & Hot Fuzz