Apes. Together. Strong.

I remember seeing the trailer for The Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes and hearing Andy Serkis' character Caesar gruffly say "Apes. Together. Strong." I also remember many of the people around me in the theater laughing out loud throughout most of the trailer for Apes. I sat there truly hoping that they were laughing out of some kind of ignorance of the reboot's first installment Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, which, admittedly surprised me with a truly beautiful tale of friendship, family, and every living thing's desire to simply be free. I knew I couldn't delude myself though. Most people have heard of the original run of Planet Of The Apes films and despite the fact they're generally well-regarded, they do carry a stigma. Namely, that of a cast dressed in monkey suits that don't totally hold up forty-six years later. And then there's the Tim Burton reboot from 2001 which didn't do too much to improve the series' persona in the eyes of the movie going public. So here I go urging people of all walks of movie going life to band together and pay some money to see Dawn. It's worth it for a number of reasons.

The first of which is that director Matt Reeves decided to take his two most recent films and mash them together tonally. Cloverfield is a non-stop shaky-cam thrill ride with explosions, screaming, and firefights. Let Me In is a much quieter film that focuses far more on building atmosphere and letting relationships between the characters have time to breathe and stretch their legs. Each film hinges respectively on its traits and what's so great about Dawn is that not only does it make a virtue of the action filmmaking that elevated Cloverfield but it also manages to spend as much time on the kind of quiet, emotional character building that attracted Reeves to remaking Let The Right One In in the first place. What this all boils down to is that Dawn really does have something for everyone. 

I saw the film in a theater that's really only a step down from IMAX and I recommend that everyone do the same. The action is thrilling and the sound mix is top notch. But more importantly this film needs to be seen on a giant screen with a stellar projection system because the time and effort put into the apes faces is frankly, out of this world. Motion capture has become a truly amazing tool for almost any type of filmmaker and the advances they've made in even the short time since 2011's Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is astounding.

But it's not just there to look pretty. The motion capture is essential to getting the film's true message across. Just like it's predecessor, Dawn was made to tell a story about family. The broad strokes of the film pit human families against ape families and that can be broadened further to a battle of species v.s. species. But the reason Dawn pulls it off differently than so many other films is because the versus aspect of the story is actually the B storyline. At least as far as I'm concerned. The trailers for the film portrayed it as a story of apes on horseback with M-16's riding in slow motion through flames. And yes that does happen but it's not important. What is important is watching all kinds of creatures simply trying to survive. When violence begins to rear its head before the eyes of the main characters they all attempt to avoid it at all costs. It's only when a villain, and this film does a great job of showing that they exist on all sides, tries to capitalize on the primal fear that all creatures possess and respond to. Fear drives more decisions than any of us would ever like to admit but the sad truth is that when we're scared we'll do anything to survive. Even if that means dashing the hope for peace at our own feet. 

It's incredibly refreshing to see a film that does its best to portray the participants in its big budget action sequences as unwilling. Unlike so many other summer blockbusters and large scale battle films, only a handful of characters in this film actually preach violence as an answer. Almost every violent decision in the film is driven by fear and though it's easier to understand something primal with apes occupying half the screen time it really doesn't take much to translate their behaviors to our own. Late in the film Caesar has the epiphany that apes and humans are more similar than he could have ever imagined. He's devastated in this moment because despite trying so hard to be free and independent of man, the apes still wound up behaving just like them. And because these two species are so similar they're doomed to repeat the violence of the past and eventually find their way to the future represented in the original Planet Of The Apes

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is a film that has its characters trying desperately to create a better world for themselves but more importantly for their families. For their children. They go to all kinds of lengths to promise their children a better world than they had. A world that is peaceful and safe for their families to simply live in. But what the film continues to challenge us with is the idea that if we're so willing to turn a blind eye to the peace we want so badly in order to remove any threat to it, then why can't we simply turn a blind eye to the size of our family? Why can't we see our whole species as our family all the time rather than just when we feel threatened? Shouldn't peace, our ultimate desire, be guiding our decisions rather than fear? If we're such advanced thinkers, then why can't we escape our most primal urges and simply be together, strong?

New Dawn Fades

Joanna Hogg made one of the best films of 2010, a calm but ill wind called Archipelago, but hardly anyone outside the UK ever heard about it, let alone saw it. This despite a star turn from Tom Hiddleston who'd broken through the monotony of The Avengers with his hammy scene-steaming turn. In Archipelago Hogg's keen, cool gaze focused on a family coming apart the seems in the most reserved way imaginable, her compositions turning the upper class in dioramas ready for display in a modern anthropology museum. That brute honesty and careful, precise blocking returns, along with Hiddleston in a small but choice role, in Exhibition, Hogg's newest feature, and it's been augmented with abstraction and theatricality. The two artists at the film's center are always on display, for each other and the world outside, and slowly, thrillingly, the walls between performance and reality begin crumbling. 

Viviane Albertine, former guitarist for artrockers The Slits, and the conceptual painter/sculptor Liam Gillick, who could have a long career reading audiobooks in his damp Aylesbury tenor if the whole art thing ever dries up,  play a married couple who've become strangers to each other. They seem to occupy different levels of their James Melvin-designed modernist cube of a house, communicating largely through an intercom system, their conversations filled with as much blank space as their walls. The one thing they share is that they constantly try to outrun each other to avoid the other's scrutiny. Albertine's D doesn't want to share her work with Gillick's H, for fear that he'll disapprove or exact some psychological toll on it. H similarly doesn't share anything about himself that D can't already see on his face. He never talks about his emotions, but his dissatisfaction and detachment are never less than evident. The two recently decided to sell the house (Hiddleston is their broker, and as usual he’s far more captivating playing normal than he is as a god in the Marvel movies) and though it's never discussed it's obvious that D is not ready to give it up. While they prepare to sell, they go about their work, fail conspicuously at intimacy and try to avoid each other on the big spiral staircase that runs through their house. 

Compared to Unrelated, Hogg’s debut, and Archipelago, the Antonioni-influenced Exhibition is a much more concentrated dose of its director’s proclivities. Hogg, like Ben Wheatley and Clio Barnard, emerged a few years ago with a clear vision of modern life in the UK and has jut gotten better at articulating herself. The tension that once haunted her characters here moves from palpable to excruciating. Surfaces once impeccable are now immaculate, and the emotions they conceal are three times as large in order to mimic the energy expelled keeping them at bay. By choosing to make her lead character a female artist, Hogg has allowed herself a degree of psychological acuity that leads deeper into a character’s mind than she’s ever gone before. D is the first totally subjective character in Hogg’s canon and we see things that plainly are the work of, if not her imagination, then her subconscious. There’s a degree of guess work involved in collating D’s flights of fancy into her life, not to mention Hogg’s typically unblinking realism, and it makes the film all the richer an experience. They could be memories, or actualizations of D’s thoughts on her less than ideal marriage, or they could be brainstorming sessions for her newest installation, but they’re definitely one more piece of the performance piece that she’s constantly engaged in. The question is whether she’s on a stage or in a cage and will the silence in the house ever break? 

Exhibition rarely leaves D and H’s residence, but it does frequently take to the streets and look in on her. The big windows become a way for her to externalize her dissatisfaction, the loud, indifferent streets below her unwilling audience. In one awe-inspiring scene she undresses in front of them, the blinds her only protection, until she uses them as part of her dance. It’s nerve-wracking at first but It becomes comic and tragic when it’s clear that no one is going to look up and see her giving away her image for free. Dramatic irony is a new addition to Hogg’s kitbag and she uses it like an old master. H doesn’t want to perform for D, whom she considers her harshest critic (Gillick’s stilted, half-hearted praise of her ideas stings worse than if he’d dismissed her work outright), yet she’s always on display for an equally difficult crowd. The house she can’t bring herself to surrender forces her to put her most vulnerable self in front of people. It even accidentally gives her husband a front row seat to her creative process, which, like her sexuality, is nothing she never would have given willingly. H routinely secrets himself away from his wife and when he steps out, she wants to investigate his office but seems aware that she’s being watched. The scene shouldn’t be half as tense as it is, their marriage and relatively even tempers would preclude anything rash happening, but this deep into D’s worldview, it’s almost terrifying. H’s passive criticism and active withdrawal create a barrier between the two lovers, but it’s only as thick as a window and a set of blinds. In Exhibition, life is an endless rehearsal for a piece that will never be perfected.