Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

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My apes obsession is well documented on this blog and I make no apologies for the adulation in this post. When I first saw Planet of the Apes on TV in the seventies I was actually coming to the simian party pretty late. Little did I know at that time that there were five movies that had already preceded the television series.

Boy was I in for a treat.

The TV series was cancelled in the first season due to poor audience figures in the US although it was a smash hit in the UK. Apes mania hit the UK in the mid to late seventies. I know. That sounds like a ridiculous statement but it was true. Apes were everywhere: TV, live performances, games, models, games, clothing. It was a real teenybopper phenomenon. Or at least that the way this 12 year old remembers it.

Then came the re-runs of the movies in the cinemas. Imagine these days multiplexes running movies that were five years old?/ Of course this was just before the age of VHS and an age before streaming and on demand. It actually seems weird just writing about how antiquated and in control the film and TV studios were in those days. But the films were mind-blowing to me at once adult and violent but at the same time familiar and vivid thanks to Galen, Burke and Virdon in the TV series.

 

 

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The movies are patchy of course ranging from the taut sixties sci fi of the original with Charlton Heston to increasingly low budgets leading to diminishing returns. I read recently that each ape movie played to society’s fears in each ear and it’s true, they tackle nuclear war, racism, slavery, liberalism, vivisection and all out trepidation for our future.

Tim Burton rebooted the franchise badly a few years ago (how did one of my favourite directors get that so badly wrong) but the recent back to basics approach with the movies is golden. Rise of The Planet of the Apes just appeared with no fanfare, almost like the studio was embarrassed by it but it was a huge success, paving the way for this years’ Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Technology in movie making has meant that we now have Andy Serkis motion capture apes as opposed to John Chamber’s outstanding make up for actors. I love both and at the time we marvelled at the make up and now we don’t even notice that the apes are all CGI, which is testament to the creativity and skills at play. Incidentally, John Chambers also created disguise kits for the CIA as well as Cornelius’s muzzle, I’d like to see CGI do that…but maybe there’s an entire movie franchise in that idea.

I always think a director has you in the palm of his hand when you are rooting for the apes and not the humans and this is what happens in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. There are lots of nods and winks to the old movies (the main orang-utan is called Maurice, a loving nod to Maurice Colman who played Dr Zaius…apologies, I could go on) but the main thrust of the movie is decidedly modern and of its time. Fast, visceral, epic and engaging — this is a summer blockbuster for the masses but doesn’t flinch from delivering hefty moralistic messaging for both apes and men.

Of course the sequel is set up perfectly and I’m sure they are storyboarding as we speak and Andy Serkis is suiting up and you know what?

I can’t wait.

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An obsession with Apes

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The original Planet of the Apes movie franchise ran from 1968 to 1973. The movie franchise was based on the original novel La Planete des Singes or Monkey Planet by Pierre Boulle (who also wrote the original Bridge on the River Kwai book). The first movie in the series starred Charlton Heston and set the bar for drama and originality in the sci-fi genre that was gradually diminished as each movie sequel was released. Only the diehard Planet of the Apes fan would disagree with that statement and I guess that person would be me.

My personal favourites (after the original of course) are ‘Beneath…’ and ‘Battle…’ for lots of obscure fanboy reasons all centred around the gorilla-centric plot lines and the expansion of the original premise that apes now rule our devastated planet. I was keen on the idea being fleshed out and seeing the everyday simian/human existence for some reason fascinated me.

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In 1974 a TV series was created – quite some time after the original movie had been made – I was all over it. Or as much as an 11 year old in the analogue world of Britain in the early seventies could be all over anything. Only fourteen episodes were actually made (why is it that when you discover a fact like this it’s always a surprise) and the show was cancelled midway through its run due to low ratings.

The show is based loosely around the apes ruling the world routine but with the subjugated humans having the ability to talk, helping to create more plot options, clearly. Two astronauts, Burke and Virdon, hook up with chimpanzee Galen and end up having what to modern eyes fairly run of the mill episodes. At the time of course these were monumental clashes between man and ape with the ingenuity of humankind, the wisdom of orangutans, the intelligence of chimpanzees and the barbarity of gorillas all providing plenty of plot options.

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Of course these days if we like a movie or TV show we can record it, buy it, download it, see it umpteen times on catch up or see it endlessly on a lesser channel. But in 1974 it was on once and that was it. Not to be short-changed I recorded each episode on an analogue audio tape deck, sat in front of the television set with a circular dial operated tape cassette .

No, really, I did.

I even stopped and started to cut out the TV ads.I would listen to the deteriorating TDK recordings over and over, trying make out the dialogue amidst the tape hiss and pots and pans being rattled in the background. I can still recall the thrill of the opening credits theme tune and it still to this day sends a chill down my spine.

Although the series was canned in the US, it was much popular in the UK for some reason and it spawned all manner or merchandise and paraphernalia around it. I was already a comic devotee by this time and it’s fair to say that Planet of the Apes caught my imagination in so many ways. The original movie franchise was also released back in to the cinemas which is when I actually saw them all for the first time – all out of the correct order as it happens – and the bug was well and truly caught for me.

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There were the ubiquitous bubble gum cards of course and what self-respecting 11-year-old wasn’t into that? Then came the Marvel comic adaptation which wasn’t bad at all with an alternative take on the ape versus man universe. Toy merchadise was next up and compared to the relentless commercialism around franchises these days, the POTA toys were tame by comparison but very collectable. My favourite was Urko, so I had to get him first, followed by Galen and for bizarrely I wasn’t that fussed for the humans, it was all about the apes for me.

There were also live shows at showgrounds across the country with Apes on horseback chasing down humans, whips, guns and all manner of excitement. We went to see one of the live extravaganzas in Harrogate and my dad managed to get Urko’s autograph for me. I still have it somewhere. There was even what I thought at the time sub standard animated TV series called Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it was no substitute for the main deal, but it slaked our simian thirst.

I look back on my obsession with all things ape with faint embarrassment but with complete understanding of myself now and at that time. I often see things in the geek treasure trove that I think my 11 year old self would be beside himself to even touch, never mind own. My obsessional behavioural pattern was established early in life with boxes of Apes stuff stashed in the loft after the next big thing to come along overtook it (Star Wars I think).

These boxes of well used merchhadise and lovingly curated scrapbooks wait patiently to be discovered in the dusty darkness. In fact, I might go have a look right now…

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Prometheus

I realise that I’m a little late to the party here, but I’ve actually got round to writing up my thoughts on Prometheus.

First up I’d say that the film is visually ravishing. Ridley Scott and his team of art directors and photographers have created one of the most beautifully inventive films I’ve seen in a long time. It’s really one for the geeks too with lots of references back to the original Alien film from 1979. In some ways the dense visual nature of the film hampers the story telling but there’s no denying it: it’s a treat.

I saw it twice and these second time I saw it was on the IMAX 3D which I have to say was spectacular. This film really was made for a screen as tall as three double decker buses with its pin sharp digital print and incredible 3D effects.

Visuals aside then, what of the story? Well it aims to tell the story before the original alien and how they came about and as such that works well. But what Scott has done is build out a wider narrative around the origins of life on earth and all manner of other things and to be honest I think it weighs itself down a bit with all this baggage. It gets a tad pompous at times but manages to keep focused on a taut and pacey action finale with exploding heads, spaceships and giant alien squid things.

Coming from a purely geek perspective it ticks all the boxes although I did have a few continuity issues such as the engineer / space jockey bit at the end but I’m being very picky. I can see how there have been some lukewarm reviews as Scott does try to do too many things with this Prometheus perhaps but I’m prepared to overlook these. On second viewing I found it more enjoyable – Ok some of the set pieces on first viewing blow you away but second time around they can be enjoyed for what they are.

This summer has delivered some amazing movies so far with rollicking adventures with The Avengers and esoteric SciFi with Prometheus. Next up is The Amazing Spider Man and The Dark Knight Rises. Watch this space!

One flew over the cuckoo’s nest

This is the most popular post on my blog by a country mile. And I have no idea why. Perhaps it’s because it’s a popular search term for students or perhaps it’s just one of those books people like to read about.

I thought I’d revisit the review I wrote on the book especially since I saw the movie fairly recently. The book is still pin sharp in my mind some months later and the mood and style of a book is often the thing that endures for me. On top of this, the characters were so beautifully etched that they still shine in my minds eye.

The first thing to note after a late night showing of the cinematic adaptation is that it is actually a very good translation of the book. Of course it won oscars and it featured some incredible performances notably Jack Nicholson with unknown (at the time) actors delivering beautiful performances. All these years, I resisted reading this book because I thought the film would have ruined the book but do you know what? I don’t think it would have. OK, I accept that I did it the other way around which is usually the recipe for disaster but not in this case.

Worth reading the book and seeing the movie then, I don’t think that it matters which order. You choose. They are both telling the same story but in very different ways.

Anyway – here’s my original blog post on the book from earlier this year…

This month’s book club is the less well-known book of the rather famous movie. Most people of a certain age – ie knocking on a bit – will be very familiar with the Jack Nicholson starring, oscar laden celluloid version of the book by Ken Kesey.

But I had reservations about reading this book – I won’t lie.

These reservations were simply that I know the film too well. I’ve seen it countless times – admittedly a few years ago – but the film is a piece of powerful and iconic film making. I was talked round in the end, or perhaps I caved in. Either way, we read it last month.

The first thing to notice is that the book is written from the Chief’s viewpoint. As one of the inmates of the mental hospital, the story being told from his perspective is very different and refreshing from the beginning. The rest of the book has been faithfully told in the film version albeit with the lack of intensity and depth found in literature. Kesey wrote this book in the late 50′s and it speaks of that time – America changing and coming to terms with that change, the onset of the liberal 60′s with all the free love and drugs culture that came with it. It’s a gripping tale of a rebel who gets a bunch of dysfunctional people to function again in some way and it’s a story of sacrifice and human spirit.

The face of Jack Nicholson looms large on every page and although Kesey’s central character doesn’t really resemble Nicholson, it’s hard to shake him off. The true sign of brilliant casting and acting I think. I came to the conclusion that the book was very, very good and that if I’d read it before I’d seen the film it would have scored much higher. I’m not a huge re-reader of books and as a consequence the fact I knew the story well softened the body blows it contains. I scored it a not too shabby 8/10 but it could easily have been a 10.

If you’ve not read it, or not seen the film either, I can highly recommend you read this book.

One word of warning: in the canon of blokey books we have read on our blokes book club, it doesn’t get much blokier. It’s not PC and it contains some language and attitudes that are probably best left in the late 1950′s – but well worth a detour from any sensitive chick lit you might have on the go.

Paramount’s Top 100 Movies

The cool folk over at DKNG Studios have created a lovely poster celebrating the top 100 movies by Paramount Pictures in the past 100 years – how many can you identify?

Silence is Golden

Apologies for the headline, but I suspect that line is bound to be used after the Oscar ceremony next weekend when The silent movie The Artist should gather a good few of the golden statues, on the back of its success at the BAFTAs.

I’ve seen the film knocking around and for whatever reason, not really made the effort. But after seeing all the praise heaped on it, we thought we should do it. Only one cinema in Leeds (Vue The Light) was still showing it pre Oscar so we planned it all out. I know cinema shouldn’t be an effort per se, but it is for me. Transport, work, tired other half, busy schedule etc etc all conspires against cinema in my life – so a visit for us both (with a sister in tow) requires a degree of planning. Anyway, we made it and we had a lovely supper at Fuji Hiro so a perfect evening ensued.

The Artist is unashamedly old fashioned and wonderfully so. I love old films, black and white, Hollywood glamour, romance and all that stuff so this film was right up my street. I’m coming late to the party as far as this film is concerned so perhaps my job is to push waverers over the line.

This should help:

If you like blockbuster movies this isn’t for you.

If you like pretentious art house this isn’t for you.

If you don’t like happy endings, this isn’t for you (spoiler).

On the other hand, if you love craft and care and attention to detail storytelling then this is a film you’d enjoy. It’s a lovingly recreated story of another time, the central theme almost unimaginable to us now. Imagine films that had no sound at all and then when the technology allowed sound to be conveyed what do all the silent artists do then?

Plenty of parallels with the constant change of technology these days, where being adaptable and flexible holds sway over sticking by your guns. I felt for the silent movie star holding out, Canute style, against the tide of the talkies.

I think this film is successful not just because of the novelty factor of a silent film, because it focuses in on what makes a great film – emotion and caring about the characters. I know a film has got to me when I actually start to worry about what’s happening to them and how would I react and what would I say or think. The Artist effortlessly delivers that.

It’s brave and ballsy too – when was the last properly series silent movie made with the courage of its convictions? The actors are luminous: the lack of dialogue makes them work all the harder and their expressive faces stay a long time in the memory.  I just liked it because it hits the spot that many modern films don’t care to – build characters that people will care about and then deliver it in an entertaining way.

Job done.

Abandoned Projectors

 

I grew up in Bramley, West Leeds. In the late seventies and early eighties, there weren’t many local cinemas, in fact it was the era of closing cinemas. And as each local picture house closed, the only option was a bus into Leeds to the ABC or the Odeon.

Except in Armley, where there was The Lyric.

On Tong Road, half-way between Bramley and Leeds, the Lyric was typical of the hundreds of cinemas in Leeds that grew out of the heydey of cinema going. Built in 1922, it was built as a silent picture house and it told a story of another time.

This classic old cinema held a mythical status in our minds. Resolutely open when video was beginning to rule the roost, this grand dame of moving pictures stayed in business and we would walk or bus from our estate and enjoy films on a big screen, as they were intended. We had cocoa when it was cold, snogged on the back row and it was affectionately known as the fleapit.

And then it closed. We paid it no heed, and moved on.

For years I drove past its shell, sitting proudly on Tong Road.  I would pass this cinematic real estate it in my car, reminiscing each time in some small way.

And  then thirty years later there was an invite. An arts project, breathing life into an emblematic West Leeds building that had been drafted into the work of God (the Lyric housed a couple of churches in recent times).

Artist Lucy Skaer discovered that the two original theatre projectors had sat locked in the projection room for all these years. Her ambition was to get the locally made projectors running again – the last film they projected was Good Morning Vietnam in 1988. The projectors have been lovingly restored by Alan Foster, head projectionist at Hyde Park Picture House (and, it turned out, projectionist at The Lyric from 1979-1988 – we were punters there too at this time).

Wow, interesting. The Lyric, sat there, patiently waiting for its projectors to spark into life again, after thirty years.

It was very, very cool to revisit this old friend of a place.

The Lyric has had a time of it recently and although her day job is something else now, she’s a proud old building. It was a genuine joy to see the red neon Lyric sign from Tong Road lovingly restored with original neon beaming down.

The production is ‘Film for an Abandoned Projector’ and I’m thankful that this project made this all happen. Spending time in the hot, noisy projection room was a treat. Talking to the projectionists, seeing the old school skills and techniques and looking over the back of the neon Lyric sign was the biggest treat of all. A sight I thought didn’t even exist.

Skaer describes her film as ‘the imagined subconscious of the projectors’ and that’s a very engaging thought. All the films these machines have projected over the years, onto our imaginations. And over the coming weeks, the film will degrade (as the cinema and projectors have degraded ), becoming ‘marked and flecked in time’.

It strikes me as a very human thought, in touch with our own mortality and humanity.

Robust bits of kit gamely deliver art house flicks, whilst urbanites with toddlers drink Brooklyn lager, in an oasis of culture and respect. This could be perceived as pretentious bollocks.

In this instance, Pavilion’s work may seem niche and contrived to some, but I think it’s vital to the continued life and narrative of our city.

Bravo.

 

 Big thanks to my old Bramley buddy Carl Milner for use of his beautifully evocative images. He’s no slouch on the blog front either, have a read of his far mored detailed post on The Lyric here.