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    Movie review: ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ thought-provoking science fiction

    By Ashley Bergner
    Box Office Buzz

    908991 KS_New_apes“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” was a surprise late-summer hit in 2011, serving as a prequel to the classic sci-fi “Planet of the Apes” film about a team of astronauts who travel to the future and return to find that apes have become the dominant species on the planet Earth. A thought-provoking, emotionally resonant plot and impressive motion capture work elevated it above the shameless, cash-grabbing reboot it easily could have become, and it earned praise from critics and viewers. The good news is, the sequel — “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” — is even stronger, balancing its lifelike special effects and action set pieces with reflections on what it means to be human.

    “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” takes place a decade after the previous film; an opening montage quickly catches audiences up to date about how a virus has devastated most of planet Earth and brought about the collapse of human society. A colony of humans struggling to survive in the post-apocalyptic streets of San Francisco decide to venture out into the wilderness to try to repair a hydroelectric dam that could generate power. In the forest, they discover a complex society of highly-intelligent apes who are becoming increasingly human-like (due to experiments performed on them in the first film). The ape society is led by Caesar (Andy Serkis), a chimpanzee who has gained the ability to speak.

    Although Caesar forms a tenuous agreement with the humans, allowing them to work on the dam, not all of the humans and apes are certain they can trust each other. A betrayal threatens to lead both sides to war and end the humans’ hope for returning to the life they once knew on Earth.

    “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is an unconventional summer blockbuster, but that’s part of what makes it refreshing. Although there are long periods without spoken dialogue (most of the apes communicate by sign language, which is translated in the captions), the film still holds viewers’ attention, thanks to life-like motion capture work by Andy Serkis and other performers as the ape characters.

    Serkis has established himself as a leader in motion capture work, and that recognition is well-earned. Though the animators deserve plenty of credit for creating the CGI apes that blend seamlessly with the live-action film, Serkis adds the subtle layers of emotion that make Caesar a fully-realized character. He is the most “human” of the apes, and the one that struggles the most over the conflict that erupts between the two cultures.

    One of the film’s most interesting themes is the development of the ape society, and how more problems arise within the society the more “human-like” the apes become. With higher levels of intelligence come good traits, such as compassion and appreciation for family and friends, but the apes also discover the darker side of humanity is starting to manifest itself in their own culture: power struggles, lies, jealousy and revenge.

    Another interesting thing about the film is that it doesn’t necessarily pick sides; there are good humans and bad humans, good apes and bad apes. Some see the war between the species as regrettable but unavoidable, while others see it as an opportunity to shift the balance of power. While one could argue that the apes are actually the main characters in this film, among the humans Jason Clarke is a standout as a leader who develops a friendship with Caesar.

    Although the film’s open ending is obviously paving the way for a sequel, I think the ambiguousness also fits well with the tone of the film. It gives audiences space to think about our own strengths and weaknesses as a society and where we might head in the future. The movie does exactly what good science fiction should do: both entertain and enlighten.


    The post Movie review: ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ thought-provoking science fiction appeared first on Transmissions From Atlantis.

    Movie review: ‘Captain America: The Winter Solider’ a tense, exciting superhero thriller

    By Ashley Bergner
    Box Office Buzz

    470643 KS_New_capAWatch out, Iron Man and Thor — the gauntlet has been thrown. Though the two Avengers may have had stronger origin films, it’s Captain America who has the best sequel, wrapping up Marvel’s Phase Two solo Avenger films with a politically-tinged thriller that’s tense, exciting and genuinely game-changing for the Marvel cinematic universe.

    Like “Iron Man 3″ and “Thor: The Dark World,” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” takes place after the events of “The Avengers.” Steve Rogers/”Captain America” (Chris Evans) — a WWII super soldier who was frozen and revived 70 years later — is now a full-fledged S.H.I.E.L.D. operative, and he appears — at least on the surface — to be adjusting well to life in the modern era. He’s learned how to use technology such as cell phones and the Internet, and he keeps a notebook full of things he needs to catch up on (an amusing list that includes pop culture items such as “Star Wars” and “Star Trek”). However, in quiet moments, it’s easy to see the pain lingering in his eyes, and he’s still grieving for the friends he left behind and the life — and love — he never got to experience. He’s also beginning to realize the war he’s fighting now is far more morally ambiguous.

    Rogers and fellow Avenger Natasha Romanoff/”Black Widow” (Scarlett Johansson) are dispatched on a seemingly routine mission to rescue hostages from a band of pirates who have taken over a S.H.I.E.L.D. ship. Or at least that’s what Rogers is told the mission is about. The truth is far more complicated, and as the lies he’s been told start to come to light, Rogers is no longer sure who he can trust. After a shocking and tragic death rocks S.H.I.E.L.D., Rogers finds himself on the run from the very organization he swore to serve. He has to decide how high a price he’s willing to pay for his country’s security, and the secret he and Black Widow uncover about S.H.I.E.L.D. creates a shock-wave that will be felt in many Marvel films to come.

    “Captain America: The Winter Solider” has a different tone than some of the previous Marvel films, and it’s arguably the most timely. The issues it addresses are the same ones we see popping up in real-world headlines: what are the ethics of modern espionage; how much freedom should we be willing to sacrifice for the sake of security; and how to tell the difference between the “good guys” and the “bad guys.” The film’s subtitle is, I think, purposefully deceptive. A mysterious assassin known as “the Winter Solider” was featured prominently in the trailers, but viewers quickly begin to wonder if he’s really the main villain, or if he’s even ultimately a villain at all.

    Chris Evans is well cast as Captain America/Steve Rogers. Though he’s played the character twice before, he’s even better this time around. He captures the character’s old-fashioned manners and charm, but also coveys the burden Rogers carries as a man ripped out of his own time. He works well with Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow; I think it was a great idea to pair up the characters in this film. Although at first they appear to be complete opposites — unlike the Cap, Black Widow has no problems with the slippery morals of espionage — they are both haunted by their pasts and a sense of regret. The two characters share a flirty chemistry, trading banter throughout the film; it will be interesting to see where this leads in future Marvel movies.

    Samuel L. Jackson is great, as always, as S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury, and I also enjoyed seeing Cobie Smulders return as Agent Maria Hill. My favorite of the newcomers was Anthony Mackie as a new superhero, Sam Wilson/”Falcon.” His friendship with Captain America was one of the highlights of the film for me, and I hope he shows up in future Marvel projects as well.

    “Captain America: The Winter Solider” is one of the best of the Marvel films we’ve seen so far, and it serves as a great lead-in to next year’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (make sure you stay for the credits!) *Spoiler alert!* While I was pretty sure Robert Redford’s senior S.H.I.E.L.D. leader Alexander Pierce had a sinister side, I didn’t see the film’s big “HYDRA” twist coming. I’m curious to see how this affects future Marvel films, as well as Marvel’s spin-off TV show “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”

    “Captain America: The Winter Solider” is a fun, engaging sequel, and it’s my favorite movie of the year so far. It’s definitely a must-see for Marvel fans.

    The post Movie review: ‘Captain America: The Winter Solider’ a tense, exciting superhero thriller appeared first on Transmissions From Atlantis.

    Movie review: ‘Catching Fire’ a bigger, better sequel with a timely message

    By Ashley Bergner Box Office Buzz “There are no winners, only survivors.” Those haunting words, spoken by a former “Hunger Games” victor, sum up the sobering truth about the games. In a post-apocalyptic North American society, teenagers — known as “tributes” — are forced to fight in a yearly televised death match as punishment for … Continue reading

    The post Movie review: ‘Catching Fire’ a bigger, better sequel with a timely message appeared first on Transmissions From Atlantis.