DAWN OF EXCELLENCE

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES IS THAT RAREST OF CREATURES, A SMART AND STYLISH SCI-FI SEQUEL THAT BUILDS ON THE STRENGTHS AND SUCCESS OF ITS PREDECESSOR

Director: Matt Reeves
Starring: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell and Toby Kebbell
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
Rated:  PG-13
Running Time: 2 Hrs, 10 Mins

I had to admit, I was nervous about this one. 2011’s Rise of the Planet of Apes was my favourite movie of that year, and even though I was never that into the Charlton Heston originals (to be honest, as a little kid they creeped me out more then a bit) and I refuse to even talk about Tim Burton’s 2001 remake starring Mark Wahlberg, I loved the storytelling efforts that went into director Rupert Wyatt’s reimagined franchise as well as the spectacular work behind not only bringing the titular apes to life, but also making them so life-like. So genuine. Having said all that, I was nervous that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes would be, as sequels so often are, a disappointment. Sometimes being wrong is awesome.

Dawn takes place a full decade after Rise, and the virus was revealed during Rise’s end credits was dubbed the simian flu and has swept the globe, killing the majority of the human race. What little bits of humanity the flu didn’t get fell upon itself with violent, cannibalistic zeal, pushing human beings to the edge of extinction. The genetically enhanced apes, meanwhile, have quietly built a home in the woods around San Francisco, their numbers growing and thriving under the guidance of Caesar (Andy Serkis) while the human world burned and crumbled into ruin around them. That is until a chance encounter in the woods between a handful of desperate human survivors and apes brings the two worlds colliding violently together. Caesar and humans Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Ellie (Keri Russell) find themselves forging a reluctant trust and trying to preserve a fragile peace threatened by bigotry and hate on both sides. It isn’t long before Caesar faces challenges to his authority by vengeful members of his tribe while the human sympathizers find themselves trying to overcome intolerance among the human survivors.
Screen writers Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and the rest of their team are given freedom to explore not only the characters in their story, but also the themes inherent in it, (a rarity in any summer film). Can mere mortals, be they Ape or Human, overcome the forces of hate, bigotry and prejudice? Instead of harshly compromising the stronger elements of the story, director Matt Reeves compliments the flow and nuance of the script, letting the story unfold unrushed, injecting moments of powerful emotion and touching sensitivity wherever needed to make this fantasy world of humans and apes authentic and believable. And while the story is allowed to evolve, Dawn doesn’t shy away from action, rather using violence as another tool to motivate the plot. The special effects required to make the apes so convincing are jaw dropping (these apes don’t look like mere digital mirages cast on screen, rather like you could actually reach out and touch them) and if Andy Serkis doesn’t receive some Oscar love for his portrayal of Caesar, then the Academy needs a swift kick in the posterior. Serkis creates a leader of dignity and strength and tragic grace and by the end of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes you’re convinced that Caesar is better then any human leader the real world offers today. Torn between the overpowering instinct to protect his family and tribe as well as his distrust of humans and the wisdom that he needs to avoid war at almost any cost, Caesar is a one of the best characters you’re likely to see in any movie this summer. You’re so consumed watching Serkis’ Caesar (and his violent ape counterpart Koba, played brilliantly by Tony Kebbell) that you forget that Gary Oldman’s even in this movie.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the best movie I’ve seen so far this year, and it’s the kind of smart, entertaining summer blockbuster we need more of. It was an excellent pallet cleanser to the likes of Transformers (which I very, very reluctantly liked) and should be a model for sequel making. Dawn is genuinely the second chapter in a larger story and its apparent the filmmakers had a well thought out plan heading into these movies, one they’re carefully crafting and executing. I can hardly wait for the promised third (and final?) movie and deep down, I’m hoping for a TV presence tailored by the same producers (you listening HBO?) Going into this move I was expecting to side with the apes, but one of the ideas that it so elegantly pursues is that there is no winner in war, that war is a tragedy in and of itself. And that hate has a long memory, that it takes more strength then we sometimes have to forgive and even the best of us can fail to protect us from ourselves. The acts that set the eventual, inevitable war between the two sides into motion resemble tactics used by various governments and administrations to sell unnecessary and pointless wars to voting publics. Dawn isn’t just excellent entertainment, but it turns out to be a brilliant, thought provoking reflection of the chaotic, often unforgiving but sometimes beautiful world we inhabit outside the movie theatre.

Shayne Kempton

Advertisements

LOWER EXPECTATIONS

I USED TO BRAG ABOUT HOW SMART AND SUPPORTIVE SENS FANS WERE, BUT FOLLOWING THE JASON SPEZZA TRADE I’VE HAD TO RECONSIDER

     I like the Ottawa Senators. I really do. I never wanted to. When I moved to the nation’s capital my loyalty already belonged to the beleaguered Edmonton Oilers and at that time, the still infant Senators franchise was just about the only one in the NHL the Oilers could look down on (the Oilers were going through their first playoff drought, turns out it was just a warm up for the decade of despair Edmonton is currently mired in). The Sens weren’t just bad during those days; they were historically bad, setting records for sucking. Why would I want to that to myself? But despite my best efforts, the Sens grew on me and looking back, it isn’t unusual given the similarities between the two organizations. Both were small market Canadian teams, short on cash and unable to attract star players they both concentrated their efforts on building with young talent. The Oilers ended their playoff skid the same year the Sens earned their first (modern) playoff berth, both teams flirted with bankruptcy and relocation before the 2004-05 lockout, and Ottawa made it, all the way to the Stanley Cup finals in 2007 after the Oilers fought and clawed their way there in 2006. When the Oilers missed out on the post-season (more often then not, I’m sad to say), I could follow the Sens and I was happy to see Ales Hemsky, who always got a bum wrap in Edmonton, get dealt to the Sens at last season’s trade deadline. I was hoping Ottawa would make a last minute push, grab the final playoff spot in the East and give Hemmer a well deserved taste of the post-season after the Oilers lengthy stay in the NHL’s basement (so much for that).
And I’ve defended Sens fans more times then I can count. I actually give Sens fans a lot of credit. Ottawa never should have been awarded their franchise over Hamilton in 1990. Canada’s steel town had a stronger bid, with a new NHL ready building in Copps Coliseum, a tonne of cash and was a hockey starved city that sat right in the middle of the most underserviced hockey market on the planet. Now I’m not a big conspiracy guy (even the grandest theory falls apart after the first brush with anything resembling logic) but outside of Hamilton’s bid being sabotaged by Toronto and Buffalo, I’ve often thought in the years since that awarding the Sens to Ottawa was the NHL’s attempts to pacify Canadian fans while putting a franchise in a market destined to fail and eventually relocate to an American one (and that was before Gary’s time, Bettman haters). Ottawa didn’t even have a building, and the Senators would share the Civic Centre (capacity 10,500) with the OHL Ottawa 67’s from 1992 until the then Palladium opened in the winter of 1996, there were legitimate questions surrounding Ottawa’s ownership group (Rod Bryden came on as an additional owner in the first year) as well as concern’s about the team’s financing (the original ownership group had to leverage real estate because they couldn’t afford the entrance fee). And the Senators were already behind the marketing eight ball since every hockey fan in the area was already loyal to either the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Montreal Canadiens (and the team’s epic badness made promoting them even more of a Herculean labour). Toss in multiple fiascos with Alexei Yashin and the bust that was Alexandre Daigle and it’s no small wonder that the Senators survived those dark years. In short Sens fans, in a market renown for being fickle with it’s sporting dollars, you came through. Big.
So that’s why I’ve been more then a little disappointed by some of what I’ve been reading and hearing following the Jason Spezza trade on Canada Day. Because while I’ve found plenty of it downright funny, the truth is history has taught to expect better from the Sens Army, and all chuckles aside, you’ve been disappointing me.
I used to think Sens fans were a little less delusional then the average hockey fan (many of my fellow Oilers fans, for instance), but I must confess that it’s been a treat reading all the claims that the Sens won this trade, or all the “analysts” claiming they’ll win it in the long run, or that the Senators are better off without Spezza. Lean in close Ottawa and listen up, when you traded Spezza and Ludwig Karlsson to Dallas for Alex Chiasson, prospects Alex Guptill and Nicholas Paul and a second round pick in 2015, you got worse. A lot worse. And it was only deepened when Ales Hemsky bolted to Dallas to join Spezza as a free agent. Alex Chiasson is a good player, (he wouldn’t be in the NHL if he wasn’t), but follow the math on this; the 23 year old forward had 13 goals and 35 points in 79 games last season (giving him career totals of 19 goals and 42 points in 86 games) to Spezza’s 23 goals and 66 points in 75 games. Chiasson went through 19 and 12 game scoring droughts and while Spezza was often bashed for his lack of defensive play, Chiasson was a team worst -21 on a playoff bound team that scored more goals than it allowed. And one word pretty much sums up the prospects Ottawa got in the deal: who? The most hardcore hockey pundit had to look them up and even Murray had to consult hand written notes during that day’s press conference because he knew next to nothing about them. That generally isn’t a good sign and there is a very good chance that neither player will ever see significant time in the NHL (and while we’re on the topic, I wouldn’t rush to invest too much in the idea that that Kyle Turris, who enjoyed a career season last campaign with 58 points, steps up and fills Spezza’s skates now that he’ll be facing the opposition’s top defenders-without Spezza, Kyle’s going to be seeing a lot more of Zdeno Chara this season).
The Spezza trade should concern Sens fans for other reasons as well, and now I’m drawing on my painful, tragedy-ridden experience as an Oilers fan here. The Sens traded Spezza’s seven million dollar cap hit (and four million actual salary) in return for Chiasson’s $866,000 annual salary, so this deal reeks as little more then a salary dump. According to CapGeek.com, before the Sens sign RFA goalie Robin Lehtner, Ottawa currently has the fourth lowest payroll in the NHL. Trust me, when a general manager says he’s building a “hard working, competitive team,” that’s code for “cheap,” and cheap teams don’t come within shouting distance of the Stanley Cup. And scoring by committee? That’s also code, for admitting that you don’t have a legit scoring threat on your entire roster.
That leads me to my second point: Sens fans need to toughen up because the next season or two are looking like they’re going be long ones. And right now, I gotta’ admit, I don’t know if you have it in you Sens Army. The last few years Sens fans have earned themselves a reputation for being less supportive then a broken training bra. Whenever the Sens hit hard times, the people whose job it is to sell tickets usually start spending a lot more time at the bar. I have no doubt there’ll probably be plenty of excuses for possibly lower ticket sales this season (poor economy, why would I support a bad team, ect. etc.), but keep in mind that struggling ticket sales isn’t a problem that other, technically smaller Canadian markets like Edmonton, Calgary or Winnipeg have to worry about. And those teams have played a combined 0 playoff games the past three seasons. While I hope I’m wrong, I have to say I just don’t see the same perseverance or intestinal fortitude in the current breed of Sens fan that I saw supporting a horrifically rotten team years ago.
Not all Sens fans are celebrating (about thirty fans held a Rally for Jason in downtown Ottawa in May, trying to convince the Sens to keep Spezza), but the ones celebrating Spezza’s departure and are working under the delusion that the Sens won this trade (seriously, that’s a knee slapper) have the loudest voices and are giving Sens fans at large a bad rep. One question that Sens fans really need to ask themselves is why in the past calendar year, Jason Spezza and longtime face of the franchise Daniel Alfredson, who played their entire careers wearing a Senators jersey, wanted to leave? Are Chris Neil and Chris Phillips, the only two Sens remaining from Ottawa’s 2007 Cup run, thinking twice about their place on the current roster? How does this bode for keeping Bobby Ryan, Clarke MacArthur, Marc Methot and Craig Anderson, all potential UFAs next July, in the nation’s capital? I have a feeling that Ottawa fans will have a lot of time on their hands this season to try and find the answers.

Shayne Kempton

P.S. All the very best to Bryan Murray on his fight with cancer. Thoughts and wishes go out to both him and his family.

SOLID HEAVY METAL

TRANSFORMERS 4: AGE OF EXTINCTION HAS PLENTY OF WARTS AND WILL HAVE MORE THAN ITS FAIR SHARE OF CRITICS, BUT FOR FANBOYS IT’S A GUILTILY DECENT ENTRY IN THE FRANCHISE

Director: Michael Bay
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammar, Titus Welliver, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, J.T. Miller and Peter Cullen
Studio: Paramount
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 2Hrs, 45 Min.

Michael Bay, you got some ‘splainin’ to do.
The entire reason I was looking forward to seeing Transformers 4: Age of Extinction is because I was promised my favourite Autobots of all time-the Dinobots. A large portion of this inevitable blockbuster’s promotion and marketing was centered on the inclusion of the lumbering yet awesome prehistoric robo-beasts. And not only did they get little more than a glorified cameo, reduced to mere props during the movie’s climactic action scene, with no back story or explanation, but they left my ABSOLUTE favourite-Slag the stegosaurus-out completely.

You might think that given the fact that the entire reason I went to see T4 was ruined, I’d have hated the movie. And I was tempted to, but T4 isn’t horrible, and it was a much-needed upgrade on the second and third movies in the Transformers trilogy (though not as good as the first). Extinction manages to redeem the franchise just enough to breathe new life into a property that was dangerously close to becoming stale and irrelevant. And I must admit, I’ve always had a soft spot for Michael Bay’s Transformers movies that has more to do with nostalgia then genuine affection. When I was a kid, nothing excited my imagination more than Transformers; the toys, the cartoon, the comic book, I ate it all up and was hungry for more. And when they released a full-length animated feature film in 1986 that may or may not have included the death of Autobot leader Optimus Prime (I couldn’t convince my parents to take me to see the movie in the theatre so I didn’t find out until that fall’s new season of the after school cartoon that Optimus did indeed bite the big one), one that was rated PG instead of G no less? Well, forget about it. That’s why, no matter how groantastic Bay’s movies got (particularly the second one), I couldn’t help but adore them in a shameful fan boy kind of way.
It’s been five years since the events of Transformers 3, and following the destruction of Chicago, the world has turned on the Transformers, forcing Autobots and Decepticons alike into hiding. Elite military units (aided by a mysterious new force) hunt refugees down with lethal efficiency, killing former allies under the veil of political secrecy while a powerful multinational corporation harvests the secrets from their corpses. Meanwhile in Texas, inventor Cade Yeager is on the verge of losing both his home and his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) but sees his luck take a turn for the worse when he buys the wreckage of a truck he intends to sell as salvage. He soon discovers that the truck is a badly wounded Optimus Prime in hiding and from there, the hunt is on as Prime and his reluctant new human allies find themselves on the run from shadowy government forces, powerful aliens with an unknown agenda as well as a new breed of Transformer being controlled by a familiar malevolence. And before you know it, the entire world needs saving while Cade tries to convince Optimus that not all human are psychotic jerks (good luck with that).
T4 stands as it’s own flick in the series, and while events from previous movies are referenced for story purposes there’s no mention of previous characters other then Autobots that no longer enjoy starring roles (other then Optimus, the only Autobot to return from the previous films is Bumblebee). The special effects are an orgasm of awesome, and Bay and company throw in a few new extras to keep things fresh. You’ll have to forgive or ignore the customary holes in the plot if you really want to enjoy T4 (seriously, the plot does have more holes then three tonnes of Swiss cheese), and since this is a Michael Bay movie there’s an explosion every thirty seconds or so and no shortage of giant robot fistfights. And when the Dinobots do appear on screen, they’ll make Transformer fan boys swoon.
What to say about the human characters? The true stars of these flicks are and always have been the robots, so the humans are unimportant. Having said that, Mark Wahlberg is efficient as the struggling Cade Yeager, trying to protect his daughter from the chaos and devastation that now surrounds them as well as her new boyfriend (Shane Dyson played by Jack Reynor). J.T. Miller hangs around in the first act to offer comedic relief, which usually misses the mark, but Stanley Tucci picks up the comedy baton as Joshua Joyce, a greedy and flaky corporate tycoon turned reluctant, little-girl-screaming world savior. And while Kelsey Grammar is convincing as the hard nosed, unforgiving Harold Attinger, whose responsible for hunting down and exterminating every Transformer he can get his hands on (and who almost makes Dick Cheney look cuddly), Titus Welliver just can’t give Attinger’s CIA field operative James Avoy the necessary snarl you’d expect to find in a professional soldier who stares down giant robots as part of his day job. After that, the humans are merely set pieces who spend most of the movie running around and screaming. Peter Cullen returns as the voice of Optimus Prime, John Goodman and Phil Watanabe voice newcomers Hound and Drift while in a nod to the uber-popular 80’s cartoon, Frank Welker shows up to do some voice work as well.
Would I have liked T4 if it wasn’t for my adolescent love of Transformers? Probably not. In fact, had it not been for my love for the property I would have just spent the past two pages ripping apart the juvenile writing, mediocre characterization and ignoring the obvious questions the movie doesn’t even try to answer (Why does the Transformer pterodactyl have two heads? Do some Autobots really like Japanese culture, explaining the presence of a Transformer samurai? And how Optimus handles the Dinobots-which again, were never explained-after all the fighting and he doesn’t need them anymore is a genuine head scratcher). Despite my affection for the property, I’ll readily admit that T4 is far from perfect, bordering on OK, and it will undoubtedly have legions of justifiable haters, whose opinions will be perfectly valid. But it’ll still make a billion dollars regardless. Michael Bay is a master at getting us to ignore plot holes and storytelling failures with explosions and special effects, and in this case he had my childhood nostalgia working for him as well. T4 plants seeds about future movies and the film ends on an almost to be continued note (the next movie looks like it may delve into the origin of the Transformers species, dealing with their Creators and their motives) and hopefully by then Bay will have figured out how to shorten these films down a bit (T4 runs nearly three hours and it definitely lags in places) and may have improved his story telling skills (one criticism I have of the franchise as a whole is that Optimus just doesn’t seem to be the same dignified ‘Bot from my childhood, and definitely doesn’t seem to be the kind of inspirational leader that commands absolute loyalty and espect from his followers). But either way, Michael Bay still owes me a Dinobot movie.

Shayne Kempton