Movie Reviews: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes ****
Pudsey the Dog **
I Am Divine ****

A simian flu has wiped out vast swathes of humanity as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (12A) opens, leaving isolated pockets of humans clinging on, such as in the San Francisco colony led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) and Malcolm (Jason Clarke). Meanwhile, deep in the forests of California, a civilisation of genetically evolved primates is taking hold, led by Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his trusted lieutenant, Koba (Toby Kebbell).

When the humans venture into the forest in search of a power source that might allow them rebuild their cities, the countdown to war between man and ape begins. This sequel to a second attempt to reboot the Planet of the Apes story is as gripping as its predecessor, not least because technological developments have given the filmmakers the opportunity to make the ape characters every bit as realistic as their human counterparts. Indeed, while we might be expected to side with the humans in this story, given the creeping horror of the prospect of human civilisation being ripped apart by our evolutionary inferiors (a neat comparison made between the humans’ ruined city and the apes’ primitive settlement establishes their respective fall and rise as societies), the most sympathetic performances come from the apes — and particularly from Andy Serkis as the wise, peace-loving Caesar, and Nick Thurston as Caesar’s son, Blue Eyes. The regular eruptions of violence are well marshalled by director Matt Reeves, but while the story careers along at a tremendous pace, it might have benefited from a more measured progression — more cynical viewers, for example, might balk at the speed at which the apes become superbly proficient in the use of sophisticated firearms. That said, the movie is at its most compelling in the quieter moments, as the apes establish their threat and a primitive kind of politics emerges in the simian ranks.

Described by no less an expert than Simon Cowell as “one of the best dancing dogs I’ve ever seen”, Pudsey — the winner of the 2012 Britain’s Got Talent award — makes his big screen debut in the informatively titled Pudsey the Dog (PG).

A cheeky stray happy to roam the streets of London, Pudsey (voiced by David Walliams) is taken in by siblings Molly (Izzy Meikle-Small), George (Spike White) and Tommy (Malachy Knights). Unfortunately for the city-loving dog, the family are being moved to the countryside by their divorced mother Gail (Jessica Hynes), where the idyllic setting is being threatened by their new landlord, the sinister Mr Thorne (John Sessions), who wants to rip up all those beautiful green fields and build a shopping centre. Can Pudsey save the day? A superficially charming presence on screen, Pudsey bounces his way through a paper-thin plot, occasionally pausing to stand on his hind legs and twirl in circles, while the human characters shuffle around and try (in vain) to generate some intrigue. A cheap and shrilly cheerful cash-in on the most vacuous of celebrity, this one is strictly for only the most ardent of dog lovers.

I Am Divine (15A) is a documentary charting the life of one of American cinema’s most colourful characters, Glenn Milstead, aka Divine, the muse and flamboyant star of John Waters’ iconic films.

Directed by Jeffrey Schwarz, it’s a conventional documentary in terms of its narrative as it begins with Divine’s apparently normal, suburban youth in Baltimore, with a host of talking heads offering personal anecdotes about their experience of knowing and working with the infamous diva. Schwarz can afford to be straightforward in his storytelling, however, given the extent to which Divine — encouraged by his artistic soulmate Waters — sloughed off his upbringing to become a star who was, as one of the contributors comments, ‘simultaneously sexy and monstrous and terrifying’. For all of the artistic and gender boundary-breaking, however — and if you’re not familiar with Divine’s story, be advised not to see this movie on an empty stomach — the most affecting moments come from the interviews with his mother, from whom Divine was estranged for much of his adult life before a belated reconciliation. Every bit as enthralling, outrageous and heartbreaking as its subject, I Am Divine is a richly detailed tale of a uniquely fascinating life.

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