Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves, 2014)

What's it about? 10 years after the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes (ROTPOTA), super-smart chimp Caeser and fellow apes have established a community in the forests outside San Francisco. But their peaceful existence is threatened when human survivors of the global simian flu enter their territory.

Is it any good? If ROTPOTA was a furry version of Spartacus, this is a furry version of X-Men: First Class. Caeser takes the Professor X role, urging that his genetically altered companions live in peace with humans. His friend Koba is the Magneto-esque character, tortured by humans in his youth, now hell-bent on destroying them. Which was fine with me, incidentally, because the humans on display here are underwritten, wooden characters in comparison to the apes - obviously they haven't evolved to be interesting since their similarly dull predecessors in ROTPOTA. So it's up to the apes to keep the attention, which they do, with some nicely observed 'natural' moments of ape interaction mixed in with some crowd-pleasing stunts and action. Once again, it's a testament to the superb motion-capture performances and CGI that this always looks and feels utterly real, yes, even when it's a gun-toting chimp on horseback attacking a tank (which didn't quite trump ROTPOTA's gorilla-attacking-a-helicopter moment, but was nonetheless thoroughly enjoyable). Overall, it's not quite as good as ROTPOTA, but it does enough to keep the interest for another round of monkey business.

Anything else I should know? I got my copy of this film from a street dealer in return for a packet of KP nuts. It's true what they say; you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

What does the Fonz think? X-Chimp: Furred Ass

Interstellar (Christopher Nolan, 2014)

What’s it about? On a not-that-futuristic Earth, the food is running out, threatening the existence of the human race. Hope for survival lies with NASA pilot-turned-struggling-dustbowl-farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), who is recruited by Professor Brand (Michael Caine) to boldly go on a secret mission into space to find a new world for humanity to live on. Only to do so, he must leave his family behind. 

Is it any good? You would have to be a pretty poor specimen of the human race to not be enthused or stimulated by the stuff Nolan tackles here. The future of Mankind, the nature of love, wormholes, black holes, artificial intelligence,  ghosts, relativity, combine harvesters with a mind of their own; these are all things that have exercised the minds of men since time began. Thing is, many sci-fi film-makers and writers have tackled this stuff previously, so does Interstellar bring anything new to the table?

Well, not really, although there is still much to like here. Nolan primarily aims to celebrate two things; the pioneering spirit of the human race and their capacity for love. The first is championed through science and Man’s thirst for knowledge, with some pretty heavy astrophysics mapped out economically without patronising the viewer. There’s some cool gadgets on display too, particularly the splendidly designed robot TARS, who gets all the best lines and who is an instant addition to the list of great movie robots. Fittingly, the celebration of science onscreen is reflected by the technical advances behind the scenes, which results in some stunning visuals and sound design.

Balanced against the scientific element is the second theme - the exploration of human love and intimacy, exemplified in the relationship between Cooper and his daughter Murph. Some clunky dialogue aside, the cast do good work here to engage the emotions, as the film reminds us there are things science cannot explain (yet?). Not sure these moments really needed the looming Hans Zimmer score, though, which gives the impression of a man who has collapsed onto his organ at times under the weight of the film’s themes.

However, the problem for both elements is that they hang upon a terribly baggy plot, which confuses, rather than surprises, by throwing some rather illogical and contrived plot developments into the mix. As a result, and somewhat ironically for a film so concerned with time and gravity, it ends up being too long and too heavy overall, in danger of collapsing in on itself at times. Nolan must have been too close to a black hole when he made it (award yourself 2001 space-points if you understand that joke). I couldn't help thinking that a previous McConaughey film, Contact, based on the excellent book by astrophysicist Carl Sagan, dealt with much the same themes to better (if less spectacular) effect.

And thus, as I headed out gently into the good night from the cinema, I concluded that Interstellar might not be the ultimate trip to the movies, but it had enough of the right stuff to make it a worthwhile (star) trek.

Anything else I should know? Still struggling with relativity? Here's an simple and explanation, through the medium of a dazed and confused Matthew McConaughey*.

*May not be entirely accurate.

What does the Fonz think? It’s like Steinbeck meets Star Trek: The Grapes of the Wrath of Caine.

22 Jump Street (Lord & Miller, 2014)

The success of my first review meant a follow-up was inevitable, so I've made sure not to mess with the formula too much, although this review was much more expensive to write.

What's it about? Fresh-faced rookie No longer fresh-faced, cops Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are nonetheless assigned to an undercover assignment where they must pose as high school college students to infiltrate a drugs gang. But former nerd Schmidt and former jock Jenko find high school college has changed a lot since their day puts a strain on their bromance. Fishes-out-of-water Relationship hijinks ensue.

Is it any good? I wasn't entirely sure I would like this this would pull off the same trick again, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it was quite good fun, thanks again to appealing and funny performances by Tatum (showing a hitherto unsuspected continuing to show a talent for comedy) and Hill (showing a hitherto unsuspected continuing to show an ability to be thin). Okay, so Hot Fuzz 21 Jump Street pastiched the mismatched buddy, action-comedy cop-show a few years ago, but this also delivers good laughs, funny set-pieces and a couple of many, many knowing winks at the viewer about what they're doing here, as they gleefully take the piss out of the sequel formula, particularly in the very funny end credit sequence. It could have done with a stronger bad-guy and has a few too many dick jokes (if such a thing is possible), but it keeps things snappy and I laughed a few times, and not just because I was drinking at the time. Plus Ice Cube is in it, and he's just cool. (Cool? Ice Cube? Zing! What? What’s wrong with using the same joke again? Or the same review?)

Anything else I should know? Readers of a certain vintage will no doubt recall the cheesy 80s TV series, which launched the career of one Johnny Depp, also starred Richard Grieco, who went on to star in spin-off series Booker. And where there's a movie revamp sequel of an old TV show, there's bound to be a new cameo. Can you guess who it might be?

What does the Fonz think? Passes the test. Again.

Buy it on Amazon

The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, 2014)

What's it about? A struggling single mother (Essie Davis) becomes increasingly stressed by her 6-year old son's behavioural problems and his insistence that a monster called Mr Babadook has emerged from the pages of a mysterious book and invaded their home. Obviously, it's all in his head. Isn't it....?

Is it any good? Yes, very good indeed, for two main reasons. First, it's doesn't rely on easy scares, preferring instead to build up a claustrophobic sense of unease and tension. Whilst we never see much of the monster, we certainly hear it, with a superbly unsettling sound design ratcheting up the tension levels. Director Jennifer Kent is obviously well-versed in the psychological horror genre, nodding towards the stylistic flourishes of early horror cinema, with elements of Hitchcock, Polanski and Lynch in there too, as it juxtaposes the mundane elements of everyday life with creeping, possibly supernatural, intrusions to the family home. Plus there's a touch of Tim Burton/Henry Selick animation between the pages of the ghoulish pop-up book. So all that adds up to a nicely chilly atmosphere of dread, set in surroundings filled with foreboding.

However, the second reason this is effective is that it's actually about something, focusing as it does on the strained, and affecting, relationship between mother and child. The problem initially appears to be with the child (a superb, wide-eyed turn from young Noah Wiseman), whose behaviour will no doubt strike a chord with any parent who has ever been embarrassed or aggravated by their children. However, it soon becomes clear that Mr Babadook could easily be the manifestation of the demons experienced by the mother, grief-stricken over the death of the boy's father and possibly resentful of her child as a result. Again, this harks back to influential horror touchstones like The Haunting and The Innocents, with We Need to Talk About Kevin a pertinent modern parallel, all films which question the psychological reliability of the female lead. This subtext gives it a bigger impact, since we end up caring about the two characters and their eventual fate, which in turn heightens the tension as the film proceeds to a slightly odd, but smart ending. I very much liked it, and was genuinely a bit unnerved, not least by the voice of the Baba-dook, Dook, DOOOOOOKHHH!!! Eeeek! Run away!

Anything else I should know? Parents who read bedtime stories to their kids will recognise that moment in the film when you start to doubt if the seemingly innocent book is really all that suitable as a bedtime story. Here's the Top 6 books to avoid reading your children at bedtime.

  1. Watership Down. Violence, death, hallucinations, more death. don't be fooled by the picture of the fluffy bunny on the front.
  2. The Pied Piper of Hamelin. A wandering minstrel who can control RATS steals all the children from a town, never to see their parents again. Except for one lame boy, thereby teaching children it's better and safer to be disabled.
  3. Black Beauty. Ah, my lovely horse! Doesn't go well for our hero though, as he is mistreated throughout his entire life. At least he didn't end up DEAD, like his mate Ginger.
  4. Barbie:Star of the Ballet (with flashing lights). Repeated reading will leave any well-adjusted parent staring into a deep pit of despair and harboring dark thoughts. I know. God help me, I know.... 
  5. Stephen King's IT. Sure, it's about kids and clowns, but who would have thought it would end up with lot of dead children and graphic sex?
  6. Ulysees. Because it's shit*

*I've never read it. Because it's shit obviously.

What does the Fonz think? We don;t need to talk about the Baba-dook, Dook, DOOOOOOKHHH!!

A WTF Triple Bill

Sometimes it's time to step away from the mainstream and dip your toe in the, er, sidestream of films that exist in a strange world of celluloid make-believe, where nothing is certain or obvious, and confusion reigns. These films are collectively known as WTF? films, ones that leave the viewer bewildered, frustrated, and feeling rather stupid because they didn't know what was going on. To help us on our foray into this odd world, we've invited along three special guest reviewers, who have been asked to rate the films by facial expressions on a scale from 1 to Renee Zellweger's new face. Prepare to be befuddled.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2010) is a Thai film about Uncle Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar), who is dying and has decided to spend his final days in a forest retreat with some close acquaintances. There, some odd occurrences take place as he contemplates his life and the lives he has lived before. It won the Palme d'Or in Cannes in 2010, but is it any good? Well, define good. By good, do you mean an spiritual, art-house film with pretty photography, but no real plot? A film with elusive ruminations on life and reincarnation? A film with periodic appearances by hairy, red-eyed monkey spirits? A film that follows a buffalo on a walk through a forest?  A film with an erotic encounter under a waterfall between a princess and a talking catfish? Yes? Then I suppose you could call this good. Otherwise, you might find yourself a little perplexed or even bored. Maybe in the next life, I'll appreciate it more. 
Our special Asian correspondent Jackie Chan has this to say:

If you have never seen the TV series Twin Peaks, then the prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (David Lynch, 1992) will make as much sense as a bottle of garmonbozia. Unfortunately for the film, even if you have seen the series, this doesn't really have a lot to offer either, least of all clarity on the final days of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), or related mysterious events which took place prior to the series time-frame. If it were possible to decouple it from the Twin Peaks cult, it could charitably be viewed as a unique exploration of the disturbing secret that lies at the centre of Laura Palmer's story, with some arresting, unsettling sequences, especially towards the end and whenever BOB turns up.

Of course, such a decoupling is impossible. Part of the attraction of the series was that Laura's disturbing secrets were only hinted at, leaving the audience to imagine her activities as details of her double life emerged during the investigation of her death. In explicitly revealing the events leading up to her demise, the film reduces the mysterious, intriguing figure whose ghost haunted the entire plot of the series to little more than a mixed-up high school hussy. This cheapening of the character, more than anything, proved unforgivable for Twin Peaks fans, including myself. Compounding this is the absence of several key series characters, reduced screen-time for Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) and a distinct lack of the dark humour which counter-balanced the dark heart of the series. Bottom line, it's not worth bothering with, but don't let that put you off watching (or re-watching) the series, particularly Season 1, which remains one of the most outstanding things ever shown on TV. Let's hope the 25th anniversary doesn't repeat the mistakes of the film.
Our special guest reviewer Ted Theodore Logan has this to say...

If you Google the Mexican film El Topo (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1970), the results page will list images and details about the film, including mention of David Silva in the cast, which is rather amusingly accompanied by a picture of Man City footballer David Silva in his Spanish strip. It is perhaps a measure of how trippy El Topo is that for a second I considered this information might be correct.

In truth, I always suspected a film described as a 'Biblical Acid Western' and a cult 'midnight movie' was likely to be hard to get a handle on, and so it proves. Plot-wise, it's a reasonably straightforward film of two halves. In the first half, a mysterious gunslinger, El Topo (Jodorowsky), takes on several rivals, only to be betrayed and left for dead. In the second half, he is reborn as a redemptive figure who tries to help the bunch of outcasts who saved his life. However, when you throw in El Topo's naked son, some gratuitous sex and nudity, dead donkeys, a grave of rabbits, bees, deformed characters and religious allegories, things get somewhat complicated. 

On reflection, I think the mistake I made here is in thinking the film should make any sense. Jodorowsky himself has intimated it's not meant to be symbolic of anything in particular, so trying to work it out is a rather pointless. Ultimately, it's just too weird to be enjoyable, despite some striking sequences, plus there's an uneasy sense of exploitation in its use of disabled and disfigured performers. Still, Jodorowsky proves himself an impressively equal opportunities advocate when it comes to the violence, which is meted out to men, women, children, and furry animals, regardless of colour, age, creed, disability or sexual preference. It was a big hit on original release with David Lynch, John Lennon, Bob Dylan and Dennis Hopper, to name but a few, but they were all stoned out of their heads, so don't read too much into that.
Our special religious correspondent Jesus says: