What To Watch This Week: Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, Sucker Punch and Watchmen

This week, we get spanked by monkeys, Abbie Cornish kicks ass, Shirley Henderson hits the High Sierras and the greatest ever graphic novel is adapted awesomely/appalling (delete accordingly).
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This week, we get spanked monkeys, Abbie Cornish kicks ass, Shirley Henderson hits the High Sierras and the greatest ever graphic novel is adapted awesomely/appalling (delete accordingly).

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes: In the mid-1970s, just prior to the launch of the Planet Of The Apes TV series, 20th Century Fox re-released all five Planet Of The Apes movies to theaters. Cinemagoers were encouraged to 'Go ape this summer'. Thirty-five years and one dire 'reimagining' later, this slogan yet again feels fitting.

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is a truly astonishing film. A prequel to the aforementioned Tim Burton fiasco, Rupert Wyatt's picture has few of that film's shortcomings. Okay, so there's the odd slightly clunky reference to the series' high points ("Get your stinkin' paws off me,' gets another airing), but that aside, little gets in the way of a simple but hugely efficient storyline.

James Franco - on the back of his breathtaking work in 127 Hours and Howl - is a scientist whose search for an Alzheimer's cure is exacerbated by his father (John Lithgow) having succumbed to the disease. Viral technology seems to offer a solution to the problem, and experiments on an orphaned chimp called Caesar (Andy Serkis) provide encouraging results. But just as his mother was no ordinary primate, so there's a lot more to Caesar than an insatiable appetite for bananas and PG Tips.

Brought to life by the magic of performance capture, Serkis’ Caesar is a very impressive beast, although he's all but eclipsed by Richard Ridings' rampaging silverback Rock and Karin Konoval's signing circus orang-utan Maurice. The key to the success of Rise is less the state-of-the-art effects than young British director Wyatt. While the Burton picture was beholden to the original films, Wyatt - who launched his career with the ace prison movie The Escapist - has completely divorced himself from Rise's counterpart, Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes. Instead, he conjures up an action thriller whose slow start proves a smart move given the speed at which things move once Caesar and his friends are on the march.

This summer, prepare to go ape.

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes

Sucker Punch/Meek's Cutoff: Two very different 'chick flicks' (hate that term) arrive on DVD this week. Some critics will be quick to install Zach Snyder's Sucker Punch at the top of their worst movie list come the end of the year. An FX-laden fight-fest populated by scantily-clad teens and robot Nazis, it's certainly an easy film to sneer at. But isn't the clichéd dialogue and the derivative action deliberate? Isn't it proof that the story takes place within the mind of a young girl obsessed with the Lord Of The Rings saga and The Pussycat Dolls? If it's not then, yes, Sucker Punch is a very poor picture indeed. But given Snyder's pretty decent filmography (300, Watchmen, his terrific Dawn Of The Dead remake), it's worth giving it another go. Who knows? Maybe - just maybe - it's the closest thing to a Terry Gilliam film for the Hellboy and Harry Potter generation.

Sucker Punch

If burlesque dancers slaying giant samurai warriors doesn't appeal, perhaps Meek's Cutoff’s more your kind of thing. A film in the same vein as The Hired Hand and The Ballad Of Cable Hogue, Kelly Reichardt's movie is less a western than a drama set in the American west. Bruce Greenwood, Michelle Williams and Shirley Henderson are the settlers doing it tough in the Oregon desert. But this isn't the chaparral you might have seen in John Ford movies, overpopulated with mountain lions and Comanches. No, this is a place where the very best sort of action occurs, that involving the interplay of individuals.

Sensitively handled and beautifully performed, Meek's Cutoff's the sort of Sam Peckinpah might be making if he was still alive and had mellowed a little in his old age. Really, it's that good.

Meek's Cutoff

Watchmen (showing on Channel 4 on Saturday August 6 at 10pm): Was Watchmen the movie really that bad? For Alan Moore die-hards, the very idea that anyone would dare adapt his sacred text was enough to damn the film. In a recent interview with Comic Heroes magazine, however, Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons was far more positive about the picture. While it hurts to disagree with the mage and his followers, I can but agree with his collaborator.

Which isn't to say that Zack Snyder's Watchmen is perfect. The love scene between Patrick Wilson's Night Owl and Malin Akerman's Silk Spectre left people calling for an embargo on the cinematic use of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, and while the full-frontal nudity is a direct lift from the comic, we could all probably have lived without close-ups of Billy Crudup's sky-blue schlong.

But on the other hand, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Matthew Goode are perfectly cast as The Comedian and Ozymandias respectively, the opening credit sequence is an unalloyed delight and, in Jackie Earle Haley's Rorschach, we have a new addition to the canon of classic screen anti-heroes. Remember, jailbirds - he's not locked in there with you, you're locked in there with him.


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