Reel Critics: 'Apes' gets boost from technology

"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" in 2011 gave the old franchise a much-needed upgrade and a major shot of adrenaline. The motion-capture technology used in the new "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" takes the project to whole new level. It renders believable the physical actions, emotions and character traits of imaginary screen apes.

Director Matt Reeves makes the most of this special-effects expertise. He also presents an intriguing story of the clash of two evolving civilizations. He focuses on the interaction between the growing tribe of intelligent primates and a desperate group of humans who survived a killer epidemic.

The first hour of this film is noteworthy for its compelling account of their initial hopeful contact. Andy Serkis deserves major credit for his CGI portrayal of Caesar, the noble leader of the tribe. Things go wrong when violence-prone humans and angry apes take matters into their own hands.

The personal flaws and bad political decisions could come from a Shakespeare play. The last hour morphs into a series of mega battle scenes that overwhelm the thoughtful premise. But that's what summer action blockbusters usually do.

—John Depko


'Begin Again' or do over?

Keira Knightley has a face the camera loves. Never mind that it has only has three expressions: wistful, tearful and obstinate. Beauty has its privileges.

In "Begin Again," her looks (and singing!) now have the power to transform lives. As she plucks a wistful ballad from her guitar, a fading record executive (Mark Ruffalo) is transfixed by her music. There's a nifty moment when he imagines instruments accompanying her, making the song and his soul come alive for the next 90 minutes.

Ruffalo eventually persuades her to record an album. With no money, just the help of his friends, he cleverly turns New York City itself into a recording studio. The locations and musicians' energy are such that you wish the songs (and Knightley's voice) were more memorable.

Ever-talented Ruffalo is affecting as a drunken loser who finds redemption in her music. Catherine Keener and Hailee Steinfeld are also good as his estranged family. Singer Adam Levine (Maroon 5) plays the rising pop star who makes Knightley tearful.

Writer-director John Carney's previous film, "Once," is also about struggling musicians who sang original songs on the streets. Like that 2007 film, the two protagonists form a close bond through bittersweet experiences.

"Begin Again" does not bow to expectations of romance. That, and Ruffalo's performance, saved me from an obstinate desire to totally dislike this movie.

—Susanne Perez

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator. SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.

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