In the Dark with Melanie Dishman: Humans play second fiddle to simians in ‘Ape’ reboot

In the Dark with Melanie Dishman: Humans play second fiddle to simians in ‘Ape’ reboot

This is some monkey business with the apes getting top billing over the humans in this second installment of the “Apes” reboot. But you can’t say Andy Serkis doesn’t deserve the honor. Call him the king of motion capture for his uncanny ability to create computer-generated creatures through body movement. As Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” films, Serkis gave a real personality to the character using this technology, and now he’s done the same as Caesar, the ape in charge.

This follows 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” which ended with a lab-created flu about to wipe out the human population as Caesar, a former lab chimpanzee used for a brain enhancing drug (also played by Serkis in that film), and his ape followers wreaked havoc on San Francisco and escaped to the Muir woods across the bridge. Now Caesar is the respected and benevolent leader of the ape clan, but that leadership is challenged when a small group of humans intrude into the woods, and apes meet humans for the first time in years. It’s a surprise for both, with the apes thinking the virus had wiped out the human population and the humans incred3ulous that the apes can speak.

The humans, part of small colony immune to the virus that has wiped out most of the planet, need the electricity that a nearby dam will generate. After some debate, Caesar agrees to work with them, but this is challenged by his right hand, Koba (Toby Kebbell), who has a deep distrust of Homo sapiens. The humans, led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and his girlfriend Ellie (Keri Russell), are committed to making this work, but their leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) is also distrustful and eventually the inevitable happens when both sides turn on each other, but not before turning on themselves.

These social dilemmas brought forth in this movie are what make it so compelling. This model here could stand for any society today, and the infighting and lack of trust are telling themes. But there is also just a really entertaining movie here tightly directed by Matt Reeves and beautifully filmed by Michael Seresin, using the motion capture technology in real settings rather than in studio screens. There is incredible depth to the lush green settings of the woods, where most of the movie takes place, giving the apes a more natural look and feel. The script by Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver is mostly devoid of cliché, although a few sneak in, and Michael Giacchino’s score is first rate.

This doesn’t really end as much as it just slows down to set up the next “Ape” movie. But with mostly positive reviews, “Dawn” is just what a lackluster summer needs — a hit.

Another movie that is generating buzz is “Begin Again” now playing at the River Oaks Theater in Houston. Written and directed by John Carney, also responsible for “Once,” this is a love letter to singer/songwriters and New York City wrapped up in a great little film. Keira Knightley (who knew she could sing?) stars as Gretta, the spurned girlfriend of her writing partner Dave (Maroon 5’s Adam Levine) who cuts her loose when his fortune starts to rise.

In one of the movie’s best scenes Gretta is discovered in a lower East Side bar by a Dan (Mark Ruffallo), a boozy record producer who has just lost his job. As she sings accompanied only by a guitar, Dan imagines what a full arrangement would sound like as the unattended musical instruments behind her come to life. The two collaborators go on from there to record an album of her songs in various locations, incorporating the rumble and hum of the city as part of the music, and working out their personal problems along the way — she mending her broken heart and Dan trying to get sober. The music is great. The story is simple and sweet. And you might just discover the joy of music all over again set against the backdrop of this glorious city.