Simians rule in ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’; Stirring Holocaust drama in ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’; Jerry Seinfeld brings the funny in ‘Unfrosted’

Bad monkey: The ambitious simian in ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’.

KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES ***1/2 (145 minutes) M
As much as we all love ripping on all the shabby remakes and reboots stamped out by Hollywood, there are a few rare occasions when they get it right.

The new-fashioned Planet of the Apes franchise is one of them. We shall, of course, ignore the Tim Burton debacle from 2001, a film so terrible real apes were insulted along with lovers of the 1968 original with Charlton Heston (springing forth from the 1963 French novel by Pierre Boulle).

The fourth installment of the series – after Rise (2011), Dawn (2014) and War (2017) – takes us several generations (around 300 years) beyond the events of War for the Planet of the Apes, in which iconic leader Caesar passed on just as his fellow simians arrived at their new home. We all shed, given what he had done for his fellow ape.

Long settled into their snug new habitat where the apes have trained eagles and now speak near-perfect English, the place is attacked by a group of oversized thug simians who kidnap those they don’t kilol.

This sends Noa, a great-great descendant of Caesar, off on a quest to locate his people – a community of civilized apes speaking the King’s surely qualify as people, yes? It’s a bit speciesist otherwise – and those responsible for killing his father.

On the way he encounters Raka, a wise old hermit orangutan who joins the Noa’s quest and tells him of Caesar’s noble legacy, the time when apes and humans got along, and how the thug apes he is tracking have corrupted Caesar’s life lessons.

They also pick up Mae (Freya Allan), one of the few surviving humans. Remarkably, she also speaks private-school standard English, has a gym-sculpted physique and a fitted singlet to match.

Although it is not explicitly explained, this extraordinary, if slighly soiled, garment is no doubt made of a special fabric designed to endure several centuries sitting on a rack in an abandoned sports clothing store. The brand is never revealed.

After traipsing through a landscape of crumbling buildings, the trio end up at the beachfront colony of the offending apes who, to their great credit, have fashioned a rather attractive home fortress from the remains of rusting ships and decaying bridges.

Taken prisoner, they discover that the power-mad, crown-wearing chief Proxima Caesar is keen to break into a giant sealed vault made by the humans. Inside it, he believes he will find a cache of weapons and technology that will further his interests.

Intended as the first of a new trilogy, Kingdom offers up a strong, captivating tale along with a visually haunting vision of a post-apocalyptic world in which humans have long since passed into irrelevance, their cities and structures having long been overwhelmed by nature.

As with each of the previous Apes films, Kingdom sets a new benchmark in the rendering of believable non-human creatures through motion capture and digital animation.

It’s gotten to the point where the only thing that gives the ape cast away as visual effects is that apes can’t speak. Indeed, the digital artistry on show here is so impressive the performances are more convincing that those of the humans in other big-name films.

It’s only a matter of time – sooner rather than later, most probably – before the technology will be able to create digital actors indistinguishable from the real thing.

Then the cinematic possibilities will be as limitless as they will be tantalizing.

Imagine Old Hollywood stars appearing in new films co-starring with the latest crop of actors.

Think Jean Harlow in a rom-com with Timothee Chalamet, or a present-day detective story starring Humphrey Bogart, that sort of thing.

Harvey Keitel in ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’.

THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ **** (326 minutes; six episodes) MA
whole series review

Easily one of the best shows we’ve seen in the stream in years, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a compelling six-part Holocaust drama recounting the improbable romance between two prisoners inside Auschwitz, the infamous concentration camp in Poland where the Nazis murdered more than a million Jewish people between 1942 and 1945.

Initially set in the comfortable suburbs of Melbourne in 2003 and based on the best-selling book by New Zealander Heather Morris (played here by Melanie Lynskey), the story is told in flashback as the aging Lale Sokolov (Harvey Keitel), details his experiences in the camp. Morris is not a professional writer, but is compelled to relay his story to the world.

Forced to tattoo ID numbers into the forearms of fellow prisoners, Sokolov meets Gita, a beautiful if gaunt young woman working in the women’s camp.

Difficult as it would ordinarily be to see her, Sokolov manages regular visits thanks to SS guard Stefan Baretzki, a cruel young Nazi who nonetheless facilitates the romance.

That something so touching and tender occurs in the midst of such a horrific place drives of the drama – and the graphic depiction of the atrocities that took place leaves litle to the imagination.

There is death, deprivation and brutality everywhere, with much emphasis on summary executions, with guards beating and shooting

prisoners at will. Sometimes there’s a reason, sometimes not.

The vivid recreation of camp is rendered through a combination of physical sets and digital animation with virtual drone shots showing the sheer scale of Auschwitz, with the evil presence of the belching chimney towers of the crematoria ominously dominating the background.

While the lead performances are very good, with Jonah Hauer-King as the young Sokolov and Anna Prochniak playing Gita, most impressive of all is German actor Jonas Nay, who plays Baretzki.

Contradictions boil within this character. Precisely why he helps Sokolov is kept deliberately vague, though there are hints to a hidden personal motive as to why such a hard heart has such a soft spot for this anonymous prisoner. It makes this heinous SS underling the story’s most compelling person.

Very well-directed by Tali Shalom Ezer, the camp segments are peppered with silent shots of prisoners as they stare into the camera, creasting the sense that you are bearing witness.

As it flits between timelines, the story itself blends a host of conflicting themes – guilt, regret, love, hatred, loss, violence – into a romantic tragedy that somehow reaches a state of grace.

Don’t miss it.

Stan


Jerry Seinfeld and team in ‘Unfrosted’.

UNFROSTED *** (96 minutes) PG
Though he might have left it a tad late, Jerry Seinfeld proves himself an adept comedy movie director with Unfrosted, which unspools as a very funny, very fast, marvellously silly knockabout lark.

Boasting some colourful period recreation, the film is set in the 1960s and is ever-so-loosely based on the real-life rivalry between Kellogg’s and Post, two cereal companies in a race to create the treat known today as Pop-Tarts.

Full of visual and verbal gags and set at a cracking pace, Seinfeld plays Kellogg’s product development officer Bob Cabana opposite Melissa McCarthy as NASA-trained Donna Stankowski, both of whom work for Edsel Kellogg III, played by goofball comedian Jim Gaffigan.

As their cereal enemy Marjorie Post is Amy Schumer while veteran Hugh Grant provides big chuckles as a lofty Shakespearean actor whose main claim to fame is that he is the guy inside the suit of the Frosty Flakes mascot Tony the Tiger.

There’s no story depth or much character development here, with the yarn playing out as a light satire on the corporate culture that dominated much of life back then, very different to the way it is today, of course. (A-hem)

All up it’s an enjoyable, light, tasty treat with absolutely no tickets on itself other than offering viewers and Seinfeld fans a pleasant way to burn off 93 minutes.

Netflix