The Screen Critic: The return of the Apes, an outstanding Holocaust mini-series and a sweet treat from Jerry Seinfeld

May 10, 2024
Source: A mean simian from Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (20th Century Studios); Harvey Keitel in The Tattooist of Auschwitz (Sky); Jerry Seinfeld in Unfrosted (Netflix).

Up for some top ape action? Then dive into the post-apocalyptic world as Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes takes us several generations beyond the events of 2017’s War for the Planet of the Apes, in which ape leader Caesar died just as his fellow simians reached their new home.

With all the apes now speaking near-perfect English, the settlement Caesar founded is raided by a gang of thuggish simians who ravage the place and kidnap the entire community.

This prompts Noa, a distant descendant of Caesar, to head off on a quest to find them and avenge the murder of his father.

En route he meets Raka, an old orangutan who accompanies Noa, telling him about Caesar’s legacy and of the time when apes and humans got along.

Joined by Mae (Freya Allan), one of the few humans left and who also speaks private-school standard English, they wind up in the beachfront colony of the offending apes and discover what their power-mad leader Proxima Caesar is up to.

Turns out he’s eager to get into a giant sealed vault made by the humans and explore its contents, hoping to find a cache of weapons and technology.

Offering a visually haunting vision of cities and structures overtaken by nature, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (the first of a new trilogy) is a remarkably captivating tale, due in no small part to the believability of the ape cast who put in very convincing performances despite being digital. If only the humans in other big-name films were as committed.

Much as we love deriding all the shoddy remakes and reboots churned out by Hollywood, the new-fashioned Planet of the Apes franchise is a rare example where they got it right.

Two major treats await those venturing into the arthouses.

For fine food lovers the French period piece The Taste of Things will probably leave you famished by the time the end credits roll.

A simple story about a household chef (Juliette Binoche) and her culinary boss (Benoit Magimel), the film is essentially a romantic drama built around extended scenes of food preparation. Yum yum.

In the splendid Shakespeare’s Macbeth Ralph Fiennes and Indira Varma do great work as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, two of the bard’s most enduring villains.

A photographed live performance, staged with modern-day dress and accoutrements, it’s a terrific rendering of the classic tragedy that contains more murder and mayhem than most horror films.

The compelling six-part Holocaust drama The Tattooist of Auschwitz recounts the romance between two prisoners – Lale Sokolov, who is forced to tattoo ID numbers into the forearms of fellow inmates, and Gita, a young woman who works in the women’s section of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, where the Nazis ended up murdering more than a million Jewish people.

Based on the book by New Zealander Heather Morris (played by Melanie Lynskey), the story is told in flashback as the ageing Sokolov (Harvey Keitel), living in his comfortable Melbourne home in 2003, details his experiences in the camp to Morris. She’s not a professional writer, but is compelled to document his story.

That something so touching and tender could occur in the midst of such a ghastly, horrific setting is one of the main drivers of the drama – and very little is spared in the graphic depiction of the atrocities that took place.

There is death, deprivation and brutality everywhere, with particular emphasis on summary executions as guards beat and kill prisoners at whim for the slightest infraction – and sometimes for no reason at all.

The camp itself is recreated in vivid detail, with aerial shots showing the scale of the place and the ever menacing presence of the crematoria chimney towers as they belch smoke.

Performances throughout are exceptional, with Jonah Hauer-King as the young Sokolov and Anna Prochniak playing Gita.

Most impressive, though, is the sterling work by German actor Jonas Nay as Stefan Baretzki, the young SS guard who, cruel as he is, facilitates the romance. Hints as to why he helps Sokolov suggest a hidden personal motive.

Very well-directed by Tali Shalom Ezer, who peppers the drama with silent shots of prisoners looking straight into the camera, the story blends a host of conflicting themes – guilt, regret, love, hatred, loss, violence – into a tragic drama that ultimately reaches a state of grace.

It’s on Stan. Don’t miss it.

Way over at the other end of the spectrum is Unfrosted, a very fast, funny, gloriously silly Netflix comedy directed by and starring Jerry Seinfeld.

Set in the early 1960s and boasting some lovely period recreation, the film uses the rivalry between cereal companies Kellogg’s and Post as the basis for a knockabout lark loaded with verbal and visual gags as it deals with the invention of the breakfast treat we know today as Pop-Tarts.

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 goofy comedian Jim Gaffigan.

Amy Schumer is Marjorie Post, their cereal enemy and Hugh Grant is a big chuckle as a high-brow actor who plays product mascot Tony the Tiger.

If you’re looking for a pleasant way to kill 93 minutes, Unfrosted is a light, tasty treat with no tickets on itself. Enjoy.

For more visit with updates on X at @jimschembri

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