Baraka 1992 ****

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Ron Fricke’s visually stunning documentary has no commentary; it’s a feast of images taken from all over the world, capturing geographical and sociological phenomenon and leaving the audience to gape in wonder and draw their own conclusions. Baraka is a Sufi word for spiritual grace, and Fricke’s film captures just that, from the opening shot of a snow monkey sitting in his rock pool, looking as peaceful and pleasantly bemused as viewers will be watching the cavalcade of volcanoes, mines, monasteries, dances, tribal rituals and various other ephemera. Baraka is a mood piece, investigating the lesser-seen riches of the world, and one best enjoyed in the highest definition possible.


The Son of Kong 1933 ***


They knew how to ruin a franchise in 1933; The Song of Kong is, as the title suggests, on a much smaller scale that the original film, with much of Ernest B Schoedsack’s film given over to music hall songs and mild intrigue and the people of Skull Island only get a look in around the midway mark. Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) leads an expedition from New York in search of treasure, only to find Kong’s roly-poly albino offspring and a few dinosaurs lying in wait. Kong’s son Kiko is a friendly little monkey, and does what he can to protect Denham’s bedraggled party from the island’s inhabitants. Complete with a splendid music number performed by monkeys, The Song of Kong is a delightfully silly affair, a light dessert after the dramatic beats of the original monster-on-the-loose movie.

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes 1972 ***


The development of the original Planet of The Apes franchise is an oddly haphazard one. The twist of the original film is so familiar it dulls the impact, the second entry (Beneath…) puts a full-stop on things by having Charlton Heston’s character Taylor blow the earth to smithereens. Charged with continuing the franchise, writer Paul Dehn ingeniously sent the apes back to 1970’s earth for the serio-comic Escape, allowing him to reboot the story from the start with 1972’s Conquest, which sees Cesar (Roddy McDowell) leading an ape revolt. Covering similar ground to 2011’s Rise, Conquest offers up a tricky racism context for the revolt, made all the more striking by the use of LA’s Century City shopping mall for the climactic massacre. Strikingly on-the-money, Conquest is a troubling and thoughtful entry in the series, although 1975’s Battle did little to further the ideas involved.

Project Nim 2011 ***


Following on the back of his Oscar-winning Man On Wire, James Marsh chose to adapt Elisabeth Marsh’s book about the remarkable story of Mim Chimpsky, a chimpanzee raised by BYC academics as a human in the free-thinking 1970’s. Marsh shoots his interviews with an odd flourish, with the camera panning away as contributors finish their story. It’s a neat shorthand for the way in which Nim’s hosts continually let him down; after being raises as a man, the funding for the project was pulled, and poor Nim found himself ghetto-ed in zoo conditions, where he passed the time by teaching other chimps to talk using sign-language. Marsh’s documentary is a heart-rendingly sad story about man’s accidental cruelty to animals, with Nim’s predicament artfully outlined for maximum impact. Project Nim would make a good double bill with Rise of The Planet of the Apes; if Nim had went on to lead a revolution, it would have been no more than mankind deserved on this evidence.

Altered States 1981 ****


The absorbing questioning of television, media and business ethics in Paddy Chayefsky’s acerbic Network provide little hint of the mind-blowing antics of his follow up, Altered States, directed in his US debut by Ken Russell. William Hurt stars as the scientist using a sensory depravation tank and some prime peyote to experiment in regression. That he unleashes a monster is no surprise, but Russell’s film is much more cerebral that the lurid visuals suggest, zooming in with relish on a hallucination of a nine-eyed goat. There’s down to earth support from Charles Haid (Renko in Hill Street Blues) and the always entertaining presence of Bob Balaban, but Hurt fills out his lead character with convincing zeal and doubt, anchoring the film’s serious intent. Any films that sets up the question of discovering a final truth, and then answering it, risks derision, but Altered States stimulates both the mind and the intellect, although not always at the same time.