Saturday, August 20, 2011

Best movie of the summer (2011)

"Beware the beast Man, for he is the Devil's pawn. Alone among God's primates, he kills for sport or lust or greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother's land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him; drive him back into his jungle lair, for he is the harbinger of death." --Cornelius, Planet of the Apes (1968)

That is so true...


Ok, so before I begin, I feel like I need to admit that my mother knows the Director's parents. I don't really know how they know each other. I think they met in Italy. Anyway, I don't know them and I don't know the Director. I've never met any of them, but there you go, ok?

Read on!

So, first off, I've got to say: I'm surprised. This is a film that when it was initially announced my immediate reaction was to roll my eyes and make a fart noise. I mean you've all seen Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, right? The film this film is based off of? No? Not surprising...


God damn, huh? That was 1972, folks--just under forty years ago--a time when movie trailers were these terrible, artless, mish-mashes of bombastic voice-overs and confusing montages. What the hell was it about these awkward, horrid jumbles of junk imagery that made people want to go to movies? Amazing, right? It's from a time when Hollywood didn't know how to market shit with any kind of sophistication, but then the first "blockbuster" was still four or so years away, huh?

But I digress.

Anyway, the moral of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is plain for all to see: Apes make lousy house pets.

Fast forward nearly forty years and Rupert Wyatt decides to remake/re-imagine/do over this film and Hollywood, being the reliably creatively-myopic bastards they are, loving nothing more than remakes and sequels, say okay. Now, usually this is a bad thing, a very bad thing. Usually. But Wyatt did the Escapist, a pretty good prison break film despite the inclusion of a dream sequence, and he took a script that was done by a pair of writers I honestly wouldn't expect much out of as far as quality was concerned, and he ended up turning out a phenomenal summer movie, one that both embraces and transcends the "popcorn film" genre. Which means we won.

So what's it about?

In short: A bunch of apes who only want to do two things: Kick a little ass and eat some cookies... and they're all outta cookies.

The longer version?

Read on, but for you sensitive-nancy types, there may be some spoilers ahead:

Hollywood oddball James Franco plays a scientist hellbent on curing his father's (John Lithgow) debilitating case of Alzheimer's disease. To do so, he creates some gunk that is supposed to repair brain damage, blah, blah, blah. They test it on Chimps and some of them respond well, making them smarter and their eyes green, but before he can get real funding, one chimp, Bright-eyes, (one of many nice little references to the original flick) flips the fuck out and, as a result, all of the "contaminated" chimps are put down and the project is closed.

But why did Bright-eyes flip out?

Ape in a box!

That's right. Baby on board. James Franco sneaks the baby out, saving it, and takes it home and, I can only assume, immediately discovers that Chimps desperately need to wear a diaper... and pants... and a nice sweater. Because otherwise it would be weird. Jon Lithgow names him Caesar and they realize the baby is really, really smart. He learns to sign and all sorts of stuff, so James Franco injects John Lithgow too, who also starts to heal. And for the next few years, life is good. Also, the super-hot Freida Pinto is James Franco's lady. So life is extra good for James Franco. Kissy-kissy.

But the easy life doesn't last when there's a super-smart, pants-wearing chimp in your house, Caesar is growing up, growing stronger, and growing smarter. Also, there's a dickhead neighbor, played by David Hewlett (of crappy Stargate fame), who is the unluckiest man in the history of the planet, starting with his having to live next to James Franco. Also, John Lithgow's immune system starts to fight off the science-gunk and his Alzheimer's starts to come back. These things all lead to a bad moment that ends with Caesar being taken away and put in a Simian Guantanamo run by the always super-great Brian Cox and the young Draco Malfoy, who somewhat unsurprisingly is a huge jerk. That's when Caesar realizes he is different from other Apes. And that those Apes need him. He becomes their leader and answers the best question ever: "Why Cookie Rocket" and eventually plans a break-out, but first he sneaks out and steals the smarty-gas from James Franco's house...

Oo-oo-oo?

And then...? Oh yeah, baby. It's on, like Donkey Kong.


This is a seriously good movie. It's funny watching the trailers and TV spots, because they all showcase the action, and guess what? It's all at the end. The rest of the film is a tightly paced, tense and engrossing Sci-fi thriller. The characters are developed and their motivations are crystal clear. My summary a paragraph or two up? It's tongue and cheek, obviously, but it's also overly simple, because there's a lot more going on up the film. What happened, why it happened, what's going to happen? It's all strung together really well and best of all, it makes sense (within the context of the film, of course).

Mostly, it's just a joy to watch a summer film that isn't 99% hollow spectacle, one that relies on the power of its story first, instead of a "narrative" powered by flashy crap effects and told by idiots, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing, as they say... Which is not to say that there isn't CGI. There is. And it's brilliant. Andy Serkis plays Caesar and just like when he played Gollum and King Kong, it's all motion capture, but it's intense and close-up and cutting edge. Caesar's facial expressions are Andy Serkis's. The tiny movements, the subtle emotion, it's all Andy Serkis. It's amazing. There's already early oscar buzz. Of course, how much that's actually worth, well... it's the Oscars... so, who really cares, it means nothing and it means everything, and mostly doesn't matter at the moment, but what it does signify is how impressive the performance really is. And it is impressive. Are there times when the CGI shows and you realize it's a fake computer monkey? Of course there is, it is a fake computer monkey, after all, but more importantly, there's times when you will forget.

My favorite parts?

There's the little nod to the Statue of Liberty early on and there's a couple of moments where Draco Malfoy gets to say some of Charlton Heston's famous lines. "It's a mad house! A mad house!" and, of course:


Unsurprising, sure, that's almost a mandatory moment, right? Everyone expects that line, because that's THE line. What makes its use brilliant is the fact that when it comes, you're instantly hit with this "ha-ha" moment that throws you off and distracts you, so that the moment that comes immediately next is a total "Holy shit" moment. It gets you to look one way and then wham! Total blindside. It works perfectly.

Really well done.

Also, I love the mention of the launch of the Icarus space ship and the later mention of how it has been lost in space. That is awesome. I love it. Love it. I love it because it's treated as no big deal in the film, just background noise, but the old fans instantly know who's on that ship... Charlton fucking Heston. A fantastic nod to the original, that also maneuvers this film into the canon and also lays the strings for a possible sequel. So that's also really cool and well done.

Does that mean there's going to be a sequel? Well, in its first two weeks (Number one film in the country both weeks), and almost on it's third, with a projected budget of $93 million (relatively cheap for a summer film), it has about $220 million total in box office receipts already ($120 million domestic/$95 million foreign), and even if you double the budget to account for marketing (as the rule goes), it has already made it's cost, which means that every weekend after this is nothing but gravy. That's a success in anybody's book, so... yeah, there probably will be, even though I don't think there necessarily should be.

But then, I didn't think THIS movie needed to be made, so what do I know?

Moving on, another thing I really loved was the way the film solved it's own problems. How do a bunch of apes--even super-smart apes--take over the planet? The answer is: They don't. They just want to be free, to get away and live on their own. A small, but perfectly understandable and justifiable motivation. The Apes aren't evil, this isn't a sweeping revolution, they're not offering a better way; they just want to be free. That's great.

Another great thing?

The humans aren't evil either. A lesser story would make the humans a bunch of moustache-twiddlin' jerks who love nothing more than beating on Apes all the live long day. Sure, there's some jerks in the film, but they're just regular types of jerks. There's some implication that Draco might hit some of the Apes at times, while in captivity, but it's never really shown, and neither is the genetics lab--where James Franco works--shown to be this excessively inhumane and torturing and evil organization, the film lets the idea of captivity on its own be enough and I really like that, the sophistication and subtlety is brilliant. It would have been so easy to make this ridiculous and over-the-top, but instead, Wyatt allows for a more honest character driven drama and tension to play out center stage, rather than focusing on the usual hollow, overwrought, and music-driven crescendo of manipulation.

Plus, it's a last little thing at the end, right when you think it's done, but I really liked the way the film explained how the earth eventually becomes the Planet of the Apes. The set-up during the film isn't overbearing and it isn't used like this big flashing flag of things to come, it's smart and surprisingly out-of-left field. I like how it's laid out for future stories, but well developed enough that you don't need to see how those stories play out, because you already know what's going to happen. In the end, it's a satisfying and full story.

Bottom line? Good, smart, and fun. You should go see it, it's totally worth it.

Really.


Gorilla butt,
Jon
Also, there's this, which is awesome in any language:

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