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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Okay, so when I first heard about this movie, I laughed uproariously. I mean I was straight up choking on my sugar free Gummi Bears in the theater. There was no way I was going to sit through this. Well, my Movie Roundtable gang worked on me and got me to reconsider. So last night,without handcuffs, a knock on the head or other restraints, I watched Rise of the Planet of the Apes. And to my shock, I was entertained.

Now, lest you think I did a complete Pod Person role reversal, I also had some huge problems with it. But, another surprise, these were not of the CGI variety. I thought the apes looked magnificent and Andy Serkis had me believing he really was a chimp with a revved up brain. The way Caesar evolved from boyish chimp to someone who doesn't fit in, and finally to the leader of a revolution, was nothing short of brilliant.

I drank the Kool-Aid for the most part and found myself very involved in Caesar's story, getting excited when he plotted his revenge and led his fellow apes on a dare I say it, heroic uprising. I hate cruelty to animals and loved how the director brought us into Caesar's POV. It was wrenching at times. Made more so because Caesar would not let his apes kill the humans. The best scene in the whole movie was when his abilities increased enough so that he was able to utter the word "No" in defiance of his captors. It was a powerful, pivotal moment that stayed with me.

The action sequences were incredible and the way Rupert Wyatt seemlessly blended the apes into the shots was stunning. Nothing appeared CGI. Take note Peter Jackson and James Cameron, you may have developed the tech, but you do NOT know how to use it wisely without having any character appear like cartoons.

I digress.

Here's where my problems started. You knew this was coming. ;) The characters all appeared to fall into 2 categories: Douchebag and Not Douchebag. A bit too simplistic, if you ask me. Party of the first: Brian Cox and Tom Felton run an ape "sanctuary" which is a completely over-the-top, sadistic prison where they gleefully torture the inmates. They're so awful, they're caricatures rather than believable characters. Cruella Deville times 2 with no motivation. At least she wanted a puppy coat. This primate Big House was so San Quentin-esque that I half-expected Johnny Cash to come out and lead the apes in a rousing rendition of Folsom Prison Blues. Uh, ASPCA anyone? PETA?

The D-Bag category also includes David Oyelowo as the hard-nosed greedy corporate suit who cares about nothing, but money and image. Very stock and uninteresting, delegating every little thing, even the wiping of his ass. Then he completely steps out of character to climb into a helicopter, grab a gun and hunt those apes. Wall Street turned Big Game Hunter. I've seen this exact character in a million cheap SyFy channel flicks. Then we have the inexplicable, in-dire-need-of-anger-management neighbor. The littlest thing sets this guy to beating things with baseballs bats and slamming people up against walls. He might as well have been wearing a tee shirt that read "I am the Angry Asshole."

Non D-Bags are of course, James Franco, John Lithgow and Freida Pinto. Franco's Rodman goes to great lengths to keep his rapidly crumbling world together. I can identify with that. However, I found Franco's overall performance a bit uneven. He seemed to roll along in disconnect, then plug back in at certain times. Not to mention all the larceny he was so easily getting away with. I mean where was security every time he walked out with vials of drugs? Taking lunch?

Oh Freida, it's no wonder Danny Boyle didn't let you really speak in Slum Dog. While her Caroline helps Will to understand the grown-up Caesar, she really has no chemistry with Franco and their whole romance seems forced.Plus, she's pretty much useless after Caesar is gone. I like her, but she needs lessons on delivering more emotion in her performances.

John Lithgow was my favorite here. His performance is heartbreaking and yet, a joy to behold. He shines as Will's stricken father and his relationship with Caesar is so touching. I think he deserves Oscar consideration for this right along with Serkis.

There were also some other things that I found hard to digest. For instance, how a chimp could be pregnant and give birth to the complete ignorance of the scientists who work with her every day, including the on-site animal expert. Even a five year old knows that a round belly on girl dog probably means she's gonna have a baby. And apes smell. Big. Time. So why would you bring your potential piece of ass to the monkey prison, Tom Felton? Not gonna score if they fling poo at her. And as a huge fan of the original, I did not appreciate the co-opting of certain lines. Felton was NOT coming from the same place as Heston.

Overall, I enjoyed Rise and am glad my cohorts encouraged me to see it. I do think that between this and the other Apes films, this franchise has been played out. There are no new stories to tell, only reboots so I hope there won't be a sequel. I probably won't be as kind next time.


  1. glad that you liked it! This was definitely one of the most surprising movies of 2011. I would have never, NEVER thought that this could be any good, but... well, in the end it made it into my Top 20 genre movies :)

  2. So you had a love/hate relationship with it? :) I thought it was brilliant, thanks to Andy's sensational performance and the stylish direction. I agree about Freida though - she's like an exotic doll - beautiful on the outside, but totally empty within.
    Very honest and thoughtful review, I loved it!:)

  3. Yes! You finally watched it! And you even enjoyed it. Win-win for the Roundtable! You're a gracious member. Knighthood is upon you :)

    Now here's where our opinions diverge. While I certainly can understand your disdain for some of the absurd plot turns and rudimentary, one-take character portrayals, I fail to rationalize their overall inadequacy in juxtaposition to the central story Because, for me, the visceral totality of the story centered on Caeser and Will. As long as their arcs were sufficiently fleshed out and deserved suspension of disbelief, then my investment in the story was warranted. And the answer to that was an emphatic YES.

    Technically and visually, this movie was mesmerizing. Serkis' work, as your rightfully point out, was, dare I say, MR. Sensational. He deserves an Oscar nod, which would be a breakthrough for motion-capture performance. Couple that with the action-adventure angle, the emotional weight, and the thematic through-line (mistreatment of apes, redemption, heroism, you know, your standard smorgasbord of modern tropes) and what you have before you is an impressive big-budget blockbuster. And that leads to my biggest point: The fact that Apes surpassed its measly expectations (from all comers including me) and became something worth cheering for. Imagine that...a big-budget blockbuster that employs expensive tricks, CGI, and special effects, and, most important, still has a heart, a believable, not forcibly coerced one. Apes satisfied all of these key requirements for cinematic fun and then some. The movie worked on a tonal, atmospheric level and the acting, for the most part (minus Fredia and few others0 was commendable.

    Overall, you gave a fair analysis. And your impression was a by-product of your own likes/dislikes, which are inherent to your individual make-up. So I accept your somewhat tepid analysis because, after all, it is YOUR analysis. Disagreement is essential to understanding and appreciating movies. Job well-done, Melissa!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts :)

  4. I still haven't seen it, since most of the good praise about it came from people whose taste I don't like (that is fanboys with no taste) :))) but now that you like it, I must check it out, darling, I will suffer watching Franco who is starting to get on my nerves a bit (too arrogant with nothing to justify it) :)

  5. Yup. A fair analysis - and you pointed out things that only now do I see. (I'm a bit slow.)

  6. Sorry if this fanboy has no taste, but I thought it was brilliant.
    I went into, unwilling and prepared to hate it, especially after the previews which to me showed lousy special effects. I did a complete one-eighty during that time in the theater. I didn't mind the evilness of the bad characters, although it was a bit two dimensional. Everything was believable though.
    And Serkis more than deserves an Oscar nomination.

  7. @Maynard I was surprised at how much I liked this. It was a pretty good film and Serkis blew me away as Caesar. I was amazed at the CGI and how "real" it was.

  8. @Nebular Thanks hon! Yeah I guess you could say it was love/hate. :) I really enjoyed myself, though, which shocked me as I had such a negative initial reaction.

    And poor Freida, I wish she would just take some lessons. You're right, she is like a doll. :)

  9. @Matt I am touched by your words and your honest appraisal of my review. You know all about my initial opinion of this movie before I saw it and I am very glad you convinced me to see it. I did enjoy myself and it did give me a deeper appreciation of mo cap work. Serkis truly deserves an Oscar nod.

    I do see your points and perhaps I could have set aside my pro-conceived notions more before viewing. I do have my likes & dislikes to be sure, but diverging opinions are what makes discussions like this so much fun. I'm very happy you enjoyed my review. :)

  10. @Dez I really did like this film, some very fine people kept telling me to see it and I finally listened. I can be so hard-headed. ;)) Well, you know that and you love me anyway. LOL

    I think that the way Caesar and his friends get revenge on their cruel captors will have you cheering like it did me.

  11. @Michael Thank you! I'm happy you liked my assessment. And you know I will sometimes notice things only after I've seen the movie ten times. :)

  12. @Alex I was very surprised by how much I enjoyed this. I was totally prepared to never, ever lay eyes on it. But, my defenses got worn down and well I had fun. I have a hard head sometimes. :)

    Serkis was brilliant and I think he deserves an Oscar nod. I was really amazed by the mo-cap and have a better appreciation of it.

    And I think you have excellent taste. Just look at our mutual love of Underworld.

  13. I drank the Kool-aid too and ended up really enjoying it! haha! I really got into it and Freida, ha, spot on! She was lifeless and how on earth can you feel or look that way next to Franco-seriously!

  14. All right! All right! I'm watching it! I'm watching it!

  15. i really, really loved this movie, and you're completely right about it being serkis and lithgow who worked the magic. the other actors could have been replaced by anyone, and i would have felt about the same about their characters. but serkis and lithgow- wow. powerful, powerful stuff.

    i did like the borrowed lines though, just because they made me laugh.

  16. I saw that movie this fall and liked it well enough. I had a hard time with the contagion that I assume destroyed humanity. But very few movies get everything right. I try to just accept it and take them for what they do well.

  17. Melissa; I've only seen previews of this movie, and though I've had my reservations, I am anxious to see it. I'm hoping the preview hype for Cesaer is worth the price.

    Its really all about the monkey in the cage, right? Thanks for the review, and insights into the pitfalls.


  18. I agree that the series has played itself out. I haven't seen the movie and probably won't. Just too many others in my queue that I'd rather see first.

  19. I am glad you like it Mel :)
    On contrary to most people, I was intrigued from the moment I saw the trailer.

    great review,very detail.

    In defense toward Peter Jackson, I think he did really good CGI job in The Lord Of the Rings.

    Serkis was definitely the one that makes this movie made it into my top-5 list

  20. I have heard a lot of people talk about it but I have never seen it. I think I might give it a go.

  21. Really?
    Okay, I'm sold then. I'll check it out. :)

  22. LOVED Caesar. If there's a petition I can sign to get Serkis an Oscar nomination, I'll sign it. Without him the movie would have been a cheesy B movie, but he totally gave it a heart.

    And, yeah, what kind of chimp handler doesn't know a chimp is pregnant? :/

  23. I really liked this movie, too. I agree with you about the ape prison folks. They could have made the characters less cliche. But overall, I thought it was quite good. John Lithgow was wonderful.

  24. Hmm, I've heard that about Frieda Pinto in this movie. I want to see if for Andy Serkis's performance, and that alone.

  25. I haven't seen this version. Sounds like there are some extreme characters in there.

  26. That's surprisingly. Most of the reviews I've seen were lukewarm towards this movie.

    I actually haven't seen the original yet...

  27. I quite liked the throwbacks to the original. I'm glad you enjoyed it overall, and I agree with you on the D-Bag, non D-Bag thing. I think Rise has done a good job of reinvigorating the franchise after Burton nearly killed it completely.

  28. I think you're pretty right on with your review of it. I still had a hard time with the CGI though, even though it was really good. I think it's because I just knew it was CGI and had a block against it already. But that aside, I really liked the movie!

  29. I had mixed feelings just like you!
    Andy Serkis and John Lithgow deserve awards. Their performances were amazing! There was a lot of disconnect otherwise. Over all I still liked it! Hey, pass me some sugar free gummy bears ;D Those babies are hard to find, lol

  30. Sounds like the kind of movie I might want to see for ole time's sake, but only for 10 minutes. Great review. Thanks, Melissa.
    Be well.

  31. My initial reaction was similar to yours when I heard about this movie, but now after hearing so much good about it I'm anxious to see it. Too bad they went for the stereotypical characters, but I guess that's the way most movies are made to reach the masses. Good review.

    See my guest post at Breakthrough Blogs

  32. I had the same reaction when I first heard of the movie. :P Despite hearing good things about it, I don't think I'll be seeing it . . .

  33. Here is a movie I have never even heard of and probably will forget as soon as I finish this comment. I do so love reading your movie comments. More entertaining than a lot of the movies I have seen lately :D

  34. Great review Melissa! I especially enjoyed your image of Johnny Cash "lead(ing) the apes in a rousing rendition of Folsom Prison Blues!" Though I haven't seen the movie, I'm really surprised that Serkis isn't nominated for an Oscar, and I like L.G.'s idea about a petition. Based on your review, I would like to see it for Serkis and Lithgow. Julie

  35. Great review Mel, I am so proud that you finally watched it! I know that you weren't impressed and definitely not interested so it's great that you watched it despite that.

    I think that you present a very balanced review and overall it sounds like you enjoyed the movie.

    I agree that the motion-capture work by Andy Serkis was great and definitely one of the best that I have ever seen. You are spot on, James Cameron and Peter Jackson should take note of how to use the technology best.

    There were definitely cheesy moments in the movie, as you described, the worst offenders were pretty much the characters at the "sanctuary". They were cardboard cut outs and the normally awesome Brian Cox was just average.

    The lead up to the moment where Caesar uttered "No" was just edge-of-your-seat excitement! It was perfectly executed and possibly my favourite part of the moment.

    As for James Franco, he didn't annoy me as he normally does in his films but I do agree about Frida Pinto. She does nothing to establish herself as a great character actor.

    On the whole though, 'Rise' was a great film and definitely one of my favourites of the year. Which makes me even happier to know that it wasn't as bad as you thought it would be :)

    Great review

  36. Hey Mel! How's it goin'? Hope you have a great weekend! :)

  37. Hello! Thought I'd pop over to your blog and wave a big hello!!

    I have to admit, I've not seen this film but may do now as a rental if my library has it as now you've made it quite intriguing to watch! I love Andy Serkis' work but it wasn't enough for me to see this. I thought the Chuck Heston Planet of the Apes film was enough and too much of a classic and couldn't stand what came after or since!LOL!

    Take care

  38. Nice Blog.....NEW follower.

    I am stopping by from the Top Writing Blog competition.

    Just wanted to say hello. This is a great way to find new blogs and visit ones you haven't visited in a while. :)

    Elizabeth - Silver's Reviews


  39. I'm only have loves for this flick. While it's not the most perfect film of the year, I'm just happy they made it "engaging" as it is a visual treat.

    Also, I heard they already made plans for a sequel to this... something about the virus gone airborne, chimps attacking back, sequel stuff...


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