Sunday, August 7, 2011

Rupert Wyatt's "Rise" has risen -- and those "Ape" movies will never be the same

Destined, I believe, to become one of the great movie heroes of all time -- and ironically so, since we ought to be rooting for the humans (more of this below) -- Caesar, the chimp from the new RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (shown below and above), is an amazing creation. This is thanks to the work of actor Andy Serkis and the motion-capture of the special effects people. (As a true movie buff, however, you owe it to yourself to see Mr Serkis in a film like The Cottage or the upcoming and generally dreadful Brighton Rock, in which he gives the juiciest performance, just to discover how good this guy can be without special effects.) And the movie itself? Not only does Rise put to shame the rest of of the obvious, obtuse films in the Planet of the Apes franchise, thanks to its immediacy, vibrancy and sheer, near-tactile force, it puts in the shade just about every other summer blockbuster of these past few years.


For those of us who felt that director Rupert Wyatt's last terrific film The Escapist was unduly neglected, this "Rise" is payback indeed, showing that he -- along with his writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (who, together, were among the co-writers of the under-appreciated The Relic) -- is capable of handling mainstream and making it, dear god, so much better than what we are generally offered. (I doubt that the simple line "I am home" has ever seemed so poignant or meaningful.) Handling a variety of genres in a single film -- family film, sci-fi, fantasy, action thriller and animal movie -- after giving us a state-of-the-art prison-break film with The Escapist, Mr. Wyatt, shown at right, may only be beginning to display his array of smart movie-making skills. Just wait.

One thing is certainly clear. The guy loves working with men. In a men's prison movie, this is standard, of course, but his ape movie, too, has surprisingly few females on view -- in the office/business venue or even in the "family," which is made up of only men: son (James Franco, above, right, and at bottom, right), dad (John Lithgow) and then Caesar. Thankfully, the primary woman is played by the gorgeous Frieda Pinto, (above, left) who is given little more to do than look beautiful -- which she handles quite well, of course.

How Wyatt and his team move fluidly from the sci-fi and family story to the animal-in-jeopardy and then into the all-stops-out action finale is extremely well done. Yet when the pace quickens, even the gentler, emotional scenes are handled with more subtlety and tact than we expect. Consequently we're moved when we should be (wait'll you see what Caesar draws on his wall of his cage), and then excited beyond measure as action, emotion and rush-to-justice collide.

Audiences, most of them anyway, will be rooting for the apes against the humans -- which is a very odd position for a human being to find himself. But this movie may be timelier than we know. As America sinks deeper into its morass of greed, stupidity and the utter heedlessness of a people following directives so obviously set by those who have our worst interests at heart, the film should prove a fascinating wake-up call, delivered just a tad too late. Clearly, we are incapable of governing ourselves. Great: Let the apes give it a try.

Rise of the POTA is showing just about everywhere, but the movie's web site only allows Fandango to sell you tickets. So click on the link and see if your favorite theater is included.

2 comments:

Kyle said...

Why no mention of the documentary Project Nim? Both films share so much in common that it's uncanny. This might as well be retitled as The Revenge of Nim Chimpsky!

James van Maanen, said...

You are absolutely right, Kyle, and I had planned to mention and compare the two, saying that they would someday make a great double bill at a Classic-Movie Repertory Theater. But then I forgot to do it (part of what happens when you're 70!). So I will let your comment stand as memorial to both my forgetfulness and how well these two films compliment each other.

While I was watching Rise of the Planets of the Apes, I kept flashing back to moments from Project Nim, and mentioned over a post-movie dinner to my companions how much the films had in common. Of course, none of the other three at the table had seen "Nim" (that's what happens to documentaries, even the best of them, in our culture).

You're also right in your use of the word "uncanny." It does seem really strange and amazing how much Caesar reminds us of Nim. But then, they are both chimps -- and so resemble each other in ways humans think are nearly identical, only because we've have probably not observed chimps closely enough to see all their many subtle differences. Sort of, I suspect, the way us white folk, for decades (centuries) thought (think) that all blacks, Asians, east Indians etc. look alike. (And maybe vice versa.)

The two films "Rise" and "Nim" were probably being worked on simultaneously (although Nim's true story begins in the 1970s), so it's probably not a case of one set of filmmakers stealing anything from the other. More likely an example of how the cultural Zeitgeist spews out such similar things at the same time. It's as though "Rise" has taken Nim and doused him with sci-fi/fantasy dust. But both films are timely in ways we probably have yet to learn.

Didn't mean to go on so long. But, really, thanks for your very pertinent comment. You sure got me thinking further, and you probably did my readers, as well.