Tag Archives: James Franco

Late Reviews: “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”

I, for one, welcome our new Simian overlords…

The long bank holiday weekend in the UK has meant two things.  The first is that I refrained from posting in order to enjoy the break – the second is that I ended up watching a bunch of films which had passed me by in the last year – thus giving me the opportunity to then post more reviews.   Everybody wins?

SPOILERS throughout for the film’s plot – please be advised if you haven’t seen it yet.

To the point, then – I finally had the chance to catch up with last summer’s sleeper sci-fi hit, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and it was absolutely worth the wait.  British director Rupert Wyatt‘s first major studio effort is a remake/remodel/remix of the classic sixties sci-fi “Planet of the Apes”, itself originally adapted from the Pierre Boule satirical novel, and this new version does a damned good job of updating the story to reflect our present-day societal concerns whilst still finding clever and unobtrusive ways to directly reference the original film.

My major reservation about seeing this film was purely a casting one – I’m not the biggest fan of James Franco and didn’t relish the prospect of sitting through a movie where he had to carry the bulk of the story on his shoulders.  It’s an irrational prejudice and one which I’m happy to say was somewhat undone by his work in this film, which was oddly affecting and compelling – it’s a tough ask to make a driven scientist who does some fairly appalling things during the course of the story sympathetic and understandable, but a combination of a great script from Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver and Franco’s subtle characterisation makes you care about Will Rodman, even when his work essentially brings about the fall of civilisation as we know it.

Still, in a planet where TMZ.com, the OctoMom dance single, “Geordie Shore” and One Direction exist perhaps it could be said that humanity had a good run and should turn things over to our Ape betters, eh?

This isn’t to say that Franco’s the only reason to see the film – he’s supported by a superb cast which includes the ever-reliable Brian Cox, Freida Pinto, David Oyelowo, a splendidly hissable, wonderfully villainous Tom Felton and a truly heartbreaking John Lithgow, playing Franco’s father in the film, whose battle with Alzheimer’s is the motivating factor which sets the plot in motion.  As for the reliably excellent and boldly innovative motion-capture-hybrid performance by Andy Serkis, I’ve written about his shamefully unacknowledged body of work before but you might want to read Franco’s generous and informative assessment of his performances over at deadline.com.

Why must we put up with such unattractive movie stars? Why?!

And what a plot it is – rather than the astronauts crash-landing on a mysterious planet which turns out to be (shocker!) an Earth overrun by apes in the 1968 film, this update takes a more grounded approach to the established mythology, following scientist Will Rodman (Franco) whose attempts to save his father (Lithgow) from ongoing Alzheimer’s Disease are complicated when he rescues chimp cub Caesar (a superb Andy Serkis) from certain death at his lab.  His work on an experimental  cure for his father’s condition involves testing on animal subjects, which increases their intelligence and comes back to bite him in the butt in the worst way possible…

It is this relationship between roughly plausible science and spectacle which gives the film a weight that it might not otherwise have if it were a run-of-the-mill, explosions aplenty blockbuster – we can all imagine the horror of what Alzheimer’s would do to somebody that we love and what steps we might take if we had in our power to do something that could reverse that foul and evil disease once and for all.

The film’s plausibility doesn’t stretch to its treatment of the primate characters, unfortunately – when we eventually see the hellish ‘ape rescue’ facility which an adult Caesar is incarcerated, I had to raise an eyebrow at the inclusion of an Orangutan and a Gorilla amidst the general chimp population.  Just wouldn’t happen – the animals would have torn each other apart, the facility would have shut down and the plot just wouldn’t be able to unfold in the way that it does in this film.  I attribute this wholly to artistic license and can move past it as the rest of the film is so enjoyable.

“To the Apple store, brothers! iPads for one and all!”

By the time that the set-piece depicted above arrives, and our Ape brethren have well-and-truly overrun a San Francisco utterly unprepared for an army of super-smart Simian soldiers besieging the Golden Gate bridge, I was ready to follow it anywhere that it went and eager to see how an inevitable sequel would develop the plot strands left hanging at the end of the film.

At the close of the film Caesar and his intelligent apes have escaped to the forests of California and Franco’s much-beleagured airline pilot neighbour- played by genre veteran David Hewlett – has been contaminated with a strain of virus which, we can logically deduce from the mid-credits scene, is responsible for a global pandemic which will go on to decimate the planet’s population.  We’ve not yet gone down the route of gun-wielding great Apes riding horses and rounding up rogue packs of on-the-run humans but we’re certainly a bit closer to it by the time that this film ends – I’d love to see what kind of spin Wyatt and his writers could put on the tropes established by the original quintet of “Apes” films.

If you liked the classic series, have a love of thought-provoking sci-fi and want a movie which doesn’t which doesn’t treat the audience like dolts and buffoons then this is definitely a film that you should catch up with.

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Where in the world is Andy Serkis’ Best Actor nomination?

Andy Serkis as Caesar and James Franco in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes".

Hollywood is so precious, don’t you think?  It would love to be lauded as a creative centre – a place where artists can congregate, collaborate and create important and entertaining work in an environment which thrives on the financial and artistic success of the work which results.  But the reality, of course, is quite different.

Yes, just so long as you agree to fit into your pre-ordained box and don’t do anything which threatens the carefully constructed (and constricted) status quo, you’ll be just fine.

Witness the case of actor/director Andy Serkis.  Unfamiliar with the name?  Perhaps you might recognize his most famous character:

Andy Serkis as Smeagol/Gollum in "Lord of the Rings"

Or perhaps this fine figure of a man primate?

Andy Serkis reacts to an acting snub with grace and civility.

Perhaps you’re beginning to see the problem.   Serkis’ most prominent work to mainstream audiences has been in collaboration with the likes of Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg, and often realised via performance capture technology.  In essence, his very best work is oddly invisible – or a combination of his physical acting performance being subsequently animated by CG artists.  It’s in a kind of nebulous, foggy half-place where art meets the bleeding edge of computer-assisted creativity.

It’s a hard concept to grasp for many – without Serkis’ original work, there would be no building blocks for the artists to design their character around and the result on-screen is contingent on the work of artists to take the raw material of Serkis’ work and give it visual life.  Where, to cut a long story short, does Serkis end and Caesar in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” begin?

In the best sense of the word, Andy Serkis’ best screen work to date has been inherently collaborative and the result of a seamless marriage between the best of what technology can bring to a film and what we have come to think of as the traditional theatre arts.

Is there any real difference between Serkis’ work as Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and, say, a performance like John Hurt’s in “The Elephant Man” or Eric Stoltz’s in “Mask”?

I would argue not.   Does anybody look at Hurt’s performance in David Lynch’s film and really say – “Well, he was okay, but the make-up appliances were doing much of the heavy lifting”?  Not unless they’re fundamentally ignorant.   Hurt’s work blends an external make-up job with the soul of the actor beneath it and delivers something which is unforgettable to anybody who’s ever seen it.  Likewise, Jeff Goldblum in “The Fly”:  There’s an extraordinary, singular, eccentric and compelling actor under some astonishing make-up but one without the other wouldn’t be nearly as effective.

I suspect that some of the blame for Serkis’ lack of acknowledgement from his acting peers is down to arrogance and snobbery – his work has largely been in science fiction and fantasy cinema, two genres which are consistently overlooked by the cinema’s great and good when it comes to awards season.  An establishment, it should always be noted, which is delighted to reap the financial benefits of those films when they succeed at the box office but glacially slow to reward them with the highest industry awards when the gongs are handed out.

It’s almost as though the people who decide on who gets nominated for acting awards are old farts who don’t have a clue. I know, I know – can you imagine?

If you want a somewhat biased view from one of Serkis’ recent co-stars, James Franco has written a heartfelt appreciation of his work and what it means for Hollywood over at Deadline.com.

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