Friday, August 19, 2011

Double Feature: Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Conan the Barbarian

After about a week and a half of a most awful illness, my Friend took me to the Union Square cinema to celebrate my return to the world of the living. On the agenda were two films I'd had no real intention of seeing, certainly not at the cineplex for fourteen bucks a pop: Rise of the Planet of the Apes and, much (much!) more unfortunately, Conan the Barbarian.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes features actor/oddball James Franco as the idealistic geneticist dead-set on beginning human trials for his Alzheimer's-curing drug, after it's proven to stimulate previously deteriorated parts of the brain in chimpanzees--or enhance healthy apes' brain power without any side effects whatsoever. Of course, as with any movie miracle drug, we learn early on that there may be a few latent side effects after the star experimental chimp bursts into a board meeting, in which Franco is wooing greedy investors to green light the next stage of the drug's development.

After exterminating all remaining apes and closing down the trials, we find that a tiny baby chimp is still alive; Franco takes the little guy home, where he lives with his Alzheimer's-afflicted father (John Lithgow), names him Caesar, and begins to raise him as his intellectually accelerated son. Cute scenes ensue as Father Franco bonds with the baby and for a while, the three are a pretty happy, functional family unit. It's all relative.

The film wastes no time watching Caesar go through his nascent years, and we fly through the first three years, then five years, until the tyke is a ripe 8 years old--though, it's clear that ape-years are something equivalent to dog-years because Caesar is now at least an adolescent if not something of a testosterone-filled, volatile young man of his early 20s. He's beginning to ask questions (he can sign words with Franco, of course), he doesn't want to be treated as a pet, and he evinces some feelings of jealousy when Franco strikes up a relationship with the beautiful veterinarian, played by Freida Pinto of Slumdog Millionaire.

After a particularly egregious show of protectiveness, Caesar lands himself in the ape pound (a thinly veiled ape prison), where he faces bullying by the other apes (who don't like that he wears human clothes--how un-apelike!) and faces some torture at the hands of the ape-prison's sadistic floorwalker, played by Tom Felton (aka Draco Malfoy). And, then the movie follows its few storylines, incorporating the sentimental, the sad, the humorous, the somewhat scary, and, of course, the utter ridiculous.

I must say that my friend and I both giggled the moment we saw a stern-looking Mr. Franco in his white lab coat in the first minutes of the movie. While I think he is a fine--and at times, great--actor, I was unsure if I'd be able to take him seriously as a genius geneticist, albeit in a summer blockbuster about an ape revolution. But, after a while, I got used to Franco, that slight condescending smirk he typically wears replaced with a lot of furrowed brows and angst-ridden faces.

Though she doesn't say too much or steal too many love-romance scenes in the movie, I have always thought Freida Pinto is so gorgeous that it's almost distracting; she doesn't disappoint here.

And, the CGI was extremely impressive. I was very skeptical going into the film, imagining a bunch of apes whizzing around the trees a la Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (admittedly Apes would be spared the ever-annoying presence of Shia LaBeouf); but, the scenes of apes scaling massive redwoods and flipping about were quite stunning. There is a scene of a score of the beasts swinging about the Golden Gate Bridge that is particularly pleasing to watch.

Though the film is ultimately choppy and sometimes a bit emotionally hollow, I had a great time and the movie made me want to sneak into the Bronx Zoo and free all the monkeys, or at least listen in on their conversations.

Conan the Barbarian
was one of the worst movies I have seen in a long time. Period.

Welcome back, blog!


Paramendra Bhagat said...

I am headed to the Bronx Zoo soon, in days, but the plan was made before this movie review! :-)

Jack said...

I'm so sad to hear that _Conan_ is no good... I'm still going to see it because I loved the original stories from the '30s... But, you've helped me set the bar a little lower.

I agree with you on _Planet_... I enjoyed it despite its shortcomings.

Morgan said...

Thanks, sirs. PB, glad you're reading -- always there to prove my worthless cause worthy ;-)

And Mr. Jack. Yeah, Apes has sooooo many flaws in so many ways -- from the academic/scientific perspective (obvz) to just the pure human nature ... but, ultimately, I got teary-eyed and that is a rarity. Also, we should see more Lithgow ... that face just gets at you.