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Notes from the Back Row

Monkey business

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How does it feel to be the most sought after actor on the planet but only for roles where no one will ever actually see you? Andy Serkis has live-motion-capture acted three classic characters in the past decade - Gollum in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings , the giant gorilla in King Kong ( also by Jackson) and now Caesar, another monkey and the protagonist of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which opens this Friday at both the Village 8 and Garibaldi 5.

Planet of the Apes is a 1968 Charlton Heston classic best remembered for the twist ending - I don't want to give it away because it's killer and the original Planet of the Apes is the download of the week, but the five Apes sequels - including Tim Burton's "re-imagining" back in 2001 - don't really hold up to the original. This one does, however, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes is very satisfying.

First of all, it's a revolution picture and revolutions are really hot right now. As well, the apes are played by actual humans wired for motion-capture and the CGI effects (from the teams that did Lord of the Rings and Avatar) are really good. Each simian has its own personality and identity. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the kind of film that hinges almost entirely on its effects and I think director Rupert Wyatt ( Dark Days, The Escapist) and his team pull it off smashingly. This is also the first movie to really demonstrate Avatar's legacy - new stories can be told and films can be made differently now (and in this world Andy Serkis is the digital Marlon Brando.)

James Franco doesn't play an ape but rather an uber-focused scientist who's trying to cure Alzheimer's but instead figures out how to make monkeys really smart. After his research is scrapped by the top brass, James ends up with a baby ape which he raises with the help of a smoking hot vet/primatologist played by Freida Pinto ( Slumdog Millionaire ). Shit goes downhill when the just-add-a-montage new lovers are forced to relinquish their monkey back to the lab.

It's not a perfect picture. The moral lessons (humans are cocky and overly arrogant with regards to nature) are nothing we haven't seen before and the bad guys are also kind of stock but the film's doubled-up father-son dynamic has some emotional heft and all the stuff with the apes is pretty kick-ass. The last third of the two-hour film is almost all crazy, balls-out monkey action.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes may look like just another reboot but it's the reboot of the summer. Really, they had me at "Freida Pinto" who shines in a criminally underdeveloped role.

The main criticism for The Change-Up , an R-rated Freaky Friday role reversal flick also opening Friday, is that the sappy ending where everyone makes up and hugs is a little too contrived. But that is the case for almost all comedies lately and no one watches a funny movie for the unfunny part at the end - they watch it for the 70 to 80 minutes of funny bits that lead there. The Change-Up has some funny bits. Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman star as the single man and the family man and they switch roles after pissing in a religious wishing well one night. The Change-Up is crude and rude but delivers some real laughs despite the fact that the script isn't genius (it's by the guys that wrote The Hangover ). The humour is potty-and-tittie-based (nothing wrong with that) and the cast is mostly just monkeying around.

 

 

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