Rise of the Planet of the Apes – Review

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) 

Directed by Rupert Wyatt. With James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow.

After the recent storm of various unimaginative remakes and reboots, watching this re-imagined prequel of the 1968 Planet of the Apes (mercifully the Tim Burton’s Version from 2001 has been quickly dismissed)  was one of the most enjoyable and refreshing experiences of this summer season!

Finally a blockbuster that is not only big and with incredible special effect, but also smart, fun and emotional at the same time.

Yes, of course, if you stop and think about it all for a moment I’m sure you’ll find it all rather predictable. Right from the start it’s very easy to guess where it’s all heading to (well, it is a prequel after all!!!), however part of the fun is to watch the predictability unfolding under your eyes and it’s all done with such conviction and skills that it even makes the implausible story somehow credible (in fact by the end of it, you do actually buy even the most far-fetched twist… which I won’t give away in here).

The film is even slightly reminiscent of Hitchcock’s The Birds in portraying what would happen if the “animals” started to rebel to humans and took over the earth, but even though the trailer sells it more as a sort of “Invasion of the Apes” type of film, I should probably point out that is only a very small part of the story (possibly the last 20 or 30 minutes only). In fact however big and spectacular some of the action sequences might be, what makes “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” work so well are actually the smaller moments.

The moral message of the film, questioning genetic engineering and the use of animals for medical tests, is anything but subtle and yet at the same time it is a rather surprising spin to the old “planet-of-the-apes” story and it finally gives us the long overdue explanation for all those things we know will be coming in the future films (or rather earlier films). This is one of the most satisfying “origins story” in any recent film.

At the heart of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (such a long title, let’s just call it ROTPOTA) is Caesar: a motion-captured ape, which is a thing of beauty! It’s hard to tell how much of that is Andy Serkis or the amazingly talented computer animators. Whatever it is, this is one of the most accomplished  CG character since Gollum (yet again, another Serkis’ creation): not just in terms of technical achievement (it’s hard to believe that no men in a suite was ever used for the film) but also in terms of being a characters with real feelings and emotions. It is a fascinating and dazzling hybrid of technology and human performance: a real triumph of visual effects!

There are moments in ROTPOTA which are handled like a “mute film” without any dialogue or even music, relying just on images to tell the story, but even more strikingly relying on the expressions on Caesar’s face to tell us everything we need to know.

With such a top-notch character created by special effects, it’s funny to find that the more two-dimentional characters are actually the real people populating this film. Everybody is very good in it, but they’re all very predictable, even more than the story itself. James Franco is likeable enough, but also rather transparent, not to mention Freida Pinto, who has the impossible task to make something out of the thinnest character.. But hey, who cares: she’s beautiful to look at! Tom Felton poor thing doesn’t seem to be able to shake off his bad “Drako” character: he plays it very well, but he’s really just one-dimensional and he’s just there to serve the script. Who knows, maybe one day he’ll be able to get a different part where he can actually smile as well as being as asshole. John Lithgow proves once again that he’s the type of actor who, with the right script, could win an Oscar… Sadly this isn’t that script. And finally Brian Cox who is completely wasted comes and goes without really leaving any mark.

But all this doesn’t take anything away from an overall cracking action film: if only all blockbusters were like these, our summer at the movies would have been a lot more enjoyable than it actually has.


Horrible Bosses – Review

Horrible Bosses (2011)

Directed by Seth Gordon. With Jason Bateman, P.J. Byrne, Steve Wiebe ,Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, Jamie Foxx, Jason Sudeikis, Donald Sutherland.

This is one of those comedies that should have been a lot funnier than in fact it was. For some reason the makers behind “Horrible Bosses” seem to assume that just having over-the-top profanity and crass dialogue (especially when it’s from somebody we are not used to hear swearing so much) is enough to make your audience laugh: this might have work (arguably) 18 years ago with a film like Clerks, but time have certainly moved on and today comedies need more than just a few f**ks and c**ks jokes (even the first Hangover, which this film clearly is trying to emulate, had a lot more twists and surprises in its plot and relied on actual characters as opposed to just having them swearing).

I want to stress, I’m certainly not a puritan. I do swear too, more often than I probably should, and I do believe that some big, (sometimes even inventive) profanity, used at the right moment in a film, can be very effective and quite funny too. But when a film that calls itself a comedy goes on over 10 minutes without a single good laugh and then tries to compensate its lack of good jokes by simply adding gratuitous vulgarity, then you know there’s something wrong with it and it all just feels like a rather pathetic affair.

I am actually a little annoyed with”Horrible Bosses”. Potentially it had a lot going for it: an interesting premise which we can all sympathise with (At some point or another we all had a horrible boss who we just couldn’t stand), an impressive cast packed with big names and one of the most inspired advertising campaign of the year. Unfortunately despite all these promises, the actual pay off is actually rather disappointing and in the end the film fails strike a chord and registers just around the average line.

For a start the premise is completely wasted by having these bosses being so over-the-top that in the end they just become absurd two-dimensional caricatures. Sadly this isn’t “the office” (UK or US version): there’s no subtlety or wit, nor those beautifully observed characters or situations we can all relate to. The gags and twists (very spare in the first half) might be fun to describe to a friend but they are certainly not as funny when they are translated up the screen.

The theatre I went to see this was pretty full and the silence during most of the jokes (as I said, especially in the first hour) was quite deafening: it almost made me feel a bit embarrassed for the film itself…

Even its potentially stellar cast is wasted: Kevin Spacey plays exactly the same character he did in Swimming with Sharks and yet with less than 1/10 of screen time, this time he only manages make a caricature out of it. Same goes for Jennifer Anniston who seem to be trying so hard to make her character the complete opposite of her girl-next-door screen persona we are so used to see, that she’s forgotten to make her believable too. She’s really not scary at all! Colin Farrell is basically invisible, not just because the make-up makes him look like a different person, but because he’s probably got about 5 minutes. Surely he must have had a lot of fun in making such an over the top character, sadly none of that fun comes across. Jamie Foxx makes the most of his brief appearance as the ‘murder consultant’ named Motherfucker Jones (once again, a joke which might have been funny and yet is stretched beyond anyone’s patience, including the terribly un-funny reason behind the name), but he just adds very little to the film.

“Horrible Bosses” is really about the trio of ‘hangover-style’ ‘type-of-friends’, which unfortunately are a lot less interesting and just as under-developed than their bosses. Furthermore director Seth Gordon seems unable to draw from the potentially great chemistry of his three main actors (we only get a glimpse of how much funnier it could all have been if they had been allowed more room for improvisation, in the obligatory outtakes reel during the end credits).

Jason Bateman is the best thing in it, with his trademark deadpan humour and his usual underplayed charm, which unfortunately can’t save him from another under-written role (Obviously the writer seem to prefer spending more time setting up the ultra-complicated plot, than making us care about their characters).
In the end neither Batman or his co-stars, nor the admiringly few good jokes in the second half of the film can save “horrible bosses”. It’s just not funny enough!
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