Virgin Movie Review – Planet of the Apes (2001)

2001 planet of the apes
I’m not convinced a chimp would find a human sexy, no matter how hot Walhberg is.

Who knew Tim Burton could direct a grand scale epic adventure? I always thought his specialty was weirdos doing wacky things. But I was surprised and pleased with how much I enjoyed this 2001 version of Planet of the Apes, especially since I’m not impressed with the more recent trilogy.

I also didn’t realize Mark Walhberg  could do a heroic genre role. The man seems pretty talented and versatile, when he’s not confined to goofy comedies. Not to rag on wacky weirdos and goofy comedies, but this is more of the kind of world-building I’d expect from The Lord of the Rings.

Following this point will be some mildly vague spoilers…

There was a lot of genre-hopping, from space stations off Saturn, to Bronze Age ape civilizations, to a Mad Max climax. And while bouncing around through space and time, I had to remind myself of something deeply embedded in the mythos of Planet of the Apes: total mind-screwing. At its heart, Apes is a dystopian vision of what can or could be, if conditions were right. I wanted to yell at Walhberg’s character at the very end: to never mess with the timeline. He had a good thing going there on that planet. Has he never seen the original 1968 movie?

[pullquote]But before we get to the denouement that should surprise exactly no one, there were hugely impressive sets, makeup, and costumes.[/pullquote] A lot of care and detail went into the construction of this remake: it’s clear everyone involved was a fan. The final setting in the desert landscape with the rock formations was filmed on location near Death Valley, CA. I hiked there this spring and took a lot of photos (I’ll post some soon and link to it), and it really added to my film enjoyment to recall how cool a place it was in real life. (To be fair, I visited the park because Star Trek was also filmed there, but once I saw the formations above the battleground in Apes, things clicked into place.)

What was good: the apes looked great. I enjoyed seeing the variety of Great Apes represented: chimps, gorillas (lowland gorillas, I think), baboons, orangutans, and humans. The ape actors moved like apes; this was most noticeable with the chimps. They sounded like apes and had temper tantrums like apes. Although it might have seemed a bit overwrought with all the leaping and the screeching, zoologically speaking, everything was spot on.

I had to ask myself, can’t apes swim? I never considered their construction might prohibit it.  But then, humans lost the ability to brachiate, so we ourselves picked up water during our evolution, but lost the trees.

We just have to go along with the apes’ ability to speak, since a silent film wouldn’t be as fun.

Something that stood out to me too was how violent General Thade was. Was he psychotic, or more like a real chimp? He was one mean monkey. From what I’ve heard, adult chimps can fly violently off the handle and rip your face off:  not the kind of creatures you want living in your house. Although clearly, from watching this, the apes didn’t want us around either. Of all the primates, it seems gorillas are the sweetest: and their noble warrior personas were interestingly played.

Side Note: Hey! Want to get scared to death by chimpanzees? Have fun watching this video:

 Back to the film: I liked the apes discussing whether humans had  souls. Don’t we debate that about animals we’ve domesticated?  I hope we treat our “pets” better than we see the apes doing in this flick, although I know from my experience working in animal rescue that we often, quite sadly, do not. (Even with animals we think we’re decent to, I have to wonder. Look at our beloved horses. We sit on their spines, kick their ribs when we want them to go, and force cold iron bars between their teeth to steer them. Dammit, I’m on my soapbox again. )

What I didn’t like as much: the human characters, save Walhberg’s, were completely underdeveloped. They were like stand-ins for real people. It was strange that the best individuals were the apes, although that is probably intentional. But I can’t say it made for good storytelling to have the humans be sparsely written caricatures. And the the line about “Damn dirty humans” — while intended as humor — felt like a cheap shot. I guess they couldn’t resist an ironic nod to the iconic original.

Ultimately, were the apes wrong about humans? Some of it was pretty true: we can be savage and mindless. But we, like they, could become much more. So I managed to do a little soul-searching in a sci-fi/fantasy film; not a bad thing. I’d say this earnest remake of Planet of the Apes is worth a watch.

Movie Grade: B

Movie Review – The Other Guys

I’m not sure how to rate this movie. It started out brilliant, then lost all steam and comic coherence.

The opening sequence with The Rock and Samuel L Jackson spoofing themselves is a wonderful riot. The scenes between Will Ferrell and Mark Walhberg in the NYPD offices have some of the best humor seen this year.

Actor Will Ferrell
Will Ferrell is like the Energizer Bunny. He just won’t stop. 🙂

Ferrell and Walhberg delight the viewer in their passive-aggressive and aggressive-aggressive differences. Characters Allen and Terry have just enough logic in their idiocy to lay the foundation for a completely enjoyable romp. The lion vs tuna discussion is easily the single best absurdist argument ever heard on film. A respectfully silent funeral brawl must be seen to be believed – that they pull it off, in context, cracks me up. And Micheal Keaton fantastically underplays some neo-dadist pop culture referencing that weirdly nutshells his career.

Then The Rock and Jackson do something so note perfect in a buddy/action cop movie, so funny and surreal, that it shocked me. Incredibly great stuff.

It’s all hugely funny. Until it falters. Somewhere along the way the movie becomes annoying; the jokes go limp…and the senseless plot becomes the driving force in what should have been a complete send up of the mismatched partners cop genre.

There’s a talent to writing a script using low-brow humor in a classic way, and The Other Guys stays in that perfect zone for about 30 minutes. Unfortunately, a few set pieces – the ex-girlfriend scene comes to mind – veer off into the form of crazy that isn’t funny. And most of the scenes with Ferrell and Eva Mendez, as the hot wife who takes his verbal abuse, get more embarrassing the longer they go on. Maybe the unfunny funny stuff is forgivable in a Will Ferrell movie.

What’s not forgivable: when Ferrell and director McKay forget their movie is a spoof, and elevate the flimsy plot with an attempt at serious follow-through. It’s just not that kind of film. The long running time (1 hour and 46 minutes by my count) absolutely could not support itself.

By the three quarter mark into the film, I was ready to leave. The humor wasn’t all that any more; the action wasn’t good enough to entertain. If I didn’t have to stay and monitor the end credits for RunPee, I’d have gone home. Barring a few good moments (Ferrell complaining that a real explosion hurts and the movies have it wrong, whining it’s not fair the bad guys have a helicopter), there’s nothing to actually miss. Including the interesting but depressing golden parachute powerpoint credits presentation, and the unfunny outtake tag.

So, how to rate The Other Guys? If the first act earns an A and the middle and end a C-, then I can live with a B- total score.

What did you think about The Other Guys? Share your thoughts about the movie in the comments below.