Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Road Trip: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I’m always appreciative when I can go to the movies on a weekday.  It used to be something I would do regularly when I was working the night shift.  But it is something I can manage only  occasionally these days.  I would go at night during the week, but the 30 plus mile trip to Bakersfield after having worked all day, has never appealed to me much.  Not when you get to be my age.
I had another doctor’s appointment with my primary care provider today.  I try to make the appointments later in the day so I don’t have to miss work, but this was one of those times they called me wanting me to come in instead of the other way around.  More about that in another post though.
The appointment was at 11:00 AM, which meant it was too early to go to work for just two hours when you have to walk a half mile into your job and out.  Not to mention that  by the time I got finished, it would mean driving back to Wasco in the scorching heat with no air conditioning, something that pretty well drains me by the time I get back home just to walk into the job in the heat for about two hours work.  And, this being Honorable Son Number 3’s day off, I also  had company.  So the choice was pretty cut and dry.
Our destination was not the Reading Cinema that The Girlfriend and I had been to over the weekend.  Instead it was to be the Edwards Regal Cinema.  Part of this was due to the fact that I still had a gift card  given to me by Honorable Son No. 2 for Father’s Day.   (btw, the son  numbers are order of birth, and mean nothing else)
IMG_1045We left the Doctor’s office at 12 Noon, so we decided on the one o’clock showing, especially since Edwards was just a hop, skip, and a jump from where we were.  The Edwards is located off of Ming Avenue in Bakersfield and is part of a shopping center called The Marketplace.  I have never had a desire to do much shopping there, as the shops there strike me as being a bit upscale.  But there is a restaurant on the highway that we have been to more than a few times called Tahoe Joe’s.  Good food, but high prices.
Because of all that  I always park in the back.  It’s just as easier to park there then in the front lot.  For one thing, you are just as close if not closer to the theater.  And on this weekday, there wasn’t enough cars to fill a Used Car Lot.
IMG_1052To get to the front of the Edwards from our parking place  is a simple matter of walking to either side and going up a short walkway.  In front of the cinema is a large fountain.  On weekends, day or night you’ll see a crowd gathered around it or walking up and down through the shopping center.  On this day, there wasn’t more than a handful of people within sight.  I sent Honorable Son Number 3 up to get the tickets.  For a weekday matinee, they would be $7.50 each.  So I used $15 of my $25 dollar gift card.  I decided to use my bank card at the refreshment stand and save the other ten for the next movie.  I gave thought to seeing two movies on this day, something I might have done when I was younger.   But between bad legs, bad back, and bad eyesight, those days may have passed me by.
After Josh had gotten the tickets we still had some time to kill before the movie started.  So I snapped some quick pictures of the place with my phone to give a little flavor to this road trip and future trips instead of just leaving it to your imagination.  Future Road Trips to previous theater destinations will dispense with the travelogue crap.   You can get an idea of the layout of The Marketplace  right here.



From the outside and outside only, this place always seems a bit classier than the Reading Cinema or the Maya Cinema which is located out on California Avenue.  But inside, the Maya has them both beat for comfort.  We decided to go ahead and get popcorn and diet sodas even though the popcorn would wreck my diet. But we both passed on the butter.   I also like the fact that they actually give you your popcorn in a bucket instead of some flimsy half assed bag like they do at The Valley Plaza Reading.  Ugh!

As you can tell by comparing this to  my last road trip, we were in a much larger auditorium, and since the crowd was obvious going to be sparse, it certainly appeared this trip to the movies was going to be better than the one The Girlfriend and I had taken on Saturday.  I also prefer the Edwards because the pre-movie advertisements are  more interesting, although I have to admit a great deal of that time was spent on my I-phone.

As you can see there was the usual crap on the screen, a few scenes from upcoming movies. an advertisement for some wellness center etc.  We were there so early that by the time the real movie previews started, Honorable Son had to go out and refill the popcorn.  He returned just after we found out that this was a 20th Century Fox Film and a Chernins Production.

I have to admit I didn’t have high hopes for this newest version of Planet of the Apes.  I’m a big fan of the original movies, and own all of them.  The Tim Burton remake was mostly crap, and I hated the ending.  Still I was going to give this  a chance.  And I’m glad I did.

In many respects the film is better than the original.  Of course, it has the advantage of over 40 years of technological film improvements on it’s side. But all the technology in the world won’t help if you have a lame story, an idiot plot, and characters you don’t care about.  It is my opinion that if you’re doing a reboot or a remake, you better be bringing something new to the table.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes not only does that, in a way it improves on the original story.  Yeah, there may be a few spoilers ahead and now that you’ve read that disclaimer, you may continue reading just the way you were going to anyway.

Without going into detail, I thought the back story we were given in the original films left a lot to be desired.  It was full of holes plot wise, but that generally happens when you start relying on time travel to explain things.  This film doesn’t do that, although it does hint at things to come which those who are fans of the original series will readily spot, along with a few homages to that series.   The rest of you may either go watch them or it’s just tough shit.
The explanation here as to how the Apes begin their ascent to power is twofold.   First, in a search for a cure for the Alzheimer’s Disease his dad, Charles (John Lithgow)  has contracted, researcher Will Rodman (James Franco) searches desperately for a cure, using chimpanzees as the guinea pigs. When the chimp that has shown the most success goes berserk at an inopportune time, the Pharmaceutical Company for which Will works cuts off funding for that particular drug, thus forcing him to start over.  As it turns out, and unbeknownst to every one at first, the chimp had gone berserk not because of the drug, but because she was trying to protect her new born infant.  Will takes the chimpanzee home  and finds out that the gene altering drug given to his mother, has also caused those same genes to be passed down to her son, whom Will has named Caesar.  Knowing the drug was not at fault for the rampage of Caesar's mother, Will also gives the drug to his rapidly deteriorating  father, who is becoming more difficult to control.   It not only cures his disease, but makes his father smarter than he was originally.  For his part, Caesars intelligence is growing by leaps and bounds as well.
Later, when Caesar suffers an injury, Will meets and falls for a beautiful veterinarian, Caroline (Frieda Pinto).  Eventually Charles condition starts deteriorating, and in a confrontation with a neighbor, Caesar steps into protect him but gets committed to a crooked Ape sanctuary for his efforts.  Will become preoccupied with finding a new version of his drug and is only partially successful.  As it turns out, the new vapor method of delivery works just dandy on apes, but has an unfortunate side effect on humans when they inhale it.  It’s almost Poetic Justice in this film, as is the fact that whether intentional or not, the film dwells on man’s growing inhumanity, and does not spare us the details of what can happen when corporate profits are put above everything else. 
Will’s attempt to find a cure for Alzheimer’s is financed by a drug corporation, not because of the good it will bring to mankind, but because of the huge never ending profits that will benefit the company.  Yeah, you’ll be rooting for the apes in this movie.
What I also liked about the new set up is how the apes begin their rise to power.  The  total irony  that the drug responsible for their ascent, appears to also be the agent that causes the human race being wiped out, was not lost on me.  Although we must keep in mind that we won’t know for sure if  this will come to pass  with certainty unless a sequel is given the go ahead, a move that now appears quite likely.  I also loved how Director Rupert Wyatt, and writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver incorporated elements from the original films into the screenplay, most of which would not be discernible to those who have not viewed them (shame on you if you haven’t).  That also leaves the film makers with a couple of interesting choices.  Would the next film pick up immediately after this one, several years later, or hundreds of years later?

Thanks to the body and facial artistry of Andy Serkis, he is becoming your go to guy for CGI characters, and has shown there is no limit as to how far the technology may be able to go.  This is a far cry from previous films, where actors were saddled with heavy makeup, often making it difficult to act from inside an ape mask.  That being said, Roddy McDowell, Kim Hunger, and Maurice Evans achieved remarkable results for what must now be seen as primitive technology.  Even Tim Burton’s remake failed to achieve the levels of technological skill we see at work here.  Is it no wonder that the best actors in the film are in fact, the Apes?

No knock here on the human actors though.  Franco does a good job, as does Lithgow.  But their acting abilities are not really stretched to the limit here, and both parts are seriously  underwritten to move the ape plot along.  Of course, it becomes apparent that despite the fact that Will practically raised Caesar from birth, he still never thought of him as much more than a pet, as shown by his willingness to so easily return to drug testing on simians and at times Caesars imprisonment seems almost an after thought.  And I’m not sure Frieda Pinto’s character is even necessary, but damn she is pretty so I’m glad she was there and will give the film a pass on that. And as mean as Tom Felton was to Harry Potter and the gang, that’s nothing compared to what he does to Caesar and the other apes.  He may have the best “human” role in the film.

But those minor quibbles aside, if you go, you won’t be disappointed.  It’s certainly one of the best films I’ve seen this summer.  Hope to view it again on blu-ray.    And it’s certainly worthy of me having no choice but to bestow a very well done A on this simian concoction.

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