“Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” reviewed

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” reviewed (photo)

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Friggin James Franco. First the man breaks the Oscars and now he single-handledly turns the earth into a Planet of the Apes. Talk about a bad year!

He’s having a bad year, but at least he’s in a fun movie. Yes, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is pretty fun, if watching mankind’s rapid descent into chaos can ever be described as “fun.” Franco plays Will Rodman, a scientist driven to find a cure for Alzheimer’s in order to save his ill father Charles (John Lithgow). Will’s experimental drug shows great promise in boosting apes’ cognitive functions, but a freak lab accident gets the project cancelled and makes Will the father of an orphaned, genetically mutated baby chimp. Named Caesar by the Shakespeare loving Charles, the chimp grows into an adorable and clever toddler and then a frustrated and brilliant (and potentially dangerous) adult.

Will is forced to surrender Caesar to a primate shelter, where the ape slowly comes to hate humanity and plot a rebellion against his stinking damn dirty masters. That makes “Rise” a nice corrective to the awful Kevin James comedy “Zookeeper” (I was going to call it “laughable” — if only!), where zoo animals have the ability to communicate with one another and all they want to do is try to get Kevin James laid. No, if animals had human intelligence they would surely follow Caesar’s lead and strike back the cruel people who stuck them in cages. Can you imagine what the apes from “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” would do to us if they knew about “Zookeeper?” It would be ugly.

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is of course a prequel to the classic series of American sci-fi films, loosely based on the 1963 novel by French author Pierre Boulle. Prequels are all the rage in Hollywood these days because they offer an easy way to prolong the lives of popular franchises, but most are plagued by the same problem: they deliver predictable backstory instead of surprising story. An air of inevitability hangs over all of them, and when the plots of movies feel inevitable, they also feel boring.

“Rise of Planet of the Apes” is a little bit different because the “Planet of the Apes” franchise has always been about man’s inexorable march towards its own doom. Every film starts in darkness and ends in tragedy, so the fact that we know the apes will rise in this case doesn’t hurt the experience. It simply makes “Rise” an appropriately tragic entry in an unusually and refreshingly gloomy Hollywood franchise. It also provides something you won’t see in any other big Hollywood blockbuster this summer: an unhappy ending.

Then again, maybe that ending isn’t so unhappy. You’d think a movie about a battle between humans and super-smart apes would favor humanity (after all, the movie was made by humans, at least as far as I know). But “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” comes down squarely on the side of its titular simians. All the humans in this movie are uniformly bland, colorless creations while Caesar, performed by “Lord of the Rings”‘ Andy Serkis with a truly impressive SFX assist from Weta Digital, is a multidimensional and flawed tragic hero. Some will say the filmmakers, like most folks in Hollywood these days, cared more about their special effects than the script and the actors. But a more generous reading of the film would argue that the movie intentionally undercuts its humans to force the audience to side with a protagonist hellbent on their destruction.

There’s nothing appealing about Franco’s dreary scientist, or Freida Pinto as his boring girlfriend, or Tom Felton as the meanest ape wrangler in human history. Serkis’ Caesar, in contrast, displays real human emotions: he loves, he yearns, he regrets, and he rages. In a recent blog post, I joked that “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” looked exactly like James Marsh’s documentary “Project Nim,” about a real life experiment that taught a baby chimp sign language. And, in fact, the most beautiful scenes in “Rise” are the ones that expound upon the saddest moments in “Project Nim,” where a chimp who’s been given the tools to express himself like a person is treated like an animal. The fact that I am talking about beautiful and emotionally moving scenes in a prequel about embittered CGI monkeys, should tell you that this is not your average blockbuster cash-grab.

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” was directed by Rupert Wyatt, taking a big step up in scale from his previous effort, the jailbreak movie “The Escapist,” (his “Escapist” star, Brian Cox, is on hand as one of the flavorless humans). He does an impressive job integrating the human and ape halves of his cast and he employs a nimble camera in the action scenes that swoops and spins through the environment right beside Caesar, giving us a taste of his freedom of movement so that we’re left all the more claustrophobic and uncomfortable when that freedom is later stripped away. Wyatt really empathizes with Caesar’s plight. And the movie is good enough to convince us that we should too, even though it means the death of us all.

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is now playing. If you see we want to hear what you think. Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.


IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines


The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.


Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.


A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.


Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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