“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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Bro and Tell

BFFs And Night Court For Sports

Bromance and Comeuppance On Two New Comedy Crib Series

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“Silicon Valley meets Girls meets black male educators with lots of unrealized potential.”

That’s how Carl Foreman Jr. and Anthony Gaskins categorize their new series Frank and Lamar which joins Joe Schiappa’s Sport Court in the latest wave of new series available now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. To better acquaint you with the newbies, we went right to the creators for their candid POVs. And they did not disappoint. Here are snippets of their interviews:

Frank and Lamar


IFC: How would you describe Frank and Lamar to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Carl: Best bros from college live and work together teaching at a fancy Manhattan private school, valiantly trying to transition into a more mature phase of personal and professional life while clinging to their boyish ways.

IFC: And to a friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Carl: The same way, slightly less coherent.

Anthony: I’d probably speak about it with much louder volume, due to the bar which would probably be playing the new Kendrick Lamar album. I might also include additional jokes about Carl, or unrelated political tangents.

Carl: He really delights in randomly slandering me for no reason. I get him back though. Our rapport on the page, screen, and in real life, comes out of a lot of that back and forth.

IFC: In what way is Frank and Lamar a poignant series for this moment in time?
Carl: It tells a story I feel most people aren’t familiar with, having young black males teach in a very affluent white world, while never making it expressly about that either. Then in tackling their personal lives, we see these three-dimensional guys navigate a pivotal moment in time from a perspective I feel mainstream audiences tend not to see portrayed.

Anthony: I feel like Frank and Lamar continues to push the envelope within the genre by presenting interesting and non stereotypical content about people of color. The fact that this show brought together so many talented creative people, from the cast and crew to the producers, who believe in the project, makes the work that much more intentional and truthful. I also think it’s pretty incredible that we got to employ many of our friends!

Sport Court

Sport Court gavel

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Joe: SPORT COURT follows Judge David Linda, a circuit court judge assigned to handle an ad hoc courtroom put together to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Think an updated Night Court.

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Joe: Remember when you put those firecrackers down that guy’s pants at the baseball game? It’s about a judge who works in a court in the stadium that puts you in jail right then and there. I know, you actually did spend the night in jail, but imagine you went to court right that second and didn’t have to get your brother to take off work from GameStop to take you to your hearing.

IFC: Is there a method to your madness when coming up with sports fan faux pas?
Joe: I just think of the worst things that would ruin a sporting event for everyone. Peeing in the slushy machine in open view of a crowd seemed like a good one.

IFC: Honestly now, how many of the fan transgressions are things you’ve done or thought about doing?
Joe: I’ve thought about ripping out a whole row of chairs at a theater or stadium, so I would have my own private space. I like to think of that really whenever I have to sit crammed next to lots of people. Imagine the leg room!

Check out the full seasons of Frank and Lamar and Sport Court now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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