Friday, August 5, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Change-Up, Sam Worthington on Last Night and The Devil's Double

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Rating: 3.5 / 5

This origins story of the Planet of the Apes series is an old fashioned sci-fi adventure that even though it makes extensive use of CGI, feels warm and human scale.  It’s touching, alarming, dramatic and provocative as it tells a story about something close to our hearts – our relationships with animals and what they say about us.  Here of course, what it says about us is pretty depressing.  And following in the footsteps of the recently released Project Nim, a documentary on a famous chimp in the US who led a horrific life, we can certainly understand why the primates rose up.   And we see the other end of the spectrum, humans putting themselves son the line for the apes.
The film takes cues from the original King Kong films, heavy on the misery the species suffers at human hands and shocking in its depiction of animal cruelty and crisis.  There is a scene in which our chimp Caesar plays with a plastic Statue of Liberty, taking us back to King Kong’s last, tragic stand.
Franco plays Will, a scientist searching for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.  He experiments on primates and is coming close to finding the genetic markers and the solution when a revitalized ape escapes their confines and wreaks havoc in the facility, causing a shut down.   A newborn ape is left behind after the rest are killed.  Will calls him Caesar, takes him home and raises him while continuing his experiments.  A serum he develops not only reverses the disease in primates, it also improves their intelligence.  He tests his discovery on his father (John Lithgow) and his Alzheimer’s goes into remission.
But one day Will’s carefully structured world falls apart when Caesar escapes to save Will’s father from a neighbourhood bully (David Hewlett) by nearing tearing him to pieces.  Caesar is taken into custody by a cruel keeper, where he is abused and starved.  Will drops the ball underestimating the kind of people running the facility and leaves him to fester.  However, Caesar’s intelligence remains high and he develops the art of war and leadership.  And rebellion’s on his mind.
The ensuing battle scenes over the San Francisco landscape are riveting, frightening and apocalyptic.  They do not disappoint.  Wyatt does a great job of marrying together the CGI and real elements within the framework of a well plotted story and it’s pretty darn good.
James Franco is a terrifically nuanced actor and he does good work here; he always raises the quality of any project and typically, his emotional attachments to his father and Caesar are rich and evocative.  And considering much of his interaction with Caesar is green screen, its’ an impressive accomplishment.  Andy Serkis, who “played” Gollum and Sméagol in The Lord of the Rings films, is Caesar.  His physicality and movements were captured and filled in technologically and you’d swear it was a very talented ape!  Frieda Pinto stars as Will’s love interest but her role is conventionally limited.  After all this is a story about a man and his ape.

The Change-Up
Rating: 2/5

Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman get dragged through dung in this disappointing contribution to the R-rated comedy craze and yet they seem to enjoy every minute of it. 100% kudos for exhibiting energy and positivity in the face of a script that has nowhere to go and goes there over and over and over again.
Unless you live under a rock, you know that these two buddies are dissimilar.  One is a moderately happy family man in a big house, with a big job and a beautiful wife and twins.  Dave (Bateman) works hard and is responsible to the point of ignoring his own desires and dreams if he can even remember what they are.  One crack in his nicely ordered façade is his crush on his cute colleague Sabrina (Olivia Wilde).  His long time buddy Mitch (Reynolds) on the other hand is a freewheeling, pot smoking, fast-talking womanising, irresponsible bad ass, a man child of epic proportions.
Okay so funny contrast.  They are meant to get along despite having nothing in common except that they went to school together.  They’re close enough that they will use a local fountain for a pissoir together, and admit they want each other’s lives.  And boom, some magic, sky blackening electrical something switches their personalities.  They are flung into each other’s lives but its’ no dream come true.
R rated comedies are a welcome addition to the multiplexes. Some are so funny they leave you gasping for air, the dirtier, the bigger the laugh.  Nice, ordinary characters are trapped in crazy situations in which their ideas and values are turned on their heads, resulting in a new attitude and healthier view of life.  That’s good stuff. Here, however, situations are piled on top of each other in a kind of haphazard way; it’s overwrought, loud and unfunny.  It just doesn’t work as smoothly and seamlessly as prior R raters.  It’s not a problem of suspension of disbelief in the concept, or maybe it is, but the writers just haven’t tightened and polished their script well enough.  Its’ messy and shapeless and that’s a real shame given the interesting concept.
It’s also a lazy script.  Coarse language is one thing, but abusing coarse language quite another. They overuse and bash us over the head with the same few dozen or so words in a repetitive and uninspired script.  Used judiciously, raw language is perfect.  When it replaces actual vocabulary and language, it’s just stuttering.  There’s no wit, subtlety or innate intelligence as in the Hangover Films or Bridesmaids.  It’s so not funny.
If you’re an underage kid wanting a peek at some bosoms, experience a flurry of F-bombs and talk about thumbs up a**holes, this is your film.  If you’re thinking about sneaking in, be warned, that is not allowed.  And you will love it.

Sam Worthington on Last Night on DVD

Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, Eva Mendes and Guillaume Canet are in over their heads in Last Night, Massy Tadjedin’s look at the unvarnished truth about love.  The unraveling of four people takes place in a single night, resulting in intense, unforgiving drama in the form of a claustrophobic chamber piece.  It’s alarming how easily a seemingly solid marriage is thrown off course by a third party, and then a fourth.  The actors put in dynamic, brave performances, daring not to be liked when we put our faith in them and they betray us.  Tadjedin builds the film to an excruciating climax Monsters and Critics spoke with Sam Worthington and Guillaume Canet and got some pretty surprising insights into marital infidelity.
AB – Guillaume, I did not much care for your character.  Woody Allen said it best, “Men are dogs”.  He plays the part, ruining a former lover’s marriage by pursuing her.
Guillaume Canet - I see what you mean, I understand that he comes back and he’s there, he comes back and brings this whole mess into her life, but she does the same thing. She came to Paris, she has an affair with him and she messed up his life. I think it is something that is natural, which is even if you’re going to mess up his life; you can’t help having the feeling and maybe have the pretension to think that you can make her happy. That maybe she is not that happy with her husband and maybe you can make her happy. I think we see that at the end when we see him at the airport with the picture. So I don’t think he is that bad.
Sam Worthington’s character is married to Keira Knightley’s and they have settled into a quiet domesticity.  He admits this married man who allows himself to be seduced by a woman is pretty reprehensible.
Sam Worthington - My character is the least sympathetic.  I wanted to be less sympathetic than I was in the film.  He’s a complacent husband who is weak.  When the carrot’s dangled in front of him, and he takes it.  That’s how I look at it.  Yes, but he was also complacent.  He comes home and the first thing he’s does when he gets home is he starts watching sports while his wife is making herself beautiful.  He doesn’t notice her until four scenes in.  To me that sums up his relationship.  He cares about his wife in the way we all care about your partner when push comes to shove, when it’s a big too late.  And the thought is put into his head, he listens to this lonely woman’s story and he grabs her!  To me out of all four characters, he is the least sympathetic.  I didn’t really dig any of the four of them.”
AB - Do you think Last Night offers a fair view of love, if there can be such a thing?SW - It’s obviously an extreme version of what can appear in people’s heads every day.  We’ve each been one of those four people dealing with stuff at the time, whether you like yourself or not because of that, you can be in a relationship and look at someone and wonder if they’re boring or wonder what would happen when they go down that path.  This is the bit where they all put their foot to the throttle.
AB – And there is the time limitation to heighten the drama, just one night.SW - Yes, it condensed to give it those stakes.  If you pushed it over week, the stakes aren’t as high.  It’s condensed into one night, its put under a microscope.  It’s not reality based, I don’t consider it to be.  It’s like chamber piece, a piece of music, rather than a picture or snapshot of someone’s life.  It’s a piece of music.
AB - The film Closer goers over the same territory but its view of love is bitter.  Last Night is not.SW - I didn’t love that movie.  It goes down different roads, a lot more shocking than this.  With a couple it should make your skin crawl, with a woman she touches her partners knee and goes I really hope that wasn’t you when I was away last week, so it’s close to the bone,  Closer is a bit more out there, situations that not everyone could relate to, it’s not as accessible as this.

The Devil’s Double
Rating: 3.5

Uday Hussein, whom his father Saddam Hussein called “psychotic” was a lightning rod for trouble, he was a rapist, murderer, torturer, sex and drug addict and political instigator who was given free rein in his native Iraq.  He had a habit of kidnapping schoolgirls, and murdering them after raping, drugging and torturing them. The Hussein family was not to be defied, on pain of death, as the world knows; but Uday took things so far he scared his father, quite a feat considering the allegations made against Saddam.
According to this film Uday was not burdened with a conscience or remorse for his many wrongdoings, but he was certainly aware that they put him in danger.  He required the services of a double to stand in for him when he made public appearances. He was wise to do so – there were eleven assassination attempts made against his double, Latif Yahia.  Yahia a classmate who bore a striking resemblance to him,  who was taken forcibly and retooled with plastic surgery, threats and indoctrination to “be” Uday as his body double.  Yahia hated the Hussein regime and especially Uday but there was little he could do.
The film is based on Yahia’s biography, The Devil’s Double, in which he describes witnessing the gory depraved world of Uday Hussein as a member of the inner circle.   There are horrific details of Uday butchering of his father’s valet and food taster at a banquet and routine entrapment and regular deadly abuse of women.  Yahia lived in eye-popping, slightly tasteless Hussein opulence in which every appetite was sated, but for Yahia, it was torture in every possible sense of the word.  Today, Yahia lives somewhere in Europe with his wife and children, far from the turbulence of the Middle East and blogs for freedom on his website ( 
Playing the double role of Uday and Yahia is an impressive accomplishment for Dominic Cooper (Captain America, An Education).  His physical resemblance to the real life subjects is uncanny and he plays opposite ends of the character spectrum – a psychopathic despot unraveling and a morally upright man caught in a gilded trap.  To seem him boil with insane rage and ponder it at the same time in such different personas is amazing.
Uday is painted as an extreme character but his bad ass daddy Saddam comes off somewhat sympathetically, a strange choice. He is the exasperated, helpless sap who watches his son and does nothing to help him except nearly castrate him, glaring looks aside.  It’s so wrong it inspires nervous laughter.  Oh and Uday has some weird relationship with his doting mother that finds them nestled in bed together, ordering hits along with champagne. 
What may surprise many is the vivid portrait of Baghdad’s bizarre, hyped-up “western” nightlife, where patrons of a club strip naked for Uday who’s aiming for their humiliation not his titillation.  The air is positively soaked with drugs, sex and gunfire there at the heart of Muslim Iraq.  But that’s not the only hypocrisy we witness, this is a wild west of a world where someone like Uday could thrive behind a double,  his very own bullet catcher.
This is an extremely fast paced, jolts-per-second kind of a movie that beats us over the head with violence and depravity and who’s to tell if it’s an authentic portrayal?  It’s a meaner Smokin’ Aces, a sadistic Crank and a crazy world unto itself.  If you can take the heat, it’s quite the ride, if not, this is not for you.

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