I don’t like musicals. Even “good” ones. They have always struck me as silly or, worse, just plain dull. Don’t get me wrong. I respect the genre and those who appreciate it. Mostly. I just can’t take them seriously.
And so it is with this prejudice I took my wife to see Les Miserables, the Academy Award winning film based on the musical based on the novel by Victor Hugo. I’d never seen the actual musical (see above) let alone read the book. Yet long before the film I’d been aware of the show. Like Cats, Chicago and Wicked Les Miz is an unavoidable piece of popular culture. If I shut my eyes I can vividly see those iconic posters beckoning we pedestrians with as much fizz as Coca Cola. But for all their ubiquity the ads never persuaded me. That is until the movie came out and the kudos along with it.
Um, I still don’t like musicals. And I didn’t much care for this one either. Alas, I found myself getting bored and fidgety. I kept hoping beyond hope that the talented cast would take a break from singing and just have a goddamn conversation. But they never did. Everything was a lyric. And once I succumbed to reality I kept waiting for an amazing, recognizable tune. None was forthcoming. The actors sang about tables and chairs and looking down and not looking up and everything else. They warbled about the mundane and melodrama to the point where it all blended together like Thousand Island dressing, heavy and too sweet.
I’ve got to give Hugh Jackman his due. Wolverine has chops. Frankly, all the stars in this studded affair deserve props for getting outside their comfort zones and singing not badly for 150 fucking minutes. Even Russel Crowe. He only sometimes reminded me of a crooning William Shatner. It couldn’t have been easy.
By far my favorite part of the movie was the way it looked. From the opening scene, as epic as Titanic, the sets were stunning. If you’ll forgive a pretentious French term, the “mise-en-scene” was impeccable. All that period detail, as good as in Lincoln and maybe even better. Thank God. Otherwise I would have been tres miserable instead of merely somewhat.
Twenty-five years ago, upon seeing David Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly, I was transformed into a true believer of science fiction and horror. I went into the film expecting reasonable scares and a good time. That happened. And so did something else. Allow me to backtrack…
In 1986, like most young men, I adored sci-fi and horror movies. However, like most people, I also accepted them for what they almost always were: fun, escapist pulp. Nothing more… and yet that was good enough. Christopher Lee’s Dracula was sexy and scary. Good enough. Godzilla and his friends were campy and fun. Good enough. Planet of the Apes was cool and different. Good enough.
The Fly changed all that. From then on I realized these genres could (and should) deliver the best films in the known universe, full of awe, terror, bewilderment and sense of total fucking wonder. Not just brutal scares as in Night of the Living Dead, The Exorcist and Alien. But wonderment, too!
Such is the takeaway from Rise of the Planet of the Apes. This bold redo of the franchise is 98% perfect and I forgot the other two percent. The story works. The writing is tight. The filmmaking is sharp. Each scene begets the next, surprising and delighting, taking us further into an altered reality where mistreated primates rise up…
I won’t spoil the movie nor “review” it. But I shall praise it. Let’s start with the cast. Not James Franco and John Lithgow. They’re fine. They do a marvelous job. But these apes! They are nothing short of a marvel. Especially Caesar the lead ape. Though created via CGI and the limb-bending prowess of Andy Serkis, he comes to life absolutely. His evolution –pun intended- is rendered with such care and detail. We ache for him. We root for him. We don’t just sympathize with these filmic primates (as we did with King Kong) we empathize with them.
Empathy. I’m not even sure that’s what author Pierre Boulle was going for when he wrote his novel, Planet of the Apes in 1963. Probably just satire. And that was good enough. The subsequent films did a yeomen’s job of capturing those qualities but ultimately came short, each film degrading more and more into a comic book. Still, good enough.
The Fly made us rethink the human condition, then under siege by the all too real specter of AIDS. Similarly, Rise explores such of-the-moment issues as neuroscience, pharmacology, Alzheimer’s disease and the treatment of animals. All of this without being preachy or dumb.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a damn fine movie. Timely in its science. Timeless in its story. By comparison, the other big summer movies I’ve seen (Transformers, Super 8, Cowboys and Aliens, X-men First Class, Captain America) are just good enough.
More praise, from L A Times (and others)::