As its title suggests Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes is intended to lay the foundation for a new franchise of sci-fi flicks in which humans and super-intelligent apes battle for earthly supremacy. Its duty then is to explain within the span of two hours and with a modicum of credulity how exactly our simian friends might come to supplant us atop the animal kingdom. The scenario was at least partially addressed in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes the fourth entry in the original series’ convoluted and time-warped canon and while Wyatt's film draws inspiration from Conquest it is by no means a remake. Nor for that matter is related in any way to Tim Burton’s underwhelming 2001 entry. (And thank goodness for that.)
The titular rise begins as with many of the world’s great catastrophes with the actions of one highly irresponsible man. Will Rodman (James Franco) is a genetic scientist of prodigious talent and questionable ethics who works at a fancy San Francisco biotech firm called Gen-Sys (subtle!). His effort at producing a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease carries an ulterior motive: His father (John Lithgow) suffers from it and is close to entering its final stages. Will is close to a breakthrough when one of his chimpanzee test subjects goes well apesh*t causing his company’s suitably callous CEO Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo gamely spewing lines like “I run a business not a petting zoo!") to order the research facility’s entire chimp population liquidated.
Will is busy carrying out the grim mandate when he discovers that one of the test chimps has borne an offspring one he can’t bring himself to euthanize. Instead he and his primatologist girlfriend Caroline (Frieda Pinto gorgeous and superfluous) partners in appallingly bad decision-making decide to raise the infant chimp as their own naming it Caesar. Having inherited his mother’s gene modifications he shows signs of advanced intelligence and quickly develops a close bond with his adoptive human parents. But Caesar soon outgrows his domestic habitat and eventually must be shipped off to a simian “sanctuary” that is in reality anything but.
At this point we’re halfway through the film – and miles away from erudite apes and enslaved humans. To get us on track director Wyatt executes a rather audacious tonal shift transitioning abruptly from what was heretofore a fairly sober Project Nim dramatization into the balls-out apes-gone-wild summer action flick promised by the film’s trailers. His efforts are aided tremendously by his screenwriters Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa whose clever absorbing script offers just enough plausibility in the first half to make its increasingly loony second half not just palatable but downright enjoyable. Wyatt strikes a delicate thematic balance respecting the subject matter while acknowledging its inherent silliness. (Scattered throughout the film are sly nods to previous Planet of the Apes films as well as a glimpse of Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments.)
The silliness accelerates seemingly by the frame in Rise’s latter half as Caesar mounts a conspiracy to escape his Dickensian squalor exact revenge upon his cartoonishly malevolent captors and take his simian revolution to the streets. And it only gets crazier from there – the third act is basically a PETA wet dream. As far as cautionary tales go Rise is about as cautionary as they come.
Andy Serkis who performed all of the performance-capture work for Caesar is a marvel in the role though the question remains as to how the credit should be divvied up between him and the technicians at WETA digital who “painted” the character’s CG features. And make no mistake Caesar is very much a character – as well-rounded and fully-formed and convincing as they come and easily more compelling than any of his non-digital counterparts. Franco for his part is credible enough as a scientist who in spite of his academic credentials is a bit of a dolt (and perhaps a tad disturbed) and Lithgow tackles a relatively thankless role with grace. But the real stars are all those damn dirty apes.
Top Story: Jackson Indicted by Grand Jury
Michael Jackson was indicted Wednesday by a California grand jury investigating child molestation accusations against the pop oddity, Reuters reports. Jackson was charged in December with seven counts of lewd acts on a child under the age of 14 and two counts of plying the boy with alcohol in order to seduce him. The 45-year-old singer has pleaded innocent. Last month, prosecutors in Santa Barbara, Calif., presented evidence to the grand jury in connection with accusations that Jackson sexually molested a young boy who was seen in a British documentary filmed partly at his Neverland Valley Ranch--the playground where the singer has been known to hold sleepovers with children. But because of the secrecy surrounding the grand jury and strict gag orders imposed by Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville, who is presiding over the case, few details of the testimony have been made public. An indictment would supersede the previous charges and allow Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon to proceed directly to trial without having a public preliminary hearing on the evidence. In 1994, Jackson reportedly paid about $20 million to the to the family of a young boy to settle a molestation case out of court. Criminal charges were never filed in the case.
Sony In Talks To Buy MGM
Sony Corp. is in talks to acquire film studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. in a cash deal valued at around $5 billion, a source familiar with the talks told The Associated Press Wednesday. To buy MGM, 74 percent of which is owned by billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, Sony would join with private equity firms Texas Pacific Group and Providence Equity Partners. The deal would be lucrative one for Sony, which likely is interested in acquiring MGM's library of more than 4,200 titles, including the Pink Panther and James Bond series. MGM has been seeking to become larger either through an acquisition or merger for almost two years now. MGM made an unsuccessful bid for Universal Studios last year.
Vivica Fox Misses Ex 50 Cent
Kill Bill Vol. 1 star Vivica A. Fox says in Maxim magazine's May issue that she still misses her ex, rapper 50 Cent, even though he said some pretty nasty things about her after their breakup. "He still means a lot to me and I miss him very much," Maxim quotes Fox as saying. Just last month, the actress had decided not to grant any interviews because she said all anyone wanted to ask her about was 50 Cent. The couple made headlines last year when they attended the MTV Video Music Awards hand in hand.
Newman Wants End to Princeton Drinking Day
Paul Newman has appealed to Princeton University to end Newman's Day--an annual campus tradition in which participants try to consume a beer an hour for 24 hours, the AP reports. Newman's Day, set for April 24th, originated from a quote wrongly attributed to the actor: "24 beers in a case, 24 hours in a day. Coincidence? I think not." Since the day falls on a Saturday this year, there was concern some students would also observe it Thursday, the week's last day of class for most students. Newman's lawyer sent the university a letter last week calling for the tradition to stop, stating the actor is disturbed his name is associated with the alcohol-related event. The university responded by stating it does not endorse the event. Newman is often credited with the quote but it was in fact comedian Steven Wright who said it.
Natalie Portman Tours Uganda
Star Wars actress Natalie Portman is touring charity projects in Uganda and appealing to international donors to do more to help African women deal with poverty and the spread of AIDS, the AP reports. Portman also met with one woman who successfully started her own small restaurant in the village of Iganga on just $100. Naima Omar, a 46-year-old single mother of 10, used a $100 loan from the Washington-based Foundation for International Community Assistance to open her restaurant and has gone from poverty to earning an average income in just four years. "It is amazing ... to see women with such courage and diligence creating money from such little funds," Portman said. "The women are resourceful. And it is amazing that the world is not capitalizing on this resource."
Princess Diana's Family Miffed at CBS
CBS's decision to broadcast photographs of Princess Diana taken as she lay dying in a Paris road tunnel has outraged her family. "Lord Spencer and his family are shocked and sickened by CBS's actions," read a statement released on behalf of Diana's brother, Earl Charles Spencer. On Wednesday, the network broke what British media considers the ultimate taboo by showing photocopies of pictures of The People's Princess at the scene of her death in a 1997 car crash. CBS defended its decision, saying they were "placed in a journalistic context--an examination of the medical treatment given to Princess Diana just after the crash--and are in no way graphic or exploitative." According to the AP, however, the program did not reveal many new details of the story that has been oft repeated in the last seven years.
Role Call: Spielberg To Revisit the 1972 Olympics, Knoxville in Dick
Steven Spielberg will direct a film based on the 1972 Munich Olympics, where Palestinian militants killed 11 Israeli athletes. Production on the DreamWorks project is set for June with Spielberg eyeing actor Ben Kingsley for a leading role ... Johnny Knoxville of Jackass fame will star in a feature film for New Line Cinema based on the comic book Hawaiian Dick. Set in 1953, Knoxville will play a big-city detective who is exiled to Hawaii and gets involved in a kidnapping case of a local island girl who just won't stay dead. The comic first appeared as a three-issue series in 2002.