Monday, August 29, 2011

Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Ah, Planet of the Apes. Cultural icon. One of Charlton Heston's most notable roles. It's created some of our favorite jokes over the years. Who could forget "Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!" or "It's a mad house! A mad house!" or, of course, "You maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!"

Well, that was 1968. That film spawned no less than three sequels of declining quality. Then the series went dead fora decade or two. In 2001, Tim Burton tried to remake the original, sans its awesome final twist, but the less said about that film the better. Now, in 2011, we have Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Depending on your point of view, Rise is either an out-and-out prequel or a remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, one of the lesser sequels. And you know what? It's pretty good.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) is about Caesar (Andy Serkis), an ape who as a result of medical experimentation is born with vastly increased intelligence. I say that the movie is about Caesar because despite the presence of some big-name actors in the film, Caesar appears to be the only fully-developed character. Here's the set-up. Will Rodman (James Franco) is a geneticist desperate to cure his ailing father (John Lithgow) of Alzheimers disease. To that end, he has created a drug that allows the brain to repair itself. A side-effect of this drug is that the brain continues to build even after it's repaired, leading to increased intelligence. Caesar is one of the first apes to benefit from the drug's effects. We follow Caesar's life as he is raised amongst humans, discovers he is not one of them, and struggles to find his place in the world.

I don't want to give anything away here. I enjoyed the film and I wholeheartedly recommend it, if only to watch Andy Serkis at work. The man has a history of great performances, from The Lord of the Rings (Gollum) to King Kong (uh, Kong), but they're all outshined by his work here. Serkis's Caesar is a living breathing primate, but also so much more. CGI has still only come so far, but Serkis makes us believe in the character nonetheless. Here is a CGI character with eyes that actually feel alive; you can actually watch the character working things out without a word spoken. One of the best parts of the film is watching Caesar learn to interact with other primates becoming a leader on the strength of his wit.

The other actors are competent, but ultimately unremarkable. Franco does a good-enough job as the scientist with a personal stake in his work. He's played as a bit of a milque-toast character, all compassion but very little personality. Frida Pinto as his girlfriend Caroline, however, is wasted. She's there simply because without her, there wouldn't be a single female character in the film. She adds nothing to the proceedings. John Lithgow does an excellent job with his limited screentime as Will's father. Lithgow is a gifted actor and it shows as he makes his conrfused character pitiable but avoids annoyance. David Oyelowo plays Will's evil corporate boss (because anything that's for-profit must be evil), who of course gets his, and rounding out the cast is the venerable Brian Cox (X-Men 2) as the owner of an ape sanctuary where Caesar cuts his teeth in battles against the owner's son, played by that master of screen bullies, Tom Felton (Harry Potter's Draco Malfoy). Cox and Felton are missed opportunities for greatness as well. Cox in particular is almost non-existent, muttering a line here and there as he stumbles through the film.

Despite the wasted cast, the film itself is quite good; it addresses nearly all of the problems lurking in its premise. Problems such as: How many apes can Caesar actually gather and make smarter in a few days? Even after they start rebelling, can't we just shoot them down? Even if they get away, won't we just hunt them down eventually? There aren't that many of them! How can a few genetically-altered apes take over the whole world? Have a little faith. The film addresses these things very well.

So again, I recommend this movie. Go, enjoy.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

De Oratore

Sometimes, verbage is everything.

The Olive Garden, that cesspool of imitation Italian cuisine, recently ran an advertisment that has been bugging me. Just as a side note, Olive Garden sucks. Their bread is cardboard and their pasta is drowned in crappy imitation sauces. I believe my friend Johnathan Cartelli once told me that the only way he'd ever bring his grandfather to Olive Garden would be if he was punishing him for something, or if he wanted to kill him. I can't remember; with John it could have been either. Or both.

In any event, the Garden recently ran an advertisement for their never-ending pasta bowl (another testament to our ever-fattening society). You can watch the ad here. It begins with a bunch of young decently attractive people sitting around a table at the titular restaurant, and their conversation goes something like this:
Man: That movie was great.
Woman: I know, I never wanted it to end.
Hold it, wait. What? The group moves on to talk about the meal ("Well at least the pasta is never ending!"), but I can't. I have to address this. What did she mean she never wanted it to end? There are at least two possibilities that I can think of.

First, there's the possibility that she wanted the movie to never end. In other words, she wanted that particular film to go on ad infinitum, consuming her entire life and continuing onwards even after her death. And my friends, her death in this situation would not be pretty. Her wish would have doomed her to watching this film for the rest of her days, forsaking food and drink, use of the restroom and personal hygiene (she looks like the kind of person who wouldn't dare sneak out of the theater to use the bathroom - and we all know people who swing the other way on this one). She would end up a stinky emaciated lifeless husk, her rubbery flesh melded into the theater seat and her image-bombarded eyeballs long receded from their sockets. I don't think she meant this, and if she was granted this wish, one would only hope that she would immediately regret the horror she had inflicted upon herself, her friends and the other moviegoers. So let's put possibility one to rest.

Possibility two is probably the one she meant. I think it's far more likely, anyway. Possibility two is that she meant to say this: At no point during the film did she actively want it to be over. This is not a glowing review of a film, people. It doesn't mean the film was great. It doesn't even mean it was good. It simply meant that this lady managed to sit through the whole thing without begging for it to end. That's a ridiculous way to review a film. It's a ridiculous way to evaluate anything. That would be like having a coversation like this:
Man: Hey, your friend Leo is a great friend.
Me: I know, I've never wanted him dead.
That doesn't mean he's a great friend. That simply means that I've never actively prayed for his death. It means I wouldn't kill my friend Leo for a quarter and a Snickers bar. And you know what? That's not even true. I totally would.

Here's what really happened. The man in the commercial was trying to start a nice conversation. "That movie was great," he said. He was trying to get a discussion going. And what did she do? The speaking equivalent of puking on his shoes. She said nothing of substance. Worse, her asinine comment steered the conversation away from the movie and towards the food! The lady across from her says, "Hey, at least the pasta is never-ending." And that's it. Everyone laughs and the conversation that guy wanted to have about the movie is dead in the water. Watch that guy for the rest of the commerical - he is not happy. He looks at her at the very end - I wonder if he's thinking in words or if it's just a red murderous haze at that point.

Verbage is important, people. That commercial's been in my head all morning. Makes me hungry. Maybe I'll have Italian tonight.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Time Warner Cable is the Salesman from Family Guy

For over a month, my cable box has been unplugged. It's still sitting where it's always been, nestled nice and neat on the shelf beneath my TV, snuggled between by Xbox 360 and my Playstation 3. If I wanted to, I could use it to watch cable, in HD no less. But a month ago, I decided to conduct an experiment. I unplugged the cable box, took out the HDMI cable, and let it sit. I wanted to see how long I could go without watching. Turns out I can go indefinitely.

I undertook this experiment when I realized that the $120 I was paying per month for Time Warner Cable and Internet was ricockulous and was bleeding me dry. Having concluded that I can easily live without cable TV service, I called Time Warner this morning in order to cancel cable and continue with internet only. A very nice woman (let's call her "Tina") answered the phone, and the conversation went something like this:

Tina: Time Warner Cable, my name is Tina, ask me how you can save by getting our triple play deal, how can I help you?

Adam: Hi, Tina. I'd like to cancel my cable subscription and continue with internet only.

Tina: Okay well I'm very sad to hear that. Could you tell me why you're choosing to downgrade your services?

Adam: $120 a month to watch TV just seems like a bit much, especially when I can get all my content online.

Tina: Okay. Well what channels do you usually watch?

Adam: That's... embarrassing. Mostly, ah... Cartoon Network.


Adam: ...Yeah.

Tina: ... And, um, you're paying $120 now?

Adam: That's right.

Tina: Well let's see, what if we could do a promotional offer for you? What if we could take $10 off of your bill every month, so you'd be paying $107?

Adam: That's.... wait, what?

Tina: It'd be a promotional offer for two years.

Adam: I don't know. You'd have to go significantly below $100 for me to even think -

Tina: What if we could give you the same services you have now for $89 per month?

Adam: What? You can do that?

Tina: As a promotional offer, we can give you two years at that rate.

I want you to think about what this means. This means that if you call to cancel your cable subscription, they can offer to drop your bill by over $30 per month. Taking that string of logic a bit further, it means that they are overcharging us by at least $30 per month simply because they can, because we don't complain.

I did not take Tina up on her offer. With internet service for $50 per month and a Roku 2 XS, I'll be able to watch anything I want in HD.