A new feature from from ctvnews.ca! The Crouse Review is a quick, hot take on the weekend’s biggest movies! This week Richard looks at “War for the Planet of the Apes,” “Mermaids” and “The Little Hours.”
Richard and CP24 anchor Jamie Gutfreund have a look at the weekend’s new movies the ape-tastic “War for the Planet of the Apes,” the fin-tastic “Mermaids” and the sin-tastic situation comedy “The Little Hours.”
Richard sits in with CTV NewsChannel anchor Marcia MacMillan to have a look at the big weekend movies including the rebooted prequel “War for the Planet of the Apes,” the fin-tastic “Mermaids” and the updated 14th century situation comedy “The Little Hours.”
Despite critical raves and big box-office success, Roddy McDowell wasn’t nominated for his work as the sympathetic chimpanzee Cornelius in the original Planet of the Apes. Unless things change radically in the next few months Andy Serkis, star of War for the Planet of the Apes, won’t be either. He’s getting the best reviews of his career for playing chimpanzee Caesar, leader to a tribe of genetically enhanced apes in the new film, but the Academy refuses to recognize his style of acting.
Unlike Serkis, McDowell wore a rubber mask that took hours to apply, even for quick promotional appearances like his 1974 spot on the Carol Burnett Show.
Burnett introduced McDowell as “one of Hollywood’s most familiar faces,” then feigned shock as the actor came onstage in a tuxedo, but in full Planet of the Apes facial makeup. They launch into a spirited version of the love ballad They Didn’t Believe Me. By the end of the tune the audience roars as Burnett warbles, “When I told them how wonderful you are, They didn’t believe me,” as she mimes picking a bug off his lapel.
Later she thanked Roddy for undergoing the three-and-a-half hours it took to put on the makeup for that bit of funny business.
It’s not likely you’ll see Andy Serkis partaking in the same kind of promotional monkey business.
Times have changed since McDowell had to endure untold hours in the makeup chair, then smoke using an extra long cigarette holder so as not to light his faux fur on fire. “It’s about a foot long and makes me look like the weirdest monkey you ever did see,” McDowell told Newsday.
These days Serkis, who is best known for his motion capture performances of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films and The Force Awakens’ Supreme Leader Snoke, performs on a soundstage in front of multiple cameras that film his performance from every angle. He wears a body suit dotted with spots that allow the computers to register even the slightest movement. Serkis calls this “a magic suit” that “allows you to play anything regardless of your size, your sex, your colour, whatever you are.” Later, in post production the “digital makeup” adds in the costume and character details.
It saves hours in the makeup chair, but is no less a performance than McDowell’s more organic approach. “I’ve never drawn a distinction between live-action acting and performance-capture acting,” Serkis says. “It is purely a technology. It’s a bunch of cameras that can record the actor’s performance in a different way.”
Which raises the question of why the Academy refuses to acknowledge the work of Serkis and others who specialize in motion capture? The Independent calls him one of the greatest actors of this generation and the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films recognize his work but the Oscars have steadfastly ignored his specialty. It’s a slap in Serkis’ face that The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers won an Oscar for Visual Effects in part because of the genius of his performance.
Whether included in the Best Actor category or another, new grouping for Best MoCap Performance, it’s time Serkis and others were recognized for their work.
The latest “Planet of the Apes” movie has all the earmarks of what is wrong in Hollywood. It’s one of those dreaded hyphenate reboot-prequel movies, there’s a child sidekick and more than half the characters are computer generated. That should be three strikes you’re out, but “War for the Planet of the Apes” transcends all that monkey business as an expertly made popcorn flick.
The story picks up two years after “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and brings us one step closer to the events of the very first “Apes” film from 1968. Human civilization has crumbled after a simian-flu wiped out most of humanity while empowering the apes. The primates, led by aging hero ape Caesar (Andy Serkis), have created a comfortable forest world for themselves along the California/Oregon border.
It’s a peaceful place until a human commando team, under the orders of a ruthless Colonel Kurtzian leader named McCullough (Woody Harrelson), stage a brutal raid. “We must abandon our humanity to save humanity,” he says. Instead of Born to Kill written on their helmets these soldiers have slogans like Bedtime for Bonzo emblazoned up top.
Later, when McCullough kills Cesar’s wife and son he seeks out the Colonel. His search for revenge leads him to an ape prison camp, kick starting the film’s “Ape-pocalypse Now” section. It’s guerrilla warfare, but this time it’s personal.
“If we lose,” McCullough says, “it will be a planet of apes.” Duh. Isn’t that kind of the point of these movies?
“War for the Planet of the Apes” is a summer tentpole movie that fits into the franchise but can be enjoyed as a standalone. Director Matt Reeves creates exciting action sequences but there’s more to the movie event explosions and gunfire. A brief recap brings us up to speed, then we’re thrown into the world. Cesar wants to be left alone but the murder of his family ignites within him complex, contradictory emotions, the desire to protect his ape herd while getting revenge. Those feelings are the engine that drives the movie but they are wrapped around a blockbuster that doesn’t feel like a blockbuster. It’s quiet—most of the apes speak in sign language—with a philosophical edge not usually found in big summer releases.
Much of that is due to a brilliant MoCap performance from Andy Serkis. In a genre not known for subtlety he brings a range of emotion to Cesar. Selfless, melancholic and compassionate, his take on the ape character is layered and made all the more remarkable given the computer generated process that goes into creating it.
Serkis is aided by Karin Konoval as orangutan Maurice, who complex emotions with little to no dialogue. Less welcome, although not fatal, is Steve Zahn’s Jar Jar Binks-esque Bad Ape. He’s the film’s comic relief but his goofy gags and slapstick often feel slightly out of place in a movie that is otherwise concerned with classic themes like fear of the other and revenge.
Like all good speculative fiction “War for the Planet of the Apes” isn’t just a movie about the wild idea of apes vs. humans. With deeply rooted ideas about the nature of compassion and community, it also contains timely ideas for a troubled world. In one tense scene child sidekick Nova (Amiah Miller) risks everything to bring food and water to Cesar, subtly suggesting that even in the darkest times kindness can still exist. It’s a rare movie, an intimate epic brimming with food for thought while simultaneously satisfying the need to watch apes on horseback.
When the Reel Guys aren’t at the movies, one of their favourite things to do is talk about going to the movies. This week Richard and Mark have a look at talking apes, a vengeful Scarlett Johansson, and a singer with a papier-mâché head and a talking raccoon. So throw some popcorn on the BBQ, crank up the air conditioning and enjoy the Reel Guys’ most anticipated films of the summer season.
Richard: Mark, I was a huge Planet of the Apes fan as a kid. Loved the rubber masks, the twisty endings and the “YOU MANIACS! YOU BLEW IT UP!” scene still blows my mind. Saw them over and over, and even enjoyed the bad ones like Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. Today, as an adult, I have a full-sized Cornelius bust with faux chimpanzee hair in my office. So, given my obsession with simian cinema, my inner 14-year-old goes a bit ape every time I see the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer. What’s got you excited this summer?
Mark: I’m a Planet of the Apes fan, too, Richard. The idea of animals acting like humans is a welcome change from my life in show business, where humans act like animals. I’m really looking forward to Lucy, starring Scarlett Johansson in a Luc Besson revenge/action flick. This is Scarlett’s moment, and this is going to be the movie to make her a megastar. The trailer made me spill my popcorn!
RC: Johansson is doing interesting work these days, splitting her time between rock ’em, sock ’em movies like Captain America: The Winter Soldier and smaller movies like Chef and Under the Skin. Michael Fassbender has a similar career arc. We last saw him in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Next up he’s in Frank, a strange indie based on the life of Frank Sidebottom, a real-life English musician who wore a giant papier-mâché head complete with painted-on eyes, ruby red lips and slicked-back hair.
I love Fassbender for still taking chances on movies like this when he could easily cash big Hollywood paycheques time after time.
MB: Sounds like one strange biopic, Richard! A more commercial variant I’m looking forward to is Get On Up, the James Brown story starring Chadwick Boseman. The Godfather of Soul never wore a papier-mâché head, but he was big on ermine capes and tantrums, so this should be a lot of fun. And what a soundtrack it will be!
For life lessons and laughs, there’s And So It Goes, a mature rom-com starring Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton. Bring your CARP card for discounts on soft-chew treats from the concession stand.
RC: I don’t have a CARP card …. yet. I do like soft chew candies, however. As far as movies go, I’m curious about Guardians of the Galaxy. So many of the summer’s blockbusters have been oh-so-serious affairs that I think this one promises some good laughs and action.
MB: The cast suggests it might be more than your typical sci-fi adventure. But it’s Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz in Sex Tape that gets me hot. Big laughs, lots of action, at least of the horizontal variety.
SYNOPSIS: In modern day San Francisco, a geneticist played by James Franco develops a cure for Alzheimer’s which when tested on chimps gives them extraordinary intelligence. When he rescues a baby chimp from his lab after an experiment gone wrong, the ape, named Caesar, uses his newfound smarts to begin a revolution. This ape is mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore.
Richard: Mark, I love Planet of the Apes. I’ve seen the original and the sequels countless times but I don’t think Rise will find its way to my Blu-ray shelf. I liked the action and some of the monkey business was very cool, but honestly, I wish they would have kept their stinking hands off my beloved damn dirty apes.
Mark: Yes, Richard, one tinkers with a masterpiece at one’s own peril. And I can’t help but miss the elements that made the original franchise so great, mostly the heavy-handed irony, satiric wit, and that the apes talked. These apes are just too real, grunting away like a bunch of…apes. Although, even the CGI isn’t perfect. In some shots, Caesar, the lead ape, looks like an overgrown Beanie Baby.
RC: I thought Andy Serkis’s performance-capture work as alpha ape Ceasar was both one of the movie’s strengths and weaknesses. No doubt his facial expressions, particularly the use of his eyes, add much to the character but the computer generated imagery used to bring Caesar to life, while often impressive, lacks an organic feel. The Roddy McDowell era apes were obviously fake—sometimes painfully so—but somehow they had more soul.
MB: I don’t know about you, but I found the story- Science Experiment Gone Awry!- cheesy and derivative, but I did enjoy Caesar’s antics in James Franco’s house, which were pure kinetic poetry. But I suspect the entire movie exists for the last 20 minutes when the apes run amok in San Francisco. Genuinely thrilling, for me. Did you think of Franco as really the reason to see the movie?
RC: No, I don’t think Franco or Frida Pinto are reason enough to see the movie. It’s all about the monkey business. When the revolution begins the movie kicks into gear and becomes the movie the trailers promised. Some of the action is a bit too showy—since when can apes do martial arts?—but the scene of Caesar on horseback leading the charge against the heavily fortified cops is a real crowd pleaser, but for my money it took WAY too long to get to the good stuff.
MB: There’s also a lot of hack work in the minor roles: John Lithgow’s saintly Alzheimer’s patient, the angry next door neighbour, and worst of all, Franco’s boss at the research facility- a cardboard villain out of a much cruddier film. The apes had more depth, although perhaps that’s the point of the movie.