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Back in 1968 the world was amazed to see a simian-looking creature dis­play­ing rudi­ment­ary (and yet clearly) human qual­it­ies. But enough about my birth, I’m here to talk about Planet of the Apes, the night­mar­ish vis­ion of a world turned upside down: apes that speak, humans that are mute and enslaved, oran­gutans doing “sci­ence”. And of course, the big shock back then was that “it was Earth all along” – we’d caused this cata­strophe ourselves with our envir­on­ment­al pig-headedness and our nuc­le­ar arrog­ance. The suc­cess of that blis­ter­ingly effect­ive ori­gin­al promp­ted sev­er­al sequels to dimin­ished effect – although the sight (in Beneath the Planet of the Apes) of Charlton Heston push­ing the final atom­ic but­ton to des­troy the plan­et in dis­gust at the whole sorry mess was seared on to my child­hood brain forever.

In 2001 the series got the re-boot treat­ment cour­tesy of Tim Burton, a mis­cast Mark Wahlberg (when is he ever not?) and the final tri­umphant dis­play of latex ape mask tech­no­logy. Now the apes are back and there’s no sign of rub­ber any­where to be found – except in some of the human per­form­ances per­haps. Rise of the Planet of the Apes serves as a pre­quel to the Burton film rather than a total from scratch effort – although there’s no equi­val­ent in the ori­gin­al series – and the film does a ter­rif­ic job of set­ting up a story that many of us already know as well as fondly hon­our­ing many details from the ori­gin­al series.

James Franco plays a genet­ic bio­lo­gist work­ing on cure for Alzheimer’s – his Dad (John Lithgow) suf­fers from the dis­ease. When his pro­gramme is shut down after a dis­astrous demon­stra­tion to his Big Pharma com­pany board, Franco res­cues the last baby chimp in the lab, names him Caesar and raises him in secret. But the secret drug that Caesar is full of not only repairs the brain, it grows new func­tion too – at an accel­er­ated rate. Caesar isn’t just smart, he’s get­ting smarter.

Removed from the fam­ily to a San Francisco simi­an sanc­tu­ary (that is any­thing but) Caesar sees injustice all around him: apes mis­treated at the ape pound, apes exper­i­mented on at the labor­at­ory, apes on dis­play for human amuse­ment. Something must be done. Revolution is in the air.

The ape effects (cour­tesy of the Miramar geni­uses at Weta and the sub­lime per­form­ance cap­ture skills of Andy Serkis and oth­ers) are stun­ning. In fact, the ape drama is usu­ally more effect­ive than the slightly stil­ted human drama but dir­ect­or Rupert Wyatt mar­shalls his forces expertly and builds the story to an explos­ive and bril­liantly real­ised climax.

My com­pan­ion had nev­er seen a Planet of the Apes film and was barely cog­nis­ant of the premise (“it’s about a plan­et, with apes on it, right?”). But she had as big a blast as I did. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is as suc­cess­ful a pop­corn movie as you’ll see this year.

One day we are going to look back on movies like Horrible Bosses as per­fect illus­tra­tions of the early-21st Century eco­nom­ic melt­down zeit­geist – that is if we haven’t all been wiped out by James Franco’s Alzheimer’s vir­us first. Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and rel­at­ive new­comer Charlie Day are ordin­ary joes toil­ing in dead-ish end jobs work­ing for tyr­ants and psy­cho­paths. Of course, since the Global Financial Meltdown they can’t just quit – they have to come up with some­thing a little more final.

There are some decent laughs scattered through­out Horrible Bosses (plus a sol­id premise know­ingy based on Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train) is too often reduced to some very off-colour humour – although to be fair, the big crowd with whom I watched the film respon­ded bet­ter to the blue stuff than I did so I guess the stu­dio knows its mar­ket. One word of warn­ing: the great Kevin Spacey is phoning his per­form­ance in. If you want to see him as a truly hor­rible boss find Swimming With Sharks at the the video store.


I’ve nev­er walked out of Tom Hanks film before but I couldn’t stand anoth­er minute of Larry Crowne, an insuf­fer­ably pat­ron­ising hymn to the ordin­ary decent work­ing man, made by a bil­lion­aire act­or and his friends. Hanks (who also co-wrote and dir­ec­ted) plays Crowne, a decent all-American guy and 20 year mil­it­ary vet­er­an who is fired from his retail job for not hav­ing a col­lege degree. He enrols at the loc­al com­munity col­lege where he is taught speak­ing skills by a depressed English Lit schol­ar played by Julia Roberts. And that’s where I ducked out, sorry.

There’s some­thing just plain wrong about a botoxed, weaved and dyed movie star, coast­ing on fad­ing charm, try­ing to por­tray one of the work­ing and non-working poor – people who are genu­inely doing it tough in this new eco­nom­ic real­ity. Frankly, Woody from Toy Story is a more express­ive act­or these days and at least you fully believe in his world.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 10 August, 2011.