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This Week In Movies By Pete Hammond: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

By Pete Hammond
HollywoodNews.com: Defying all expectations, even from the most optimistic projections of its distributor 20th Century Fox, the prequel to the venerable Planet of the Apes franchise, Rise of the Planet of the Apes scored at least $20 million more at the boxoffice than anticipated with a sterling estimate of $54 million and an A minus Cinemascore rating. Critics loved it too giving it an 81% fresh score at Rotten Tomatoes.

Coming towards the end of a long summer of one hoped-for blockbuster opening after another, little hope was held out for this reinvention of the Apes tale starring James Franco and Andy Serkis . But a smart script, good direction and state-of-the-art special effects lifted it not only into the top ranks of any previous Apes movie but also to the top of some critics (like TIMES’s Richard Corliss) lists of the year’s best pictures. Fox Co-Chairman Tom Rothman said that the studio always had faith in this concept but that the technology just wasn’t there yet to make a credible version , that is unless you know some “really talented apes”. In this case the CGI and Performance Capture process had grown so sophisticated that they were able to make this film without employing a single real ape. That fact delighted the animal rights group PETA which showed its approval by going to the premiere last week holding signs that were very grateful Fox did not use the real thing. Franco said there was no way this movie could have been made a decade ago. In that time director Tim Burton attempted to re-invigorate the franchise, which began in 1968 with the Charlton Heston classic, Planet of the Apes, spawning four sequels and a TV Series, by basically updating and remaking the original with Mark Wahlberg in the lead. It wasn’t a flop but was not generally well-received and might have been a franchise killer had Director Rupert Wyatt and screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, none of whom had much of a resume, somehow came up with a concept and execution that has taken this prequel detailing the rise to power of the Apes into a whole new creative territory for the series. But in the end the real reason any of it works is the remarkable performance of Andy Serkis , best known as Gollum in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy. His performance as Caesar , the lead Ape mastermind, may be buried in CGI trickery but is at its heart screen acting of the highest rank. He shows that the much-denigrated Peformance Capture technique can be the real deal when it is married to the right actor. There’s real emotion coming from Serkis and it’s the most effective use of the process ever. Gone are the days of actors donning ape suits and Rise of the Planet of the Apes should spawn a whole new generation of Apes movies. Or so we hope.

Also opening wide this week was another movie with a well-worn concept, The Change-Up which is basically Freaky Friday with an ‘R’ rating and Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds . It has no right to work as well as it does but Bateman and Reynolds really use their background in TV Sitcoms to milk every possible gem out of this flick, the latest in a long line of body switching movies. But if it works, it works and this one has several LOL moments. For some reason though it didn’t connect with moviegoers who may be burnt out by the string of raunchy summer comedies this season like Hangover 2 (this comes from the original Hangover writers) and the surprise hit, Bridesmaids. With only an estimated $13.5 million and a middling ‘B’ Cinemascore rating to go with its terrible 21% Rotten standing at Rotten Tomatoes I am clearly in the minority. But I had a great time with this one. It may be mindless, but its got lots of laughs and it seems a shame that it couldn’t connect the way Universal hoped it might.

That’s showbiz.

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About Pete Hammond

Pete Hammond is a writer, producer, movie critic and film expert whose commentary on the entertainment industry has appeared in numerous publications and on air interviews including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, New York Magazine, OK Magazine, NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw, Evening News With Brian Williams on MSNBC, the CBC, BBC, Bravo, E!, AMC, Canada AM and the KTLA Morning Show.

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