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Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Nominated for Best Visual Effects at the 84th Annual Academy Awards…          It’s pretty darn good and everything a summer blockbuster should be. So what if the James Franco/Freida Pinto coupling offers no heat whatsoever and that there’s no mistaking the apes for anything but computer-generated? We knew all of the other films(the original 5 from 1968-73, plus the massively disappointing 2001 re-boot from Tim Burton)were people in monkey suits—yet some of those flicks still fly. In fact, the aided-by-motion-capture performance generated by the prolific Andy Serkis—is some of the best acting you’ll witness from 2011. Certainly it’s more impressive than Max von Sydow’s silent grandpa Oscar bait from “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”—but I digress. This “Apes” film is not only fun AND emotional, but it’s a much more effective “Contagion”-film in a post-credits scene than 2011’s “Contagion” itself(with its retro-70’s disaster movie casting)in its entire running time.          Franco is Dr. Will Rodman and John Lithgow plays his Alzheimer’s-addled dad. Rodman becomes obsessed with developing a cure for his father’s illness, and begins testing a new drug on chimps. One chimp goes bananas and is killed by security guards. It later turns out that the killed monkey was simply hiding and protecting her baby in her cage. The drug, which was increasing the level of intelligence in the tested primates, begins succeeding exponentially in the chimp baby’s brain, too. Rodman begins raising the orphaned ape at his home as its aptitude progresses at a tremendous rate. Dr. Will uses the ape-tested drug on his pop, which wipes out any trace of the Alzheimer’s(at least—no surprise–temporarily). Daddy Rodman dubs the smart monkey, Caesar(one of MANY in-joke references from the original “Apes” series—my favorite being the one with an orangutan dubbed “Maurice”). Caesar later protects the Lithgow character from an angry neighbor and ends up getting locked up in a chimp compound(primate prison, ape asylum, monkey madhouse…your alliterative choice), and the seeds for the revolt are planted(Roddy McDowall—we will never forget you).          It’s tempting to think about what they could have achieved with an “R” rating…but that’s been deemed a no-no for the big summer season releases. Worry not, though—they milk a decent amount of scares out of that PG-13. Franco is really the support role to Serkis, but he nimbly works his brilliant doctor stereotype. Freida Pinto, on the other hand, is very pretty. Lithgow is just the right kind of ham to play Franco’s sick father, and they achieve some true poignancy in their final moments together. This is, as far as my brain recalls, the best film in the franchise since the original Heston-starrer(look closely for the late Charlton’s cameo on a television screen). New ground is covered, the previous pics are respected and everyone comes out a winner(even Freida Pinto will still be very pretty in her next project). San Francisco, Muir Woods and the Golden Gate Bridge make for some superb set pieces. And the aforementioned post-credits bit(along with the final scene before the credits)approaches true cinematic brilliance. Also, with its nearly half billion dollar worldwide take, it appears we can expect Caesar to grace the multi-plexes again before long. Okay-bring it on.       Grade:  B+

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