The Planet of the Apes
Yes, I saw the movie back when it came out, and no, it wasn't the absolute worst thing I've ever seen (that award still belongs to Barcelona, a movie so dull it managed to drive away everybody but me when I rented it with some friends one night, and I only stayed out of sheer stubbornness). That said, I do have some fairly major problems with Tim Burton's latest opus, and I'd like to lay them out for you here:
1. Characterization. Believe it or not, I'm a Mark Wahlberg fan; I really do think ol' Marky-Mark is a fairly good actor, at least a cut above most of the young "hunky" guys on the screen these days...that is, when he's got a good script (see Three Kings and Boogie Nights). In this movie, however, Wahlberg's character gets a teeny-tiny bit of character development right at the start, and then turns into a stone-faced, single-minded jerk for the rest of the movie. I swear, Tim Roth's General Thade gets more backstory, and ends up being almost a more sympathetic character, to boot. On top of that, where's the fear? When confronted with an unfamiliar, hostile planet filled with talking apes, Wahlberg hardly looks fazed, but instead jumps right in like a true trouper, immediately realizing his predicament (maybe he watched too much late-night TV?). Now, personally, if you plopped me down on an alien world and reversed the current order of things, I think I'd have to go find a nice corner and freak out for a while. But hey, I guess scientist-astronaut-whatever guys are made of tougher stuff than that.
2. Stupid Gags. Maybe it's just me being oversensitive (and this is a relatively minor point, really), but it drives me crazy when movies -- and, for reasons that're pretty obvious, this usually happens in movies where there's some kind of fish-out-of-water theme going on -- go overboard with all the "clever" juxtapositions. By that I mean stuff like the "grooming" gag in this movie, or the reversal of Charlton Heston's classic line from the original. It's just dumb, and a really ham-handed way for the writers & director to go "Hey, people, look: these aren't humans, they're apes! Wacky, eh?" It bugs me (and don't even get me started on Attack of the Clones).
3. The "Remake" Factor. I hate remakes, I really do. I cannot for the life of me understand why Hollywood just can't stop recycling itself. I won't go into my usual rant here (for reasons of space, mostly), but I would like to take issue with Planet of the Apes in particular, because not only is this movie a "remake," but it's been done in such an underhanded way that it really raises my movie-critic hackles. Possible spoiler (although not much of one, especially since I think every human being with access to a video store's probably seen this by now): this Planet of the Apes is NOT the same movie as the 1960s Planet of the Apes. Barring the human-ape reversal and the fact that Mark Wahlberg's character is supposed to be an astronaut, this is essentially a completely different film. The plot is different, the characters are different, and the underlying theme itself is different. Where the original took on racism in a fairly innovative way, the message behind this "remake" seems to be that, well, apes are basically dependent on humans, who are innately smarter and more inventive -- quite a reversal of that original moral, if you ask me.
The part I'd like to look at, however, isn't the film itself, but rather the way the film's been marketed: I couldn't find a single indication in any of the bazillion previews I saw for the film that it wasn't a true remake of the original Planet of the Apes. I honestly thought that the storyline would at least stay true, even if a few minor details or characters were altered; instead, it didn't dawn on me 'til about midway through that, "gee, maybe Zira isn't going to be in this movie..." Now, I'm all for NOT parroting old storylines, definitely, but why even use the name if the story's going to be completely different? It's not even paying homage to the original, like the recent why-was-it-ever-made remake of Psycho ostensibly was, but rather just playing off the name recognition that Planet of the Apes gets. Hell, the Simpsons' musical parody of the original film was closer than this "remake," plot-wise, and at least that was funny. In short, I feel like I've been played for a sucker, and that's not a feeling I particularly enjoy.
4. The Ending. I won't go into it in detail for spoiler reasons (yeah, yeah), but dammit, the ending was absolutely ridiculous, not to mention unbelievable. "Sure," folks tell me, "but it's got talking monkeys to begin with, so what's a little more suspension of disbelief?" Yes, but the point behind science fiction isn't that it's unbelievable -- it's that it's plausible, and to be plausible, it all has to make sense, not necessarily with the world as we know it, but at the very least with itself. That's where the "science" bit comes in, and unfortunately, Planet of the Apes fails miserably in that respect, thereby capping off an only "okay" movie with an idiotic ending. And all I can think to say is: why? (JH)
(CBS/Fox Home Video)
Jon Favreau's a good guy. He's not the greatest of actors, it's true, but he's a good, solid player in the right situations; the thing is that he's at his best when playing the straight man (see the "good guy" comment, above), and for that he really needs a foil, somebody to bounce dialogue off his character. Thankfully, Favreau seems aware of this, as well, and he's used that buddy dynamic to its fullest extent with Made. The movie is, for all intents and purposes, about Favreau and pal Vince Vaughn (their characters do have names, but that's not really the point, here), much like their big breakthrough movie, Swingers, turned out to be. The proof's right there on the movie poster, in fact: Favreau and Vaughn in the back of a limo, both beaten and bruised, Favreau frozen, with an angry/exhausted look on his face, and Vaughn the opposite, an out-of-focus, energetic figure -- the yin and yang of all good "buddy" comedy since day one.
The duo play a pair of wannabe goodfellas (well, to be fair, Favreau's character's only in it to make enough money to buy his hooker girlfriend out of the business; Vaughn's the one who wants to be Scarface) who manage to bumble their way into a "drop" for a sorta-kindly older mobster (played by Peter Falk). They wing their way to New York, where Vaughn proceeds to embarass Favreau in every situation imaginable with his goodfella shtick; the scene where he asks NY gangster-businessman Ruiz (Sean "Puffy/P. Diddy/Whatever" Combs, believe it or not) if they need to be "strapped" is especially priceless, and it's that sort of scene where the humor lies, when Vaughn's eagerness and paranoia get he and his well-meaning pal Favreau into trouble. It's uncomfortable humor, to be sure, the kind that makes you want to cringe down between the seats because you know exactly what's going to happen as soon as Vaughn opens his mouth, but hey, it's still funny.
An interesting facet to the movie is the examination of the role of the gangster thug; it's a job that requires an ability to A). hurt people, B). be where you're needed at short notice, and most importantly, C). keep your mouth shut. Favreau fits in well as the big, tough-looking guy who doesn't ask any questions but just goes where and when he's told, but Vaughn seems unwilling to take his spot on the lowest rung of the crime-career ladder, and causes a lot of friction with the real mobsters in the film because he doesn't recognize and follow the rules. It's not quite the character he played in Swingers, because that guy was at least really, truly smooth -- Vaughn's character in Made, on the other hand, is an out-and-out loser, and is immediately spotted as such by just about everybody other than himself.
Overall, a fine film, and one that'll hopefully propel Favreau on to bigger and better things (since he seems to've gotten the short end of the Swingers stick, really). (JH)