29 December 2011

Rise Of The Monkey Planet

Contains spoilers

When I was a baby, I was breast fed. This is a thought that sends a shiver of horror down my spine and is something that my Mum tends to remind me of - at inappropriate times. By inappropriate times I simply mean that she reminds me of it. Unfortunately though, all of us as youngsters at one point liked things that we now know to be fucking weird and horrible. Other than breastfeeding, there was shitting inside of our clothes, eating insects, and watching sentimental shite like Free Willy.

I say like Free Willy because there was a few of them about that followed the basic E.T. formula. A youngster makes an odd friend, be it animal, alien, or robot. They go on a few adventures, pull a prank on the school bully and then run away from the Police, F.B.I., Hunters, etc... Basically, I'm talking about crap like Short Circuit, Andre, Jack Frost and all the turdish sequels that they spawned.

I particularly hate them because of how mawkish and manipulative they are, but I also hate how people nostalgically remember them as being good. They're not good not in the slightest. In my opinion those films could only be considered moderately entertaining if somebody drove a car powered by the oils from 'Willy's brain into a crowd of the people who enjoy them. Or if at the end of Short Circuit the director walks on screen, smashes him up and then slits his own throat with a razor sharp edge from the remains of the shitty, retarded robot. It would be the only apology that I would accept for inflicting that drivel onto the world.

It therefore surprises me to discover that one of my favourite films of 2011 followed this formula too. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a phenomenally good film and like Free Willy is the story of a man and his animal buddy. They meet, bond and grow together until eventually the authorities step in and try to tear them apart.

I love animals which is why Free Willy annoys me. It simply relies on you caring for the whale because he's a whale. George Lucas once said something like; it's easy to get an audience to care. You simply get a kitten and start to strangle it. Well that is those shitty films in a nutshell. Apes, however, doesn't just rely on 'Caesar' being a monkey for us to give a shit. Instead he is played to perfection by the genius that is Andy Serkis. Not only does he believably mimic the body language of a chimp but he also projects more emotions in that one film than someone like Stallone has managed in his entire career. Serkis is effectively playing in a silent movie and yet creates one of the most relatable characters in a long time.

In fact regarding Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a lot of focus has been put on the character of 'Caesar' which is a shame as it also has so much more to offer. One day we'll look back at this date in cinema and marvel at quite how good sci-fi was. Gone are films like The Matrix Sequels or The Chronicles of Riddick that are up their own arse, pretentious and turgid. Instead we've got actual soon-to-be-cult-classics like Monsters, District 9, Moon, Source Code, and now Apes.

Like the new Star Trek, what this manages to do is reinvent itself for a modern audience whilst remaining intelligent and respectful to the original franchise. Personally, I feel I had the exact level of fan-ness for this film. I have a kind of basic knowledge of previous Apes movies, but not enough to really care. I recognised and enjoyed all the references to the original, such as the failed Mars mission, and quotes like, “It's a mad house” but I didn't know it well enough to be fucked if they changed any of the details.

In fact watching it for the first time, there was only one thing that I was curious about and that was if the monkeys would speak. When I originally saw the trailer, I went on a geek marathon of showing it to as many people as possible. I was like a new parent parading around my ugly baby to everybody I knew just to hear them say that it looks alright. Eventually though, I found one person who instantly dismissed the film as though it was going to be shite, “because that's not what happened in the original; in the original it was said that one ape stood up and said 'No' to the humans”. I argued that maybe this was meant to be metaphorical rather than literal, but the stubborn fuck that I was chatting to was having none of it. I was therefore quite smug when this is exactly what happened in the film. Not only does 'Caesar' indulge in the exact incident that my smart arse of a chum was talking about, but it's the highlight of the entire film and the primary idea that the entire fucking story was worked around.

The moment that 'Caesar' says “No” is absolutely perfect and was the first time I'd heard an entire cinema gasp in shock. I've been going the pictures for a long time and that has got to be one of my favourite experiences. I can only imagine it being like hearing that Vader is Luke's dad for the first time, or discovering that 'Rocky' was an actual human all along and not just a retarded boxing gorilla. This is also the part in the film when we lose the Free Willy feel and the film turns into a Monkey Kingdom of Heaven.

I love apocalyptic movies and that's exactly what this becomes. It's basically The Birds but only if the birds had arms, legs, couldn't fly and no beaks. Okay- it's nothing like The Birds but you get the point. We're shitty to nature, so nature turns around and kicks us in the balls. In the first half, 'Caesar' is a fun little scamp who likes to swing around the house and probably pick his arse. After he's learnt to say 'no' he decides to fuck some of our shit up. First he accidentally kills Malfoy, then he sets about smartening up all the other apes and then he starts the fucking banana revolution.

Speaking of smartening up- is it just me or was that orang-utan not pretty brainy to begin with? The one in Brian Cox's monkey prison seemed to be on the same level of 'Caesar' before he'd even had the intelligence gas. I don't want to sound panicked or anything but either the film has exaggerated their intelligence or maybe we should start to keep a closer eye on those sinister fucking ginger chimps. Whenever I've seen one in the zoo they're always just sitting their like a saggy old Scotsman with a sack over their heads. The one in this movie was doing more than that. I mean, this one was telling fucking jokes for God's sake! He was half way to a stand up act when he said that the other “monkeys were stupid”. Not much of a joke I guess, but not bad for a start and certainly much better than anything Patrick Kielty's ever managed.

At the time the news broke, it seemed like Rupert Wyatt was an odd choice to direct this movie. The only thing he was really known for was the Brian Cox prison thriller The Escapist which was brilliant but not exactly Apes like. Then Tim Burton sounded like a great choice and we all saw how his version turned out. Poor old Helena Bonham Carter spent hours in makeup and ended up looking completely normal but with a tail. I do have a bit of a soft spot for that version but there's no denying that it's crap. This new Apes is not only a brilliant film but also perfectly timed. In a year with student riots and all these Occupy protests a popcorn movie about an uprising is exactly what we need. If art is the means for a society to express itself then this is one of the best examples of a blockbuster holding a mirror up to our shitty way of living.

There are still a few films that I haven't seen from 2011 which I'm particularly excited to catch up with. But so far this is tying for the top spot with Black Swan as film of the year for me. This has a Gorilla versus a horse; Black Swan has Natalie Portman fingering herself. Who could choose between them? By the time Free Willy reaches its conclusion the Whale has escaped into the sea and I can't wait to see its shitty, heart tugging face harpooned. By the time Rise of the Planet of the Apes reaches its conclusion the monkeys are free, the human race is screwed and I'm on the verge of tears. 'Caesar' is home and thankfully so is a classic franchise which is finally now given the intelligence it deserves.

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4 December 2011

A Sign Of Ignorance

Once upon a time, we honkies couldn't be bothered to work- we therefore had the ingenious idea of making non-whities do it instead. For us, things were perfect until eventually that bloody Lincoln came along and told us to get off our arses and do it our bloody selves. Since then we've figured out that actually we're all equal, and us crackers have got some apologising to do. We look back on that time and admit that maybe we were a little bit racist. Well, the way that we regret that is the same way our children will one day regret our treatment of Ray Winstone.

I know it's a slightly different situation. I'm not suggesting that we make poor old Ray plough our fields or that we shipped him from the plaines of his native London in order to trade him for money and bags of sugar at the docks. Unlike the slaves, we don't judge his worth on the quality of his teeth. However what we actually do is discriminate against him based simply on his appearance.

No matter who or what he plays, Winstone is described as being a hard man, but this isn't always the case. In fact, Ray generally plays quite sympathetic decidedly un-hard characters. Every film he's in he plays somebody completely different but somehow the world is blind to this. Instead they judge his performance simply on the assumption that most of us would die if he punched us.

I mean no offence to Ray, but he's not a thin man. I think he's one of the greatest actors of our time and in fact, one of my favourites, but I wouldn't believe it if he was playing roles such as a lifeguard, a long term holocaust victim, a school boy or a Chinese woman. He's a man forced to choose characters who fit his build, but just because they could kill with their bare-hands, doesn't mean they will.

I think it doesn't help that I perceive the term 'tough guy' or 'hard man' as being derogatory. To describe his performances in that way, to me, sounds dismissive and conjures up comparisons to someone like Vinnie Jones who- lets face it, is not an actor. He's a shaved gorilla that sometimes manages to say some words in an almost cohesive way. Throughout his career, Winstone has played a variety of different characters displaying a variety of personalities and emotions. Throughout Vinnie Jones career he's played a variety of the same character that very occasionally doesn't sound like a retarded, foreigner learning to speak English for the first time.

One example of Winstone playing a non-hard man would be the character 'Gal' in Sexy Beast. Okay, yes, he's playing a criminal, but he's not exactly tough is he? He spends the entire movie completely petrified of everybody else, walking on egg shells and doing his best to not be a thief. He's individually bullied by both Gandhi and fucking Lovejoy for gods sake! You don't spend the entire film wondering when 'Gal' is going to freak out and hit someone; you empathise and feel sorry for him. By the time Sir Ben screams, “No”, at him a hundred times on the spanish patio, 'Gal' is a broken man. The kindly old man from Schindlers List is pissing on his bathroom floor and kicking the shit out of his kitchen fittings and all Gal can do is push his decision as hard as he dares.

Compare his performance in this to say, the character of 'Ray' in Nil by Mouth and Winstone's range might become apparent. 'Gal' is a likeable bloke who, when not being forced to commit crime, makes jokes, loves his wife and just comes across as the kind of guy you'd like as a mate. 'Ray' however, is a different kettle of cunts. He's not a tough guy, he's a coke snorting, evil fucker who, in a Joe Pesci “funny how” moment kicks the living shit out of his pregnant wife. I've seen Two Girls, One Cup but Nil by Mouth is by far the hardest film I've ever endured watching. Like a cockney Ringu, the fear of 'Ray' smashing his way out of the television and killing me seemed to be becoming more and more possible. It got to a point when I wondered if I'd actually be able to get through the last thirty minutes without needing trauma therapy.

I read in De Niro's biography that his particular talent is in acting angry. Well, in his entire career, his anger is no more than a hissy fit when compared to the pure rage that Winstone channels. 'Ray' likes to say 'fuck' and 'cunt' even when he's happy so when he gets mad, he has no way of vocally venting his frustration. You can physically see the hatred and venom as he shouts and screams in a way that just doesn't look like acting. The genius, however, is that despite the abhorrent things that he does, he thinks that he is the victim. After beating his wife into having a miscarriage, 'Ray' has a breakdown. He smashes up the house and then tells his scummy friend about how his Dad never showed him love. You can see as he talks that he genuinely feels sorry for himself, without acknowledging any responsibility for the horror that he has just inflicted on his wife. This evil prick is quite a distance from Sexy Beasts 'Gal', with both of them being quite different to 'Captain Stanley' in The Proposition.

'Captain Stanley' is a noble man in a desperate situation. Set in the 1880's he is determined to civilise the Hell-hole of Australia, regardless of what it might cost him personally. Unfortunately though, his slightly unorthodox methods of brother-love top-trumps cause the whole town and his wife to turn against him. Quickly, he finds himself shouldering the burden of trying to tame that country against the wishes of those that live there. Considering Australia is now most famous for Crocodile Dundee, psychotically dangerous animals and the goddess-of-gay Kylie Minogue, maybe the fucking stupid locals should have tried it his way.

In a way, 'Captain Stanley' shares the burden of stubbornness in the same way that 'Gal' does. However both men are completely different particularly in their treatment of their wives. In 'Gal's case, his wife is his confidant and the one looking after him. When Sir Ben is causing shit, it's her that supports him and in the end it's her that stands up to Gandhi to save 'Gal's' life. 'Captain Stanley' however, is doing his best to keep his wife the fuck out of his business and where 'Gal' is only truly himself when alone with his partner, poor old 'Captain Stanley' has to remain partly on duty at all times.

I mentioned these three performances as they just happen to be three of my all time favourite films. On top of these, Winstone has also impressed with his range as a young six foot viking warrior, a Borstal inmate, a cancer ridden special-agent and Mr Beaver (from Narnia, not the porno). I suppose the point of this is to just highlight how unappreciated one of our greatest actors really is. I'd like people to pay more attention to the nuances of the performance and less to the fact that he's a stocky, middle-aged Landaner. In a way, I just wish that the world was a little less Ray-cist*

*Awful... What a terrible pun. I actually made myself a little angry with it... cunt.

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