Monday Morning Critic 8.1.2011 – CM Punk & Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Every Monday morning, InsidePulse Movies Czar Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings an irreverent and oftentimes hilarious look at pop culture, politics, sports and whatever else comes to mind. And sometimes he writes about movies.

I like to look at all of pop culture as sharing similar themes and constructs from which we can usefully compare them. There are so many patterns and big picture storylines that things like music, film, art, sports, pro wrestling, et al, all share that make them a sort of universal experience. We can understand certain things and why they happen, no matter what part of pop culture they come from, because of these sorts of grand universal themes they all share.

For example, one of the things I’ve always found interesting is how some careers would have massively different trajectories without certain influences. Leonardo DiCaprio never makes the big leap from box office draw to being a full fledged movie star without becoming Martin Scorsese’s next Robert De Niro through Gangs of New York, The Aviator and The Departed. He had always been a good actor but no one ever talked about how good of an actor he was; he was much more of a commodity, a pretty face that had crap movies attached to it. Scorsese gave him that boost of credibility that only he could provide. In the same you could say that Def Leppard never really becomes one of the high profile bands of the ‘80s without Mutt Lange producing them. Without him they’re the band that tried to appeal to mainstream America and differentiate themselves from heavier bands like Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, et al. They’re remembered for “Hello America” and … that’s about it.

One of the ones I’ve always found interesting is that of perception. The way we perceive things in pop culture can all be changed in one moment, I’ve thought, if you do it that well or that poorly. I’ve always thought that marketing for cinema has changed so much that a good trailer can do so much more for a film than it used to. To me it’s the beauty of movie marketing; studios have gotten so good that making something unique has become so much harder. A good trailer is so universal that it takes a lot to really make something standout.

I look at the trailers we post on a regular basis. First there’s Griff the Invisible, which is rather amusing in an off way:

Then there’s a crappy one, like the one for Freerunners:

There really isn’t a whole lot of difference between the two when it comes to setup, et al. Trailers for films have kind of become homogenized to the point where we know certain points they’re going to hit to sell the film, et al, to the point where it could probably become a drinking game. Hollywood has gotten so good at trailers that crappy ones like for the Parkour film stand out only because they stink so horribly.

But sometimes your faith gets rewarded. I hadn’t been anticipating Rise of the Planet of the Apes, mainly because I really don’t need to see how the entire thing started. I never thought much of the Charlton Heston version, less of the Mark Wahlberg version and didn’t see any of the 300 sequels to the original either. It was probably a film I was going to skip in theatres for a couple weeks, see what the buzz was, and then go see.

And then this happened:

As it went live I watched it a couple times over because it was so enthralling. The film’s buzz seemed to change as it went from being a film anticipated because of its attachment to the past, and maybe the last of the summer blockbusters, to must see for me and a lot of people. It was an absolute game changer because it showed the film had a lot more premise than James Franco doing his ‘90s Johnny Depp impression around a bunch of CGI’d apes (mumbling and making sure he looks pretty for the camera) and turns it into a much bigger film in terms of its plot scope.

And while I saw this happening, something happened in the world of professional wrestling that mirrored it: CM Punk decided to go nuts.

I haven’t followed wrestling in years, still am not either despite the fact that I write for a website with a huge wrestling fanbase, but after this I noticed one thing: the buzz around the WWE from a more mainstream perspective changed. It was a bit more socially acceptable now. Why?

Because one of the biggest sports writers on the web spent time and digital ink on it.

Bill Simmons of ESPN and Grantland.com has spent tons of column space on it, which is insane for the worldwide leader in sports to do unless there’s something there. And I’ll admit … for the first time in a long time I paid attention to the world of fake-fighting. And Punk, who had apparently been on the way out, had a new second life in the squared circle.

In one fell swoop, in six minutes with a live mic, Punk had managed to change his destiny and change the buzz surrounding the WWE. For the first time in a long time friends of mine who used to watch it with me were firing emails to one another about it like we used to do in the days after college but before social networking. It was that same kind of buzz that I felt amongst every one of my friends as heavily interested in cinema (and amongst the Inside Pulse Movies Staff) after the Apes trailer.

The parallels between the two are a bit engaging to me; you have a pro wrestler at the top of an industry of sagging fortunes giving it some newfound energy in an angle that apparently did some good. And a movie found some buzz by showing off what could be a brilliant story that gives what looks like a standard action flick some depth it otherwise wouldn’t have had.

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This Week’s DVD – The Visitor

Every actor worth their salt gets their moment in the sun in terms of getting a brilliant performance noticed by the mainstream. It just happens that Richard Jenkins had his in a year of ‘em, as Sean Penn crushed it in Milk, Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon and Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. The Visitor isn’t a brilliant film but Richard Jenkins is absolutely brilliant in it.

A character actor for years, Jenkins is one of those guys who is in a lot of movies but you never see him for long in plenty of cases where you wish he had more screen time. Why? Because you could get another performance like Jenkins in The Visitor if you gave him a big meaty part in a film deserving of his talents as opposed to letting him curse like a sailor in Step Brothers.

He’s Walter, a professor in Connecticut who still owns an apartment in NYC. But he never goes there, probably because it was a place where he and his dead wife used to live, and as such a couple of squatters have taken residence. Instead of being indignant, he’s intrigued by these immigrants who have been duped into renting his apartment illegally by a third party. They become friends and a part of each other’s lives, affecting it throughout.

It was a film that didn’t resonate in theatres, nor on DVD, but really should’ve. Richard Jenkins is marvelous in it. This is a man who’s essentially dead inside who finds something that stirs up what’s been missing inside him for years. As we see this man go from mailing it in at his job as a professor, living for the sake of not being dead as opposed to being genuinely interested and engaged, to finding something that gives his life some measure of meaning again.

Recommended

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club

The Change Up – Ryan Reynolds is a womanizer. Jason Bateman is a married guy with kids. They swap bodies and shenanigans ensue.

Skip it – Usually body swap comedies have adults and children transported, with the eternal message that adulthood isn’t so bad and childhood isn’t as good as we’d like it to be. Trade that out for “marriage is kind of awesome and single life blows” or something like that. There’s a reason why body-swap comedies always end up sucking and don’t expect this to change that.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes – James Franco makes an ape really smart, which makes other apes super smart too because that ape is a scheming little dude. Then it’s Ape Apocalypse!

See It – I’ve already discussed this film in depth but it’s not the apes taking over that intrigues. It’s the build to the ape takeover that makes me want to see this film; apes going crazy and taking over is something that will probably look awesome and be a powerful story-telling device. But how powerful can it be with a great story? Loads.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @MMCritic_Kubryk.

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