Monday, September 05, 2011

Casually Idiotic Movie Parenting

The first of this summer's entry into the annals of unfortunate parenting skills features a compelling twist via the Don't-Mess-With-Nature theme, in this summer's Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Most reviewers completely disregard this most surreal aspect of the film, choosing to focus on the rather beautifully executed motion-capture performance of Andy Serkis in the guise of the young chimpanzee, Caesar. Caesar moves through his early childhood on through the late stages of ape adolescence, developing a deep bond with James Franco's scientist. Due to his rapidly advancing intelligence, Caesar is even less suited to be paired with human companions than a normal chimpanzee would be by that point.

Once Caesar has been cast out for committing an act of violence (interpreted by the chimp as the defense of a loved one), he makes contact with other imprisoned apes, finds one that can also perform and understand sign language, and well, a few more steps from that and you've got yourself an ape tea party (would that both of these factions would head to the hills together).

That's the plot, as most people choose to see it, avoiding much conversation about the Splice-like father-child relationship here between Caesar and James Franco's character. You would think after working with chimpanzees this long Franco'd accept the obvious, that no matter how many injections of smarty serum you give 'em, they're still chimps, they're still going to reach a point where they're going to be well out of your control. If things had happened a little differently, we might've seen any of the truly unsettling scenarios such an odd relationship would produce. We'd have a much stranger film, for better or worse. Prequels are prequels, however, so the show must go on, humanity must eventually die, and eventually apes must rule (and fracture politically into a enough factions to include nuclear warhead worshippers).

The second film to debut in as many months focusing on the mistakes of embarrassingly stupid parents is the moderately compelling, Guillermo Del Toro scripted Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. Guy Pierce and Katie Holmes play a New England couple who bring Pierce's estranged (and largely ignored) 8 year old daughter to the old house Pierce is restoring for Architectural Design. Caught up with his young girlfriend and obsessed with getting a great cover for the magazine, Pierce doesn't notice in the slightest that dark forces exist within the bowels of the estate. Holmes, the less dumb of the two (perhaps because she's not actually the little girl's mother?) investigates the history of the William Blake inspired painter who lived in the house, and basically tracks down the history of the little tooth fairy monsters, almost too late.

Pierce determines that his girlfriend's various ripped up dresses are the fault of his daughter, brought about by jealousy. He doesn't really ask questions when the grounds keeper shows up stabbed by various tools and sharp objects, all over his body, more likely the result of a tiny monster attack than a fall down the cellar stairs. He refuses to believe that sinister creatures are plotting to steal his daughter and eat her teeth (a premise introduced to the audience in the most gruesome way possible, in the first few minutes of the film). Scene by scene we (from the honed Del Torian point of view of the little girl) grow convinced that Pierce is very stupid indeed. Holmes, who catches up with the viewers just in time, takes on a decent, heroic role in the film. Her character becomes more sympathetic than we'd expect.

Fright Night has Toni Collette playing an un-stupid parent, which in movie suburbia-land means she's playing an actual character. The new film, as well as the original, share enough of each other's plots that the characters all gradually discover that without a doubt, yes, the man next door is a vampire. Once Collette's house is ignited from the inside by Colin Farrel's sexy vampire ripping the gas-line from under the backyard and lighting it with a zippo, there's very little doubt of the danger he poses. This remake is fairly inventive, pretty funny throughout, brilliantly cast, and having just the right cocktail of suspense and cheeky creepiness, deserves its place next to the silly eighties classic. It also uses one real-estate sign very, very effectively.

People who enjoyed the original film probably had a cynical reaction to the announcement of the remake. They'd probably be surprised to hear that the movie we got is almost as good. The box-office punished this particular remake for being good, or perhaps just for being obscure enough to teenagers nowadays that it didn't register at all what it was, except for it being one more vampire flick. The less than $20 million box-office gross is possibly revenue from David Tenant fans. Serves Hollywood right for making something entertaining.