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TALKIN’ ’BOUT A (R)EVOLUTION | Bears may be common to in the Castro, but chimps take over the Golden Gate bridge in ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes.’

Andy Serkis’ masterful monkey business is the 800-lb. gorilla in the room making ‘Apes’ worth a look

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

The 1968 film Planet of the Apes was sci-fi at its low-tech best: A human astronaut crash-lands on a world run by talking monkeys in the Iron Age of their society — brutal, feudal, violent. It’s like a Roman sword-and-sandal movie that begins on a spaceship. It’s grimly futuristic and innately visceral, and even today, long after you’ve learned the Big Reveal (the planet is Earth in the future, post nuclear winter), addictively watchable nonsense.

Well, Rise of the Planet of the Apes got the nonsense part right, but a few things else as well, though those seem lucked upon. Unlike its progenitor, it’s a Science Gone Mad sci-fi extravaganza, Frankensteinien in its concept of good intentions unregulated by consequences. (To be fair, it’s a fitting update: During the Cold War, we worried about The Bomb; today, anthrax and genetically engineered chemical warfare are far more frightening.)

A scientist (James Franco) hopes to develop a drug to cure Alzheimer’s (from which, coincidentally, his dad, John Lithgow, suffers!) but his soulless big pharma employer won’t back him. So James experiments on his own with a genetically superior chimp named Caesar, inventing a miracle drug which contains a supervirus the human body can’t kill off and ruin its therapeutic benefits. (Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.)

The science scenes, complete with the money-grubbing boss, are about as bad as lazy sci-fi gets (think Splice), and much of the plotting feels recycled from every primate-loving movie from King Kong to Project X. (There are also more chimps in one facility in this movie than are probably in every zoo in North America.) But you soon realize how little all that matters when Andy Serkis gets to do his thing.

Serkis played Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films, and Kong in the remake of King Kong — not in a costume, but in a motion-capture suit that precisely reflects his movements, including facial expressions, and converts them into CGI reality. (All the apes in the film are digital.) That means the chimps seem far more human than their masters, with genuine emotions and personalities that rarely register on the cookie-cutter villains. It’s weird to realize you’re rooting for the species that will eventually enslave us.

The result is that Franco eventually becomes irrelevant plot-wise, as Rise moves from the category of beauty-of-nature film to Scarface Meets X-Men: Caesar’s so smart, he methodically develops an army of chimps to follow him. (I kept expecting him to say to Franco, “Never ask me about my business.”)

Rise isn’t great , but it is entertaining and will probably piss off creationists to no end. That, along with Serkis’ remarkable FX-enhanced performance, is reason enough to see it.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Oscar recap

The gayest film in this year’s Oscar race, The Kids Are All Right, went home empty-handed, but lesbian-themed Black Swan — with Natalie Portman as a sexually confused ballerina — took best actress and at least two openly gay winners ascended to the podium during Sunday’s incredibly dull ceremony.

Lora Hirschberg, co-winner of best sound mixing for Inception, sent a shout out to her wife, and Iain Canning, lead producer on best picture winner The King’s Speech, thanked his boyfriend during the three-hour-plus telecast that saw James Franco seeming as bored as the rest of us … although looking smoking hot in a white leotard at one point.

My own predictions proved fairly accurate, including the best live action short God of Love with a gay gag.

The only standing ovation I saw was for Billy Crystal, who hosted eight times. That was a signal: Let’s rise for the guy who actually did a good job hosting this show.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Queer Music News: Singer Rufus Wainwright is now a daddy; James Franco is no Cher

• I had no idea singer Rufus Wainwright was in want of a family. And now he has one — in that modern family kinda way. This was posted on his website this past Saturday. And this doesn’t makes us feel icky like another celeb and his new baby.

Feb 18, 2011

For Immediate Release:

Darling daughter Viva Katherine Wainwright Cohen was born on February 2, 2011 in Los Angeles, California to proud parents Lorca Cohen, Rufus Wainwright and Deputy Dad Jorn Weisbrodt. The little angel is evidently healthy, presumably happy and certainly very very beautiful.

Daddy #1 would like to offer everyone a digital cigar and welcome the little lady in with a French phrase from his favorite folk song, A La Claire Fontaine : “Il y a longtemps que je t’aime, jamais je ne t’oublierai.”

CORRECTION: In many of the articles announcing the birth of Viva Katherine Wainwright Cohen, Lorca Cohen is characterized as “the surrogate.” Of course, she is no such thing. She did not carry the child for someone else. Lorca Cohen is the mother of the baby and Rufus Wainwright is the father.

Towleroad posted this track of James Franco’s version of Cher’s “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me” from Burlesque, which was to be an apparent gag drag performance for this weekend’s Oscars. Now, it isn’t — and that’s a good thing.

—  Rich Lopez

Docu, no drama

Franco fascinating as Ginsberg in convoluted ‘Howl’

Arnold Wayne Jones | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

After 30 years of making non-fiction films, using interviews, newsreels and stock footage, documentarians Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein have taken a dive into the deep end of the filmmaking pond with Howl. They don’t drown, but they need a stronger stroke to keep from treading water.

On the surface, it shares much with their documentary output: Like The Celluloid Closet, Common Threads: Tales from the Quilt and The Times of Harvey Milk, it tackles a high-profile moment in gay rights history: The writing of (and obscenity trial over) Allen Ginsberg’s incendiary longform poem Howl. It’s a rangy movie, flitting between Ginsberg’s (James Franco) relationships leading up to his writing of it, the initial reading at a San Francisco coffeehouse in 1955, the trial and an interview with and older Ginsberg about what it meant. In between, the directors use animation to capture the dreamy nonsense of the images.

That’s a lot to digest, with various visual styles that never coalesce: The supersaturated colors of the poem’s imagery contrast with the black-and-white hand-held shots of Allen at home, film noir moodiness of the café and flat, Mad Men-esque stuffiness of the courtroom scenes. It’s as if Friedman and Epstein, finally freed of the constraints of the reality of a documentary, got lost in the vast techniques at their disposal.

They have not, though, presented the drama with the intensity it warrants. The poem itself is compelling if pretentious, yet radical and historically significant; the lawsuit claiming it was pornographic for its depiction of homosexual longing was noteworthy but hardly precedential. Still, it’s plump with dramatic potential … which the film fails to take full advantage of. Even the trial, adequately handled with Jon Hamm and David  Strathain facing off over obscenity, doesn’t have the pop of a good episode of Law & Order. It feels compartmentalized, removed from the realities of Ginsberg’s creative process.

Still, Franco’s performance is enough to recommend it. Franco has become one of the most daring and inventive young stars in Hollywood, taking huge career risks with a happy quietude that suggests a real artist. His cadences as Ginsberg, and the brave way he throws himself into the gay situations, give him an ethereal quality, wafting through the movie like a guiding spirit.

Two and a half stars

—  Kevin Thomas

James Franco on cover of new trans magazine

For their second issue, Candy, the first magazine devoted to trans culture, dressed up James Franco in old school Joan Crawford-esque drag for the cover, shot by photographer Terry Richardson. This adds to the ever-increasingly-gay-friendly actor’s list of random moments in LGBT support. Jezebel mentioned the cover Wednesday with the following blurb about Franco.

James Franco has been exploring sexuality for sometime — his art show included lots of male genitalia; in his student film he “dashes” through the Louvre wearing a penis on his nose. He did an interview with The Advocate, the world’s leading gay news source. He’s played gay men, and directed movies about gay men. He says he’s not gay, but he certainly seems interested in sexual identity, gender and self-expression through performance art.

The magazine’s trailer for this issue says there are only 1,000 copies in print available worldwide, so we’re thinking that’s like one issue in one bookstore in Dallas? And somehow, I don’t think a used copy will be found at Half Price Books anytime soon. The magazine is scheduled for newsstands on Oct. 24.

Candy is the creation of Luis Venegas from Spain who is also behind the magazines Ey! Magateen and Fanzine137. With Candy, he touts it as “the first fashion magazine ever completely dedicated to celebrating transvestism, transexuality, cross dressing and androgyny, in all its manifestations. … Candy is a magazine for everybody. A space for individual freedom, and a publication that pushes people to take on the persona of what they always wanted to be.”

—  Rich Lopez