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New ‘Planet of the Apes’ installment tells clever origin story

New ‘Planet of the Apes’ installment tells clever origin story
Dec. 26, 2011
By G. Michael Dobbs
Managing Editor
A well-written franchise reboot and a classic television series from the late 1960s are featured in this week’s DVD review column.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes

The “Planet of the Apes” film franchise was one of the most successful science fiction series in the history of the genre. Although one could argue there were some diminishing returns as the saga reached its conclusion, most fans liked the weakest “Apes” entry more than the ill-advised remake of the first film directed by Tim Burton.
I had no expectations that this new film would actually be much better than the Burton remake, but boy, was I wrong. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is a cleverly written and directed film, which sets up a logical reason for super intelligent apes taking over the world.
James Franco is the nominal star and plays a researcher trying to find a cure for dementia. A research experiment on apes gives him hopeful results. The drug regimen seems to work on humans — he also has injected his father who suffers from Alzheimer’s — and gives Caesar, a baby chimpanzee, unusually high intelligence.
Veteran science fiction fans know no matter how idyllic this little family seems to be at first, things will go wrong. When Franco’s father, played by John Lithgow, regresses and is attacked by a neighbor, Caesar strikes back. The result is he is confined to an ape rescue facility, run like a concentration camp.
A pivotal realization and action then set in motion events that ultimately seal our doom.
The only weak link in this well directed film is Franco, an actor whose appeal is a mystery to me. He seems to sleepwalk through the role, only showing the emotion of anger successfully. Actor Andy Serkis and the animators who created Caesar are far more successful than Franco in breathing life into a character.
The illusion of Caesar and the other animated apes is flawless and very impressive. This success is the base of the film. If the animated characters were not so realistic, the film would have faltered badly.
There’s a reference to the first film — the original “Planet of the Apes” — that is an affectionate wink and a nod. Fanboys such as myself will appreciate that.
Aside from Franco’s somnambulist performance, “Rise” is a wonderfully realized and satisfying science fiction film.
It Takes a Thief: The Complete Series

When I was in high school I had a classmate who was so crazy for the television series “It Takes a Thief,” that he wanted to call himself “Alexander Mundy,” the character portrayed by Robert Wagner.
Somehow, I never managed to catch the series when it was on the air — perhaps it was opposite something I was watching — so this impressive boxed set gave me a chance more than 40 years later to catch up with it.
Some vintage television stands up to the passing of years — the original “Mission Impossible” shows are still quite good — others do not. I defy any modern audience not to wince while watching “Bonanza,” for example.
This premise is a solid one for a dramatic television series. Wagner’s Mundy is an accomplished thief who is sprung from prison by Noah Bain, an operative of the SIA, a government espionage agency. As Bain, played with gruff gravitas by character actor Malachi Throne, explained, spying is really stealing and killing, so why not employ a thief?
So every week Mundy was sent off to steal something for the United States. Mundy is a bit of a ladies man — like all 1960s secret agents — and there is a parade of beautiful women through the series.
With no expectations, I was happy to discover that “It Takes a Thief” is quite enjoyable. There is grittiness to the series which balances out the 60s suave spy excesses.
Another plus is in the third and last season, Fred Astaire played Mundy’s father, a thief as well.
Wagner is an accomplished and enjoyable actor and this series is light years ahead of the campy slop that more people remember him for: the longer running “Hart to Hart.”
This 18-disc set includes a recent interview with Wagner and with series writer and producer Glen Larson, a booklet, a set of coasters and a reproduction of a 35mm frame from the series.

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