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Fright Night

 

Poster for Fright NightFright Night has come to the American desert.

 

It isn’t hard to understand why vampires would pick the American Southwest to try to flip a home. The news tells us that the dream is dead and that the fantastic fictions that have sustained us since the late 1980s have finally snapped shut. It’s almost natural to imagine the unnatural staking their ground in what we have deserted.

 

Which is all to say that it’s no coincidence that this summer’s remake of the 1985 cult film Fright Night takes place in Las Vegas. When Charlie Brewster (Anton Yelchin), the teenaged hero of the film, tries to convince Peter Vincent (David Tennant), a Criss Angel-style performer, that Vegas is perfect for the undead because nobody lives there anymore, he is also critiquing an America already vanishing in front of his eyes.

 

The suburbs have been depopulated and those who still live there cling on to life with a sort of desperation. Charlie and his divorced mother Jane (Toni Collette) try to maintain the fiction that life is moving ahead when it has largely come to an end. Jane’s real estate business is floundering, her husband is a distant memory and there are no other prospects in sight, and Charlie seems to have no greater dream than to consummate his love with his popular girlfriend, played by Imogen Poots.

 

Life is caught in a standstill where all forces opposing each other are bad: Jane can’t meet another man because she is stuck in Vegas and new men aren’t coming to the city because the real estate bubble has burst. And Jane cannot escape Vegas because the real estate bubble has burst… There is a kind of circularity to their lives that leads to a feeling of inevitable doom until a hunky middle-aged vampire moves in next door.

 

Jerry – played phenomenally by Colin Farrell – is at once the articulation of Charlie and his mother’s secret desire (for love, for fatherhood, for a parental figure who does actual work and has actual money) and their absolute negative. Jane fears that he is exactly what she wants and precisely what she doesn’t need – another man – but he is much more. Prowling the streets of their tiny sub-development with supreme self-assurance, very much a man confident of his physical and sexual being, in many ways Jerry is the perfect tenant to the dead city. He epitomizes both its hubris and its destruction.

 

Both Jane and Charlie’s girlfriend are, at first, taken in by Jerry, but Charlie sees through the act, partially because he has a secret himself and knows how to spot them in others. Although he’s achieved some status in high school, he lives in fear that his past as a nerd will catch up with him. His creepy old friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), threatens to expose him to his new, cooler friends, and as luck would have it Ed is a bit of a vampire nut. Because he is a former geek, Charlie can see into Jerry’s secret closets and see that he, too, is not what he seems.
Unfortunately, spotting the undead means that you are probably part undead yourself and Jerry knows that Charlie is onto his secret.

 

He sniffs the air around Charlie and says that he can smell his neglect and failure. This scent is, in some ways, his secret nerd background, but it also reaches far back into his parents’ failed marriage and the broken dreams that have led the family to the invented city. If the suburban dream of the Southwest has been life intensified – of Sun Cities that burn so bright that even death can’t cast a shadow there – the new dark city symbolizes economic and physical collapse.

 

Las Vegas is in many respects a city after the fall, populated with nocturnal and shadowy figures. Abandoned and lost, a designed landscape economically deconstructed by the real estate disaster, it is a ghost town looking for ghosts. Until then buildings stand boarded up and homes are deserted. Characters run through the labyrinthine back yards the once connected the city, stumbling into homes that are not only husks of their formers selves.

 

There are really two stars of Fight Night: Farrell, who literally devours every scene he is in, and Vegas itself. The rest of the cast members are fine with the exception of David Tennant as Peter Vincent. Maybe he pales in comparison to Roddy McDowall, who played his corresponding part in the 1985 film, or maybe he pales in comparison to all the other stock characters he’s mimicking – Criss Angel, pirate Jack Sparrow, Keith Richards, etc… – but I just felt he was a bit lacking.

 

Fright Night is fun, but it’s also terrifying. It not only reveals the big empty spaces that we used to fill with dreams, but also shows how our dreams were always already the nightmares they’ve become.

 
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Rise of the Apes

 

I know why the caged bird ape sings… He sings of freedom.

 

Unknown Author

 

***

 

Rise of the Apes Movie ReviewDuring one of the unexpectedly poignant moments in the new movie Rise of the Apes, a super intelligent primate passes a dog on a leash, looks at his own collar and signals to his adopted father, “Am I a pet?”

 

The dad, a sort of hapless doctor Frankenstein played by James Franco, struggles with an appropriate answer and so should we. Because the questions the movie asks about free will and the nature of captivity extends far beyond the confines of the planet of the apes.

 

Rise of the Apes is a prequel to the 2001 Planet of the Apes film and a modern adaptation of the 1968 classic by the same name. In Rise, intelligent apes are developed accidently when a major multinational pharmaceutical corporation conducts tests on primates to try to discover a cure for degenerative brain diseases.

 

Will Rodman (Franco) is the inventor of a serum called ALZ 112, which has been concocted to repair damaged brain cells and reverse the effects of diseases like Alzheimer’s. The invention obviously has great commercial appeal, but Rodman’s interest is primarily personal. His father has advanced Alzheimer’s and he is in a sense working against the clock to save his dad’s mind.

 

Unfortunately, the most promising test animal breaks free as the drug nears final approval for human trials, kills several people, and is ultimately shot. The CEO closes down the project, but not before Rodman discovers the true cause of the animal’s erratic behavior. Unknown to researchers, the ape had given birth in its cage and was defending its offspring.

 

Not knowing what else to do, Rodman takes the baby ape home where he discovers that the super intelligence has passed from mother to child. He names the baby Caesar, teaches it to sign, and integrates it into his unusual family while administering the drug to his ailing dad in secret.

 

As Caesar grows up, he becomes sullen and distant. Watching other children playing outside, he wonders why he can’t be free to play and roam. Like all teens, he wants the keys to the car so he can explore the world for himself. Caesar is also imprisoned not only by his animal nature, but also by his adopted father who keeps him locked inside to protect him. He may have a human (or superhuman) mind, but he is also ultimately still an animal.

 

In a sense, Caesar learns that the real prison is the body itself. The ape’s dual nature means that like Rodman’s father – who is shackled to a mind that is slowly erasing itself – the ape needs to assimilate his warring parts under will. After a violent attack in which he loses control of his animal self, the young ape is sent to a refuge that is part Disneyland and part Alcatraz

 

Surrounded by other abandoned and neglected apes, he slowly uncovers the value of his animal side and discovers how he can direct both his intelligence and his ferocity will a will to power.

 

The movie compares the refuge with its secret cages and mazes with the business world with its endless offices and subterranean laboratories. The law of tooth and fang reigns in both worlds and in a sense the ape must master cruelty to be free. He must outgrow his father, assimilate the prison logic that attempts to define him, and become a self-defined being to rise above both man and ape.

Rise of the Apes is visually stunning. The CGI is excellent and seamless. Unlike many science fiction films – where the effects compete against the plot – it never pushes the scenes beyond the level of plausibility. Caesar’s facial gestures (brought to us via computer animation and the genius of Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in the Rings trilogy and King Kong in the movie of the same name) are especially moving.

 

Director Rupert Wyatt treats his subject seriously although he does toss in nuggets from the original source materials – including tentative references to 60s era emblems of the Civil rights struggle. Sidestepping the dangers of camp, the film also isn’t preachy or moralistic, preferring to allow the audience to interpret its meaning in the fast flow of its plot.

 

The shocking revelation of the 1968 film was that the alien world was, in fact, Earth, and man was no longer master of his own home. Rise of the Apes tells us that we can only be free if we free ourselves first.

 
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