Why are these two movies reviewed together? Do they have anything in common besides the fact that they are products of Hollywood’s genius? No. Why mash ‘em up, then?
Because I happened to watch them back to back and they’re perfect to exhibit the difference between good and evil. Which is which? Ah, read on.
Let’s start with the similarities because they do have some.
- The lead males are crushable and I have a crush on both of them and that’s how they got on the netflix queue. I am not ashamed of that. Witness: Moneyball has Brad Pitt (‘nuff said). Apes has James Franco who self-amputated his arm in his last movie. That kind of dedication to craft is worth a crush.
- Both movies were released in 2011 which means they are still fresh in the movie maven’s mind. The general public at this point–one year on–is wondering who the hell Billy Beane and Caesar the Chimp are, but the movie maven remembers because that’s what movie mavens do. That, and pick apart the editing.
- They are both products of Hollywood’s genius.
Watching these two movies back to back is a statement. The statement is: you think you know Hollywood, but you don’t know Hollywood.
Let’s start with the Ape movie. This is Hollywood at its most egregious. First off, the power of Planet of the Apes is that we don’t know how it happened. The assumption when Charlton is pounding the ground and damning us all to hell in front of the great green bitch goddess half-buried in the beach off former Manhattan is that evolution happened. The aha moment comes with the slow dawn of realization that humanity is doomed. Or maybe it’s simply humanity as we know it that’s doomed.
Didn’t you assume, just for a second when you first saw it, that omigod! humanity evolved into apes? You assumed it was the process of a million genetic mutations, each one resulting in a one-up against your creche-mates. It was a beautiful, ironic moment in the original movie because we thought Darwin said we evolved from the apes. We were sure of that. The evolutionists had been telling us all along that it wasn’t that simple, but we persisted in our belief. So when the aha moment came and Charlton is damning us, we enter the Twilight Zone where humans devolve to their ancestors. There’s no one war. Or even a series of wars. It’s an evolution. So do we even need this movie with its theme of interspecies warfare?
Consider the rise itself. How did it happen? This is Hollywood at its blandest. You see, there’s this virus. Oh, that old plot device. Sometimes it’s a virus, but often it’s a potion, lethal dose of radiation, hex, prayer, brain transplant, or a smack upside the head with a two by four. Whatever; it’s a deus ex machina that enters at the end of the writing process when the writer has exhausted his bag of tricks and still has no idea how to make the plot happen. This virus solves a multitude of loose threads. It provides a premise and establishes setting, motivation, and conflict, all within the first ten minutes of play time. Read your modern scriptwriters’ how to books. The virus is in there.
This is a most singular virus, even for a Hollywood virus. It gives Caesar human intelligence. But endowing Caesar with a hellacious IQ, is not the end of this virus’ talents. Under its influence, Caesar grows to human height. Eventually the virus gives Caesar a human-like larynx so he can talk the talk as well as walk the walk. The virus doesn’t stop there, though. Soon Caesar is riding a horse in a full gallop amidst a hail of bullets and parked cars. This is the first time Caesar has ever mounted a horse. Even people with pelvis bones seemingly designed to hug a saddle can’t do that. And is Caesar kinesthetically challenged? Not for a minute. He does not need experience to develop balance. He has the virus.
One of the coolest things about the virus is that it has read Suzuki’s ART OF WAR. In his first pitchfork armed conflict, Caesar knew exactly how to outflank the enemy so efficiently Napoleon was weeping in his grave. And Caesar was a master at orienteering. He needed no map or GPS to find the direct route from the urban mess of San Francisco out to the redwood forest. Caesar knew to cross the bridge. The virus gave him that information.
In short, Hollywood took one of the most elegant ideas it came up with last century and gave it the old buzz saw treatment. In fact this movie has more in common with the Texas Chain Saw Massacre than it does with the original movie: there’s blood, gore, chases, good and evil, and a cute girl with three or four lines. Oh yeah, I forgot, the original had that too. So there is a connection after all.
Implausible? Which part? Monkeys climbing 100% vertical surfaces without so much as a nap let alone a hand hold? I’ll buy that. These are fast monkeys with incredible momentum. They’ll make it to four or five stories before gravity even notices what they’re up to.
How about a gorilla cooped up in a five by eight cage and taunted relentlessly by its lesser cousins roaming around freely? When this gorilla is released by one of those lesser monkeys, it is so grateful it doesn’t rip the chimp apart but instead swears fealty for life. I’ll buy that too. Gorillas are known for their Buddhist tendencies.
But one thing I won’t stand for is when Caesar finally becomes king of the hill, leader of the pack, big dog on the porch, instead of seeking out a nice piece of head matriarch punani, what does he do? He leads his people up out of Egypt to the land of milk and honey (or spruce tree borers in this case). C’mon guys no virus has that kind of vision.
I don’t think, anyway.
So much for the evil Hollywood. What about the good Hollywood? Moneyball.
How is it I like this movie? I don’t care for sports and haven’t watched a baseball game since Pascual Perez got fired for cocaine use. And sports movies? They’re either tearjerkers or feel good movies of the year, IMHO. That sentimental stuff rarely offers anything for the intellect. It’s just pure emotion. Especially if they’re based on a true story which this movie is.
Moneyball does not have a happy ending, or a tragic ending. Ah, it’s an art movie. No. It has a conflict, much like the ape movie. And like the ape movie the conflict revolves around intelligence. Human intelligence in this case. Versus computer. Now we’re talking. Now we have something that will stick to our ribs long after the corn has passed through the gut.
Here’s the setup: No one in baseball can compete with New York because the Yanks have a pile of money and so they buy the best players. Year after year they end up in the playoffs and then the series. Often they win. Yawn.
That’s story with the Yanks. Over on the West Coast, Oakland in the 90s did alright, but mostly they just treaded water, never making it the final show. 2001 was a dismal season, but in 2002 general manager Billy Beane tried a new strategy. Instead of relying on his ace strategists with hundreds of years of combined experience to figure out who to recruit for his team, he used statistical analysis. Often the computer came up with players that were overlooked, almost ready for retirement, and most importantly underpaid. Because the A’s didn’t have the budget of the Yankees, these were the people that could give them a decent ball club and perhaps enhance their chances at the world series.
But as I said, this movie does not have a happy ending. Oakland still has not made it to the series. But Billy Beane gave the fans a phenomenal 2002 year when they broke the American League’s record of number of wins in a row. It’s the high point of the movie. The A’s are ahead 11 to nothing in #20, the record breaking game. Their opponents, the unremarkable Kansas City Royals, come back to tie 11-11. How can any team overcome such a psychological set back? I’ll tell you how: Scott Hatteberg, who nobody besides Beane, including the coach, liked or had faith in, hits a home run and the A’s make American League history.
This movie has an important concept: human intelligence is no longer enough to put a ball club together. The computer does a better job.
I hate that kind of theory, that usurpation of what makes humans great. In my world view, intuition, gut feeling, hard won knowledge based on years of experience, wins the day. I find it annoying when the suits are right. I hate that they can sit in front of a box and manipulate the world the way they do. The theme of this movie goes against my principles.
On the other hand, do the stars of baseball deserve all that money and status? The truth is, if the fans come out because of the stars, then yes, they do. No amount of cold statistics will bring the fans out unless you’ve got Pascual Perez pitching a fit on the mound. It’s entertainment after all. But the proletariat player, the one on a modest salary that plods along, gets on base, stays on base, makes it home only because Babe Ruth behind him hits a home run, these are the bread and butter of the baseball club. Without them there’d be no runs. You have to have someone hitting the ball just enough to get on base. You need people in the out field, too. A game is not won by pitcher, catcher and short stop, or those that have great home run averages alone. A home run is only 1. You need the bases loaded and the bases get loaded by plodders and people that are a little over weight, getting kind of old, and not particularly handsome.
I love that the proletariat of America’s favorite past time, the plodders get their due. Because I’m one of those plodders. I do my work without starshine and then go home. Even so don’t I deserve a little recognition once in a while? Oh not at a fancy award ceremony or a roast hosted by a local dignitary. Just a little notoriety so I can get traded up to a better paying gig. I may not write runaway best sellers but I turn in my pages every day. I can churn out a short story with the best of them. I’m a valuable asset even if nobody knows my name. IMHO.
So is digitization of the world the only route to a true meritocracy? Maybe.
Go rent Moneyball. Watch Brad Pitt. You want to see James Franco, skip the ape vehicle. You’re better of with 127 Hours. It’s a veritable one man show and Franco gives good monologue.
Thanks for reading!