La La Land (2016)

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Monkey status: There are no monkeys featured in this film

2016 was a year of looking backward. Make something or other great again was the rallying cry of an awoken mass, clinging to rose-coloured visions of a past that they probably weren’t around for.

It seems like Damien Chazelle, the director of La La Land, was doing much the same thing. His film is a journey back through the decades to a time before the postmodern and the cool and the great second wave of deconstruction in 2002. Damien Chazelle watched Casablanca instead of Saturday morning cartoons, and then he made

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No paparazzi for this overlooked celeb

this film.

And it must have hit a nerve because it was huge. It was nearly the winner of the Oscar for the Best Picture – it was probably the closest any film has ever gotten to that spot without ever getting it, in a the most awkward way possible. I’m talking of course about when the crew behind the film got up on stage only to be informed that the wrong name had been read out.

So everyone was along for the ride down memory lane and casting Hollywood in this lovely nostalgic violet hue. For the most part, Chazelle and his lead actors Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone catch the past zeitgeist of the Hollywood hopeful and the story of actors and entertainers trying to fight their way onto the silver screen.

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The progression of the overlooked ape figures in Hollywood

But there were no monkeys. Again the story of the furrier end of the casting room queue have been left out of Hollywood’s history. We get all kinds of tributes to old past and dusty things like Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall and James Dean – but where is the fellow who played the original King Kong? Where is Bonzo? Where is the famed statue of Mighty Joe Young outside the La Brea Tar Pits?

Characters sing and dance down Sunset Boulevard, over the hands and feet of Charlie Chaplin and Shirley Temple. But where are the attempting opposable little hands of Crystal the Capuchin? She is the top of the monkey A-list but she hasn’t even had a little square outside of Mann’s Chinese Theatre set aside for her.

As you can tell the whole thing drives me bananas. Chazelle has made a fine film if you like watching people sing and dance and like watching strange beige coloured hairless primates balance precariously on two legs and wear clothing and eat foods other than those that we can forage from shrubs and trees – I could go on.

When will the day come when Hollywood will honour its monkey heritage. We will be there ready on that day.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Monkey status: There are no monkeys featured in this film

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Spider-Man is back. For the third time in what, four years? We can expect another Spider-Man next year I suppose and this time Peter Parker will be even younger. Then we will go full circle and have Tobey Maguire CGI-d back into his teenage years for another swing at the box office.

Part of the problem of rebooting this franchise so many times is that Spidey’s rogues gallery is starting to wear a bit thin. The villain propping this film up is The Vulture, whose main characteristic in the comics are being really old and being bald. I forget anything else about him – oh, he can also fly. The film gives this jokey character a little bit of weight by enlisting Michael Keaton to play him and updating the story to that of a modern Tony Soprano with access to alien technology.

Mainly it works. Keaton chews up the scenery and Spider-Man is much more like his comic-book counterpart than we have seen before. But this a retread of some tropes that we are all pretty familiar with by now, and this version of The Vulture is basically just a palette swap of Spider-Man’s arch-nemesis, The Green Goblin, down to the whole zooming around on a high-tech flying machine to his weird and slightly shoe-horned paternal relationship with other characters. He’s a dad- but he’s evil- and he can fly- and he hated Spider-Man- and- we’ve seen it before.

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Spider-Man is no stranger to monkey business

Of course, what else were they going to do? Make a movie about Mysterio? Mysterio is lame. He wears a fishbowl on his head and the rules of his powers are super unclear. How does he even make his illusion things? I’m sure plenty of people know but I am not one of them, and I’m not about to lookit up. Oh, maybe I will.

OK, I’m back, I was sucked into that rabbit hole for a while.

The point is, the writers of these super-hero things seem to have a bit of a block when it comes to creating cool villains. We’ve seen it all before.

So I was disappointed when The Vulture swooped into screen. Up to that point in the film I’d been hoping for what could have been its saving grace – a move that would have breathed fresh life into the whole super-hero movie antagonist thing, and given us here at ‘Is there a monkey in it?’ a whole lot more to write about. Maybe it would have got the editor-in-chimp off my back.

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Imagine it

I’d say there’s a monkey on my back, but no, he’s a chimp. Easy mistake to make.

The answer that they totally missed was Hit-Monkey. Hit-Monkey is a Japanese Macaque who took up the mantle of a super-villain and swore revenge after an assassin killed his whole troupe. (Did you know that troupe is the collective noun for monkeys? Makes sense from where I’m sitting). In his adventures, Hit-Monkey came up against Spider-Man and even accidentally shot him at one point.

The Hit-Monkey story is gripping and dramatic, and something that hasn’t been explored in this whole MCU business. Why are we always watching humans and humanoid aliens? We have plenty of non-human primates wandering around the Marvel Universe doing cool stuff as well.

This movie would have been markedly improved if all of The Vulture scenes had been rewritten to feature Hit-Monkey. I’m not sure how the flying scenes would have worked, but I guess that would be the writer’s job to figure out. The monkey could jump around really quickly or something.

Maybe the next Spider-Man outing will finally feature Hit-Monkey. Lord knows what else they are going to do from here: After lizards and rhinos and alien symbiotes, it seems they’ve already covered the rest of the animal kingdom.

So this was almost a film devoid of any reference to non-human primates. There is one scene worth mentioning, however.

At one point Spider-Man climbs the Washington Monument to save some people who are trapped inside or something. This made me wonder, can you actually go inside the Washington Monument in real life? I thought it was just a big concrete pillar. I guess that’s the kind of question that nobody will ever really know the answer to.

Anyway, as Spider-Man reached the top of the obelisk, police helicopters arrive and circle around him. The camera spins around the top of the monument in a blatant reference to perhaps the most famous giant ape of all time.

So it goes to show, that even in a non-monkey film, the legacy of Monkey Hollywood is still there, influencing everything else in pop culture, slowly oozing out until everything is Monkey, you are Monkey, I am Monkey, We are all moving towards eternal and holy Monkey-ness together at the top of the Washington Monument as we look down on the Planet of the Apes rendition of the Lincoln Memorial and across state lines to the distant banana-coloured lights of Monkeyhattan where the coconut trees are always laden and the leopards suck at climbing.

(At this point the tape recorder cut out. On closer inspection some mushy yellow residue seemed to have been jammed in the mechanism -Eds.)dTFFoyW.jpg

Whale Rider (2002)

Monkey status: This film features no monkeys

As its title suggests, the critically-acclaimed New Zealand film Whale Rider is best know for featuring another kind of creature. However, few know how close the film came to being a masterpiece of simian cinema.

Whale Rider was a collaborative project between New Zealand and German enterprises. Filmed in a small hamlet on New Zealand’s east cape, it was directed by Niki Caro and starred 13-year old Keisha Castle Hughes. However, German distribution company Pandora Film insisted from the outset that a whale would not resonate with an international audience, instead attempting to convince the New Zealand production team to substitute the whale for a gorilla.

Chief executive of Pandora Film, Karl Baumgartner, told media at the time “People have always loved those movies about gorillas – the King Kong, the Mighty Joe Young, these movies have captured the public’s imagination. Movies concerning whales and other cetaceans have not fared so well in the box office – Free Willy was voted as the

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“I fuckin’ hate gorillas” – Witi Ihimaera

worst film in Germany I believe.” Prominent Maori author Witi Ihimaera, who penned the novel the movie was based on, staunchly resisted the proposed change.

“Have you seen a fuckin’ monkey in New Zealand? The only monkeys I have seen around here are those fuckin’ monkeys at Pandora Film who think they can tell us what to fuckin’ do,” Ihimaera said.

Production was halted for four months whilst the stoush played out between the camps. Meanwhile, Pandora Film had written and casted an alternative version of the script entitled, Gorilla Rider, to be filmed in Nicaragua. In a statement, Pandora Film said:

“Regrettably, we have not been able to resolve our differences with Niki Caro’s production crew in New Zealand and for this reason we will pursue the making of ‘Gorilla Rider’ in Nicaragua. Pandora Film is aware gorillas are not present in Nicaragua, however this is a favourable filming location due to its nice jungles.”

Not long afterwards, a settlement was reached between the parties (of which details have never been released) and production resumed on the original Whale Rider script. Hughes went on to be the youngest nominee for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her work on the film. A gorilla reportedly was cast as an extra in the film to placate Pandora Film executives, but the Is There A Monkey In It team could not find evidence the gorilla ever made the final cut.

Many thanks to our friends at isthereawhaleinit.com for their help with this article.

Forrest Gump (1994)

Monkey status: There very nearly was a gorilla in this film

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Mama always told me life was like a bunch of bananas

 

We all remember Forrest Gump for having the titular character show up at every historical event that he could make it to between 1955 and 1994. He was an eyewitness the Watergate burglary, he met JFK, he even invented the smiley face. He was sort of the ultimate baby boomer, shaping the fate of the world with his constant presence. Just like Stan Lee.

There were plenty of opportunities for the writers of this script to include a monkey. Alas, this did not seem to be the priority of Zemeckis & co. Perhaps after his earlier turn with an animal co-star in Turner and Hooch, Tom Hanks had wanted to steer clear from similar fare. Maybe it was he who finally put the nail in the coffin of what could have been the ultimate ‘Forrest Gump was there at that important post-war event’ scene.

The novel of the same name included a scene in which Forrest goes into space as a part of a team that includes a gorilla. As I have already mentioned in our Gravity review, there is a hugely untold history of apes in space that Hollywood seems reticent to touch.

A year later Hanks was jetting up out of the atmosphere in Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, and people loved it! They could have got the jump on that film right here, and included an awesome scene of a big old gorilla wearing a space suit, maybe gracefully pirouetting around the shuttle in antigravity. Wouldn’t that be funny? A big lumbering gorilla afforded all the grace and poise of a bird in the air. Plus there could be a banana floating around the shuttle and it swoops across from wall to wall and grabs it with its mouth like a dolphin after a fish.

That’s the movie that I would rather have seen. Instead I was treated to upsetting images like Lt. Dan rolling backwards down icy steps in his wheelchair. That’s humour for sadists. And then there are the shrimp recipes. They were informative but a little bit out of place.

The folks at Monkey-ed Movies showed us back in the 90s what could have been. See below:

Gravity (2013)

Monkey status: There are no monkeys in this film

Critics lauded it as a roller-coaster ride when it appeared in cinemas. George Clooney claimed that the experience making it was “out-of-this-world”.

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A missed opportunity

There were a lot of good words orbiting this film, but looking back begs the questions – does Gravity hold up? And were there any monkeys in the film that we forgot about?

The first question is easier to answer than the first. The answer is yes, as a pure thrill ride and spectacle it still packs a punch. I think it may be even better on rewatch for a few simple reasons. Firstly, when I watched this film I had to see it on one of those ridiculously over-sized IMAX screens. I had to crane my neck up into the sky for the duration of the thing and I was frightened when I saw Sandra Bullock the size of a four-storey building. The guy next to me kept offering me chocolate. I didn’t even know him. Who needs it?

When I saw the film for a second time in order to write this review, I was able to view it much more comfortably on my iPhone screen while sitting in the disabled toilets at work. No more ushers telling me to stop whistling! No more strangers sitting right next to me and asking if they can make a call on my phone. The movie is served by this more comfortable viewing experience and I think it really helped me to overlook some of the film’s flaws.

Chief among these is the answer to the second question. No monkeys appear in this film. No gibbons, no chimps, no gorillas. The only primates that appear at all are Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, the corpse of a cosmonaut, and a Russian guy who has a voice-only cameo on the radio. The Russian fellow was played by Ed Harris I think. His character also had a dog that can be heard barking in the background. Oh and a frog is briefly seen right at the end of the movie but that is even further from a monkey than Ed Harris and so isn’t worth mentioning. (Please deal to that as you see fit, editors-in-chimp).

Thinking back I could have sworn that there was a monkey or an ape of some description in this movie. I had a memory it trying to grapple onto Sandra’s space suit before floating away into the void, ending with a close-up of its face through its oversized bubble helmet, a single tear rolling down a furry cheek. Or maybe that was just a fever dream I had around that time. 2013 was a strange year.

The lack of monkeys is a missed opportunity. There is a precedent for monkeys in space. We all know of Albert the rhesus monkey, the first ever primate astronaut.

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Hollywood choosing to forget those who paved the way…

In 1948, he flew to a height of 63 km in a rocket before lamentably suffocating. Monkeys were up there before any of us! We can’t just humanwash all of this history. I saw it happen with Apollo 13 and now I’ve seen it here. (Oh, Apollo 13 – that’s why they got Ed Harris to play the dog…)

A monkey would have added some heart and humour to a two-actor play that relied a little heavily on a trudging and to be frank mopey performance from Sandra Bullock. Levity from a primate sidekick would have given this space flick at least a pinch of the dynamic.

So that’s another missed opportunity. Until we get an Albert movie, I’m boycotting any space travel. That’ll show them.

 

The Talented Mr Ripley (1999)

Monkey status: No monkeys appear in this film

Based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel of the same name, this film famously features no monkeys. Nor does it draw reference to monkeys nor other simians at any point. Nevertheless, the film was well received

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Orangutan actor Blake Vesuvius was seen entering the Mirage Enterprises Studio earlier this month.

among critics and the public, garnering five Academy Award nominations and $128.8 million at the box office.

Matt Damon, who plays the eponymous Ripley, said of the film “It’s not often that I accept roles in which I don’t have the chance to work with our primate friends, but I still had a blast on set”.

Mirage Enterprises continues to talk down claims that a primate actor has been cast in an upcoming sequel to the film. Many fans frustrated with Damon’s performance have been calling for an orangutan to play Ripley. The studio declined to comment on the claims when contacted.

 

National Treasure (2004)

National Treasure (2004)

Portrait of Nicholas Cage with Japanese Snow Monkey

Monkey status: No monkeys appear in this film

National Treasure is a 2004 action-adventure vehicle for Nicholas Cage that kept me at a very consistent level of confusion for two hours. I thought it was aimed at a younger audience so I expected an easily-swallowable romp with exposition that I could understand without Benjamin Franklin’s Rosetta Stone. However this thing was dense, almost Pynchonesque. The plot was a snake weaving through the labyrinth of Minos. I related completely to the confused mug frozen on Justin Bartha’s face throughout the whole thing.

The one thing that I did pick up reliably from my viewing of this enigma was that there were regrettably no non-human primate co-stars in the film. I believe the presence of our hairier cousins would have added a bit of humanity to the cast, at least compared to Nicholas Cage, whose blurry hairline and garbled delivery of lines like “I’m sorry I almost dropped you, I had to catch the Declaration of Independence” make us all seem unworthy of our opposable thumbs.

I did notice Harvey Keitel in some scenes, however, wearing a fake goatee and eyeliner. Keen-eyed viewers may recognise him from the classic 1994 monkey movie Monkey Trouble where he played Shorty, the owner of a Capuchin jewel thief. If Finster the Capuchin had reprised his role in this film and replaced Sean Bean perhaps Disney would have been able to get a bit more life out of this franchise.