Tag Archives: andy serkis

Movie Review Catch-Up

This whole having a job thing is rubbish sometimes, especially when it gets in the way of my blogging (only joking boss, in case you’re reading this). Why can’t someone just pay me to write about films? Anyway here are a few of the films I’ve been watching recently…

Boyhood

Boyhood

Richard Linklater’s epic story of a family growing up and evolving over the space of 12 years is about as high concept as you can get. Fortunately the concept works for the most part and the result is unlike anything you’ll have seen before.

Having the same actors play the same roles over the course of such a long period of time could easily have ended up being a gimmick, but Linklater handles it superbly and adds the perfect amount of depth to pretty much every main character so that we’re genuinely interested in how their particular story plays out. We’re happy when they’re happy, sad when they’re sad and eager to see them succeed in life. This is because Linklater has created what feels like a genuine snapshot of real family life: it’s not always happy, it’s rarely glamorous and you won’t find too many big set pieces, but pretty much everyone will relate in some way to one of the characters.

It’s not perfect, however. The concept that it’s filmed over 12 years is shoved down our throat a little too often with shots of the latest technology or what new music they’re listening to. We can tell they’re getting older; we don’t need constantly reminding. There’s also the argument that Linklater’s script becomes a little too pretentious at times (something which could also be said of his Before… films), particularly in the latter stages as our central character Mason (Ellar Coltrane) grows up to be a little on the self-righteous side.

Those are very minor flaws, however, and Boyhood is without a doubt one of the best films of the year so far. It’s a once in a lifetime concept and one that deserves to be seen and cherished.

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

In an age of remakes and reboots, many fail to hit the mark by a long way, but 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes managed to capture both a new audience and fans of the original films. Despite the fact that the titles of the two films should have been the other way around, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes manages to take what was so good about the first film and ups the stakes in terms of action and character.

As with Rise…, the apes are by far the most interesting characters in the film, with their human counterparts feeling lightweight by comparison. The power struggle between Caesar and his aggressive second-in-command Koba is fascinating and, again, far more absorbing than the mirrored altercations within the human camp, although there are some decent performances from Gary Oldman and Jason Clarke.

What takes DotPotA (yes it’s a ridiculous acronym) to the next level, however, is the unbelievable CGI and motion capture by Andy Serkis as Caesar. It’s literally almost impossible to tell what’s real and what is computer generated and there’s never a moment where you think the apes are anything but 100% real. The personality that they have puts many real-life actors to shame; they exhibit a full range of emotions and some of the nuances in the CGI and mo-cap are astonishing.

The majority of recent blockbusters have really upped their game and this is another example. It still has all the big set pieces you’d expect but it supplements them with a genuinely absorbing story. It’s not afraid to do something a little different (having a lot of the film in subtitles) and actually provide something for audiences to think about.

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

The Inbetweeners 2

The Inbetweeners 2

It’s quite staggering to believe that The Inbetweeners Movie is the most successful British comedy film of all time, and with that in mind a sequel was inevitable. It’s milking it, sure, but fortunately there’s more than enough here to warrant a second trip out with the hapless foursome.

The Inbetweeners is a pretty divisive TV show; it’s probably what you’d class as ‘British’ humour but it also most definitely appeals to the slightly younger audience as it’s the relatability (pretty sure I just made that word up) of the characters and the situation that resonates with so many.

As with the first film, there’s little to no story to speak of. Rather than on holiday in Crete, they’re essentially just on holiday in Australia, and a series of amusing set pieces ensue. But you don’t really watch The Inbetweeners for the story. You watch it for those set pieces, whether it’s Will trying his hand at camp fire karaoke or Neil’s IBS playing up on a water slide, and also for the interactions between the friends, most of which is lewd and fairly offensive. It’s not high brow in any shape or form but fans of the show shouldn’t be too disappointed.

It’s a little more erratic than the first film; the highs are arguably higher but the lows are definitely lower and the jokes don’t always land as they were clearly intended. The characters are also starting to become parodies of themselves, heightening their personality traits to sometimes obnoxious proportions.

However, like I said before, fans of the show will find plenty to like here and that is the film’s target audience, so it would have to go down as a success.

3 and a half pigeons3.5/5 pigeons

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Film Review – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit

Ah it’s good to be back. During the first 20 minutes of The Hobbit when Bilbo is, without choice, inviting a number of dwarves into his home, it’s as if Peter Jackson is doing the very same to us. We’ve been away awhile but we’re back and Jackson is inviting into the place he clearly feels most comfortable. He wants us to kick back, put our regular-sized feet up and return to Middle-Earth and, for the most part, he does a stellar job in making us feel like we’ve never been away.

As we all already know, The Hobbit is set before the events of Lord of the Rings. The film starts of with a prologue of sorts, providing some exposition that will become the basis of the film, much like there was in Fellowship of the Ring. The Dwarves’ homeland, Erebor, has been taken over by Smaug the Dragon. However, a band of dwarves, led by Thorin (Richard Armitage) are determined to take it back. They team up with Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) who tells them that they should enlist hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) as a ‘burglar’ to help them. Despite himself, Bilbo agrees and they go on their way.

Sometimes when you return years later to somewhere you have fond memories of, things might not be quite how you remember and you’re left feeling a little disillusioned. Not so with Middle-Earth. Within moments, you’re right back in the comfortable world of The Shire and Bag End, as if it’s nary been nine months, let alone nine years, since we last visited. The fields are lush and green, there’s whimsy in the air and the pitter patter of huge Hobbit feet in and around Bag End. And the first faces we’re greeted with are one we’re very familiar with, that of Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Bilbo (Ian Holm) exactly as we remember them in LOTR. This familiarity continues throughout as we meet other characters we’re already acquainted with, including Saruman (Sir Christopher Lee), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), and, of course, Gandalf.

Bilbo and a few of many dwarvesHowever, it doesn’t take long (mere minutes, in fact) to establish that this story is to be told in a very different way. There are many similarities at this stage between The Hobbit and LOTR - a Hobbit joins a group who trek a long distance to achieve a seemingly unachievable goal – but this is handled with much more humour and lightheartedness than Frodo’s adventure. This is unsurprising considering Tolkien wrote The Hobbit primarily as a children’s book whereas LOTR was much more adult orientated. The dwarves add a layer of humour that wasn’t there in LOTR which does detract a little from the epicness of the story, although, again, this isn’t LOTR, it’s a different story altogether that happens to be set in the same world.

Unfortunately, it is when the film meets the few direct crossovers with LOTR that it really hits the high notes, specifically the Riddles in the Dark sequence. This is perhaps the most famous section of the book, where Bilbo meets Gollum and engages him in a game of riddles. It also absolutely fundamental to the entire LOTR story, giving it much more significance than most of the rest of the film, as we already know the consequences of the outcome. Andy Serkis is superb as ever as Gollum, his sinewy movements and raspy voice both creepy and mesmerising, adding a much needed darker layer to the story.

Whilst Andy Serkis’ Gollum was always a money in the bank moment, the other standout performance is Martin Freeman as Bilbo. Within but a few minutes of meeting our diminutive protagonist, it’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role. Freeman displays the perfect combination of fussiness, humour and humility to perfectly embody Bilbo and make him a more interesting, identifiable and likeable character than Frodo ever was. Jackson’s casting has been consistently spot-on and it’s easy to see why he was so adament that Freeman was right for the part.

What has it got in its pocketses?Aside from the usual Middle-Earth stalwarts, many of the new characters are rather forgettable, specifically the dwarves. Simon Armitage does a decent enough job as Thorin Oakenshield, an Aragorn/Boromir hybrid, but many of the other dwarves simply don’t have enough about them. Of course, with so many of them (13 in total) it was always going to be difficult to give them each enough screen time and Jackson’s hands were somewhat tied by the book, but many of them are relegated to background characters and are really rather pointless.

One criticism many have had of The Hobbit is that it’s too long and there is some weight to that argument. There are a good few sections that feel lengthy and unnecessary, particularly during the first act when the story takes a little too long to get going. However, once it does find its feet, it rattles along at a fair old rate and is very well paced with several standout moments. Having said that, the action does feel a little samey after a while; each orc battle seems to blend into the next and having Gandalf turn up and save the day for the nth time feels a little too easy. It’s actually rather impressive that Jackson is spreading The Hobbit out over three films, although this means that he is incorporating sections that aren’t actually in the book. Gandalf’s wizard brethren Radagast, for example, actually only appears in LOTR rather than The Hobbit yet has a reasonably significant role. It’s not going to matter to most but may irk purists.

As part of a trilogy, The Hobbit doesn’t quite work as well as a standalone film as Fellowship did, but it’s still an immensely enjoyable experience. It genuinely feels like a worthy accompaniment to Frodo’s story; a separate story entirely whilst having its feet firmly in the same universe. Any misgivings this film may bring should be reviewed once the second and third films have been released, but this is a solid start that bodes well for the rest of the trilogy.

About the 48fps HFR

Jackson’s argument in favour of the new 48fps high frame rate is that it builds a much more immersive experience, but, to start with at least, it’s little more than distracting. At times, everything seems to be almost double speed with Bilbo scuttling around like a pint-sized Benny Hill. It also makes much of it look like a TV movie, which does detract from the overall experience a little. However, you do get used to it as the film goes on and it significantly improves the picture quality of the 3D. It makes everything look crystal clear which really increases the breathtaking scale of the amazing New Zealand vistas, although it does actually cheapen the CGI, making it evident that a lot of green screen action is going on. It’s an interesting experiment from Jackson but the old adage of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ springs to mind.

Chris

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