Posts Tagged ‘Andy Serkis’

Strengthening the Universe

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Director: Rian Johnson

Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyongo’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Gwendoline Christie, Benicio del Toro, Laura Dern, Justin Theroux, Anthony Daniels, Kelly Maria Tran

Looper director Rian Johnson draws significant parallels between Star Wars: The Last Jedi and The Empire Strikes Back even including such iconic characters as Yoda and featuring a substantial role for Luke Skywalker played again by Mark Hamill.

At two hours and 32 minutes Star Wars: The Last Jedi could have been cut by half an hour. Which is my only criticism. After all The Empire Strikes Back made in 1980 was just over two hours long.

While the second half of Star Wars: The Last Jedi is absolutely thrilling particularly the final battle sequence on a white salted mining planet complete with red earth reminiscent of the battle between the Empire and the rebels on the ice planet Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back.

The first half drags a little, particularly the Jedi scenes between the reclusive Luke Skywalker and Rey wonderfully played by Daisy Ridley, who is battling to grasp the extent of the force.

John Boyega reprises his role of Finn with the help of a feisty newcomer Rose wonderfully played by Kelly Maria Tran which should appeal  to a diverse audience which is exactly Disney’s cleverest marketing ploy since buying the rights to George Lucas’s Star Wars franchise and effectively reinventing the Galaxy and strengthening this cinematic universe.

Notable cameo’s include a superb performance by Oscar winner Benicio del Toro (Traffic) as DJ who certainly injects some life into the extremely long narrative especially when Finn and Grace meet him when they go in search of the elusive Master code breaker, a briefly glimpsed Justin Theroux, safely ensconced on a decadent casino resort planet, a vibrant episode in the film.

Another notable scene stealer is Oscar nominee Laura Dern (Rambling Rose) as Vice Admiral Holdo who frequently clashes with the bravado of flyboy Rebel poster pilot Poe Dameron wonderfully played again by Oscar Isaac.

The most poignant scenes are played by the late Carrie Fisher reprising her role for the last time as the iconic Princess Leia just wiser and with a more sensible hairstyle, guiding the resistance like a faded debutante. Look out for a nostalgic reunion scene between Skywalker and Princess Leia.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi delivers remarkably on the action front and director Rian Johnson should be particularly commended for also writing the screenplay, no easy feat considering the weight of the franchise and the expectations of the fans.

Yet despite the length, Johnson rises to the challenge and delivers an absorbing sci-fi epic which will satisfy the legions of Star Wars fans globally, judging by the record breaking opening weekend internationally of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is highly recommended viewing best to be experienced in true cinematic splendour with surround sound and some like minded companions. The film gets a rating of 7.5 out of 10.

 

The Survival of the Species

War for the Planet of the Apes

Director: Matt Reeves

Cast: Woody Harrelson, Andy Serkis, Toby Kebbell, Judy Greer, Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller, Max Lloyd-Jones

Original score composer Michael Giacchino won an Oscar for Best Original Score for the animated film Up in 2010. Giacchino has also composed film music for Ratatouille, Inside Out and Jurassic World among many others. His most recent musical composition is for the Matt Reeves directed War for the Planet of the Apes in which he surely deserves another Oscar nomination.

In this case, brilliant music makes the film. War for the Planet of the Apes on a technical level is a superb film with superior production design by James Chinlund while the sound editing is perfect especially noticeable in the film’s final battle sequence which by all counts is absolutely remarkable.

As a story of survival of one species over another and an allegorical tale about the horrors of colonialism, War for the Planet of the Apes, with an engaging screenplay by Mark Bomback, is a fascinating film examining ethnographically man’s relationship with animals within the context of climate change or scientific experimentation.

At the centre of the narrative about a vicious conflict between men and apes is a towering performance by Oscar nominee Woody Harrelson (No Country for Old Men, The People vs. Larry Flynt, The Messenger) as The Colonel In which he draws direct inspiration from Marlon Brando’s performance of Colonel Kurtz in Francis Ford Coppola’s ground breaking Apocalypse Now.

Andy Serkis in motion capture technology plays Caesar an ape desperately trying to save his clan from being eliminated by the merciless attack of The Colonel’s army.

In a fascinating plot twist, the apes discover a mute young girl, played by Amiah Miller who galvanizes their support to fight on and also provides empathy for a conflict which is far more complex than it appears, brought on by a simian virus which has attacked Earth.

In the final chapter of the Apes Trilogy, War for the Planet of the Apes is technically brilliant, engaging and utterly watchable and director Matt Reeves has proved his worth in a film which is as good as Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, which also provided the final chapter in a compact trilogy.

Toby Kebbell (Warcraft, Prince of Persia) appears briefly as Koba and Steve Zahn (Dallas Buyers Club) appears as Bad Ape all done in superb motion capture technology but what really elevates War for the Planet of the Apes was the excellent musical score provided by Michael Giacchino for which he should be recognized at the 2018 Oscars.

War for the Planet of the Apes gets a film rating of 8.5 out of 10 and is highly recommended for audiences that enjoyed the first two chapters of the Apes films. Technically this film is extraordinary.

 

Reconciling the Myth

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyongo’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Max von Sydow, Andy Serkis, Gwendoline Christie, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels

Thematically set 30 years after The Return of the Jedi, director J. J. Abrams reconciles the myth of the original and iconic Star Wars Trilogy when he takes over as conceptualizer of the new Star Wars trilogy, given a touch task of remaining faithful to the original trilogy while introducing millennials to the original Star Wars iconography.

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In a genius casting move, Star Wars: The Force Awakens brings all the original cast members back from the first trilogy including Harrison Ford as Han Solo, the rarely seen Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia and the illusive Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker along with all the lovable companion characters including Chewbacca, and of course the droids C3PO and R2D2, which made up the original Star Wars. Even the Millennium Falcon is revived, which is enough to satisfy the original fans. Believe me, there are a lot of fans out there!

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The new cast includes Daisy Ridley as Rey, John Boyega as Finn, a former Stormtrooper turned Rebel. The Empire so prominent in the original series has been replaced by a more sinister totalitarian regime called The First Order which includes the evil General Hux, played by Domnhall Gleeson (Brooklyn) and the conflicted Kylo Ren brilliantly played by Adam Driver. Oscar Isaac (Drive) stars as Poe Dameron an expert Rebel X-Wing fighter pilot who has hidden a hologram into his droid BB8 about the whereabouts of the mythical Luke Skywalker, the last remaining Jedi Knight.

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As the continuous action moves from outer space to distant planets, the first of which Jukka resembles Tattoine, the desert planet in the original Star Wars, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is visually captivating, with a vast and imaginative array of droids, monsters, bounty hunters and sinister forces all beautifully orchestrated to give what audiences came to see: An adventure story set in a Galaxy Far Far Away to the memorable music by John Williams.

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Oscar winner Lupita Nyongo’o (12 years a Slave) plays Maz Kanata an E.T. like creature sympathetic to the Rebel cause. The chemistry between the diverse cast is amazing and adds to the magic of The Force Awakens, most notably the newcomers Daisy Ridley as a scavenger Rey, whose own propensities for becoming a Jedi open all sorts of questions and British actor John Boyega as Finn who immediately establishes a rapport with the infamous Han Solo as well as Poe Dameron whom he rescues from a gigantic looking Death Star.

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The production design and visual effects of Star Wars: The Force Awakens are spectacular and Oscar worthy. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is definitely for the fans of the original trilogy, the films directed by George Lucas which captured the imagination of a generation of boys and girls back in the late seventies and early eighties.

star_warsIf it’s any indication, I remember seeing The Empire Strikes Back while on holiday in Atlanta, Georgia in America back in 1980 when it first premiered and The Return of the Jedi in 1983 in the old Embassy cinemas in central Durban.

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Judging by the packed cinema and the international media hype surrounding Star Wars: The Force Awakens will do exceptionally well at the Box Office and this new version is recommended to fans of pure science fiction and to all those who grew up on the original series. It’s comforting to know that American director J.J. Abrams who reignited the Star Trek franchise, now in partnership with Lucas Films and parent company Disney, plans on making two more Star Wars films to complete this new re-energized trilogy and introduce Millennials to a whole new universe of Star Wars characters.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens is highly recommended viewing, brilliantly orchestrated by reconciling and paying tribute to the original mythical trilogy while seamlessly blending in an entire new batch of characters. May the Force be with us at least until 2019.

Comic Book Pastiche

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

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Director: Joss Whedon

Cast: Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Robert Downey Jr, Don Cheadle, Paul Bettany, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Scarlett, Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, James Spader, Cobie Smulders, Hayley Atwell, Stellan Skarsgard, Thomas Kretschmann, Julie Delpy, Andy Serkis, Anthony Mackie.

The Avengers are back in director and writer Joss Whedon’s much anticipated sequel The Avengers: Age of Ultron featuring all the Marvel superheroes and some new ones in a CGI laden special effects extravaganza, which is at times confusing and other times absolutely fascinating. At a running time of two hours and twenty minutes, director Whedon has sufficient screen time to flesh out all the characters individually as well as give nuance to some of their more complicated relationships.

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Like the relationship between The Hulk, aka Bruce Banner wonderfully played by Oscar nominee Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher) and the Black Widow played by Scarlett Johansson who seems to be the only avenger that can calm the Hulk’s penchant for destructive anger.

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The relationship between goodie two shoes Steve Rogers aka Captain America, played by Chris Evans and Nordic God Thor played by the hunky Chris Hemsworth is also subtly explored considering that the former is a World War two hero and the latter from another dimension.

Robert Downey Jr reprises his role as egotistical Billionaire Tony Stark, aka Iron Man and his irrepressible desire to mould any technological discovery, in this case the power artificial intelligence to his own advantage.

The Age of Ultron refers to the ubiquitous Altron a powerful A.I. force which is hell bent on human destruction and vain enough to realize that he can survive the aftermath, beautifully voiced with an underlying menace by James Spader (Bad Influence, more recently in the hit TV show The Black List).

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The sexy Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton aka Hawkeye ‘s character is fleshed out as a devoting family man which is entirely incongruous with his status as a member of the Avengers, but hey who cares?

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Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson play evil orphaned Eastern European twins Pietro and Maximoff who soon turn on Ultron when they realize his megalomaniac tendencies. Even Lord of the Rings’ Andy Serkis makes an appearance as a South African mercenary Ulysses Klaue and the Johannesburg downtown sequence is truly phenomenal to watch as is the action scene in Seoul, South Korea.

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If audiences get confused with who all the avengers are, there are ample filmic references to each of their own background stories from Thor: The Dark World, including a brief appearance by Idris Elba and also Captain America’s Agent Carter, played by Hayley Atwell. Marvel is indeed expanding their universe exponentially and if The Avengers: Age of Ultron’s audience figures are anything to go by, this will prove to be another superhero box office smash hit.

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The Avengers: Age of Ultron is fun entertainment and definitely aimed at Iron Man, Thor and Captain America cinema fans especially all the witty references and innuendo’s involving lifting Thor’s hammer which are neatly laced into a script which may seem convoluted but then again when it comes to Artificial Intelligence its more an infinite mess which at some point needs to be reined in.

Audiences should look out for brief cameos by Anthony Mackie, Stellan Skarsgard, Julie Delpy, Don Cheadle and Thomas Kretschmann. If The Avengers: Age of Ultron appears to be a pastiche of all the previous Marvel films, then director Joss Whedon has certainly achieved the impossible, not to mention making a narrative out of the dangers of artificial intelligence plausible and entertaining.

It’s best for audiences to suspend their disbelief and enjoy The Avengers: The Age of Ultron for what it is: a comic book orgy with a giant budget and loud, awe-inspiring special effects which will be sure to nurture any young adult’s imagination for awhile.

 

 

 

Caesar’s Reign

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

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Director: Matt Reeves

Cast: Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Gary Oldman, Kodi Smit-Macphee, Andy Serkis, Toby Kebbell, Judy Greer

In a post-apocalyptic San Francisco where much of the human population has been decimated by a simian virus, the apes rule north of the Golden Gate Bridge, which would be modern day Sausalito. These apes are wily, intelligent and they are packing, ready to defend their reclaimed territory.

In Cloverfield director Matt Reeves’s impressive and handsome sequel to the 2011 film Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes shows a different world where the remnants of humanity are threatened by gangs of warring apes. These apes are ruled by Caesar a compassionate commander who has a soft spot for humanity as he was the original ape in the first film.

Into their simian territory ventures a group of humans eager to restore power to a hydroelectric plant in Sausalito lead by Malcolm, a brave and compassionate man, played by Zero Dark Thirty’s Jason Clarke. Accompanying Malcolm is his wife Ellie played by Keri Russell (from the short lived TV Series The Americans) and his son Alexander played by Kodi Smit-MacPhee.

Malcolm and his family have to answer to the leader of the human enclave Dreyfus played by Gary Oldman last seen in Robocop who is more inclined to destroy the nearby ape population than befriend them.

The encounter between apes and humans starts off fairly smoothly but soon tyranny and violence takes over as an insurgency against Caesar lead by a rather mean monkey Koba (played by Toby Kebbell) threatens to destroy both the apes and humans. Caesar’s reign is naturally disrupted and warfare ensues.

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Dawn of the Planet of The Apes is superbly done with outstanding visual effects and a brilliantly executed plot line featuring likable characters giving both the humans and apes equal attention and justifiable screen time. As with both humans and apes, there is lurking the potential for conflict which naturally exists in any seemingly homogenous community. If viewers don’t like seeing Apes on horseback wielding automatic weapons then they best miss this film.

More significantly in anthropological terms this film represents in real and fictitious terms the relationship between two species or them and us and how each group perceives the other. Points to director Matt Reeves who really makes this sequel credible, exciting and intuitive. Recommended viewing for those that enjoyed Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

 

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