Archive for Andy Serkis

Review: Star Wars The Force Awakens

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 17, 2016 by Tom Austin-Morgan

Star Wars The Force Awakens

The long and eagerly awaited seventh episode of the Star Wars saga picks up around 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, so all the original cast didn’t have to go through any post-production de-aging that made people in The Hobbit look so strange. So that’s one good thing… among many more good things.

JJ Abrams was on a hiding to nothing directing the first Star Wars film since the almost universally panned prequels. Also, Disney needed to make a decent return on the $4billion investment it made buying the franchise from George Lucas.

The idea seems to be: The best way to make a ton of money from this film is to give the fans what they want. What the fans have been clamouring for since it looked like episode seven was on the cards was another film like the original films. And that’s exactly what they’ve got.

The film hits almost every beat from A New Hope; starts with a shot of a Start Destroyer floating across the screen; a droid is given instructions to keep safe; a masked bad guy clad in black; an orphan on a desert planet; an up-himself general; a grand master hologram; a Yoda-style alien figure; a kidnapped central female character; a Death Star/ice planet (I know this is Empire Strikes Back) for the main Jedi to sneak round; there are more, but you get the gist.

Luckily for Abrams, he decided to go mainly with physical settings and stunts, for the most part. So, automatically it looks like it belongs to the same universe as the original films. I don’t even think the amount of references is problematic, though there were slightly too many. The bits that really stood out and don’t work are the fully-CG monsters or characters. For example, the big ball-monsters on Han Solo’s freighter and Grand Master Snoke.

In fact, until it was made obvious that Snoke (Andy Serkis) is a hologram it made me angry that they had some weird giant that looks like a cross between Gollum and the leader of the orcs from The Hobbit. I still can’t get over the look of Snoke and can’t see why he couldn’t have been in prosthetics that were augmented by CG.

The new cast was great, John Boyega’s character, Finn could have had a more interesting arc from stormtrooper to resistance member, but was so charismatic it didn’t really matter. Daisy Ridley’s Rey is a great, strong lead female character, though how she progressed so quickly is a little beyond me compared to those who have gone before her. Adam Driver as Kylo Ren was a strange one, his entrance was brilliant, but over the course of the film he became more annoying and weaker. Also, he probably should have kept his helmet on.

The best of the new cast, by far, apart from BB-8, was Poe Dameron, played by Oscar Issacs who is on a really strong role at the moment. He was massively underutilised, but it leaves you wanting to know more about him. He almost seems too good.

Some of the original cast were back, can’t say much about Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher has been through some really tough times since the 70s and I’m afraid it shows. It was a bit sad. R2-D2 and C3PO are back, but not quite as you might remember them, though C3PO has one of the funniest moments in the movie. Chewbacca gets a much bigger role in this film, but the greatest turn comes from Harrison Ford as Han Solo, he looks like he was having such a great time, though that’s probably because he knows there’s an end to his contract any he can go and be Indiana Jones again, history repeats itself!

I wasn’t at all bowled over by this film because, for each throwback to the original films it took away the option to create something new, but I think the balance was just about right. It was just a bit of a shame that the plot was so predictable as it stuck so rigidly to the skeleton of A New Hope. Compared to the prequels it’s a breath of fresh air and is exactly what it needs to be and the further away I get from the film the more forgiving I am of it.

I’ve avoided major spoilers until this last section, it’s very hard to know exactly what’s a spoiler and what’s not, which is why I’ve left it this late to post. But I may drop a spoiler in here now, because I need to call out the biggest gripe I have with the film: The treatment of Han Solo in this film.

At the end of Return of the Jedi he has gone through a change from being a rogue who is just out for himself to a caring person who has found a niche and people who care about him and vice versa. Between the sixth and seventh movies he and Leia have had a child (at least one) who has been trained in the Jedi arts by Luke, but turns against him. So, he’s lost his child, lost Leia and has gone back to smuggling, which he still sucks at. So much so that he loses the Millennium Falcon.

Meeting Rey and Finn at the beginning of the film reunites him with all these elements, apart from his son, things are starting to look up, but no. He is then killed by his emo son and thrown into an abyss. The abyss is then blown up, leaving absolutely no doubt that’s he coming back or could be saved. The upcoming Han Solo origin story will be tinged with sadness too as we all know his eventual fate.

 In fact, that there’s even still a dark side and empire that is so powerful casts a pall over the achievements of the first three films. It renders all the rebel victories completely pointless as it’s all just repeating itself, seemingly straight away.  Even the droid are sad! R2-D2 is so depressed that Luke ran away without it that it shut itself down and now lives under a duty tarp, leaving C3PO’s second line in the whole film – and one of its few – to be “I do miss him so.” This is not what I wanted from this film, it was supposed to be a bit more of a celebration.

It’s not a bad film, and I did enjoy it, I just think that the back story that we didn’t get to see is so sad. In a way, I’m glad we didn’t get to see it. The fans would have would have torn Disney’s castle down.

There’s way more to this, and the best thing you can do is to go listen to my podcast to get the full story.


Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 4, 2015 by Tom Austin-Morgan

Age of Ultron

Earth’s Mightiest Heroes return to battle a foe of their own making in the latest Marvel behemoth to hit the big screen.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is a whirlwind of action from start to finish with a massive cast of characters from virtually all the previous films. So much so, that the story is propelled forwards at break-neck speed to cover the developments in everyone’s lives while also introducing new characters as well as set up the plot.

Sounds like a bit of a mess? It is a bit. Unless you’re a comic book aficionado it is becoming more and more difficult to keep up with who everyone is. Especially as there are so many cast members that enough time cannot be afforded to build them up enough to make them 3D.

The most obvious examples of this are ‘the Maximoff twins’, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver (though only known by the names Wanda and Pietro – Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, respectively). They are new characters, but their origins were actually revealed at the end of Captain America: Winter Soldier. Also, James Rhodes/War Machine and Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Don Cheadle and Anthony Mackie), although big characters in the Iron Man films and Winter Soldier, are marginalised to the point where The Falcon isn’t even referred to by name.

Credit where credit’s due, though, director Joss Whedon does a stellar job with the over-stuffed hand he has been dealt by the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He starts the film in the middle of a big action set-piece where we get to see all the Avengers from the first movie doing their thing side-by-side, evoking the big splash pages from the comics.

He then does a balancing act of slowing down to find some human interaction between certain characters, fleshing them out more, namely the scientist bromance between Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) and the burgeoning relationship between Banner and Natalia Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). Also, Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) has a massive expansion of character in Age of Ultron, he’s always been a B-list Avenger but finally gets a chance to shine here.

There are some stunning visual effects in this film, as we’ve come to expect, but the slower moments between the characters are needed, not just for a chance to breathe, but to showcase Whedon’s knack for writing great, naturalistic and witty dialogue. Some of the standout lines include Hawkeye proclaiming that his role in these apocalyptic battles is ludicrous, bearing in mind his weapon is a bow and arrow. His wife (yep, he’s a secret family man) saying “I totally support your avenging” and The Vision (Paul Bettany – who is a welcome return to the screen in physical form) riffing with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) about the balance of Mjolnir (yes, The Vision can weald Thor’s hammer).

James Spader voices the titular villain, Ultron, with real menace but, as with most Marvel villains, is a bit two-dimensional and is easily dealt with in the end. There is a cameo from Andy Serkis as a South African arms dealer, Ulysses Klaue, who will eventually link Black Panther to the Avengers’ roster, as well as the mention of Wakanda. But this is a digression.

It is clear that Whedon knows his stuff when it comes to these films. He knows what the fans want to see and how to write snappy dialogue as well as handle massive effects shots. The problem is, that there are almost too many characters to fit into one movie and after the addition of move characters in the coming years before the next Avengers film, Infinity War in 2018-9, has been split into two parts. However, the end of Age of Ultron introduces the idea that certain characters can be written in and out to solve this problem, something Marvel will, surely, have to think about. Bearing in mind that people coming out of the cinema today couldn’t remember the red bloke’s (The Vision) name or who that purple guy at the end is.

It’s a bit of a mess, but Whedon is the only man who could have made sense of it all, despite the fact it felt like Marvel’s marketing department were insisting on certain shots or the inclusion of certain scenes. If you’ve never seen any of the previous films you won’t have a clue what’s going on. The Marvel films are starting to get further away from stand-alone as they go. But, if you’re a fan of the comics you’ll enjoy it quite a bit. Can too much of a good thing be bad for you?

Tintin posters and trailer revealed

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2011 by Tom Austin-Morgan

It’s been years since the news that Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson declared they were joining forces to make a photo-real, motion captured, CG version of the 1930’s comic books. Finally two teaser posters and the official trailer have been released!

Apparently ‘The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn’ is based on three of the original books by Hergé and, to add to the excitement, the screenplay has been written by Steven Moffat (Dr Who), Edgar Wright & Joe Cornish (Attack The Block), possibly the best production crew line up ever!

Playing the titular boy journalist is Jamie Bell, with support from the constantly drunk Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) and the Thompson Twins, not the 80’s band, the bumbling detectives (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost). The plot involves these characters getting involved in a hunt for sunken treasure on the notorious galleon, The Unicorn. The search for which invokes the legendary pirate Red Rackham (Daniel Craig).

So as well as a stellar production crew, the cast comprises an almost entirely UK cast, most notably Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones as well as the names mentioned previously. Watch the trailer below and tell me what you think.