Andy Serkis

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017, Rian Johnson)

The Last Jedi is a long two and a half hours. It’s an uneven split between Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, and John Boyega. Ridley’s off with Mark Hamill–but really having a FaceTime via the Force arc with Adam River–while Isaac is doing his damndest to get everyone killed because he doesn’t want to listen to women. Boyega starts with Isaac, then has a quest with Kelly Marie Tran. Boyega and Tran have the closest thing to character arcs. Isaac learns his lesson way too late and only because Carrie Fisher is so patient with him.

At the center of the film is not Ridley learning the ways of the Force from Hamill. Director Johnson avoids tackling that relationship, giving Hamill all his character development away from Ridley. It’s a waste of Hamill. There’s some effective homage with him, but nothing particularly sincere. Johnson–who wrote the script–seems to want nothing to do with the character.

As a result, most of Ridley’s time in the film is utterly wasted. Most meaning more than ninety-five percent. Her subplot with Driver doesn’t add up to anything. Especially since it gets resolved somewhere in the first of the film’s third acts. It basically has three of them.

Unlike the previous entry in Disney Star Wars, which repurposed the original Star Wars’s story beats, Last Jedi is a mix of Empire and Return of the Jedi, just reorganized. There’s enough content they could’ve split the movie in two and gotten more dramatic oompf out of it.

The stuff with Boyega and Tran completely lacks any subtlety and still ends up being the most effective of the film’s plot lines. Even though Johnson has a really hard time establishing Boyega at the start of the film, eventually the chemistry between the actors overcomes the rocky opening. Benicio Del Toro is the name cameo in that plot line and he’s fun. He’s painfully obvious, but he’s fun.

Meanwhile Isaac goes from ignoring Fisher’s orders to ignoring Laura Dern’s. The movie shafts Dern, redeeming her in a reveal and then it’s pretty much time for her to go. Fisher’s back. Johnson sidelines Fisher after giving her the film’s best “Force” sequence. There’s some visually interesting Dark Side stuff with Ridley–a throwback to Empire–but it ends up narratively inert like everything else Johnson does with Ridley. For all the film’s talk of heroes and legends, Johnson’s incredibly uncomfortable spending any time with them. You can only deconstruct Star Wars so much. In Last Jedi, Johnson wastes a bunch of time trying to do so.

Besides just being long and meandering because Johnson’s verbose, the film also severely lacks danger. Most of the film has the Rebel fleet running from the Empire–sorry, First Order, but damn do the interiors of the Star Destroyers look amazing just like in the seventies. The Rebels are almost out of fuel and can’t warp so the Empire is just shooting at them. The good guys’ shields can take it but not forever and they can’t actually escape.

If Johnson were able to direct for tension, it could be great. Instead, it’s just a way to winnow down the cast. Pointlessly so. Johnson does all right making the frequent death scenes momentarily tragic, but they don’t have any resonance. Last Jedi doesn’t want to have anything to do with resonating.

None of the acting is bad except Domhnall Gleeson. He and Driver bicker as they try to out-suck-up to their boss, the CGI “big bad” (voiced by Andy Serkis). Gleeson’s wholly incompetent at his job and whiny. Driver’s at least got the Dark Side and broody beats whiny. And Driver acts like Johnson’s giving him an actual character arc. Besides Ridley and Hamill, Johnson fails Driver most.

Great music from John Williams this outing. Excellent, entirely unexciting special effects. The battle scenes are similarly competent but uninspired; despite all his dawdling and dwelling, Johnson’s hasty with his action direction. Steve Yedlin’s photography is crisp but somehow bland. Editor Bob Ducsay and Johnson try to maintain the original trilogy’s wipes but without looking as dated. It’s not successful. The scenes are all a little too long, even if it’s by a few frames. Johnson is anti-brevity.

Making it’s even worse he shafts the entire cast on character arcs. The movie’s two and a half hours long. There ought to be more than enough time for the seven principal characters….

At least The Last Jedi isn’t a vanity project, though maybe it’d be better if it were. It’d mean Johnson had some personality. And he doesn’t.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Rian Johnson; screenplay by Rian Johnson, based on characters created by George Lucas; director of photography, Steve Yedlin; edited by Bob Ducsay; music by John Williams; production designer, Rick Heinrichs; produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Ram Bergman; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Daisy Ridley (Rey), Mark Hamill (Luke), Adam Driver (Kylo), John Boyega (Finn), Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron), Kelly Marie Tran (Rose), Carrie Fisher (Leia), Laura Dern (Holdo), Andy Serkis (Snoke), Domhnall Gleeson (Hux), and Benicio Del Toro (DJ).


Black Panther (2018, Ryan Coogler)

Black Panther moves extraordinarily well. It’s got a number of constraints, which director Coogler and co-screenwriter Joe Robert Cole agilely and creatively surmount. It’s also got Coogler’s lingering eye. The film can never look away from its setting–the Kingdom of Wakanda–for too long. Rachel Morrison’s photography emphasizes it, the editing emphasizes it, Ludwig Göransson’s likably ostentatious score emphasizes it.

The film opens with a stylized flashback prologue, setting up Wakanda. It’s an isolated African nation. A meteor with a magic metal crashed into it before humans and made magic plants. When humans arrive, they eat magic plants, they use magic metal, they become technologically superior. And they isolate themselves.

Then the film introduces lead Chadwick Boseman. Not protagonist Chadwick Boseman, unfortunately, but lead. And immediately he gets overshadowed. First by Danai Gurira as a general. Then by Lupita Nyong’o as Boseman’s ex-girlfriend and a spy. Everyone in the movie–with the exceptions of Martin Freeman and Daniel Kaluuya–gets to overshadow Boseman at one point or another. Coogler and Cole don’t seem to have an angle on the character, who should be on a self-discovery arc but can’t be because it’s a Marvel movie and he’s a superhero.

There are a few other things Black Panther really wants to do and wants to be, but can’t because of that Marvel movie constraint. Coogler and Cole do some amazing things to counter–especially since the movie opens with Boseman just getting down with his adventure in the third Captain America movie. They immediately work to establish the film on its own ground. Gurira and, especially, Nyong’o make it happen.

Then it’s time for more supporting cast introductions. Letitia Wright as Boseman’s techno-genius little sister. Mom is Angela Bassett. Forest Whitaker has a big part. Winston Duke is one of the tribal leaders. And Kaluuya. Kaluuya is Boseman’s friend who never gets to one-up Boseman. Wright’s whole part is one-upping him. Same with Duke.

Martin Freeman doesn’t get to one-up Boseman either. He’s a returning character from the Captain America movie. He’s narratively pointless. But Coogler keeps him busy and has some fun with the character. Andy Serkis is the other connection to the existing Marvel narrative. But he’s great. Coogler and Cole write this obnoxious jackass of a super-powered arms dealer and Serkis makes it work. I don’t remember Serkis–playing the character for the third or fourth time–ever being anywhere near as impressive as here.

Because Coogler makes it happen. He’s able to balance all the things Black Panther needs to do, wants to do, and can’t do.

Villain Michael B. Jordan is separate from that balance. He’s the bad guy, but he’s got a more traditional protagonist arc. If he weren’t a bad guy. Even the heroic aspects of his arc, there’s something bad about. Jordan plays the hell out of the part. It’s a better performance than part. One of the things Black Panther runs out of time on is Jordan’s villain arc. Because the third act’s got to have the action.

Coogler directs the action well. He directs the high speed fight scenes–Boseman’s nanite-infused outfit does something like superspeed–and he keeps it all moving. The fight choreography is awesome, whether it’s Boseman and Jordan or Boseman and Jordan’s CGI doubles or an actual huge battle scene with Gurira commanding troops.

I mean, Freeman’s Star Wars spaceship fighter chase thing is narratively required but not good. Coogler doesn’t do the starfighter chase thing. It’s fine. It’s not just Freeman playing Last Starfighter, thank goodness; they wisely leverage Wright to pace it better.

The final showdown between Boseman and Jordan is pretty good. The movie runs out of time with it too though. The denouement is too short. The second act is too short. Black Panther could easily support another ten or fifteen minutes over its two and a quarter hour runtime.

Great photography from Morrison. Great editing from Debbie Berman and Michael P. Shawver. Likable but not great score from Göransson. Breathtaking production design by Hannah Beachler. It’s a beautiful film.

Nyong’o, Gurira, Wright, Duke, Sterling K. Brown; all great. Whitaker’s pretty good. The part turns out to be a little wonky. Bassett’s good. Kaluuya’s part is undercooked. And then the lunacy of Serkis.

Black Panther is a darn good superhero movie and a beautifully, lovingly, and expertly produced one.

It’d just have been nice if Coogler and Cole had as strong a handle on Boseman’s character as they do on Jordan’s. It’s a Marvel movie, after all. The bad guys never get to overshadow the heroes.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ryan Coogler; screenplay by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, based on the comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Rachel Morrison; edited by Debbie Berman and Michael P. Shawver; music by Ludwig Göransson; production designer, Hannah Beachler; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Chadwick Boseman (T’Challa), Michael B. Jordan (Killmonger), Lupita Nyong’o (Nakia), Danai Gurira (Okoye), Letitia Wright (Shuri), Angela Bassett (Ramonda), Martin Freeman (Everett K. Ross), Forest Whitaker (Zuri), Daniel Kaluuya (W’Kabi), Winston Duke (M’Baku), Sterling K. Brown (N’Jobu), and Andy Serkis (Klaue).


Burke & Hare (2010, John Landis)

I don’t know how Landis could have a more indistinct return to feature directing than Burke & Hare. The film manages to be completely professional in all aspects–though the use of The Proclaimer’s “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” so well identified with Benny & Joon, is questionable. There are occasional Landis touches, but nothing really approaching any personality for the film or its characters.

The script goes to rehabilitate the image of the historic murderers Burke and Hare by making them lovable, funny men, so there’s not much for the film to do. But it doesn’t even do what its conclusion implies. For a ninety minute film, there’s a lot going on–besides the titular characters murdering people to supply cadavers, there’s a competition between two surgeons (a wonderful Tom Wilkinson and a goofy Tim Curry) and then Burke’s romance of a dance hall girl (or whatever they were called in 1820s Scotland).

As Burke, Simon Pegg is a secondary character until the movie’s half over. The first half is spent mostly on Andy Serkis’s Hare. Pegg does well in his scenes with love interest Isla Fisher (who’s occasionally good and always genial) but his scenes with Serkis don’t work. Serkis isn’t a movie star, Pegg is. There’s something off in the chemistry.

Jessica Hynes is good as Serkis’s wife, Michael Smiley’s excellent as Wilkinson’s sidekick… there really aren’t any bad performances.

Landis shoots it Panavision, which seems a little much. The film is still cramped.

It’s inoffensively without any value.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Landis; written by Piers Ashworth and Nick Moorcroft; director of photography, John Mathieson; edited by Mark Everson; music by Joby Talbot; produced by Barnaby Thompson; released by Entertainment Film Distributors.

Starring Simon Pegg (William Burke), Andy Serkis (William Hare), Isla Fisher (Ginny), Tom Wilkinson (Dr. Knox), Jessica Hynes (Lucky Hare), Tim Curry (Dr. Monroe), Michael Smiley (Patterson), Ronnie Corbett (Captain McLintock), David Schofield (Fergus), David Hayman (Danny McTavish), Allan Corduner (Nicephore), Hugh Bonneville (Lord Harrington), Bill Bailey (Hangman), with John Woodvine (Lord Provost), Jenny Agutter (Lucy) and Christopher Lee (Old Joseph).


The Prestige (2006, Christopher Nolan)

Oh, good grief. The Prestige is in IMDb’s top 250 movies? It’s so bad, I’m actually going to say something nice about Christopher Nolan in a second here. I’ve never heard of source novelist Christopher Priest and no one I know has ever mentioned him to me, so I’m guessing he’s pretty godawful, which probably means the atrocious, idiotic plotting of The Prestige isn’t Nolan’s fault. The terrible writing of the scenes, well, that defect is surely Nolan & Co.’s, since it’s a stable of all his cinematic endeavors, but the asinine, illogical plotting… maybe not his fault.

The best performances in the film are from Rebecca Hall (big shock), David Bowie (ok, a little surprising), Andy Serkis (again, surprising) and Hugh Jackman–well, Hugh Jackman with a caveat. With The Prestige being Nolan and Nolan apparently being the twist ending zeitgeist with M. Night Shyamalan falling on hard times, the twist ending makes it impossible for Jackman, in his role as the protagonist, to actually give a good performance (imagine Jack knowing he was Tyler the whole time), but there’s a little bit where Jackman gets to do this humorous impersonation (with a fake nose) of himself and he’s hilarious. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last long.

Christian Bale’s terrible (he’s not supposed to be a psychopath in every movie, is he?), Scarlett Johansson’s atrocious, Michael Caine’s not as bad as I figured. Johansson’s English accent is occasionally hilarious.

Nolan’s composition isn’t bad but the fragmented narrative is, as always, pinheaded.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Christopher Nolan; screenplay by Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan, based on the novel by Christopher Priest; director of photography, Wally Pfister; edited by Lee Smith; music by David Julyan; production designer, Nathan Crowley; produced by Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas and Aaron Ryder; released by Warner Bros. and Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Hugh Jackman (Robert Angier), Christian Bale (Alfred Borden), Michael Caine (Cutter), Scarlett Johansson (Olivia), Piper Perabo (Julia McCullough), Rebecca Hall (Sarah Borden), David Bowie (Tesla) and Andy Serkis (Alley).


King Kong (2005, Peter Jackson)

I’ll be honest–I didn’t make it very far, considering its length, into King Kong. I sat through a lot. I sat through the opening Great Depression montage, which was shockingly bad. The people who assailed Michael Bay for his glitzy Pearl Harbor gave Jackson a free pass for Kong? It’s obscene. I sat through the terrible CG. “Grand Theft Auto IV” looks better. Jackson draws attention to Kong‘s unbelievable backdrops in a way I can’t believe any modern filmmaker would. CG isn’t a new tool anymore and Jackson’s bad, 1990s video game CG is terribly misused. It’s incompetent.

I sat though the film opening with Naomi Watts, who’s weak. The tone for the film during her scenes seems to have been lifted from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, a goofy cartoon rendition of the 1930s. I sat through Jack Black. His first scene, combined with James Newton Howard’s pervasive, intrusive score and Jackson and company’s script, mocks the original film. It’s stunning how it degrades and dismisses the original–but it later gets much, much worse.

Peter Jackson’s King Kong is pure, big Hollywood camp. There’s nothing else to call it.

I also sat through some of the worst filmmaking I’ve ever seen in a film not ridiculed by critics and audiences alike. The scene where Watts walks up the plank… she hesitates–it’s such a big momentous, life-changing event (something the viewer might know from that lame original Jackson so enjoys mocking). Then it gets worse. Jackson goes to close-up on her feet making the step.

But that one isn’t even the worst I saw. The slow motion close-up of Adrien Brody typing out Skull Island–ominously, of course–with each key getting a zoom, is even worse. Jackson doesn’t have any respect for his own script, which is kind of interesting, I suppose, but not particularly.

Watts and Brody, from what I saw, have absolutely no chemistry together. The fault lies with both of them. She isn’t very good and he looks incredibly embarrassed.

Black’s worse than I thought he’d be. He mugs constantly.

Both Evan Parke and Thomas Kretschmann seem to be good. Maybe their performances crap out after I stopped watching.

Oh, I never did get around to why I stopped watching.

There’s some foreshadowing to the event–the ship, the Venture, is out of Surabaya. I’m nearly positive Surabaya is never mentioned in the 1933 original. The 1976 remake–ridiculed by critics as campy and disrespectful of the original–opens in Surabaya. Whatever, I figured it was a coincidence.

Until Jackson rips off a monologue from the 1976 version. I didn’t let it finish. I stopped the film.

King Kong isn’t just worse than I expected, it’s worse than I could have imagined. Why Jackson chose to remake a film he doesn’t–almost forty minutes in to his remake–appear to have any regard for (save the opening title design), is inexplicable.

His direction isn’t bad. There’s some enthusiasm (but not much) and I’m sure he thinks his CG looks good.

The writing is awful, unbearable as it turns out.

I really did expect to sit through this one when I started it (it’s so bad, I’ve forgotten the last film I turned off). Then, fifteen minutes into it, I thought I’d at least make it until the big CG ape showed up. But there’s no point. It’s complete crap and a spit in the eye of the original. Jackson doesn’t even have a narrative–much less an artistic approach–his Kong exists to laugh at the original.

I know Jackson wanted Fay Wray to deliver the “it was beauty killed the beast” line at the end (she passed away before filming started, I believe). Would she have done it after Jackson spent three hours sneering her version?

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Jackson; written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Jackson, based on the story by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace; director of photography, Andrew Lesnie; edited by Jamie Selkirk and Jabez Olssen; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Grant Major; produced by Jan Blenkin, Carolynne Cunningham, Walsh and Jackson; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Naomi Watts (Ann Darrow), Jack Black (Carl Denham), Adrien Brody (Jack Driscoll), Thomas Kretschmann (Captain Englehorn), Colin Hanks (Preston), Jamie Bell (Jimmy), Evan Parke (Hayes), Kyle Chandler (Bruce Baxter) and Andy Serkis (Lumpy).


Flushed Away (2006, David Bowers and Sam Fell)

There’s something a bit off about Flushed Away. There’s some lazy storytelling, but I can forgive it since the rats aren’t physiologically accurate anyway and it is really enjoyable to watch–no, it’s something a lot more base. It’s obvious no one really cares. Aardman productions used to have passion by default–they were stop-motion and stop-motion meant a lot of time making things work–Flushed Away is CG and there’s just something off in the storytelling’s adaptation to the technology. I’m not a fan of CG–I’ve gotten better about it, much like I got to be a DVD supporter over laserdisc (I’m forced to out of necessity)–but Flushed Away’s problems aren’t in the literal adaptation. The fiancée thought the film was the traditional Aardman style, so it’s a visual fit, but the laziness hasn’t got anything to do with the technology. It’s the damn story. There are some nice moments to the film, but it’s all really pat. Maybe it’s just because it goes platonic… Maybe I’m pissed because it’s a cheat.

Anyway, there’s something great stuff–the casting is real good, particularly Kate Winslet, which surprised me. She’s willing to have a lot of fun and her character’s good, surprising even. Hugh Jackman plays the foppish rat who ends up in the sewer and he’s fine, but almost impossible to identify with for a lot of the film. Not in a bad way, he’s just the butt of the jokes. Bill Nighy is great as a thug rat, big shock, but Jean Reno is wasted. Not because his character is “Le Frog” (get it?), but because it’s Jean Reno and that casting is supposed to mean something. It doesn’t. He’s just a French guy.

If you do see the film–and I do recommend it, I’ll probably buy it because it is a pleasant diversion–and you notice there are characters missing from the trailer (I guess Aardman found it easier to produce scenes to cut on computer instead of in reality), you’re not alone. In fact, you’re seeing the big problem with Flushed Away. It’s too short (IMDb says eighty-four minutes and I say long credits) and it’s too slight. It’s an exercise in amusement, nothing more.

CREDITS

2/4★★

Directed by David Bowers and Sam Fell; written by Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais, Christopher Lloyd, Joe Keenan and William Davies, based on a story by Fell, Peter Lord, Clement and La Frenais; edited by John Venzon; music by Harry Gregson-Williams; production designer, David A.S. James; produced by Cecil Kramer, Lord and David Sproxton; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Hugh Jackman (Roddy), Kate Winslet (Rita), Ian McKellen (the Toad), Jean Reno (le Frog), Bill Nighy (Whitey), Andy Serkis (Spike), Shane Richie (Sid), Kathy Burke (Rita’s Mum), David Suchet (Rita’s Dad) and Miriam Margolyes (Rita’s Grandma).


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