[Early Review] War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

Director: Matt Reeves

Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn

Screenplay: Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves

140 mins. Rated PG-13.

 

War for the Planet of the Apes opens tonight, but I got a chance to catch it earlier in the week following a rewatch of the previous two installments. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is one that I enjoyed, but it has since really grown on me a lot more. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is one I already loved but seeing it again on the big screen only increased my respect of the film. So what about War?

Matt Reeves (Let Me In, Cloverfield) returns to helm this third chapter in the rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise. In it, Caesar (Andy Serkis, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Adventures of Tintin) leads a vengeful rampage after his home is attacked by a team of human soldiers led by The Colonel (Woody Harrelson, No Country for Old Men, Wilson). Along the way, he comes across a mute little girl and a new ally nicknamed Bad Ape (Steve Zahn, Dallas Buyers Club, Captain Fantastic) in his mission to take out the human threat, but he underestimates the horrifying tactics the Colonel is willing to use in order to save the human race and keep Earth from becoming a Planet of Apes.

Damn. War for the Planet of the Apes is absolutely incredible. It’s so rare to find a trilogy in which each installment gets better and better, but this Caesar trilogy actually does it. Even the second and third installment, both from director Reeves, prove to be different films that each tell a different story with a different flavor. The first film is a film about the dangers of science and the mistakes of hubris. The second film is a Shakespearian tragedy about leaders trying walking a dangerous tightrope in effort to avoid conflict. With this third film, Reeves hits elements of classic Westerns while also hitting homage to Apocalypse Now and other classic war films.

The performance from Andy Serkis and Steve Zahn using motion capture is unmatched, as are the other MoCap performers, but it is the scenes Serkis shares with Harrelson that create electricity on the screen. You forget that you are watching a MoCap performance here, and it is incredibly engaging and moving.

There’s also the element of Donkeys that Reeves uses in the film. War features apes, remnants of Koba’s faction, who fight for the humans, termed Donkeys. The interesting parallels created by Reeves and co-screenwriter Mark Bomback are interesting, intense, and unlike anything I’ve seen in recent memory.

War for the Planet of the Apes is another fantastic release in 2017. It is the end of an amazing trilogy, one of the best ever put to screen. You need to see this movie for its incredible performances, the gorgeous cinematography, and the unbelievable advances in motion capture. It’s an experience I’m not likely to forget, and with the exception of a little pacing in the second act, it’s a near-perfect film.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, click here.

For my review of Matt Reeves’ Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, click here.

Jupiter Ascending (2015)

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Director: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski

Cast: Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth

Screenplay: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski

127 mins. Rated PG-13 for some violence, sequences of sci-fi action, some suggestive content and partial nudity.

 

I have been a fan of The Wachowskis (The Matrix, Cloud Atlas) since the original Matrix film (it took three viewings for me to properly enjoy it, but it matters not). I loved the entire Matrix trilogy, and I count Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas as two of my all-time favorite films (even if the rest of the population would rather the two films not exist), but when I saw the trailer for Jupiter Ascending, I was so excited to have the sibling directors release a new film that would draw the audience back in. For some reason, moviegoers just haven’t embraced these filmmakers since their breakthrough with The Matrix, and I was hoping for Jupiter Ascending to change that.

And then it was pushed back. Whether or not a film is good or bad, pushing it back, especially to the graveyard of the late winter months, is a death sentence. When it came out, fans gave it that death sentence. I was nervous to see the film as it has so much riding on it.

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Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis, TV’s Family Guy, Black Swan) is an illegal alien working as a janitor with her widowed mother. She lives an unlikable life. That is, until she is swept off her feet by Caine Wise (Channing Tatum, 21 Jump Street, The Book of Life), a hybrid humanoid creature made by splicing human DNA with wolf DNA. Caine informs Jupiter that she is the inheritor of the Earth which is currently being held by the Abrasax family who each want the Earth for themselves and want Jupiter out of the picture. They seek out help from Stinger Apini (Sean Bean, TV’s Legends, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring), another hybrid, who recognizes Jupiter’s importance, and the three set out to lay claim to the young woman’s planet.

Channing Tatum has really grown as a performer in the years since bursting onto the scene, and his physicality and charismatic approach to Caine really give us a unique character to connect. His chemistry with Mila Kunis’ Jupiter is pretty strong as well. Kunis is a great everywoman, even if I wasn’t quite convinced that she was a janitor.

On the other side of those performances, I wasn’t all that content with Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything, Les Miserables) as the eldest Abrasax, Balem. His delivery came off in shouts and whispers but never in a cohesive way. I also absolutely hated Douglas Booth (Noah, Romeo & Juliet) phoning his performance in as the youngest Abrasax, Titus, a sensual and foolish child.

I felt the notion of water throughout this entire film. From the cinematography, where the shots all flow in such a cyclical way, like liquid through the inside of a pipe, to the action sequences, played out like the spinning of a top, everything was just gorgeously mapped out.

Michael Giacchino’s score is another win here, with elements from Star Wars and The Wizard of Oz (two major influences on the film) in his score.

Now, the pacing is a bit off, some sequences rocketing from beginning to end, while others hitting a wall and staying there, but it could’ve been a lot worse.

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The Wachowski siblings are known from creating worlds, especially worlds that cause the audience to think and interpret, and many don’t like that. Nowadays, we as an audience ask for original content and then choose not to embrace it. Audiences and critics complained about a lot of the things in this film that don’t work (the bee scene with Kunis was rather strange, I’ll admit) that they forget about all the things that work so well here. The film is not perfect, and it doesn’t stand as the toppest of tiers for these filmmakers, which is sad, because Jupiter Ascending may serve as a death knell for these original artists, especially if their upcoming Netflix series Sense8 doesn’t work as well. I hope you see this film, I hope you embrace it, and I hope you like as much as I did, or more.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

[Star Wars Day] Return of the Jed-Five…Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)

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Director: George Lucas

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Bakers, Frank Oz

Screenplay: George Lucas

140 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and some intense images.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Makeup

 

As we continue the tradition of Star Wars Days, on Return of the Jed-Five (it is a term I coined so that I can continue celebrating well into Revenge of the Sixth tomorrow), we will look at Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, the final film in the Star Wars Saga that was released almost ten years ago. Fans have waited a decade for the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.

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The Clone Wars have waged for three years, but the battle is far from over. Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen, Jumper, Vanishing on 7th Street) is now a full-fledged Jedi Knight and, along with Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting, Mortdecai) have been leading armies into battle against the Separatists and the tyrannical Count Dooku (Christopher Lee, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Dark Shadows). Anakin’s secret marriage to Padme (Natalie Portman, V for Vendetta, Knight of Cups) is further complicated when she discovers she is pregnant, and Anakin’s nightmares of her dying in childbirth lead him towards the dark side and a few revelations about his friends on the Jedi Council and those in the Galactic Senate.

If one were to look at the prequel trilogy, Revenge of the Sith is easily the best in the series. A nearly perfect entry in the Star Wars Saga, Episode III features some of the more incredible action sequences and emotional beats.

Hayden Christensen again continues to underwhelm as Skywalker. His performance is carried by Portman, McGregor, and Ian McDiarmid (Sleepy Hollow, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) as Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. In fact, just about all the performances here with the exception of his are amazing.

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Director George Lucas (American Graffiti, THX 1138) has learned from his previous mistakes here and gives fans exactly what they want here. Revenge of the Sith ties up the franchise with a nice little bow. The flow is great, and the opening sequence, in which our heroes attempt to save Palpatine from the mechanical General Grievous, is stunning, with special regards to the first shot of the film.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

For my review of Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, click here.

[Star Wars Day] May the Fourth Be With You…Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)

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Director: George Lucas

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Frank Oz

Screenplay: George Lucas, Jonathan Hales

142 mins. Rated PG for sustained sequences of sci-fi action/violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Visual Effects

 

Happy Star Wars Day, and May the Fourth Be With You. Today we will look back on Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, from director George Lucas (American Graffiti, THX 1138).

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Ten years after the events of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen, Jumper, Vanishing on 7th Street) and his master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting, Mortdecai) have been called to Coruscant to protect the former Queen, Senator Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman, V for Vendetta, Knight of Cups) against those who wish to assassinate her. As Anakin and Padme grow closer, Obi-Wan finds himself getting closer to the truth as he encounters the sinister Count Dooku (Christopher Lee, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Dark Shadows) and an army of clone troops trained to be an Army of the Republic.

The second in George Lucas’ prequel trilogy fixes a lot of the problems that the first film had, though not all. I love the tone of the film as it shifts from mystery to romance to war to fantasy and back to mystery. The tonal shifts keep the film invigorated and interesting. McGregor and Portman turn in excellent work as Kenobi and Amidala, as do Ian McDiarmid (Sleepy Hollow, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) as Chancellor Palpatine and Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction, Avengers: Age of Ultron) as the Jedi Master Mace Windu. New character Count Dooku is excellent and terrifying.

Hayden Christensen is a better Anakin than Jake Lloyd, but not by much. He is by far the biggest problem here.

As always, George Lucas presents us a stunning vision of his galaxy. The film is stitched together nicely and is beautifully scored. There are a lot to love here. Now the aging of the special effects is noticeable here and could have been avoided with a more practical touch. I miss the look of the original films, but I can deal with it.

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Attack of the Clones is a fantastic Star Wars event. It has a few detractors, but it is lovely nonetheless.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

The Equalizer (2014)

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Director: Antoine Fuqua

Cast: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloe Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo

Screenplay: Richard Wenk

132 mins. Rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout, including some sexual references.

 

I recently got into The Equalizer, a classic television series, after seeing it referenced in The Wolf of Wall Street. Good show, interesting structure and grit.

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When I heard that the series was getting the big-screen treatment in the form of a Denzel Washington (American Gangster, 2 Guns) vehicle from director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Olympus Has Fallen), I was intrigued, but I felt like it wouldn’t get the attention it deserved because of the many revenge vigilante franchises abound today. As it turns out, I was right.

Robert McCall (Washington) works at Home Mart, and has a pretty simple life. Work followed by a nice calm read at a local diner where he usually sees Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz, Kick-Ass, If I Stay), a young prostitute. After Teri is brutally beaten by her pimp, McCall goes on the offensive, searching for vengeance against those responsible. Once he is involved, a Russian Mafia enforcer named Teddy (Marton Csokas, The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Sin City, A Dame to Kill For) hunts McCall, beginning a battle neither wants to lose.

I felt like the basic problem of The Equalizer is a simple one: oversaturation of the market. Too many other similar and better films exist and have been ingrained in popular culture. The Equalizer just isn’t as unique as it thinks it is.

Denzel does fine work, but the script feels lazy and Antione Fuqua’s style comes off as a ripped-off amalgam of Sherlock Holmes and The Bourne Identity. The film loses all traction the moment that Teri is removed from the story as she is tragically forgotten about thirty minutes in.

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If you want to see a movie like The Equalizer, you can definitely save money by picking up a better film with a similar story elsewhere. One can only hope that Washington can pick himself up from this recent tread of lackluster films. Hope.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Oscar Madness] The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

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Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Sean Bean, Ian Holm, Andy Serkis

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson

178 mins. Rated PG-13 for epic battle sequences and some scary images.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Cinematography
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Makeup
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Music, Original Score
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Picture
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Ian McKellan)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Director
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction – Set Direction
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Costume Design
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Song (“May It Be” by Enya, Nicky Ryan, Roma Ryan)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound

 

Some projects are doomed from the very start. Imagine filming three movies at the same time, on one budget, and having creating a trilogy between them of at least 11 hours in length. Yeah, Peter Jackson did that.

Sir Ian McKellan in a scene from THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, 2001.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring follows Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Cooties), a hobbit from Hobbiton. He lives with his uncle Bilbo (Ian Holm, Ratatouille, Renaissance) who is celebrating his eleventy-first birthday (that’s 111 to you non-hobbit folks) and has just left Frodo with his magical ring of power which he found sixty years earlier. What Frodo and wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Prisoner) are about to discover is that this ring is the powerful One Ring of Sauron, a dark lord who used the ring to take over the land long ago. Sauron had been destroyed, but the ring of power had passed along looking for its master to reunite and bring back an age of darkness and despair. Now it is up to Frodo, his gardener Samwise (Sean Astin, TV’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Justice League: Throne of Atlantis), and their fellowship of seven others, including elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, The Three Musketeers), dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, Anacondas: Trail of Blood), and the mysterious ranger known as Strider (Viggo Mortensen, A History of Violence, On the Road) to get the ring of power to the one place where it can be destroyed: the fiery Mount Doom in the land of Mordor. There’s just one problem: Mordor is where the Eye of Sauron is still looking for his ring with armies of orcs at his disposal.

This film is staggering in scale. It is almost too realistic for a fantasy film, it just sucks you in. The plot here is immensely entertaining due to director Jackson’s attention to detail and knowledge of J.R.R. Tolkien’s source material. The screenplay, by Jackson and fellow writing team members Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens (with whom he also penned The Lovely Bones and King Kong), is incredibly engaging and equal parts exhilarating and fun.

This is Elijah Wood at his career best. His portrayal of Frodo, a hobbit who is only used to the good parts of life and used to only happiness, solitude, and relaxation, now thrust unto this great quest, is deeply personal. I saw in Wood’s performance a hobbit who looks up to his uncle for all the adventures he has been on, but also doesn’t really want to live them.

Viggo Mortensen here is another strength (of which the entire cast is). Strider is a character with deep levels of history and emotion, a true well of sadness. Mortensen plays it to perfection.

I also truly loved Sean Bean (GoldenEye, Mirror Mirror) as Boromir, a man entrusted to Frodo’s fellowship who has a weakness for power and believes that the ring holds the key to saving his homeland.

Peter Jackson isn’t afraid here to get down and dirty and display epic-sized battles for his audience. This movie chooses to show, not tell, and it is totally worth it.

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In fact, just about every aspect of this film could be classified as stellar. It happens to be my favorite of the six Middle-Earth films Peter Jackson has poured his soul into. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is incredible on just about every level. Take a trip to Middle-Earth with me, and enjoy yourself along the way.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, click here.

 

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, click here.

[#2015oscardeathrace] Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

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Director: Matt Reeves

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

Screenplay: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver

130 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief strong language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects (Awards Not Yet Announced)

 

Matt Reeves (Let Me In, Cloverfield) seems like the kind of guy I could have a beer with. I’ve watched interviews and it just seems like he gets the craft because he has such a passion for it. That passion shines through in his new film.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is set ten years after the previous installment, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. In that time, over 90% of the world’s population has been depleted by the so-called Alzheimer’s cure that gave Caesar (Andy Serkis, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Arthur Christmas) and his apes advanced intelligence. Caesar and his fellow apes, including military commander Koba (Toby Kebbell, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, The Counselor), have created a utopia outside of San Francisco. They haven’t seen a human in two years, but then one day, his apes run into Malcolm (Jason Clarke, Zero Dark Thirty, White House Down) and his people, who is able to come to an agreement with Caesar and the apes to rebuild the power grid. This alliance is short-lived, as there are some on both sides who do not believe in peace, and it just might be Caesar and Malcolm that pay for the sins.

Film Summer Preview

If Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a great example on how to reboot a franchise, then Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a lesson on how to create an incredible sequel. This film takes everything that was good about its predecessor and makes it better. Director Reeves has a passion for the Planet of the Apes franchise and that shines through here. The plot here is something that I thought I had seen before, but the beautiful screenplay veers into territory I didn’t expect and, when combined with Reeves’ choice to linger on the emotional beats longer than another director might, create a powerful film about the nature of humanity.

Andy Serkis finally receives the top billing he is owed. Caesar truly is the star of this film, and the incredible CGI work is just better than I thought it could get. The film starts out with a nearly silent opening, not even introducing the humans until at least 20 minutes in. This gives us a chance to catch up with Caesar and his apes. Caesar is welcoming his second child, but his mate has been ill since birthing. His relationship with Koba is central to us, as he has known this ape for over ten years. They have grown together. It is interesting to see the lessons that are being taught, rudimentary though they may be, things like Apes Do Not Kill Apes.

When the central conflict of introducing the humans occurs, we officially understand Caesar’s need to protect his group.

Even though Caesar is the star, Toby Kebbell’s portrayal of Koba is a definite scene-stealer. This menacing creature has been scarred from the tests performed on him back at GEN SYS. His distrust for humans causes a rift in his friendship with Caesar. And he is just terrifying.

Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight Rises, RoboCop) is very much a smaller character with a major impact on the plot, and he is one of the most interesting humans in the film. He is a tortured man who has lost everything, and his scenes linger on total breakdown. I was constantly tormented by my position on his character.

There is another great relationship between Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Road, ParNorman) and the ape Maurice. The two bond over a book and serve as a parallel to some of the more angry confrontations.

I loved that, rather than do a complete sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes that takes place immediately after, this film stands alone while also giving subtle nods to its predecessor. We see how Caesar feels about his past, and his provides the momentum he needs to further develop.

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In essence, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has a lot in common with the opening to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Matt Reeves gives us perhaps the best Planet of the Apes film in the entire canon (not to mention one of the best films of the year) this go around, and it excites me for where this series is headed.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, click here.

[Oscar Madness] Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

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Director: Rupert Wyatt

Cast: James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo, Andy Serkis

Screenplay: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver

105 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense and frightening sequences of action and violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects

Rise of the Planet of the Apes came out of nowhere. Seriously. Who would have thought that his franchise was coming back in such a big way. After a fizzled-out franchise of films and television series, a failed remake from director Tim Burton, and a decade of silence, Rise of the Planet of the Apes just sort of showed up, and I’m thankful it did.

Will Rodman (James Franco, 127 Hours, The Interview) is trying to cure Alzheimer’s. His father Charles (John Lithgow, TV’s 3rd Rock from the Sun, Interstellar) has the condition and it is accelerating. The current possible cure is ALZ-112, and Will is in the process of ape testing. When Bright Eyes, Will’s star test subject, tragically passes after complications with the substance, Will comes across a baby chimp in her cell, her recently born son who comes to be known as Caesar (Andy Serkis, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Arthur Christmas). Will takes Caesar home and trains him, as Caesar was born with ALZ-112 flowing through him, making him progress at an alarming rate. As Will’s life becomes more and more complicated through his illegal theft of the chimp, Caesar becomes more and more aware that this world is the world of humans, not apes, and he wants to change that.

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The plot of this movie nicely takes real-world problems and a franchise decades old and revives it for today’s world without tarnishing the story that came before (to be noted, this is a reboot and kind of a prequel to the original film and not the Tim Burton remake). It takes the problems that we are dealing with and forms it into a cohesive and interesting bit of science fiction.

Franco’s performance isn’t the strongest in the film, I didn’t really believe him to be smart enough to synthesize a cure for Alzheimer’s. Then again, he doesn’t. Altogether, it is his relationships in the film to Caesar and his father that build the warmth for these characters.

Andy Serkis is the winner of this film and deserved top billing for the film, as without him, the impact would not have been felt as much. His nuanced and subtly tragic work as Caesar is beautiful, and the digital effects work only furthers an already incredible performance. The way Caesar interacts with John Lithgow’s character provides us with a slightly warped but wholly touching American family.

The screenplay,  from Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (The Relic, Eye for an Eye), does a nice job of not creating villains, there are very few villains in this film and it allows you to understand many of the core characters internally and empathize with their choices.

Rupert Wyatt (The Escapist, The Gambler) behind the camera also provides a lush environment of great camera work, and the flow of the film is very smooth.

I just needed to end on the CG work, which sought to work together with their motion capture performers to create characters as opposed to just creating stock but cool looking apes. It deserved its nomination to be sure.

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a great way to jumpstart a franchise, and should serve as a course on how to reinvigorate a property rather than just churn out a remake. Bravo.

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

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Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro

169 mins. Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design

 

It took eleven years for The Hobbit to be made. I’m talking from the release of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring to the release of An Unexpected Journey. Difficulties with securing rights and two bankruptcies as well as shifts in director and a few actors, it seemed very unlikely that The Hobbit would ever see the light of day. Well, it took some time, but now we have not one but three Hobbit films to witness, but they certainly have a lot to live up to, so do they?

As Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm, Ratatouille, Lord of War) gets prepared to disappear from his 111th birthday, he begins writing a book of his most important physical and emotional journey, which took place sixty years previously. His story involves the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan, X-Men, The Prisoner) and a company of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage, Captain America: The First Avenger, Into the Storm) on a quest to free Erebor, the dwarves’ home in the Lonely Mountain from the treacherous dragon Smaug. Along his journey, Bilbo will come across many perils, including trolls, rock giants, and a creature named Gollum (Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Arthur Christmas).

You can bet your ass I was first in line for the initial Hobbit film, and I walked out supremely satisfied. There was a lot of nervousness standing in line. I mean, The Lord of the Rings was a massive tome squeezed into three films, and yet The Hobbit, shorter than any of the individual volumes was crafted into three movies. I worried about pacing, and also the nine years from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King to then. So much of the film was up in the air.

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Ian McKellan worried me, as his performance, along with Christopher Lee (Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, Dark Shadows), who portrayed Saruman, completed their performances over green screen. My worry was met with joy as I found McKellan provided another powerhouse nuanced performance yet again.

Then there was Martin Freeman (TV’s Sherlock, Hot Fuzz), newcomer to the franchise in the roll of young Bilbo, who had a lot of weight to carry. This wasn’t The Lord of the Rings, where large sections were split amongst several major characters. This was The Hobbit, and he was The Hobbit. Thankfully, given the comedy that features a lot more in the livelier of the two tales gave Freeman plenty of room to play and ultimately, he proved his dramatic chops nicely as well.

Richard Armitage’s role as Thorin was another importantly placed action, and another well-placed one. Armitage is virtually unrecognizable in the extensive dwarf makeup (for which the film was nominated for an Oscar) but still proves himself worthy of the dwarf prince.

Filling out the dwarven party are some terrific little performances for Bofur (James Nesbitt, Millions, Coriolanus) and Balin (Ken Stott, One Day, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian) as well as, really, the entire party. The whole cast just fires on all cylinders here, including returning players Cate Blanchett (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, How to Train Your Dragon 2) as Galadriel, Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, Cloud Atlas) as Elrond, Elijah Wood (TV’s Wilfred, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) as Frodo and Andy Serkis as Gollum.

Director Peter Jackson (The Lovely Bones, King Kong) wields the camera differently in this film, taking full advantage of his cinematography grasp with RED cameras, 3D sequences exploding off the screen, and 48 frames per second (which takes a moment to get used to, but really looks gorgeous when utilized).

I also really enjoyed the musicality of the characters here. We get some great musical moments here especially in the opening with “Misty Mountains” performed by the dwarven party. It is a beautifully realized moment to open the franchise on and becomes a truly hummable song through the entirety of the viewing.

As far as the visual effects go, I would have enjoyed a little more practical work, but with the grandeur of the franchise at this point and the physical limitations of the aging cast, I can understand, and it looks just fine.

Now for fans of The Lord of the Rings, there are certainly plenty of callbacks for characters including Gloin (Peter Hambleton) who is Gimli’s father and a member of the dwarven party. Fans will also recognize Balin’s name. It is interesting to note that many of the returning characters like Frodo, Galadriel and Saruman are not actually in The Hobbit, but they certainly help with the suturing of both massive stories into one large saga.

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I loved the first installment of The Hobbit franchise and I am so happy to see Peter Jackson behind the camera again. The film deserved to be nominated for Best Picture and it pisses me off that it was the first film in the Middle-Earth Saga to be snubbed, but such is life. We move on. Home is behind…the world ahead.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, click here.

 

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, click here.

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