I’m sure that some studio executive thought that putting Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell together in an action/comedy buddy movie was a good idea, it wasn’t. Humour is flat and the action is uninspired. Stallone isn’t funny and Kurt Russell (who I like a lot) is forced.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) - Reviewed on Film Actually
Although at first glance this looks like a stand alone, full reboot of the classic “Planet of the Apes” series of films, on closer inspection there are a lot of little hints that this is actually pretty closely related to the original 1968 film starring Charlton Heston. Forget the Tim Burton reboot in 2001, this film is not related to that at all.
Set in the present day, scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) is experimenting on chimps, trying to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease to save his father (John Lithgow). His new drug shows amazing results healing the brain and as a side effect it seems to be boosting the intelligence of the apes. After a lab mishap, his chimps are destroyed except for one newborn who has inherited the effects of the drug from his mother. Rodman takes the chimp named Caesar home and continues to study him while he raises him. When Caesar is taken from Rodman and sent to an ape shelter, he uses his intelligence to help organise the other apes and the revolution begins.
The film is heavily influenced by the 1972 film “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” (part 4 in the original series) but handled in much more realistic way. Gone is the camp production design, rubber masks and over the top, subtle as a brick parallels to slavery. Here we have nuanced performances and a very realistic chain of events that make you buy into the sci-fi concepts. Director Rupert Wyatt (“The Escapist”) obviously believed, to his credit, that these apes and their performances are as important as the human characters. You feel the raw emotion from these apes, you feel their frustration, you feel their anger.
Credit must also be given to Peter Jackson’s WETA Digital who have created their most impressive CG creatures to date. That is a big statement considering they are the same company that brought us “The Lord of the Rings”, “King Kong”, “Avatar” and the soon to be released “The Adventures of Tintin”. Even though Caesar and the rest of the apes are CG creations, they have real personalities. Using the latest in Motion Capture (Mo-Cap) technology WETA has truly brought living creatures to life on the screen. Using special mobile Mo-Cap equipment, WETA was able to capture veteran Mo-Cap actor Andy Serkis’ (who supplies an amazing performance for Caesar) performance as he actually interacted with the live actors on set, this allows for much more realistic interaction between actor and effect.
Everything works in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”, simple as that. I enjoyed the film very much and I recommend it as a great adventure film that also asks deeper questions about man meddling with nature and our treatment of what we deem as lesser creatures. This is highly recommended viewing and I really hope that they continue the series into a reboot of the original 1968 film. Yes, I actually said I wanted to see a reboot, that is how good this film is.
Captain America The First Avenger (2011) - Reviewed on Film Actually
Of all the Marvel comic adaptations, I most worried about Captain America because this is a hard comic to adapt. Steve Rogers AKA Captain America is essentially a flag waving, patriotic boy scout and that works in printed form but could end up being a cheesy corn dog on screen. True “Thor” is about an Asgardian thunder god but at it’s core it is essentially a fantasy film and we have done that before, so I had a lot of trust that it would work. Captain America however is rooted in the real world and it would be really easy to make this a nauseatingly patriotic Michael Bay movie.
So this brings us to “Captain America: The First Avenger”, the latest in the current series of Marvel films that lead into next year’s “The Avengers”. Did director Joe Johnston (“Jumanji” & “The Rocketeer”) manage to bring Captain Steve Rogers to the big screen successfully? The answer is simple, yes he absolutely did. Johnston and his writers, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, have found the balance to bring Cap to life and one of the prime reasons this works so well was the decision to take the character back to his origins and set it in the World War II era. It would have been easy for the filmmakers to have a short World War II intro and then bring Cap into the modern world like the 1990 Albert Pyun version but we probably would have ended up with a similar mess.
The 1940’s wartime era plays into that patriotic symbol theme that is vital for Captain America to work. Today it would have seemed tacky to send Captain America to Iraq or Afghanistan. The World War II setting offers Captain America a chance to be a real war hero, in a time when war heroes were celebrated, and to fight a clearly defined, evil enemy that everyone recognizes as a threat. Smart move Marvel Pictures.
The story of “Captain America: The First Avenger” is simple and for anyone who has ever read a Captain America comic, instantly recognisable. Week, puny Steve Rogers wants to join the army and fight for America. What he lacks in body size or health he makes up with bravery, heart and a solid moral code. When asked if he wants to kill Nazis, he answers that he doesn’t want to kill anyone, he just hates bullies. After being rejected over and over again he is finally spotted by a scientist who is working on the super soldier program. The scientist, Dr. Abraham Erskine (played brilliantly by Stanley Tucci), recognises that Rogers has the right stuff for his program. A quick experiment later and wimpy Steve Rogers is turned into the super buff super soldier.
Let me just take a moment to say how much I loved Chris Evans in this film. Evans has always played brash and cocky characters. Take a look at “Scott Pilgrim Saves the World” or the “Fantastic Four” films for examples. We loved him in those roles to be sure, but Steve Rogers allows him to play a really humble, polite and sweet character and even after his transformation, he retains that pure and humble spirit. He may have superpowers but he really is just a kid from Brooklyn. While other superheroes are dark, brooding and full of doubt and/or pain, Captain America is like a breath of fresh air, he is brave and bright. He wants to be a superhero to do good, simple as that.
Okay, back to the film. After a minor action scene, Rogers becomes really popular in the USO circuit selling war bonds as Captain America, cheesy costume and all. It is when his best friend Bucky (Sebastian Stan) goes MIA that Steve Rogers jumps to action and the real Captain America is born. With a new costume, super shield and a crack team of commandos at his disposal, Captain America sets about systematically dismantling Hydra, the super evil science division of the Nazis led by Germany’s own super soldier, the evil Red Skull.
Hugo Weaving’s scenery chewing performance as the Red Skull is brilliant and he often steals the film. In fact the performances by the entire supporting cast are rock solid and this helps Evans sell the more fantastical aspects of the film. Along with the already mentioned Tucci, Weaving and Stan is the ever reliable Tommy Lee Jones as Col. Chester Phillips (Cap’s superior officer) and Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark (yes, Iron Man’s dad). But I have to give special mention to Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, Steve Roger’s love interest. Atwell is not only physically beautiful but she also has guts and can hold her own with the boys. I found the mutual attraction between Rogers and Carter pitch perfect and I think it is one of the most successful love stories in the Marvel films yet. She is a star in the making and I look forward to her future career.
So far I have gushed and to be fair I must point out that the film’s third act does have a minor logic flaw, but in the great scheme of things it doesn’t take away the sheer pleasure of watching this film. I found that I had a smile on my face from beginning to end.
“Captain America: The First Avenger” proves again that Marvel knows how to bring their heroes to the big screen like no other company can. It is simply the best Marvel superhero film yet and Chris Evans IS Captain America. I can’t wait to see “The Avengers” in 2012.
Oh, and one last note: stay to the end of the credits for the most satisfying post credit sequence to date.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011) - Reviewed on Film Actually
Although I defended and enjoyed “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1”, I also said that it was really impossible to review half a film. I needed to see the second half of this adventure before I could review the story as a whole. So I was approaching part 2 as a) the conclusion to the first film and b) a film in it’s own right.
So let’s address the first point, how does “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” rate as a complete film (part 1 and 2 combined)? The first half is a little bloated and could have been trimmed by half an hour, but as a whole film it is a pretty compelling story that brings the story arc of Harry Potter to a satisfying conclusion.
As for the second point, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” is an exciting thrill ride. Warner Bros and Heyday Films have definitely saved the best for last. Unfortunately if you just dip into this film alone, with no prior films under your belt, you will be completely lost. Director David Yates moves swiftly and expects you to know who’s who and what has happened in previous films. I don’t hold this against him however, considering that ten years have passed since the first film. If Yates had to recap the previous films he would have to add an hour to the running time at least, J. K. Rowling’s world is complex and textured and a lot has happened since Harry came to Hogwarts. The long and the short of it is, watch the previous films before watching “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2”. You can short cut this a little by at least watching the David Yates films, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”, “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1”. This will give you enough to understand what is going on in this film but it is an even richer experience if you watch it from the beginning.
For the final chapter we pick up from the last shot of part 1 and just hit the ground running. Harry, Ron and Hermione are still trying to find the last few Horcruxes to bring an end to Lord Voldemort. After a daring raid on Gringott’s bank the trio find themselves back at Hogwarts, now under the control of Severus Snape. Harry and company must find the last couple of Horcruxes and fight you know who in a battle that is as huge and impressive as the book promised it would be. The thing I have loved about the David Yates films has been his ability to handle large set piece action scenes while still stopping every now and again to reflect and handle quieter scenes that pack a an emotional punch without getting overly sentimental.
The films, like the young wizards have grown up over the last ten years and it is really interesting to compare the naive simplicity of the first film (a definite kid’s film) to the mature and dark final chapter (definitely not a kid’s film). Like the readers of the books and viewers of the films, Harry Potter grew up. I remember when the book “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” came out, it caused such a stir that Rowling had killed a character off. Her defence (and it was a good one) was that young adults need to learn about death and loss. This all seems a little weird now when you watch the body count in “Deathly Hallows Part 2” grow.
Eduardo Serra’s steely cold cinematography really helps set the tone to both parts of “Deathly Hallows” and contrasts it so nicely against the colourful, cheerful first film. The effects have also come a long way since the first film and the battle of Hogwarts is truly spectacular. I should also mention that part 2 is presented in 3D in selective cinemas. The film is a post conversion 3D film but it is a very effective and well done conversion. Part 1 was also supposed to be in 3D but they were not happy with the finished product and didn’t want to rush it like they did with “Clash of the Titans” so they scrapped the 3D at the last minute opting to spend the extra time to get part 2 right and it works well.
Let’s just take a moment to talk about the performances from this young cast. I have always loved the casting in this series and felt that Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) have grown as performers. Particularly Emma Watson who started the series as stereotype snooty, uptight little know it all but has become a fine actress and I look forward to future films in her career. The supporting cast has always been made up of a who’s who of British cinema and everyone seems to be having such a wonderful time playing in Rowing’s sandbox.
Overall, I loved this film, just make sure you watch “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1” on DVD or Blu-Ray just before you go to the cinema. I think it is the perfect conclusion to an epic series of films. If you are a fan of the books or not you will be satisfied that they got the end of this series right. And like “The Lord of the Rings” before it, now it is over, I am going to miss the yearly Harry Potter event.