Thursday, 24 July 2014

Hercules

Surprisingly only minor spoilers ahead.
It's not really that kind of film.


PG13
Running Time: Only 98 mins.
Writers: Ryan Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos. Base on a comic by Steve Moore
Director: Brett Ratner
Starring: Dwayne Johnson (can't believe I didn't realise he's The Rock!, Ian McShane, John Hurt, Rufus Sewell. 
Language: English  

The main problem with Hercules is its trailer, though it could be argued that its misleadingness makes watching the film even more pleasant, it is also that kind of trailer that makes Hercules look like a pompous epic and put people like me off. If and when you come across this trailer you should remember that Brett Ratner is rather a professional fun films maker and Hercules fits his repertoire.

Basing it on a comic by Steve Moore rather than the Greek Myth, writers Ryan Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos and director Brett Ratner take the grand out of the epic and bring in the fun. Unlike the trailer suggests the film doesn’t take itself too seriously and the general feeling is that everyone involved really enjoyed themselves.

Dwayne Johnson’s (I had no idea this was The Rock’s name until recently, I hang my head in shame) Hercules is more gritty than I expected and yet, despite the tragedy in his life both Hercules the character and the film steer away from the realistic grit and grim that has been the trend of lately. Instead, Hercules is a fun, funny, pacey and cheerful adventure/war film with some awesome action.

Is Hercules the son of Zeus or is he a demigod? Were the twelve labours real or simply a good story that help raise the prices of Hercules' services as a sword for hire? In the end, as Amphiaraus, quite charmingly played by Ian McShane, says it doesn’t really matter, whatever works for you. Speculating on Hercules’ heroic swashbuckling, however, makes for gorgeous CGI used ironically given that these stories are revealed as a selling tactic. The actual fights are good ol’ hand to hand or hand to arrow combats with little CGI, and they are excellent.

Johnson is, as always, great to watch, even if he is a tad more serious than his usual self, like he is in this film, but only a tad really as post labours and somewhat cynical Hercules. His merry band of outcasts, which He has collected over the year and who follows him and fight with and for him, do not fall behind and make an excellent entourage for Hercs.

While I'd still not recommend watching it in 3D, at least there seem to have been some thought and some effort to make Hercules' 3D slightly less like a waste of our monies. Unlike Life of Pi, where the somewhat dubious visual achievement has nothing to do with its 3D-ness. Despite the OK 3D of it, Hercules does not merit a 3D viewing and one should condemn rather than support it.

3D aside, Hercules is a delight. Occasionally resonation 300, even when it slips into minor pathos, it avoids heftiness and always maintains its tongue in cheek mood. Now, I would love Ratner to make Hercules' twelve labours film!  

HERCULES OPENS IN THE UK ON 25TH OF JULY

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Monty Python Forever!

 


Two men immerge from the mist, galloping. One of them is bangin’ two halves of an empty coconut together. Genius! At that moment Monty Python, who was not a person though I kinda like to imagine and in some ways Monty is the love child of six incredible Pythons, defined comedy for me. My journey with Monty Python begun and I watched everything I could in the country that hardly knew or cared about Monty Python. I had to go to a “specialists” video store, which for those of you who don’t know videos were book sized cassettes with a magnetic ribbon that you put inside a machine called a video recorder and was connected to your television and a fuzzy image of a film or a TV show would play on your tiny screen. One could also record stuff of the telly and… anyway, “specialists”, not that kind of “specialists” you filthy readers, video store and they ordered a selection of Monty Python’s Flying Circus episodes with no subtitles!

And so, from sketches about silly walks and dead parrots, The Life of Brian and Meaning of Life, Spanish Inquisitions all the way to songs about spam and the fish slapping dance, Graham, Michael, Eric, John, Terry J and Terry G, were silly, ridiculous, random, daring, insane and a trove treasure of oh so wonderful comedy, who had a huge hand in cementing comedy into my heart. The Pythons eventually went their separate ways, Graham Chapman sadly passed away, ceased to exist, bit the dust, was no more etc. and whatever the Pythons did from then on, together or separately, brilliant (Fawlty Towers, GBH, Terry Gilliam’s film career) or dreadful (Cleese’s commercials, Suddenly Susan), whatever drama was reported about their private lives, the Monty Python graduates were and still are immune in my eyes. They have shaped comedy, nothing else matters.

It is very easy to be cynical about Monty Python’s recent reunion, they have occasionally reuninoned before, to celebrate some big anniversary or, as is the case in the recent show One Down Five to Go, to save one or all of them from financial disaster due to law suits, divorces or whatnot. They are old and they are tired, John Cleese can barely raise an eyebrow, not to mention his voice as one would expect from him, or do a silly walk, and Terry Jones can barely remember his lines. Most of them did not want to be there, the only one who was enjoying himself on that stage with all his heart was Terry Gilliam, but everyone else has moved on. And yet, seeing the remaining Pythons on stage was to me like what I imagine it would have been to see the Beatles live or seeing Laurence Olivier performing Shakespeare, better yet, it was like seeing Shakespeare himself in one of his own plays. And as time passes and the show is farther behind my awe and gusto only grow.

Even with all the wrong decision, why, for example, was the Silly Walks sketch replaced with a jazzed up song and dance routine that made the whole point of the sketch redundant, clearly Cleese can no longer do a silly walk, they should have just let it go, or why nudge nudge, wink wink, became a disturbing autotune, is beyond me. but even with all of that and despite the general plaintiveness that comes with a show that chooses to put death in its heart and in its title, Palin, Cleese, Jones, Gilliam and Idle were full of gratitude for allowing them to be ridiculous, to be insane, to be joyous and to be incredibly funny and wonderful and for a fleeting moment they suddenly were Monty Python again and it was magical!      


Thursday, 17 July 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - Review

SPOILERS GALORE!!!


 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
12A
Running Time: 130mins
Director: Matt Reeves
Writers: Mark Bomback, Amanda Silver, Rick Jaffa. Novel by: Pierre Boulle
Starring: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Tobby Kebbell, Nick Thruston
Language: English, Apes 

It upsetting to think that Andy Serkis will probably not even get an Oscar nomination, let alone an Oscar, unless he sheds his CGI suit and does what Hollywood refers to as "serious acting", meaning some kind of tragic character overcoming obstacles. When it comes to Serkis, it is particularly frustrating, because the message Hollywood sends is that it is all about the CGI and nothing to do with the actor, a misconception that is easy to accept if one is not that interested in the process of motion capture. Anyone who has seen Serkis without his hi-tech apparel, as Ian Dury in Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll for example, or as William Hare, having excellent banter with Simon Peg in Burke and Hare, knows that when Serkis is on the screen he owns it. When it comes to CGI Serkis creates the characters he portrays just as much as the computer geniuses do and he has an aptitude for large monkeys.  


And Andy Serkis is not even the best thing about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. From the opening part, which both resonates but at the same time quite differes from 2001: A Space Odyssey’s opening, there is an oppressively foreboding tone to the film and for a little while it feels as if the planet is already the Apes’ The dark visual style of the film only reinforces this post-apocalyptic grim.

In the survival-of-the-fittest kind of world Matt Reeves and the writers, Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, create most humans are dead from a deadly virus unleashed a decade earlier. Those who survived have a certain gene that makes them immune to the virus, which made me wonder if they share a gene with the apes. Caesar is now the leader of a growing, genetically evolved apes' community in the outskirts of San Francisco. The first time in many months the apes meet human, one of them gets shot and the slippery slope towards the inevitable begins. The humans need to work in the dam that is located in ape territory so they can contact other survivors and try and rebuild their society. Despite the shooting incident, Caesar agrees to let the human work in the dam and a fragile and temporary peace is achieved, but there are naysayers on both sides and soon things escalate to the point of no return.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes offers a complex conflict and quite a few layers of narrative. Human v Apes is only part of the problem. There is a division within the human and a division within the apes and the opposition from both sides is compelling.With moving subtlety and command, Gary Oldman conveys the fear and desperation that lead Dreyfus to his devastating final act of destruction that brings about the point of no return. On the other side of the fence, Koba, one of the apes Caesar has freed in the first film, carries the physical and emotional scars of humans' abuse and worries that Caesar prefers human over apes. And so challenges Caesar's position as the alpha male at every opportunity. There is something painful and endearing about Koba and pleas for forgiveness after every time he is defeated and the fury that grows with every plea.

Toby Kebbell, who plays Koba, measures up to Serkis level of CGI acting as are all the lead Apes. Caesar’s son, Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston), whose rebellious silence speaks volume, was a revelation and he won me over completely. The emotional expressions, the language and the riding of horses may humanise the apes, which makes them more relatable to us human viewers, but it is the brilliant ape-like acting that astonished and moved this particular human viewer. It is the little simian details of body languages and gestures that made the apes’ acting perfect for me.

Not that the humans had anything to be ashamed of, Jason Clarke brings roughness and brilliant intensity to Malcolm that James Franco's Will Rodman lacked in my view. Malcolm echoes Charlton Heston's character from the first Planet of the Apes, George Taylor, it is almost as if Malcolm is George Taylor at the end of the first film. However, In the end, contrary to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it is the Apes' story this time and there are a lot more of them and a lot less humans.

Until Christopher Nolan's Interstellar comes out, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is my favourite film of the year. It is an incredibly sad film, not the tear-jerker type of sadness that comes with death or suffering of a loved character, Dawn's sadness is there right from the start and throughout the film and it lingers and it is onerous and I want to see it again and I can’t wait to see the next one.     

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in cinemas July 17th in the UK