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Andy Serkis

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Awakenings.


Self-explanatory. The on-the-button Serkis voiceover threatens lameness, but I like John Boyega’s urgency, and was surprised to see Oscar Isaac in an X-Wing (given that I heard/presumed he was the Han of the new cast.) Show me more!

Update These characters’ names are released on throwback-style Topps cards: Boyega is “Finn,” Ridley “Rey,” Isaac “Poe Dameron,” the shadowy Sith fellow “Kylo Ren,” and the wheeldroid is BB-8. But who is Tenzing Norgay?

No Strings Attached. | Legions Ahead.


Still catching up on unfinished business from Less than Zero, James Spader terrorizes Robert Downey Jr. and the rest of Marvel’s mightiest superheroes in the first teaser for Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. The sea of generic Ultron clones seems really close to the ersatz-Skrulls of Avengers and robot armies of past two Iron Mans, but everyone’s gotta have stormtroopers, I guess.

And in very related news, DC and Marvel have released their respective movie calendars for the next six years. The wanna-be contenders at Warner Brothers/Detective Comics are going with Zack Snyder’s Batman v. Superman and two Justice League movies, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman (set in the 20’s? I like it), The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Shazam (with The Rock as Black Adam), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and — sorry, Ryan Reynolds — a re-booted Green Lantern.

As for the current champs, Disney/Marvel, along with next year’s Ant-Man, we have two more Avengers (Infinity War, 1 and 2, a.k.a. Thanos time), the next installments of Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America (Civil War) and Thor (Ragnarok), and new additions Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch? I still like Luke Evans), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Captain Marvel, and The Inhumans. Yes, we live in a universe that is actually going to have an Inhumans movie. Invest in Lockjaw dog costumes now.

Got all that? If not, the good folks at ComicsAlliance have made a handy infographic, below. And this isn’t even counting the gaggle of comic TV shows now on or forthcoming. Great Caesar’s Ghost, fanboy/fangirl nation, what have we wrought?

Return of the Force?

“‘We are so excited to finally share the cast of Star Wars: Episode VII. It is both thrilling and surreal to watch the beloved original cast and these brilliant new performers come together to bring this world to life, once again. We start shooting in a couple of weeks, and everyone is doing their best to make the fans proud.'”

The Star Wars Episode 7 cast is announced, and, give credit where due, this is pretty auspicious (although heavily male) bunch. Along with all of the original gang — minus Lando — and the previously-rumored Adam Driver, Episode VII also includes John Boyega (the break-out star of Attack the Block), Daisy Ridley (don’t know her), Oscar Isaac(!, a.k.a. King John/Llewyn Davis), Andy Serkis(!, mutant master of CGI), Domhnall Gleeson (increasingly ubiquitous son of Brendan, late of About Time and Anna Karenina), and the venerable Max Von Sydow(!!! Needs no introduction, and it is a rush in itself to see him get his place next to Cushing, Guinness, Jones, and Lee.)

With all the usual caveats — Into Darkness, lens flares, etc. etc. — that’s a damned exciting cast. (Ok, so was MacGregor, Neeson, Portman, Jackson, and Stamp fifteen years ago, but let’s not talk about that.) Now how ’bout getting Frances McDormand, Saiorse Ronan, Viola Davis or somesuch in for additional support?

Update: Could well be damage control, but late word is there’s more to come. “Several sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that director J.J. Abrams has another substantial role to fill — and it’s a female part. No further details are known.”

Flying, Spidering, Roaring, Zerging.


As a follow-up to the ambitious and underrated Cloud Atlas, the siblings Wachowski return to their manga-centric sci-fi roots in this first trailer for Jupiter Ascending, with Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, and James D’Arcy. Hrm…looks a bit like The Fifth Element, art direction wise, and Kunis sure does seem to fall off things a lot. Anyway, I’m in.


Also in the trailer bin of late, Spiderman (Andrew Garfield) makes at least three more enemies — we’ll get to a Sinister Six soon, no doubt — in Rhino (Paul Giamatti), Electro (Jamie Foxx) and the Green Goblin (Dane De Haan) in the first teaser for Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spiderman 2, also with Emma Stone, Sally Field, and Campbell Scott. After Chronicle, The Place Beyond the Pines, and Kill Your Darlings, I’m a mite tired of DeHaan, to be honest, but I’ll grant that his schtick does work well for Harry Osborne.

Update: And another I missed on the first sweep: David Strathairn gamely rallies the paratroopers in the atmospheric trailer for Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla reboot, also with Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins and Ken Watanabe. I prefer the leaked one with the Oppenheimer voiceover (“I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds,” bringing the thunder lizard back to its Hiroshima roots), but I can see how that might’ve been too edgy for a summer blockbuster.

Update 2: Tom Cruise cosplays Starcraft, and gets some mechanized infantry pro-tips from Emily Blunt, in the first trailer for Doug Liman’s The Edge of Tomorrow, a badly-named adaptation of Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s All You Need is Kill. Eh, maybe.

Update 3: Matthew McConaughey and Christopher Nolan celebrate the dream of flight in a brief and relatively vague teaser for Interstellar, also with Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Caine, Matt Damon, Casey Affleck, Topher Grace, John Lithgow, David Gyasi, Wes Bentley, and David Oyelowo. As it says, one year from now.

Update 4: Speaking of gamely rallying folks, Gary Oldman tries to get San Francisco’s few remaining humans to chin up against those damn dirty apes in the first teaser for Matt Reeves’ Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, also with Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Judy Greer, and, of course, Andy Serkis. The first one was surprisingly ok, and this can’t be worse than Oldman’s last dystopian epic, The Book of Eli, so I’ll likely matinee it.

Update 5: A few more come down the pike for the holiday film season: First up, computer genius Johnny Depp goes the way of the The Lawnmower Man in this short teaser for Wally Pfister’s Transcendence, also with Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Morgan Freeman, Kate Mara, Cillian Murphy, Clifton Collins Jr., and Cole Hauser. The Matrix-style binary is a bit of a cliché at this point, but Pfister has done memorable work as Nolan’s cinematographer, so I’m optimistic.

And, following up on the first trailer of a few months ago, Wes Anderson introduces us to the cast of characters of The Grand Budapest Hotel, among them Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Almaric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saiorse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson, and Tony Revolori.

Thundering Son of a Sea-Gherkin!


Much like Hitchhiker’s Guide in 2005, I should go ahead and admit upfront that my review of Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn probably won’t be much use to many stateside. Growing up overseas in England and Belgium, I was a definite Tintin kid. So I have a pre-existing fondness for the character, and, for at least the first forty-five minutes or so of this film, I had trouble wiping off the huge “Great Snakes, a Tintin movie!” grin off of my face. (When you throw in the trailers for The Hobbit and Star Wars in 3D beforehand, it almost seems like Hollywood is explicitly trying to cater to my inner six-year-old these days. Trailers for an Asterix and/or Mr. Men movie would’ve completely clinched it.)

Point being, I had a different reaction to this film than I’m guessing those unfamiliar with the world of Tintin will. Even notwithstanding the joy of seeing these beloved characters come to life, The Secret of the Unicorn is filled with easter eggs for Tintin-o-philes. Our hero (Jamie Bell) has nods to Cigars of the Pharaoah, The Black Island, and King Ottokar’s Sceptre on his wall. Later we encounter a crab with golden claws, a zero-G nod to Explorers on the Moon, and, as the villain’s “secret weapon,” a cameo by one of Captain Haddock’s (Andy Serkis) more amusing adversaries. And, in the background, Spielberg and Jackson are constantly recreating sight-gags from various Tintin adventures — say, Snowy digging up a ginormous bone in the desert –that continually conjured up ancient memories of childhood laughs within me. If you like Tintin, you’ll almost assuredly have a good time here.

And if you don’t know Belgium’s most famous boy journalist from a hole in the ground? Well, that’s a stickier wicket. The exquistely craftted chase scenes are reasonably engaging, if ever so slightly repetitive, on their own. (And a shout-out to John Williams’ score, which could be my favorite work of his in at least a decade.) But if you don’t know anything about these characters already, I’m not sure you’ll find much of a rooting interest here. For better or for worse, this is pretty clearly a film by Tintin fans for Tintin fans. (If anything, I sometimes wish they’d hewed even closer to the books. Some of the setpieces — say, Haddock and the bad guy (Daniel Craig) dueling with construction cranes — felt like generic action-spectacle filler. I’d rather have seen Tintin do more detective work.)

But, whether you’re new to Tintin or a veteran hand, I’m happy to report that the motion-capture animation here is the most impressive I’ve ever seen — no dead eyes to speak of here. I actually thought the animation Zemeckis’s Beowulf was reasonably well-done back in 2007, but this is better by an order of magnitude. (It helps that Spielberg and Jackson have forgone the uncanny valley by going for a Herge-plus look.) In fact, the two things I was most afraid of not working going in — the motion-capture animation and Snowy — are probably the two highlights of the film. (Tintin’s faithful companion is a scene-stealer through and through.) Conversely, the character who I thought would be an easy slam dunk, Captain Haddock, actually grows somewhat tiresome over the course of the movie. (The swearing plays, but all the alcoholic tendencies that are funny on paper begin to grate in three dimensions.)

Speaking of three dimensions, I caught this in 3D, but I’m not sure it really added much to the experience — especially when you factor in that a 3D movie ticket now costs all of $15.50(!) here in the District. I know I recently hated on the 3D push in my Hugo review, but, still, that price for one ticket to a 100 minute film is verging on the ridiculous. My advice: Take your kids to Tintin, but spend 2D money, and use the savings to buy them one of the books.

They Finally Made a Monkey Out of Him.


So where were we? Ah yes, catching up on movie reviews. To close that circle (for now), and as you might have heard, Rupert Wyatt’s admirably low-key Rise of the Planet of the Apes — a.k.a. the first half of Roddy McDowell remake month — is a better unnecessary-prequel than anybody really had a right to expect.

I do wish I’d seen Rise before word leaked out that the movie was surprisingly good, because — going in with higher expectations — I mostly felt like I was just sitting through an extended version of the movie’s trailer. Still, allowing for some iffy science throughout, this sixth Apes film turned out to be a decently smart and engaging evening of late-summer cinema. And as a genre B-movie with a patina of political subtext, I’d say it hits at about the level of the Spierig’s pharmaceutical vampire thriller Daybreakers.

As you probably know by now, Rise of the Planet of the Apes tells the story of Caesar (Andy Serkis), a chimpanzee made extra-smart in the womb by an experimental Alzheimer’s drug concocted by a Dr…oh let’s just call him James Franco. When this project gets shut down — the maternal protectiveness of Caesar’s mom Bright Eyes (wink, wink) is misinterpreted as a hyper-aggressive side effect of the drug — Dr. Franco brings Caesar home to live with him and his ailing father (John Lithgow) instead. There, he is raised, Project Nim-style, by the good doctor and his dad, and cute, ethically-minded zoo veterinarian Caroline (Freida Pinto of Slumdog Millionaire) eventually makes four.

But, as Doctor Caroline perennially intones, one should not tamper with the forces of nature. (Ok, sure. But let’s not overstate the case — or should we have something against pasteurized milk?) And, as Caesar grows older and more leery of playing the pet, his chimp tendencies begins to manifest themselves more and more often. Meanwhile, after showing signs of promise under the original medication, Papa Lithgow’s Alzheimers begins to take hold again. This forces Dr. Franco to experiment with more virulent and aggressive forms of his wonder drug, and makes Lithgow even more feeble and disoriented on a daily basis — and we already know what happens when chimps on this particular drug feel overprotective. One way or another, it’s clearly about to get all Frankenstein up in here.

That gets us to about the end of the first act, which is easily the most conventional and weakest portion of the film — not the least because none of the humans make much of an impression. I’m not a James Franco hater — he was in Freaks & Geeks, after all — and I think he gets way too much grief for slumbering through the Oscars last spring. (What can you do? It’s a thankless gig anyway.) That being said, he does seem sorta disengaged, and even bored, throughout this picture. For her part, Pinto makes even less of an impression — She’s a complete non-entity. And the rest of the humans basically only have one note to play, be it John Lithgow and his dementia or Franco’s boss at the pharmaceutical company (David Oyelowo) twirling his moustache.

All that being said, Rise takes it up a notch in Act II, when Caesar finds himself consigned to San Francisco’s primate prison(?), run by the father-and-son team of Brian Cox and Tom “Draco Malfoy” Felton. (Surprisingly, given his scenery-chewing turns in movies like Troy, Cox underplays it, while Felton is suitably Malfoyish — albeit with a quality American accent.) In this ape Alcatraz, Caesar is thrown head-first into the deep end of chimpanzee society — No more sweaters, college boy! Instead, he must survive the prison yard, learn the power dynamics, and figure out how to befriend the key allies, such as a former circus orangutan and a belligerent ape, he will need to make good his escape.

This isn’t A Prophet, exactly, and to be honest — even with all the impressive WETA work on display here — I could never really suspend my disbelief enough to accept Caesar as a real, honest-to-goodness chimp. (The apes and orangutans work better.) Still, the monkey Shawshank stuff in this middle third of the movie is surprisingly compelling, and it put me in a good mood for the final act, when Rise finally lets its funky-monkey freak flag fly. (I won’t give away what happens here, but like the rest of the narrative, it’s pretty well telegraphed by the trailer.)

My only real complaint, is that I might’ve done more with the Soderberghian ALZ-113 angle here, but I guess one can figure out for themselves what happens next, and/or they were saving that for the sequels. Return of the Rise of the Planet of the Apes, anyone?

Red Rackham’s Trailer.


In the trailer bin, a ginger-haired boy journalist and his trusty canine sidekick uncover a clue to a long lost treasure in the first full trailer for Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, with Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Daniel Craig. Hmm…the mo-cap looks even better than Beowulf, but I’m still not sold on the look, and Snowy/Milou in particular conjurs up grim visions of Scooby-Doo. Why not just replicate the traditional Herge style?

Unicorn Spotted.


Blue blistering bell-bottomed balderdash! Along with the spiffy poster above, the teaser for Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is now online.

Hmmm. As a Tintin kid, I’m really looking forward to these movies. But, for now, I am not feeling the decision to go photorealistic with this at all. Snowy/Milou should not conjure grim memories of Scooby-Doo and Yogi Bear. Here’s hoping a few more rotations in the CGI-machine smooths this out some.

A Long-Expected Party.


There are a few times in your career when you come across an actor who you know was born to play a role, but that was the case as soon as I met Martin. He is intelligent, funny, surprising and brave – exactly like Bilbo and I feel incredibly proud to be able to announce that he is our Hobbit.

With the fate of a Kiwi Middle Earth still up in the air (due to the aforementioned labor issues), Peter Jackson gets a greenlight — yes, he’s directing now — and announces the cast of The Hobbit. As Bilbo, and as rumored since the very beginning, Martin Freeman of The Office UK and Hitchhiker’s Guide. I like it.

Rounding out the cast (besides Ian McKellen, Hugo Weaving, and Andy Serkis, of course): Richard Armitage (no, not that one) as Thorin Oakinshield, Rob Kazinsky as Fili, Aidan Turner as Kili, Graham McTavish as Dwalin, John Callen as Oin, Stephen Hunter as Bombur, Mark Hadlow as Dori, and Peter Hambleton as Gloin. AICN has already thrown together a handy visual guide, and these guys all already have that dwarven je-ne-sais-quoi. (Hopefully, that means less Gimli make-up.) Pending a location, shooting is set to start in February.

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