Tag Archives: andy serkis

Hidden Gems: Paul Andrew Williams’ The Cottage

I like films where an unassuming set of real world circumstances lead the main characters into a horror situation. It makes us feel as though we’ve started one film and by chance the narrative has wandered into the macabre as opposed to knowingly starting off the film like that (From Dusk Till Dawn is a nice example. The Cottage follows this effective motif with two petty criminals, one a meek pussy (Peter Shearsmith) the other a hotheaded asshole (Andy Serkis) who kidnap the daughter (smokin’ Irish model Jennifer Ellison) of a very wealthy man and hide out in a remote forest cabin to negotiate ransom. Her being an uncooperative little spitfire turns out to be the least of their problems though as they soon discover they aren’t alone in the cottage. Out of nowhere barrels in a deformed, nine foot tall, Jason Voorhees-esque monster farmer who’s out for blood and it’s now up to them to survive or they’ll never see any money, let alone all their limbs remaining attached to their bodies. The first half of the film sets up character dynamic nicely with Serkis naturally stealing the show and then later on its an all out grisly bloodbath as the farmer comes in swinging. Being a British horror film it has that wry underlying sense of humour to it as well as spectacularly gory visual effects and a suspenseful, chamber piece tone. Oh, and watch for a beat cameo by Doug ‘Pinhead’ Bradley from the Hellraiser films as an angry villager.

-Nate Hill

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Peter Jackson’s King Kong

Peter Jackson has made a name for himself as one of the most ambitious, resourceful filmmakers out there, and his version of King Kong isn’t so much a film as it is literally a three hour trip to another world. The 1930’s Kong was a marvel of its time, admittedly now very dated, but this film is really something else, and for me is the minted definitive version of the story, brought to howling, lush, terrifying and affecting life by Jackson and his army of F/X wizards. The main beef people take up is its way too long, and I’m not even going to try and argue. Of course it’s too long. Of course. But I love it anyways, and part of what makes it so immersive and captivating is the length. We spend almost two hours in a New York prologue leading to oceanic escapades before the ship even finds the island! You almost get so tied up in smoke n’ soot vaudeville and scenic intrigue that you forget that there’s a giant gorilla on the way, among many, many other things. Jackson reaches for the stars here, sails off the edge of the map past the borders of the known world and awakens something dark, primal and enthralling in the viewer: a genuine sense of wonder, like films were always meant to since the beginning, and these days don’t often achieve. He also films in a way that you really feel scope, size and the tactile, spacial dynamics of his world, from the gorgeously foreboding mega forests of skull island to the vast expanse of an open ocean to the titanic skyscrapers of old world NYC. Naomi Watts makes a perfect Ann Darrow, her striking femininity harbouring a deeply intuitive courage that ultimately spells her survival and acts as a magnet to Kong, who is a wonder in himself and played right out of the park by Andy Serkis. Jack Black and Adrien Brody embody the hustling filmmaker Carl Denham and the wiry playwright turned adventurer Jack Driscoll neatly. Jackson takes time in getting to know the supporting characters as well, and in a film with this much breathing room, who wouldn’t? Thomas Kretschmann steals every scene as the intense, heroic Captain Englehorn, Evan Parke is implosive as the first mate and Jamie Bell does terror to a turn as a crew member. Skull island itself is the real star of the show here; along with the living, breathing and feeling vision of Kong, the primordial rock is home to all manner of threatening, awe inspiring ecological splendour including vicious T-Rex’s, graceful herbivores, cunning raptors and more. Two sequences in particular test the boundaries of comfort in the viewer and push into almost outright horror as the crew falls victim to an insect pit home to the kinds of spiders, worms and other creepers you wouldn’t want to find in your worst nightmares, as well as the scariest bunch of indigenous tribes-people I’ve ever seen in a film. Nothing quite compares to the otherworldly atmosphere Jackson infuses in the island, we really feel like we’re in a place that time forgot and the attention to detail is remarkable. In a film full of human characters, Kong wins us over as the most emotionally relatable, a rampaging beast whose softer side is brought out by Ann, until the harsh realities of the human world catch up with them in a flat out spectacular aerial smack down set atop the Empire State Building where we see how savage behaviour begets the same back tenfold when you mess with a creature of his size, it’s a heartbreaking sequence. This is a testament to what can be done in film, from effects to world building to period authentic detail to music (the score by James Newton Howard is brilliant) and more, all combined in a piece of adventure cinema for the ages, and one that reminds us why movies are so fun in the first place.

-Nate Hill

“Are you watching closely?” A review of The Prestige – by Josh Hains 

“Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge”. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn”. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige”.”

– Cutter (Sir Michael Caine); The Prestige, 2006

I’ve always been enamored by magic since I was a young boy. I don’t know how to perform any tricks and haven’t read dozens of magic books, but I’ve seen enough magic performed to validate my love for it. I’ve always enjoyed trying to decipher how a trick is pulled off. Sometimes I’m right, sometime I’m wrong. That’s the name of the game. In the case of The Prestige, Christopher Nolan’s 2006 masterpiece, I’ve spent the last couple years on and off deciphering the movie as best I can. A part of me doesn’t mind the ambiguity, and doesn’t need to solve the puzzle. The other half just had to solve it. I believe I have the movie figured out better than most, but whether or not I finished the puzzle isn’t the point of the movie. The point is entertainment, and I think The Prestige is amongst the finest entertainment you’ll find in cinema.

Apprentice magicians Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) work under Milton The Magician (Ricky Jay), frequently acting as fake volunteers for Milton in 1890’s Victorian London. Julia (Piper Perabo), Robert’s wife and an escape artist, drowns while trying to escape from a water tank with her hands bound when Alfred ties the necessary slipknot too tightly. She’s gone before stage engineer (or “ingenieur”) John Cutter (Sir Michael Caine) can break the glass with an ax. This tragic event sets into motion a bitter and violent years long rivalry, each man trying to one-up or sabotage the other.

During this time, Borden marries Sarah (Rebecca Hall), and together they have a child, their daughter Jess, while Angier launches his own magic career with Cutter and new assistant Olivia Wenscombe (Scarlet Johansson), and Borden perfects a new trick dubbed The Transported Man. The trick bewilders Angier, but Cutter is unimpressed, suggesting Borden uses a double to complete the trick. Angier finds that solution too obvious, and becomes obsessed with finding the answer at seemingly any cost. Through a series of unfortunate events, both Borden and Angier find themselves in possession of the other’s personal journals that hold the ins and outs of how each trick is performed. Borden’s journal leads Angier to Nikola Tesla and his assistant Mr. Alley (the late David Bowie, and Andy Serkis, respectively), in the hopes they hold the key to replicating Borden’s trick.

The Prestige reminds me of a Jenga tower. Remove the wrong piece and the entire thing comes crashing down, remove the right piece and it stands tall for a while longer. At any moment the film could derail if all the plot threads weren’t tied up nearly with a bow, and yet for me it never does derail. Remove the script from your mind for a moment. Are the performances great? At least 3 are Oscar worthy. And the cinematography, score, set design, and costuming, how are they? Immaculate as one might expect from Nolan and his trusted team. And the script, what do you think of it? Delightfully complex, thought provoking, and fresh. For me, there aren’t any cracks in the glass.

About that ending. The film gives you clues as to how the lives of both men will turn out. One is willing to kill a bird and present a new one to the audience in its place, the other willing to save the bird and re-present it to the audience. Bearing that in mind, the possibility exists that one of the two men acquired a machine capable of successfully duplicating a person, much like a pile of hats and black cats (“They’re all your hat.”). The first duplicate is killed, then every night for 100 nights straight, the man performs the “Real Transported Man”, constantly duplicating himself and either he or one of his duplicates winding up in a tank of water below the stage they perform upon. Perhaps the true prestige is that the other man pulled his trick off using a twin brother, while the other sacrificed his life and the lives of duplicates for the look on people’s faces when they witness his great trick.

Perhaps the solution is simpler, and the machine never worked to begin with, and Tesla was just a distraction from the real trick, the use of a double. And perhaps when that man found out he’d been tricked, he chose to use a double from prior engagements, a drunkard stage actor, to help pull off his great illusion, and no one ever drowned until the night his rival came up on his stage. Maybe a trick lock was always used beforehand and replaced with a real one to setup the rival. Maybe the duplicates seen in a morgue or standing erecting in water tanks at films end are nothing more than wax figures. And maybe the revelation that his rival used a double all along makes his efforts seem fruitless in his final moments. Maybe the prestige of the film is that simple yet no one wants to accept it because of the simplicity, and certain science fiction infused elements like a machine capable of duplication are far too compelling and obvious a solution to be ignored.

Maybe we’re not meant to solve the mystery, just be driven mad by our own obsessions with it. Maybe we’re all Angiers.

Brighton Rock: A Review by Nate Hill

  

Brighton Rock is a character study focusing on one of the most delinquent, misanthropic, sociopathic, maladjusted pieces of work you’ve ever seen. The fiend I speak of is a wannabe British gangster named Pinkie, played by Sam Riley, an actor who doesn’t usually get this dark with his work, but makes quite the impression when he does. Pinkie lives in the seaside town of Brighton, and aspires to rule the crime faction there with a razor brandishing, snarling, self destructive death wish. Despite the quaint and quite pleasant coastal setting, this is a cold as ice story about a guy who brings nothing but despair and violence to everyone including himself. Showing up on the scene to oust local bigwig Phil Corkery (John Hurt), Pinkie declares personal war on everyone around him in a spectacular downward spiral of burnt bridges and furious confrontations. There’s also what has to be one of the most dysfunctional ‘love’ stories to be found anywhere, between him and a clueless waitress played by a very young Andrea Riseborough. She’s deluded by the bad boy effect, blind to the fact that Pinkie cares for her about as much as roadkill. She’s a plaything to him, a curiosity to be toyed with and eventually discarded, or worse. She loves him, or at least naively believes she does, making it quite sad and unfortunate to see their bitter courtship circle the sinkhole. Helen Mirren plays her restauranteur boss who feels the bad vibes coming off Pinkie in waves, and warms poor Andrea. Needless to say, these warnings go unheeded. Watch for Sean Harris, Phil Davis and Andy Serkis in appropriately scummy roles as well. This is Riley’s show, and he owns it with the force tyrannical pissant who is positively bursting with self loathing and homicidal hatred. A dour tale hiding beneath a picturesque shell, strangling us in malaise before we know what’s hit us.