Tag Archives: Hugo Weaving

Michael Bay’s Transformers

Because the Transformers franchise has become an unwieldy cloud of toxic waste over the years, most seem to have forgotten how enjoyable the first one was. Michael Bay gets an awful rap for these, and by all means he deserves any shade thrown his way for some of the sequels, but I’m still convinced they only got made to cash in on the massive Asian market, I’ve heard that stuff like this is huge over there. This first film is a little saner and a lot more focused though, with a sort of 90’s Amblin infused vibe crossed with big budget CGI disaster mayhem of our current era, which is par for the course in a film directed by Michael Bay, as are lens flares, a grossly backlit slow motion kissing scene, explosions, fetishistic attention to the details of military protocol, montages of various factions of Americana playing out and um…cameos from loud sassy African American actors. Based on the Hasbro toy of the same name as well as probably an animated show that came before it, Bay ramps up the scale, special effects, human characters and exposition to somewhat plausibly set the Autobots and Decepticons loose in our world, engaged in noisy warfare over the All Spark, a cube of untold power that looks not so distantly related to the Tesseract. Caught in the middle is Shia Lebeouf as Sam Witwicky, a nervous teen whose family history hides something related to the Tranformers mythology, naturally sending him and the obligatory super hot love interest (Megan Fox) on a wild goose chase of stuff blowing up. There’s also various military factions caught up in the squabble including intrepid soldiers Josh Dumahel, Amaury Nolasco and Tyrese Gibson, research scientists Rachael Taylor and Anthony Anderson, Jon Voight as the grave Secretary of defense, John Turturro in pure comic relief form as a hapless federal agent and uh… Bernie Mac too, as the world’s saltiest used car salesman. The Shia Lebeouf angle has a cool 90’s sort of Joe Dante vibe, right down to the presence of consummate 90’s dad Kevin Dunn, naturally playing Sam’s father. While it goes a little off the rails in a final battle that pretty much levels an entire city to the ground and numbs any sense of realism to a dull roar, there’s a lot of fun to be had with the film, especially in the special effects used to bring these mechanical goliaths to life. Bumblebee is always a fan favourite, Optimus Prime looks fantastic and Hugo Weaving brings the vicious Megatron to life nicely. Steve Jablonsky almost outdoes his score for Bay’s The Island here, giving a magisterial composition that’s large and loud enough to accompany the Transformers on their journey and fills the film with noise, as the does the Oscar nominated sound design. Like I said, the sequels have become an impossible wall of deafening, uncalled for noise in the years since and it’s a shame because this one gets tainted in people’s memory when it’s still a good time.

-Nate Hill

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George Miller’s Babe Pig In The City

George Miller’s Babe Pig In The City is quite the underestimated film. Following on the heels of the sweet, good natured fable that was the first Babe, Miller delved into his creative well, pulled out all the stops and came up with a rip roaring, wondrously exciting sequel that outdoes the original in almost every way. The production design and sets alone are enough to make the film a winner, the titular city comprised from aspects of LA, New York, Sydney, Paris, Vegas and many more. It’s every rural village’s idea of what the city must be like, a gigantic metropolitan dream world of commotion, chaos and creativity. Miller starts, in a charming sequence, at Babe’s humble beginnings on the picturesque, old world farmland and hurtles him on a madcap adventure in this city of cities, joined by some of his farmland friends (Ferdinand the duck and those adorable singing Mice, whose musical numbers are hilarious), and sees him meet a whole host of new ones. This is where the magic of the film really takes hold, as we see hundreds of dogs, cats, monkeys, birds, rodents and one hapless goldfish all come to amazingly realistic life courtesy of Miller and his team. Each animal is beautifully voiced and given his or her own dignity, grace and absolutely grounded story arc to the point where this becomes no longer just a children’s film, but a surrealist take on city life, moral hardships, individual personality and classist conflict as enacted by the national geographic channel. The sinister German shepherd (of course voiced by a German dude), the wise old orangutang Thelonius (James Cosmo) who heartbreakingly won’t leave a risky situation without putting his human clothes on (Miller sneaks in some thoughtful themes) the opera singing cats. Mazda Szubenski deserves a medal for her physical comedy and tart, spry turn as the farmers wife, diligently pursuing babe to the city where she is hilariously out of her element. James Chromwell briefly reprises his wonderful Farmer Hoggett, Mickey Rooney, looking so old and delirious I’d be surprised if he knew what film he was working on, let alone what planet, has a demented cameo as a sinister clown who is not quite right in the head. This film used to scare me as a kid, and looking back I’m both glad that it did and now realize the importance to infusing dark wonder and genuine menace into children’s films, for one day they will grow up and find out that the world is very much like the frightening fables and fairy tales from their youth. This film has sadness and harsh realities, like the Brooklyn voiced bull terrier who can’t control his violent behaviour because he knows it’s in his nature, the cruel and heartless actions of the animal control unit dispatched to round up all the stray puppers and kitties (this left me traumatized) or the terrifying accidental fire that rips through the children’s ward of a hospital. The film takes place in a hyper stylized version of our world but the truths we see and the suffering some of these animals endure couldn’t be closer to reality, and it’s important not to shy away or gloss over that. There’s also wonderful kindness and warm-hearted behaviour too, like the touching family dynamic between the family of chimpanzees, the pink poodle (Russi Taylor) who shelters and feeds tiny kittens who are scared and hungry, or the sympathetic airport custodian who takes pity on Babe and Mrs. Hoggett. It’s a weird, wild world of a film that Miller makes the most out of with every elaborately designed set piece, Dr. Seuss-esque spectacle and surreal flourish, but it’s also a serious minded tale with a brain in its head and a strong emotional centre, showing that ‘a kind and steady heart’ will always help in hard times. A masterpiece for all ages.

-Nate Hill

Knights be Damned: An Interview with Silvio Simac by Kent Hill

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Knights of the Damned is a film of a type you don’t see much of any more. When I was a kid there were fantasy films by the country mile – with titles including Wizards of the Lost Kingdom, Sword of the Valiant, Hawk the Slayer, The Archer, Zu Warriors, Knight of the Dragon.

But then, like the Western before them, they dried up and have henceforth become sporadic and fleeting. Knights of the Damned marks a return which sees the fantasy genre clash with the zombie phenomena in a film which sees a band of returning nights having to fight their way back to the castle of their sovereign lord through dragons, sirens and dark alchemy which has caused the dead to rise and stalk the living.

It is an exciting throwback to those fantasy films I know and love, as well as being something fresh and a little bit different. So, thrilled I was to speak with the star of show, Silvio Simac. And, thrilled was I to learn that KOTD is the first installment in an epic trilogy. Silvio is no doubt a future action movie notable and comes to the Damned with a CV of great roles in a vast array of high-concept cinema.

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So, for all you fantasy lovers out there that secretly yearn for a return to the heady days of high adventure – I won’t spoil it for you – check out Knights of the Damned now, and press play to listen to a fun interview with one of the knights most bold from days of old, whose mighty sword slashes the heads of those undead . . .

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(Courtesy of Kung-Fu Kingdom.com)

Silvio Simac is a Croatian-born British martial artist and actor who has enjoyed a long and varied three decade career with some outstanding achievements. These include being (multi-time) British, European and World Taekwondo champion. Aside from TKD, Silvio holds black belts in Choi Kwang Do, kickboxing, karate and combat self-defence. Having starred in numerous movies with such action superstars as Jet Li, Scott Adkins, Kane Kosugi and Jason Statham he also regularly attends martial arts and health-oriented seminars and conferences alongside such friends as Benny The Jet, Cynthia Rothrock, Michael Jai White, Don Wilson, Shannon Lee and many more! Silvio is widely respected by his peers for being a fount of martial arts knowledge and experience on training techniques, nutrition and philosophy; he remains a hardcore student of life, happily sharing and communicating what he’s learned with ease, covering those details that can be so easily overlooked by other teachers in this day and age.

Dark Cities, Dark Futures, Dark Caves: An Interview with Bruce Hunt by Kent Hill

Young Bruce Hunt loved movies and blowing things up. This love, and learning the basics of the craft from film magazines of the period, would firmly cement in his mind the path on which he would travel. As it was said in a film that Bruce would later work on, “Fate it seems, is not without a sense of irony,” a teenage Bruce would encounter Academy Award winning special-effects artist Dennis Muren in a cafe in London.

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It was Muren that would advise the dreamer to seek out an effects house in his native Australia for possible future employment and, after art school, that is what the talented Mr. Hunt would do. Working with small production houses on commercials his work would soon catch the eye of the founder of one of these companies, a man named Andrew Mason. It would be Mason, producing a film directed by Alex Proyas called Dark City, that would call on Hunt to bring his passion, and by then, professional eye for effects photography to his first big screen gig.

Work on another big flick would follow, as Mason would again tap Bruce and bring him to work on the Wachowski’s cinematic masterpiece The Matrix. There would be work on the film’s sequels before, at last, Bruce would sit in the director’s chair for The Cave, an adventure in deep terror. He would emerge from the darkness to work on Baz Luhrmann’s Australia only to descend again soon after for Guillermo del Toro’s Don’t be afraid of the Dark.

Through it all his love of the movies continues to drive him and, as you will hear, he has plans to get his visions back on that big screen, just as soon as he can. It was great to sit down with Bruce. Not only is he a filmmaker I admire, but it was great to just talk about movies with him.

If you don’t know his work then now is the time to check it out. But, if you already have and you’re a fan like me – then kick back and enjoy.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you my good mate . . . Bruce Hunt

Mel Gibson’s HACKSAW RIDGE

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Most of HACKSAW RIDGE is so conventional, it is admirable. It is a sweeping period piece epic that really doesn’t get made anymore, and if it does, it lacks the heart and soul that Gibson brings to this film. The battle sequence that is prominently featured in the trailer is truly awesome; it showcases Gibson’s supreme talent as a visual storyteller, blending CGI effects with practical explosions.

Gibson cast this film well. While at times it is strange seeing so many Australians and Europeans playing American GI’s, but never once does their native accent bleed through. Each actor selected for their respective role looks and feels the part, particularly the GI’s battling on Hacksaw Ridge. Vince Vaughn’s rebirth into dramatic roles is not getting enough attention. He really does America this film up monumentally, and he steals every single frame he is in.

The sweeping score by Rupert Gregson-Williams is fantastic, and the music wonderfully supports the epic visuals that Gibson carefully crafts. Simon Duggan’s cinematography is near perfect, making every shot in the film seamless and organic. The props, set design, costumes, and battlefield aesthetics are so on point, it makes the viewer wonder how much time was spent making sure they got everything just right.

The film certainly runs the risk of its religious conviction subject matter becoming overbearing, the point is clearly made, and made again, yet regardless of your personal beliefs, you cannot help but admire and applaud Desmond Doss as a hero. Andrew Garfield’s turn as Doss is very good, but in a year of overwhelmingly solid performances from male leads, it is a bit surprising he got nominated, but considering the Academy’s abundant love for the picture, it makes sense.

A lot has, and continues to be said about Gibson and his previous transgressions. But for those of us who can separate a person’s personal life from their art – this is a flat-out welcomed return from a cinematic titan who has been sorely missed. HACKSAW RIDGE may not be more worthy than other films that missed being nominated for Best Picture, but after viewing the film, you can’t be upset that the film and Gibson were nominated.

 

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – A Review by Nate Hill 

Some people give me funny looks when I say I enjoyed the Hobbit films. There’s this giant festering stigma around the entire trilogy that’s hard to wade through if you are one who geniunly did enjoy a lot of what Peter Jackson brought us with his second barrage of Middle Earth sagas. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of things he muffed up, the chief aspect being editing and length. We did not ask for, need or want an entire LOTR lenghth trilogy based on a book that could have fit into one volume of that series. Jackson has a tendancy to overreach, film too much and throw it all into his final cut. It started with the extended cuts of LOTR, which were somewhat unneeded, continued with King Kong, which could have been at least 45 minutes shorter, and has now climaxed with The Hobbit films. They’re so long and stretched out that at times we realize we’re not even watching stuff from Tolkien’s annexes or archives, but simply shit old Petey made up to pad the waistline of content that’s begging to be slimmed down. I’m still waiting for a fan edit that condenses everything down into what is necessary to tell the story, and pitch everything else into the purgatorial halls of DVD deleted scene land. And therein lies my argument: There’s gold to be found here, but a lot of folks are so turned off by all the unnecessary razzle dazzle that they have become blind to what actually worked. An Unexpected Journey kicks off the trilogy and definitely fares the best, feeling the most akin to the book. Martin Freeman is lovely as a young Bilbo, baffled to find thirteen rowdy dwarves dumped on his doorstep, the work of Gandalf The Grey (Ian McKellen, like he never left the role), who wishes to prod him in the direction of a most dangerous and thrilling adventure. Bilbo is a mild creature and deeply in love with the comforts of home, but is whisked along all the same, after a chaotic dinner party and plate throwing contest from this knobbly group of mountain dwelling pygmies. Orcs, Wargs, Goblins, colossal mountain giants and an appearance by the ever fascinating Gollum await them. There’s an interlude into Elrond’s heavenly glade where Gandalf, Saruman (Christopher Lee) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) have a little CSI: Rivendell episode with an ancient dagger that hints towards the return of Sauron. One thing Jackson added that is a highlight is additional wizard Radagast The Brown (Sylvester McCoy) an eccwntric hippie who rides a chariot led by massive rabbits in breakneck bouts of Need For Speed: Middle Earth with Orcs atop Wargs. A distinct feature about these films compared to LOTR is the ramping up of CGI; many Orcs are no longer stuntmen in gloriously goopy makeup, but giant computer rendered behemoths, taking some of the texture and authenticity away. Jackson also chose to shoot in many more frames per second than the human eye is used to, giving everything a strange, wax museum sheen that is pretty distracting. Close your bag of tricks and make us a goddamn straightforward flick Pete. Fuck sake. For all the issues, it’s terrific to be back in Middle Earth, however different it looks and feels. The production design is still an elaborate wonder of creative design and decoration, Howard Shore’s now timeless score makes a triumphant return and there’s a beautiful new song courtesy of the dwarves. Say what you want, bitch and moan til the Wargs come home, I love this first outing dearly and rank it nearly as high as LOTR. I can’t say the same for the next two, especially the exhausting Battle Of Five Armies which diminished my patience for Jackson and his tricks a whole lot. But, like I said, there’s always gold to be mined from the needless padding that’s been tossed in. One day someone will edit that perfect cut for us, and we’ll have that definitive Hobbit film. Until then, cherry pick the best parts and try to put the rest from your mind. 

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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The popular comic book superhero Captain America had his debut in March 1941 courtesy of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby who created him as a patriotic symbol in response to the actions of Nazi Germany in the years leading up to the United States’ involvement in World War II. Like any enduring comic book icon, Cap has undergone all kinds of changes over the years but as had few cinematic incarnations. He first appeared on film in a 1944 serial and then in a 1990 film that was so ill-conceived that it was released direct to home video in North America. One problem with the character is that his costume does not translate well to a live-action film. It didn’t help that at the time of the 1990 version, Marvel Comics, which owned the character, had little interest in cinematic adaptations of its titles until X-Men (2000) proved to be a surprise hit.

Since then, they’ve had a spotty track record with their properties. The Blade and Iron Man series were very successful but both Daredevil (2003) and Ghost Rider (2007) were box office and critical failures respectively. Part of the problem is the talent attached to these films. Getting the right director and cast that understand the characters and the worlds they inhabit is crucial and explains why the first two X-Men films were so good. For Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), the powers that be wisely hired Joe Johnston to direct. Since it was decided that the film be set during World War II who better to recapture that old school action/adventure vibe then the man who helmed The Rocketeer (1991) and Hidalgo (2004)? For the pivotal role of Captain America, Chris Evans was cast. He already had experience with superhero films playing the Human Torch in the awful Fantastic Four films and, as a result, was understandably reluctant to take on another comic book adaptation. The question remained, how would such an earnest, idealistic character translate in our cynical times and would movie-going audiences be able to relate to him? Judging by its opening weekend box office haul, quite well indeed.

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a skinny weakling who just wants to do his part for his country during wartime but he’s wracked with too many health problems to join the army. So, he volunteers for a risky top-secret experimental program known as Project Rebirth run by Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones at his crusty, ornery best) and Peggy Carter (charmingly played by Hayley Atwell). Rogers may not be physically strong but he’s brave, determined and willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good. Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) and playboy inventor Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) conduct the actual procedure that transforms Rogers into the perfect physical specimen, a Super Soldier complete with superior strength and agility.

Instead of putting him on the front lines where he wants to be, Rogers dons a corny costume (that pokes fun at previous cinematic incarnations), dubbed Captain America, and ordered to sell war bonds to the American public in a lame dog and pony show. While entertaining American troops in Italy, he hears that his best friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) has been captured by Hydra, a research wing of the Nazis who are so ambitious that they split from the Germans for playing it too safe. With Peggy and Stark’s help, Rogers disobeys orders to rescue his friend and 400 prisoners of war. Meanwhile, Hydra leaders Dr. Arnim Zola (Toby Jones) and Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) have discovered the Tesseract, a cosmic cube endowed with powerful magical energy that they harness so that it can be used to not only win the war but also take over the world. Schmidt was the first recipient of the Super Soldier formula and it transformed him into the Red Skull, a hideous-looking evil genius.

Hugo Weaving brings a suitably creepy menace to the role of the power hungry Red Skull aided in large part by the impressive and appropriately garish makeup job. Hayley Atwell is downright delightful as the brassy dame Peggy Carter who is more than capable of taking care of herself. The chemistry between her character and Rogers is nicely realized with snappy, slyly flirty dialogue reminiscent of a Howard Hawks film. The screenplay, written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, does a nice job of developing their relationship over time, keeping their romance simmering just under the surface for most of the film until its tragic conclusion that carries a surprising emotional resonance because we’ve become invested in them. After all kinds of supporting roles over the years, Chris Evans finally gets to prove that he has the chops to carry a big budget blockbuster. He brings a no-nonsense charisma to the role and conveys Cap’s idealism without coming across as forced or phony.

Joe Johnston brings the same old school Classic Hollywood vibe he brought to The Rocketeer complete with a refreshing lack of cynicism and irony as he delivers a straightforward action/adventure tale. And like with that previous film, he includes all sorts of nice comic book touches, like the introduction of the Howling Commandos, a ragtag group of soldiers that fought alongside Nick Fury in the comics and fight with Cap in the film. In particular, the actors who play Dum Dum Dugan (Neal McDonough) and Gabe Jones (Derek Luke) bear an uncanny resemblance to their comic book counterparts right down to how they look and act. Unlike Zack Snyder (Watchmen, Sucker Punch), who imposes too much of his personal style, Johnston understands that the film’s style should service the story – anything else is a distraction. He even employs Snyder’s trademark “speed-ramping” technique but in a way that fits seamlessly with the action sequences, which are exciting and expertly choreographed, devoid of schizophrenic editing. You always know who is fighting whom and where. Captain America may not reinvent wheel in terms of the comic book superhero genre but it doesn’t have to. It is a crowd-pleasing popcorn movie with nothing else on its mind but to tell an entertaining story.