Interview: Nick Park talks Aardman stop-motion comedy ‘Early Man’

For a movie about cavemen, the new Aardman Animations stop-motion animation feature “Early Man” is, ironically, quite evolved. In technical terms, it’s a far cry from writer-director Nick Park’s early “Wallace & Gromit” shorts from the late 1980s and 1990s, when Park himself shot the stories on film and even had a big hand, so to speak, in making the characters move.

And while digital technology has eased the burden of the ever-so-precise medium of stop-motion filmmaking, Park found himself taking a step backward to create the opening scene of “Early Man.” Beginning in prehistoric times, the opening scene is a tribute to stop-motion pioneer Ray Harryhausen that features dinosaurs appropriately named Ray and Harry.

“The whole movie was shot with digital cameras, so it looked immaculate when we shot the whole dinosaur sequence,” Park said in a recent phone conversation from San Francisco. “The sad thing is, we had to distress the footage to make it look like film shot in 1970. So, ironically, we had to put digital dust and grain on the scene and had to make the colors look a bit more like slightly old Technicolor. It seemed criminal to do that since the scene looked so wonderful at the beginning, but that’s what we needed to do to make it look like a Ray Harryhausen movie.”

“Early Man” tells the story of Dug (voice of Eddie Redmayne), who along with his pet warthog Hognob (Park) and tribe, have their primitive existence interrupted by progress, as the villainous Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) and his minions from the Bronze Age City begin to expand his kingdom into the forest. Before he can do so, though, Dug lays down a challenge: If he and his tribe can defeat the Bronze Age City’s formidable soccer club in a match, Nooth must let his primitive neighbors live in peace. The problem is, Dug and company don’t know a thing about soccer, even though his ancestors by happenstance invented the sport.

Dug (voice of Eddie Redmayne) and Hognob (Nick Park) in 'Early Man' (photo Lionsgate

Opening in theaters nationwide on Friday, “Early Man” also stars Maisie Williams (“Game of Thrones”) as the voice of Goona, a spunky citizen of the Bronze Age City who helps Dug’s tribe find their full potential as soccer players.

Given the lighter tone of previous Aardman hits like “Chicken Run,” the Wallace & Gromit adventure “Curse of the Were-Rabbit” and “Shaun the Sheep Movie,” Park, who has won four Oscars for his stop-motion work, knew he had a great way in to lightening the proceedings of “Early Man.” The story is inspired by the beloved worldwide sport of soccer — better known as football outside of the U.S.

“It just struck me as idea — I’m always waiting for the ‘lighting strikes’ ideas that make me stand up and want to make me make the film,” Park said. “I didn’t want to just make a caveman epic. It had to have some sort of different, off-the-wall idea that makes it a bit quirky and a bit Aardman. That’s when I had the idea of, ‘What if cavemen played sports?’ Then I began to think that maybe playing sports was a way of civilizing insolence. If you think about it, it’s true that primitive aggression is channeled into the tribalism that surrounds a sport like soccer.”

Of course, the aggression we see in the family-friendly “Early Man” is very playful and done in a comedic sort of way, which is a hallmark of every Aardman Animations production to date. Rooted in cheeky British humor, Aardman’s films separate themselves from other stop-motion works not only in tone, but in style, given that the characters are molded from clay (hence the reason the company’s films are often referred to as “claymation”).

“Why I love stop-motion with clay, is that it’s done in this sort of style that has kind of humor and charm that comes with it,” Park said.

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And if Aardman keeps that sense of humor and charm that separates itself from most movies, Park is confident that the art of stop-motion will endure, despite ever-burgeoning technological advancements in the field of computer-generated animation.

“I remember 20, 30 years ago with the rise of CGI, we would think, ‘How many days do we have left?'” Park said. “But today, there’s a great flourishing of stop-motion, still, with studios out there like Laika, and filmmakers like Tim Burton and Wes Anderson — who is getting ready to release another stop-motion film — it’s incredible. As for Aardman, I know our style stands out against all those CG films, and there are some great CG films out there.”

Tim Lammers reviews movies weekly for The KQ92 Morning Show,” “KARE 11 News at 11” (NBC), “The Tom Barnard Podcast” and “The BS Show” with Bob Sansevere.

Copyright 2017

Movie review: ‘Black Panther’ impressive addition to Marvel Cinematic Universe

“Black Panther” (PG-13)

The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to amaze with “Black Panther,” the first solo movie featuring the legendary Marvel Comics character created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1966. First appearing on the big screen in “Captain America: Civil War” in 2016 with Chadwick Boseman in the title role, the “Black Panther” solo film finally gives the character of T’Challa/Black Panther the big screen real estate the character deserves, and Boseman, director Ryan Coogler and the film’s impressive supporting cast make the most of it.

“Black Panther” is set almost entirely fictional African country of Wakanda, a hidden fortress that is the most technologically advanced country in the world. At their disposal is an endless supply of an alien metal known as Vibranium, which the newly-anointed King T’Challa use for good, but if it falls into the wrong hands, could have global implications. The threat becomes real when T’Challa’s long-lost cousin Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) finds his way into the Wakanda and challenges the king to his birthright to ascend to the throne.

Following his impressive turn in “Captain America: Civil War” in 2016, Boseman proves from the beginning of “Black Panther” that he can easily carry a film on his own, something fans of the actor already knew after his memorable turns as Jackie Robinson in “42” and James Brown in “Get on Up.” Boseman is no longer one of about a dozen principal characters he’s dividing time with, and he’s able to give T’Challa/Black Panther some depth because of it.

By Black Panther having a solo film, it also allows for other characters to be introduced into the story, which are wonderfully realized by the likes of Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o, Forrest Whitaker, Dana Gurira, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, Letita Wright and Daniel Kaluuya. The key to the film’s success is, while the action is intense, the sets are jaw-dropping and the special effects are spectacular, they never outweigh the story Coogler is telling. “Black Panther” gives more than enough room for its characters to breathe, and they create a memorable superhero film in the process.

Lammometer: 8 (out of 10)

Tim Lammers reviews movies weekly for The KQ92 Morning Show,” “KARE 11 News at 11” (NBC), “The Tom Barnard Podcast” and “The BS Show” with Bob Sansevere.

Copyright 2017

Movie review: ‘The 15:17 to Paris’ deserves full salute

“The 15:17 to Paris” (PG-13)

If you go to director Clint Eastwood’s compelling new true-life drama “The 15:17 to Paris” to focus on the acting, you’re missing the point. Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler are not professional actors,  they’re re-enactors of the biggest story of their lives.  They were brought aboard the film by Eastwood to give its audience the only true perspective of what went into the trio of lifelong friends’ daring move to take down an ISIS terrorist armed with rifles and 300 rounds of ammunition to kill as many innocent people as possible on a passenger train bound for Paris in August 2015. Even if Eastwood would have cast the best actors in the business to play Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler, “The 15:17 to Paris” wouldn’t have had nearly as much impact.

The focal point of “The 15:17 to Paris,” naturally, is how the trio thwarted the terrorist attack, as Stone selflessly charged toward the gunman with a weapon pointed at him, a move that would have certainly been the Air Force member’s last if not for the fact that the terrorist’s weapon malfunctioned. As Stone desperately tried to subdue the terrorist, Army National Guard Specialist Skarlatos and Sadler jumped in and attempted to beat the would-be killer into submission until Stone choked him out. Perhaps even more amazing, Stone, who was slashed and nearly had his left thumb cut off by the terrorist, ignored his wounds as he attended to a shooting victim with blood gushing from his neck.

The 1517 to Paris

Unfolding in the same natural way Eastwood’s harrowing true-life tale “Sully” did in 2016, Eastwood gives context to “The 15:17 to Paris,” first by examining how the three friends came to be as middle schoolers in Sacramento, California. Separated by different circumstance soon thereafter, their friendship endured, and the action picks up again as Stone joins the Air Force, Skarlatos enlists in the Army, and Sadler — never showing any interest in the military –sits it out but supports his best friends.

While “The 15:17 to Paris” is far from Eastwood’s best directorial effort, the film still shows how phenomenal of a filmmaker he truly is. Yes, the scene where the trio takes down the ISIS terrorist is masterfully done, but where Eastwood truly excels is finding a profound meaning in the trio’s back story. Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler were all bullied and were outcasts, and while they didn’t fit in at their school, they still found each other. If not for that fortuitous friendship and establishment of a solid foundation that guided them throughout their turbulent young lives, their destiny to save as many of 500 people on August 21, 2015, simply never would have been realized. For that reason alone, all those involved in “The 15:17 to Paris” deserves our full salute.

Lammometer: 8 (out of 10)

Tim Lammers reviews movies weekly for The KQ92 Morning Show,” “KARE 11 News at 11” (NBC), “The Tom Barnard Podcast” and “The BS Show” with Bob Sansevere.

Copyright 2017

Movie review: Despite impressive cast, ‘Hostiles’ plods

AUDIO: Listen to Tim’s review of “Hostiles” on “The KQ Morning Show” with Tom Barnard. Segment begins 12 minutes in.

“Hostiles” (R)

Christian Bale leads an impressive cast in a film that never realizes its full potential in “Hostiles,” a meandering, post-Civil War period film from Scott Cooper (“Crazy Heart,” “Black Mass”). Finally expanding into theaters after an unsuccessful awards season run, “Hostiles” likely won’t have the steam to last long in theaters despite the best efforts of Bale and company.

“Hostiles” is set in 1892, when a well-regarded Calvary captain (Bale) is tasked by the U.S. president to transport a dying Cheyenne war chief (Wes Studi) and his family from New Mexico back to the chief’s tribal land in Montana. Reluctant to take on the mission because the chief was responsible for the deaths of several of his friends, the captain embarks on horseback with a traveling party for what is supposed to be his last mission before he retires. Sworn enemies at the beginning, as the captain and the chief trek through brutal territory where they are safe from no one, and eventually realize they must band together if they are going to survive the brutal environs.

Although “Hostiles” shows tremendous promise at the beginning, the film never gains any momentum, despite the best efforts of Bale, Studi and Rosamund Pike as woman who suffered a horrific family tragedy that the dangerous, unforgiving ride. The film moves as slow as the horses the cast members ride upon, as any moments of intensity are far outweighed by long, uneventful stretches that sadly lead to a predictable outcome.

Lammometer: 6 (out of 10)

Tim Lammers reviews movies weekly for The KQ92 Morning Show,” “KARE 11 News at 11” (NBC), “The Tom Barnard Podcast” and “The BS Show” with Bob Sansevere.

Copyright 2017

Original Interviews, Reviews & More By Tim Lammers