Tag Archives: Andy Serkis

Review: Rian Johnson brings balance to The Force with ‘The Last Jedi’


AUDIO: Tim reviews “The Last Jedi” on the “KQ Morning Show” with Tom Barnard. Segment beings 7 minutes in.

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (PG-13)

Writer-director Rian Johnson expertly creates the unexpected in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” the eighth chapter in the Skywalker family space saga conceived by George Lucas 40 years ago. Naturally, after seven “Star Wars” films (eight, if you include last year’s spinoff, “Rogue One”), the environment is going to feel familiar at the outset of “The Last Jedi,” but the minute that Rey (Daisy Ridley) completes the stirring scene that started at the conclusion of “The Force Awakens” and hands the long-exiled Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) his lightsaber, the unexpected takes hold and all bets are off.

Although virtually no time has passed between the end of “The Force Awakens” and beginning of “The Last Jedi,” the celebration of the Resistance after blowing up the First Order’s Death Star-like Starkiller Base is short-lived. The base, while massive, is only one component of the First Order’s cache of weapons, and its stranglehold on the Resistance has reached a critical point.

With virtually nowhere else to turn, Rey must convince Luke to come out of hiding to help the Resistance before its too late, but Luke’s more fearful of Rey’s Jedi powers and that they may lead her down the same dark path as his former student and nephew, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) – the former Ben Solo and son of Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and General Leia (Carrie Fisher). Meanwhile, Kylo’s powers are growing as he’s continued his training under the vengeful alien Supreme Leader Snoke (motion capture by Andy Serkis), and their resolve to capture Luke is drawing closer to a reality until Rey marches forth to thwart their plans.

In addition to Hamill, “The Last Jedi” features an expanded role for Fisher, who sadly passed away last year after she completed her work on the film. Because of that, Johnson stayed the course and didn’t alter Leia’s storyline, yet given the circumstances, her dialogue in “The Last Jedi” takes on a deeper meaning and is all the more poignant.

Despite that dark cloud hanging over the film, “The Last Jedi” has a wide range of emotions, from euphoria to dread, with lots of moments of levity in-between. There’s a lot of welcome humor in the film, and a lot of times it comes from the characters you wouldn’t expect. That includes from the new cuddly creatures the Porgs, the inhabitants on Luke’s remote planet in a galaxy far, far away, who are destined to become favorites of fans of all ages.  In the end, “The Last Jedi” is a perfectly blended mix of action, intrigue, humor and emotion, easily making it the best film in the series since “The Empire Strikes Back” in 1980.

It’s hard to say where the franchise will go from here with one episode in the Skywalker family saga left, but for the time being, there’s no question that Johnson has brought balance to The Force with “The Last Jedi.”

Lammometer: 9.5 (out of 10)

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Interview: Steve Zahn talks ‘War of the Planet of the Apes’

Without question, Steve Zahn has been one of the most reliable actors to work in Hollywood in the past two-plus decades. Zahn’s list of credits is long and impressive — ranging from his breakthrough role in director Ben Stiller’s romantic dramedy “Reality Bites” and a starring turn in Tom Hanks’ directorial debut “That Thing You Do!” — to a turn opposite Eddie Murphy in the smash comedy “Daddy Day Care” and more recently, a memorable recurring guest turn on TV’s “Modern Family.”

Yet for all the comedy Zahn has done, he’s had a fine share of serious film roles, too, including the adventure drama “Rescue Dawn” alongside Christian Bale and “Dallas Buyers Club” opposite his “Sahara” co-star Matthew McConaughey.

All told, the Minnesota native’s ability to stretch himself across the character spectrum has come to serve him well, and was no doubt a factor in his casting him in the pivotal role as Bad Ape in writer-director Matt Reeves’ new sci-fi thriller “War for the Planet of the Apes,” which opens in theaters nationwide Friday.

In a phone conversation from New York Wednesday, Zahn said he still can’t quite get over how the wizardry of computer artists added layers onto his motion capture performance to create a living, breathing simian; yet without losing the essence of the emotions he provided just beneath the surface.

“It’s a crazy experience when you first see yourself as an ape,” Zahn recalled of the first time saw footage of Bad Ape. “I was actually moved by it. It was a moving experience. It’s hard to explain.”

Bad Ape is a highly-evolved, former zoo chimpanzee who managed to survive an intensifying conflict between humans and apes as the simians continue to evolve as a species while the human population struggles to survive. And despite his desire to keep to himself, Bad Ape proves to be a valuable ally to Caesar (Andy Serkis) as he and a small band of apes seek the location of a bloodthirsty military colonel (Woody Harrelson) who is hell-bent on eradicating his enemies before Earth becomes a planet of ape

s.

“My view of Bad Ape when I read for Matt was that I didn’t think of him as this comedic character — I told him that I thought of him as a tragic character, ” Zahn said in a phone conversation from New York Wednesday. “He was living in the mountains and had lost his friends, and was dealing with his seclusion by collecting stuff and becoming a hoarder. When Caesar and the others show up, he’s so excited to have companionship — and he bonds with Caesar over the incredible losses they’ve had in their lives.”

Reeves does, naturally, take advantage of Zahn’s comedic gifts at times, but even then, they’re more in moments of situational comedy than set-ups for a laugh.

“I knew that Bad Ape would be funny in opposition to Caesar,” Zahn said. “His pace is different. He’s quick, he can’t stop talking, he can’t stop thinking, and he’s always rocking back and forth. I knew that would have levity in this really dark story, and Matt agreed. But when I auditioned for the role, it was for a very moving scene, and Matt was moved by it and he will tell you that’s why he hired me. He also, knew though, that I had the ability to find the humor in things.”

Ape for Oscar

Already being lauded by critics as one of the best movies of the new “Planet of the Apes” trilogy as well as one of the best movies of the year, Zahn is hoping that above all, Serkis’ third performance as Caesar is the charm with voters from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Serkis, Zahn said, should not be judged on his motion-capture acting abilities, though, but his acting abilities.

“Andy’s performance in this movie is profound. It is one for the ages,” Zahn, 49, said. “I remember somebody asked me, ‘Was it like taking a master class from him in motion capture acting? ‘ and I said, ‘No. Working with Andy is like taking a master class in acting — period.’ That’s what we’re doing. We’re not doing any other thing.”

Zahn added, however, that motion-capture does certainly have its advantages.

Steve Zahn as Bad Ape in War for the Planet of the Apes (photo 20th Century Fox) final version

“It’s one of the greatest tools you can have as an actor, because you can literally play anything you want,” Zahn observed. “Andy went from playing Gollum to playing King Kong. What an incredible thing to do. I was new to it with this film and I really didn’t know what to expect, and it was the most challenging acting job I’ve ever had. I’m extremely proud of it.”

Zahn does believe, though, that for awards voters to honor the craft, they need to be exposed to a lot more motion-capture to get a greater understanding of it. And even though Serkis has been perfecting the craft since his days on “The Lord of the Rings” movies, some people simply don’t quite get how motion-capture performances are achieved.

“It really irks me — and Andy just laughed when I emailed him about it — when I read a line that said, ‘And Steve Zahn lends his voice to Bad Ape.’ And that was written by someone in the business. I thought, ‘Lends my voice? ‘ Oh, my God. I was pissed! I emailed him and he was just like, ‘Yeah, I’ve been dealing with this for 17 years.’ I really felt for him when he said that. He’s an incredible actor.”

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Tim Burton Book 2
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Review: ‘War for the Planet of the Apes

VIDEO:  Watch Tim’s review of “War for the Planet of the Apes” on KARE 11 (NBC).

“War for the Planet of the Apes” (PG-13)

Director Matt Reeves and Caesar motion capture artist Andy Serkis team together once again for “War for the Planet of the Apes,” the third and perhaps best film in the new “Apes” trilogy that began with the 2011 prequel “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”

“War for the Planet of the Apes” picks up a few years after the events of the second film “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” where at the conclusion, the rogue ape Koba (Toby Kebbell) tricks his fellow simians into a conflict with the surviving humans of a worldwide plague. While the humans and evolving ape society managed to live apart with nothing more than a tense atmosphere between them, Koba’s deadly meddling was enough to ensure that apes and humans would never live in harmony.

With the ape population growing and the human population decimated, a bloodthirsty military heavy known only as The Colonel (the always great Woody Harrelson) looks to eradicate the earth of all apes, beginning with their leader Caesar. Inflicting a huge loss on Caesar after he infiltrates the apes’ stronghold, The Colonel successfully draws his target out into the open; leading to the deadly confrontation that Caesar has so long fought to avoid.

“War for the Planet of the Apes” no doubt has its share of battle scenes as the title promises, but at the heart of the film there’s so much more, including parallels to the darkest part of America’s past. With a proper balance of action and a meaningful story, Reeves has easily constructed one of the best films of the year, complete with stellar performances by Serkis, Harrelson, Karin Konoval (reprising her role as the wise

orangutan Maurice) and Steve Zahn — who plays a former zoo chimpanzee named Bad Ape (the words used to admonish him) who learned his traits from humans.

With any luck, the Academy of the Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will stop ignoring sci-fi films and motion capture performances (particularly Serkis’) and award “War for the Planet of the Apes” with all the attention it so richly deserves come Oscar time.

Lammometer 9 (out of 10)

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AUDIO: Listen to Tim’s review of “War for the Planet of the Apes” on “The KQ Morning Show” with Tom Barnard.

Tim Burton Book 2
Click book cover for info on how to buy!

Review: Tim Lammers talks ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ on KARE-TV

'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes' (photo -- 20th Century Fox)

Tim reviews the sci-fi thriller “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” with Bryan Piatt on KARE 11 TV (NBC) in Minneapolis.  See the review of the film, starring Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Toby Kebbell and Keri Russell, below. You can also read the print version of the review on BringMeTheNews.com.

Also, read Tim’s interview with director Matt Reeves HERE.

Also, listen to my review of the film with Steve and Dan on WOC Radio 1420.