Month: January 2015

Birdman

BIRDMAN-poster-cropspoilers warning just in case

Saw Birdman with my Mum tonight. It’s nice to see a much-hyped movie that actually deserves the critical drooling, once in a while. We discussed it briefly once the credits got rolling, and both agreed that we’ve never seen anything quite like this movie.

I had no idea what to expect, to be honest, as the few reviews I’ve read were rather vague, deliberately so I suspect. All I knew was that it had Michael Keaton as Riggan, a washed-up Hollywood actor who was once famous for portraying the superhero Batman, I mean Birdman, struggling to put up a Broadway play as some kind of last-ditch attempt at success and validation. So far so typical and a kind of scenario I’ve seen in many many films; you know, a hero down on his luck has his last chance and blah blah blah. And I guess I was pretty certain that, somehow, despite all odds, the play would turn out to be a huge success and wipe the smug smile off the face of Lindsay Duncan’s bitchy theatre critic. And yes that’s in fact what happens, but there’s absolutely nothing predictable about the way it gets there, or the way Riggan’s personal dramas play out. Just when you think that certain things will go a certain way, the movie goes nope! and nothing of the kind happens. Like, when Riggan’s girlfriend announces her pregnancy to him, you kinda automatically expect some cliched developments that would have happened for sure in another movie, but here it just gets dropped and never becomes a big thing at all.

The movie is ingeniously shot in a way to make it look like one long continuous take; the camera just roams around following one character and then another and then another, switching between interior and street scenes, in a sort of a cinematic dance. It’s accompanied mostly by a nervy, jazzy drum score. At first I thought it was going to drive me up the wall, but in fact it’s a brilliant choice that really added to the energy and the feeling of unpredictability. The movie really captures the feel and vibe of New York and the chaotic, frazzled behind-the-scenes atmosphere of the theatre.

Riggan’s costumed alter-ego, Birdman, adds a surreal touch to the proceedings, and I loved how they built him up in the movie, first as the raspy voice in Riggan’s head and then culminating in an over-the-top sequence straight out of a superhero movie, in which the now fully visible Birdman shows how awesome things would be again if Riggan made another Birdman movie. Riggan’s powers, which include flying and telekinesis, are surely all in his head… or are they? The movie kinda leaves it up to the viewer to decide. Me, I always loved the idea of real-life magic.

The cast was truly outstanding – it was the kind of movie where everyone, even those in minor roles, just fire on all cylinders and spark off each other. I’ve been a fan of Edward Norton since American History X, but his masked turn as King Baldwin in 2005’s Kingdom of Heaven was the last time I truly loved a performance of his; since then it was a long dry patch with minor appearances in Wes Anderson’s movies now and then. So it was great to see him in a substantial role again, as a vain and bullish actor, who comes in as the last-minute replacement in Riggan’s play and who is hilariously serious about his Art. Michael Keaton was outstanding in the lead; Emma Stone continues to make smart acting choices and is fantastic as Riggan’s messed-up daughter. It’s probably part make-up but sheesh her eyes looked just huge in her face, almost like an anime character or something. Wonderfully expressive eyes, too.

When I got home the Murray-Berdych match was still going, with a schizophrenic score of 7-6, 0-5. Murray is kinda dour but hey he’s a ginger and Scottish and I have a soft spot for both, so go Murray.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

The_Hobbit_-_The_Battle_of_the_Five_ArmiesFinally saw The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies last week.

This prequel trilogy has been a wildly uneven ride for me. I don’t think I’d ever care to watch the first film again in my life; it was three long hours of boredom, unnecessary story padding, pointless cameos and forgettable action sequences with far too many CGI characters. The Desolation of Smaug on the other hand was a pleasant surprise that made me feel like these films finally had a reason to exist. It still suffered from many of the same problems, most notably overlong action sequences with very questionable physics (even by movie standards), but it also injected some urgency and momentum into the story, introduced new engaging characters, and had great action even if some of it went on for too long. I even liked the elf/dwarf romance which apparently annoyed a lot of people. And of course it had the magnificent creature that is Smaug the dragon.

The first 15 minutes of Five Armies deal with Smaug frying the hell out of Laketown in revenge for helping the dwarves, and the attempt by Luke Evans’ Bard to take him down. It’s a spectacular sequence but it also felt like a bizarre start to the movie, to be honest, as something like this would normally be a climatic event near the end of the movie. It makes the rest of the movie feel like an aftermath or an epilogue rather than a story that builds up to a big conclusion. There’s barely any story at all, in fact, as the bulk of the movie is taken up by the titular battle of five armies: the big-scale action and the individual combats, which, while never actually boring, still go on for too……. damn………… long. (As a nitpick, were there really five armies? I didn’t keep a tab or anything but some of the parties involved seemed too puny to deserve that description.)

Martin Freeman is, once again, a delight to watch as Bilbo, but unfortunately he’s sidelined badly in this movie, even though his character is the owner of the biggest head in the poster above. Which was probably inevitable: he can’t play much role in the combat, and his character development from being a reluctant adventurer who’s been yanked from his comfortable existence to getting respect from the rest of the dwarves was already done by the end of the first film. He also doesn’t have a show-stopper dialogue scene here like he did with Gollum and Smaug in the previous two films. Most of the character development here belongs to Thorin, who gets corrupted with the dragon sickness and basically doesn’t give a shit about helping the Laketown survivors or even joining his fellow dwarves in the battle when they get overrun with an army of Orcs. (Why does this sickness affect him alone and none of the other dwarves, by the way?) I thought Richard Armitage did a great job, even though I didn’t really like the idea of Thorin getting possessed by the evil gold; it feels too much like a rehash of the One Ring from the original trilogy.

It kinda pains me to say this because I loved loved Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings, but I just never felt like Ian McKellen’s heart was really in it this time around. Maybe it’s because his original hesitation to reprise the role is showing through, maybe it’s because his character is saddled with a total bore of a subplot. The Necromancer segment is clearly an excuse to throw in some veteran cameos like Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee, and set up the events of the original trilogy, but to me it all fell flat and unnecessary. Behold the doom and gloom and the dark forebodings of terrible things to happen… except, er, they won’t actually happen for many decades to come.

King_Thranduil_portrait_-_EmpireMag

Me and my perfectly straightened hair are just too fabulous for the rest of you low-born oafs

Rest of the characters? Thranduil, the fabulously haughty Elvish king is again enjoyable here – and this time he rides into battle on a giant stag! How cool is that? Though I liked their romance in the previous movie, Kili and Tauriel’s doomed love story gets lost in the shuffle and its conclusion is not as moving as it should have been. The rest of the dwarves remain as anonymous as ever. Despite what I said about pointless cameos above, I really enjoyed seeing Legolas again in these movies and I’m not even sure why; Orlando Bloom is not my kind of eye-candy and as a character Legolas is paper-thin, and when it comes to ridiculous movie physics the scene where Legolas runs up the crumbling steps is the worst offender in the whole trilogy. I think I actually said oh come on! out loud in the theatre when it happened.

In terms of visuals and production values the movie looks as beautiful and rich as ever and after featuring in six films the New Zealand landscapes are still stunning. I really don’t like this new heavier reliance on the CGI though; I realise that real people wearing latex suits probably limits the design of the creatures, but Azog the albino Orc for instance just doesn’t have the solidity and menace of the Orcs and Uruk-hai in the Lord of the Rings.

Overall, The Battle of the Five Armies is not anywhere as dreary as the first film but I don’t know if I’d re-watch it like I would the second film. I think it would have worked much better as a final act of a movie rather than its own thing, and it would have benefitted a lot from some ruthless editing.


Trailers before the movie included The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. All I could think of was, wow they’re really handing movie critics some serious ammunition with this title. And wow, is everything these days milked for sequels or what?

Saw the teaser for the upcoming Star Wars movie, as well. Nothing remotely exciting happened in it and it looked like more of the same: desert, stormtroopers, Millennium Falcon, lightsabers etc. The only exciting bit was John Williams’ original score – I’m not even a huge Star Wars fan or anything but man it just raises your heart rate hearing it in the cinema.

 

Artwork in progress (also, first post!)

At the moment, I’m doing my first-ever commissioned artwork. I often had an idea of keeping some kind of progress journal and documenting the stages of my artworks, but I was just never motivated and organised enough. Now that I have this blog thing, I’ve finally decided to try and take the in-progress photos once a month. Better late than never and all.

Anyways, this artwork has been commissioned by my brother, who is a big fan of Red vs. Blue (according to wikipedia, it’s an American comic science fiction video web series). He’s given me this reference for what he’d like the artwork to look like:

RvB_FreelancerNaturally, because I’m recreating this illustration using fabrics, I had to simplify it a lot and make everything flatter. For now, I’m concentrating on the background; the figures frankly look so fiddly and detailed I don’t want to think about them just yet. My brother wanted the finished piece to be as large as possible, so I’m doing this at 142 cm width x 95 cm height. It just about fits on the dining table back at Mum’s place, which she kindly allowed me to use even though it’s going to look a tad messy for many months to come. Thanks Mum!

Here’s what I got done after five months:

RvB_Jan15So, most of the base layers are done and I’ve almost finished the floor detailing. The colours aren’t as accurate as I’d have liked, but then you’re pretty much limited with what you can find at craft/fabric stores and so far I’m pretty happy with my picks. At one point, I had to rip off the middle floor panel and redo all the details because I decided that the fabric I’ve picked originally was far too grey, but other than that there’ve been no major disasters.

Just to give an idea of how slowly this all happens, here are the general steps I do for every detail:

1. Cut out the detail template.
2. Measure it against the existing artwork to make sure it fits ok because neither fabrics nor myself are perfect.
3. Trace the template on the sheet of double-sided sticky paper, making sure it faces the right way.
4. Give the piece of fabric I’m using some ironing so it’s nice and even.
5. Stick the fabric onto the peeled side of the paper, making sure there are no creases.
6. Cut out the detail.
7. Measure it against the existing artwork again, because tracing and cutting are never 100% accurate.
8. Unpeel the bottom side of the detail.
9. With the baited breath, slot it into its place on the artwork. If you’re sticking it onto another fabric, there’s a chance to unpeel and redo if it’s gone a bit wrong, but if you’re attaching it to the cardboard base, this is your one and only chance to get it right because it will stick with a deadly grip. If you end up with bubbles of air trapped in between, they’re a pain to get rid of.
10. Repeat 1,372 times over and voila you have your artwork!