Tag: martin freeman


Cargo (2017)
★★ / ★★★★

Although dramatic horror-thriller “Cargo” offers an intriguing premise involving a father who must find a safe haven for his infant child during a zombie apocalypse, the work is neither particularly moving nor exciting. For the most part, it is repetitive in that it involves a lot of walking, sometimes in circles, across beautiful Australian desert lands. I found only modest entertainment out of it outside of moments when the undead lunges and goes for a bite.

The screenplay is written by Yolanda Ramke, who co-directs with Ben Howling, and it is clear that she is going for a more character-driven piece. The desperate father, Andy, is played by Martin Freeman who is suitable for the role. However, the character does not possess much depth to him other than his level of determination to provide safety for his kin. He is thrown into difficult situations, like clashing with an opportunist (Anthony Hayes) who makes an outpost at a former gas plant, but we learn he is not especially strategic or cunning when necessary. We get the impression eventually that he survives thus far simply because the plot requires that he does. I found the character boring at times.

At least the zombies possess curious behavior. Symptoms are bizarre and creepy, particularly when they feel compelled to dig a hole and put their heads in it. Nothing is explained and so we consider the possibilities. Do they feel the need to hide or protect their heads from heat, light, sound, or something else? A brown, viscous substance comes out of their eyes, noses, mouths, even open wounds. These are details worth seeing in a zombie flick because they have not been introduced within this context before. It leaves plenty to the imagination which helps during the film’s slower moments.

Also worth thinking about is the inclusion of an Aboriginal cast. I am not well-versed in the history behind Australia’s ancient people and white men introduced to the island, but it is apparent that there is social commentary about the two groups and infectious diseases. There are beautiful images of indigenous warriors covered in paint slaying the hordes of the undead among the smoke. There is a dream-like quality about it that is almost poetic. I was more interested in getting to know these warriors than the man who wishes to save his baby.

Although the film introduces new elements to the well-worn sub-genre, I found “Cargo” to be tolerable hike rather than thoroughly absorbing as a character-driven dramatic work that just so happens to have horror elements. It cannot be denied that it has ambition, but I found that, as a whole, it is a bit dull and it offers minimal tension. If bitten, victims of zombie attacks have forty-eight hours before they become one themselves. There were moments when I wished to speed up the countdown.

Ghost Stories

Ghost Stories (2017)
★ / ★★★★

British horror anthology “Ghost Stories,” written and directed by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman, attempts to deliver a spooky time by minimizing special and visual effects and underlining aptly executed light and shadow, creepy interiors, a slow but calculated pacing, and performances that draw the viewers in. However, the material fizzles out way too soon; by the final twenty minutes, it has nothing to hold onto but a series of clichés often found in awful horror films. What results is an experience that leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

Professor Goodman (Andy Nyman), debunker of the paranormal, is given a manila envelope that contains three enigmatic cases, unsolved by Charles Cameron (Leonard Byrne), a former supernatural investigator that Goodman looked up to during his formative years. The opening segment is strong and so it builds anticipation for what is about to come. Key, I think, is Nyman’s portrayal of a man of evidence and science. Although an academic, Goodman is not the scholastic and inaccessible type. Instead, he is played with a simplicity, an ordinariness—an important trait because people must open up to him to reveal their terrifying encounters.

The only worthwhile of the bunch is Tony Matthews’ story (Paul Whitehouse). The former night watchman in an abandoned correctional facility is driven to alcoholism by not only a mysterious encounter but also by life’s unfortunate turn of events. The flashback to Tony’s final night in the former psychiatric hospital is effectively executed, particularly in the rising action involving a ghost that wishes to play with him—which begins with the unplugging of cords that supply electricity to his office. Anybody who has worked in a building by himself can relate to the sudden chill of hearing a noise from a corner, or upstairs, or a room right next door… when nobody is supposed to be there to make a sound. In my case, I used to work in a modest museum and at times I would hear a noise, like creaking floorboards, from the supply storage upstairs. (“The building is old,” I told myself.)

Curious but never reaching its full potential is the story of Simon Rifkind (Alex Lawther), a young man who comes from a household of controlling parents. The opening few minutes is bizarre and intriguing. It gives the impression that nothing is as it seems inside the house, from the eerie photographs to the manner in which the parents simply stand next to each other in the kitchen without sharing a word. Simon’s story does not involve the house but rather an encounter in the dark woods. This is when the picture begins to fall apart. Cosmetics and costumes are employed in a jarring way, never scary but occasionally silly. This serves as precedent for the final case—which had the potential to be a standout.

I am not surprised that Martin Freeman decided to play the role of Mike Priddle, case number three, a man, like the two subjects before him, whose life had been upended by an unexplained phenomenon. What separates Mike’s story from the other three, however, is the specificity of the possible haunting: the baby’s room. You see, the doctors advised that he go home while his pregnant wife stays in the hospital for further observation. As expected, Freeman’s performance is the strongest, delivering a wealth of emotions every time he speaks. So it is most unfortunate that his storyline is the shortest and far undercooked. While Tony and Simon’s stories are given time to build, Mike’s story is rushed in order to make room for Goodman’s story.

The film might have been stronger had we remained to know little about Goodman’s background—even though he is the eyes from which we look through during the course of the interviews. To me, Goodman’s childhood story is junk for the most part because it serves only to deliver an ineffective, unbelievable, and unearned twist ending. After all, the best horror stories retain a mystery about them. This one makes the crucial mistake of attempting to explain everything.

The World’s End

The World’s End (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

When Gary King and his group of closest friends graduated in 1990, they made it their goal to complete the so-called Golden Mile, a marathon of drinking beers from twelve bars in Newton Haven. However, they only made it to nine. More than twenty years later, Gary (Simon Pegg) considers that particular day as the highlight of his life. He is now an alcoholic. He even lost contact with his buds. But he comes up with an idea: He will pay his friends a visit (Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, Martin Freeman), dispersed throughout England, and propose that they complete their mission.

There is something missing in “The World’s End,” written and directed by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, and that is a strong third act. The set-up involving the leader of the pack begging and persuading his friends to go along with his wild idea is sharp in poking fun of arrested male development. The twist in the middle is executed with over-the-top—and funny—elegance. However, the last section is uninspired mishmash of explosions and pandemonium. Bigger is not always better in a comedy and this one falls head first.

The cast is undeniably talented and each shines in his own way. Though Pegg commands the mile-a-minute quirky dialogue, it is Marsan who is particularly good especially when we come to learn the trauma he has endured in school. I enjoyed his performance because although he has fewer lines and his character’s personality is less showy, there is a calm about him that is magnetic. He speaks with his body language—the tired and hunched posture to the deceptive smile—and so he shines even when he is not the center of attention.

But this is not a straightforward comedy which is expected given the level of wit, creativity, and entertainment in “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz.” To reveal the wacky turn of events is to ruin part of the fun, but this is what should be said: the special and visual effects end up overshadowing what should have been a funnier film. Because so much is thrown at the screen, potentially funny one-liners miss precise timing and the chemistry among the men withers. Starting about halfway through, I chucked once or twice but never laughed. I was slightly amused but not engaged.

The final twenty minutes is messy and corny, almost devoid of charm. What is presented on screen feels like a shallow brainstorming session. There are a few good ideas but most are either complete junk or ought to be thought about more thoroughly in order to be considered as workable material. I felt as thought my intelligence and expectations were insulted. It expects to get away with silliness without actually being good or inspired.

There are claims that “The World’s End” is the best out of the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy (the other two being “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz). People who make such statements are either lying or they do not remember the other two very well. It is not a matter of taste but a matter of careful observation. Without a shadow of doubt, there is a significant gap in quality between this film and the other two. Let’s call a turkey a turkey—not a mythical goose that lays golden eggs.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

Having reclaimed Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), the Dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), must now defend it from disparate creatures of Middle-Earth who wish to take a piece of the Lonely Mountain’s great treasures. But with Thorin afflicted with an obsession to get his hands on the legendary Arkenstone, beyond Erebor’s defenses awaits several armies—Man, Elves, Orcs—that threaten to wage war if they fail to reach a compromise.

Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” offers a pleasant time given its above average level of entertainment, eye-catching special and visual effects, and neat seedlings that are sure to grow and blossom in “The Lord of the Rings.” However, the picture fails to get to me emotionally—at least on a consistent basis. We are supposed to be invested in the characters’ fates, romantic connections, and moral conundrums but they command little heft. Thus, when each subplot reaches a climax, we do not feel stirred or particularly moved; we only wish for the material to keep moving forward so we can see the next action scene.

Undercooked is the romance between Kili (Aidan Turner), a dwarf, and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), an elf. We get a few scenes of the star-crossed lovebirds giving each other sad and longing glances but we do not experience varying depth of their personalities when they are together—or when apart. As a result, it is a challenge to imagine a future for them despite the fact that they come from different worlds. The performers look good together but having physical chemistry and not much else proves to have its limits.

Most disappointing is the screenplay’s treatment of the dwarves once Thorin’s leadership starts to feel questionable. Instead of allowing each member to shine and become memorable, they essentially react in the same manner. A few of them do not even get a chance to speak. Those that do say nothing of particular importance. It would have been the perfect opportunity for us to assess the dynamics of the group once its leader’s values have become contradictory with respect to what everyone signed up for.

This is exactly why Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), a seemingly mere hobbit, is easily the most interesting because he is given several chances to show his dissent—in various modalities. We know exactly where his hairy feet stands but we feel the conflict in his mind because he does consider Thorin to be both a good friend and a good leader. He respects Thorin, maybe even fear him a bit given his increasing frustration of not having the Arkenstone in his possession, but a possibility of war is on the rise.

As expected, the picture shines when it comes to its battle sequences. The scene with Gandalf and members of the White Council in Dol Guldur is thrilling—perhaps one of the best in Jackson’s “Hobbit” trilogy. A duel that takes place on a frozen body of water is also noteworthy, executed just right. The environment is quite beautiful but there is always a level of suspense, menace, even a pinch of humor, too. The film is certainly at its best when it successfully balances different emotions within a scene or sequence.

The final installment of “The Hobbit” series is commendable but not exemplary. It is easy to become a grouchy pessimist and make claims such as, “Well, at least it’s over now” and the like. But when one takes a second to compare this movie to other action, fantasy-adventures out there, Jackson’s film is imperfect to be sure, but one cannot deny that the work is still of high caliber.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

Still on the run from the orcs, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), and the rest of the dwarves seek refuge in the house of a “skin-changer” (Mikael Persbrandt), currently in the form of a bear, who is not particularly keen on dwarves. Though their collective drive remains aflame, the quest to reach the Lonely Mountain and obtain the legendary Arkenstone, guarded by a fearsome dragon named Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), is clearly taking its toll. Their journey is not made any easier when Gandalf claims he must leave the party while the others will have to their way through the woods infested with massive spiders.

Despite exciting action sequences dispersed throughout “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” partly based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and directed by Peter Jackson, there is not enough meaty material to warrant such an overlong running time. Though mildly interesting characters are introduced, one gets the feeling that they appear not to enhance the story or to iron out its themes but because it needs a bit of padding to allow an already rich world to appear that much more magnificent. The key word is “appear.” Take away some of the supporting characters and the final product is more or less the same.

A few figureheads are downright irritating. In the latter half, Bilbo and company reach Esgaroth where a small community of humans reside. The people are unhappy because they live in squalor. There is talk about a possible riot or—worse—an election. The Master of Laketown (Stephen Fry) and his minion (Ryan Gage) will not have such democracy. Spending time with them is like pulling teeth. I suppose we are supposed to dislike them, but their relevance in the big picture is questionable at best considering key figures like the dragon and a necromancer in Dol Guldur are front and center. There is an undercurrent of humor when the master and his lackey are on screen but most of the time they seem to come from a different film altogether. Perhaps the pair might have been more effective if they exuded more menace or were more domineering.

Furthermore, there is an undercooked romance between a she-elf, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), and one of the dwarves, Kili (Aidan Turner). They share plenty of meaningful silences and looks of longing but not once was I moved by their struggle of possibly pursuing a forbidden love. As a result, like the leader of Laketown and his flunky, their subplot fails to move beyond its potential to become a part of an epic story.

Make no mistake: I enjoyed the film for the most part. When pulse-pounding chases, sword-slashing, arrow-swishing, and fire-breathing are involved, my eyes are barely able to keep up. (Some of the clunky CGI are forgivable.) Though the barrel sequence will impress many, which is appropriate and expected given its sheer energy, I admired the sequence involving the giant spiders most. Arrows puncturing limbs and decapitations may be absent but the horror is nonetheless captured by showing the arachnids roll up their prey—our protagonists—in thick layers web. Also, I thought it was neat how we get a chance to hear what the spiders are saying to one another.

The dragon is large and impressive. I liked it best when the camera zooms in on its body so we can appreciate its teeth, eyes, or scales. Though it is able to communicate telepathically, it rarely comes off silly or cartoonish in any way. I just wished it had less laughable lines such as “I am death!” As a result, I did not find Smaug, who is supposed to be the centerpiece of this installment, as mysterious and threatening as the necromancer. Anyone who can bring about crippling fear in Gandalf’s eyes is worthy of our attention.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), a humble hobbit from The Shire, so accustomed to living a life within the boundaries of safety and comfort, is invited by Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to join him and thirteen dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), on a once in a lifetime journey toward the Lonely Mountain and reclaim it. It is a place where Smaug resides, a fearsome dragon that destroyed Erebor and displaced dwarves all over Middle Earth. Initially reluctant due to the dangers ahead, Bilbo decides to participate eventually after realizing that trading in a sheltered existence is worth an unforgettable adventure.

It is easy to critique “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” directed by Peter Jackson, if compared to “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy with its relatively smaller scope in terms of story as well as a less complex acrobatics with regards to the number of characters it is required to weave in and out of the screenplay. However, it is more difficult to evaluate the film for what it is especially since the trilogy that came before it has casted such a massive shadow. Not only did “The Lord of the Rings” set the bar for future adaptions that take place within its own universe, it also sets the standard for future non-related serial fantasies.

Based on the novel “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien, the film is a scrumptious visual feast. It begins with The Shire’s verdant green slopes where everything glistens among pastoral quiet beauty that it is no wonder Bilbo does not ever want to leave his home. But when chaos is introduced, the arrival of the merry gang of dwarves, grime and filth start to slowly become more noticeable which eventually go unnoticed, at least for the time being, when violence in the form of Orcs and Wargs threaten to maim and kill them all.

Its slow but purposeful build-up of events is one of its greatest weapons. For those who cite it as a weakness, I ask: What is the value of a long and arduous journey without side quests and a willingness dive into details? When it chooses to go on tangents, it is not as if what is touched upon is uninteresting or irrelevant to the adventure. On the contrary, they provide details about the characters through action and at times introspection: if they are quite slow or quick to think on their feet, how their motivations have or have not changed over time, one’s definition of strength, what it means to fight for a cause that many may think unworthy but is very personal, among others.

The themes and questions it tackles are applicable, if one so chooses, to our every day lives. We have all been (or are) in situations where we are doubted and because of these naysayers we are changed for the better or worse. These fantastic characters and events are symbols of human characteristics and circumstances. The film does a great job making sure that we are entertained on the surface level and yet having several layers underneath to make the experience worthwhile on a personal level.

But its beauty is not limited to sweeping environs, thrilling action sequences (the chases in the goblins’ domain are magnificent), and humanity within its story. Even if something looks ugly, the picture pulls us in. Let’s take the scene involving the hungry mountain trolls. Their deformed faces and cushiony bodies will make anybody run toward the opposite direction. But they are so interesting to watch because their teratoid appearances have differences but they are not so ostentatious to cause distraction from what is occurring. As it should be, it utilizes images generated by computers to enhance a world instead of saturating it.

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” based on the screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Guillermo del Toro, will be tedious for those who expect a linear journey. But for those who are open to be dazzled, those who choose to treat the prior trilogy as a reference rather than a shadow to be outshone, and those who just want to experience magic that can be made only in the movies, place your gold on this one.

Love Actually

Love Actually (2003)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Written and directed by Richard Curtis, “Love Actually” followed nine stories of people in love, which did not necessarily have to be in connection with romance, prior to and during Christmas. “Love Actually” is one of those films I feel the need to watch around early December to get me in the mood for the chilly holidays. It is also one of those movies that I decide to watch whenever I’m in a bad mood because it never fails to make me smile. Out of the nine storylines, two of them were uninteresting compared to the rest. Kris Marshall’s character believing that he’d only get sex in America because he claimed that British girls were snobs was good for one laugh but the rest of his scenes felt as desperate as he was. Meanwhile, Colin Firth playing a broken-hearted author felt too Nicholas Sparks for me and, aside from when he finally had the courage to ask the woman he believed he loved to marry him in broken Portuguese, the pace was too slow compared to the other vignettes. The three best stories involved Bill Nighy as a rockstar who would say and do anything to get his song to be the number one hit on Christmas (I loved the line when he advised kids not to buy drugs, that they should instead aspire to become pop stars so they could get drugs for free–hilarious!), Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman’s crumbling marriage, and Laura Linney’s struggle between taking care of her ill brother and finally making a move on Rodrigo Santoro after years of pining over him. Those three were very different from one another but they worked side-by-side because, while each was about love or passion, there was genuine sadness in each situation so we laughed more when something surprising or cute happened. The other four stories ranged from mediocre to barely above average. Hugh Grant as the quirky Prime Minister falling for the coffee girl (Martine McCutcheon) who everyone thought was fat was cute but ultimately superficial, the two pornographic actors (Heike Makatsch, Martin Freeman) were slightly amusing because they were awkward to watch but nothing more, Liam Neeson as a stepfather of a boy (Thomas Sangster) whose mother just died was incredibly sappy (but was somewhat saved by the “Titanic” scene), and Andrew Lincoln secretly pining (via exuding very negative energy) for his best friend’s wife (Keira Knightley) lacked edge and real drama. But I do have to say that, out of all the characters, I can relate with Lincoln’s character most because I usually act the same way as him with someone I like. I think he said it best: It’s self-preservation. But nevermind the film’s shortcomings. The clichés were abound but there were enough changes to the formula to keep me interested and, more importantly, laughing from start to finish. For a movie that runs for over two hours, it was relatively efficient with its time. If you’ve ever loved someone despite their imperfections, that is tantamount to how I feel toward this romantic comedy. To me, it is perfect.