Thursday, 14 January 2016

Macbeth (2015) | Film Review

Macbeth (2015)

Directed by Justin Kurzel
Written by William Shakespeare, screenplay by Jacob Koskoff and Michael Lesslie
Starring Michael Fassbender (Macbeth), Marion Cotillard (Lady Macbeth), Paddy Considine (Banquo), Sean Harris (Macduff), David Thewlis (Duncan).
Macbeth (2015) on IMDB

Is this a triumph I see before me? Not quite, but Macbeth is certainly, in my eyes, one of the finest film adaptations of William Shakespeare’s famous play. Set in Scotland, in a heavily fictionalised simulation of the rise and fall an 11th century Scottish king, Shakespeare’s play needs no introduction. Despite being the shortest of his tragedies it is perhaps the most famous. Including genre transpositions (such as Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood) and other forms of adaptation, Macbeth has been brought to screens large and small twenty-four times. So what makes this 2015 adaptation stand apart? You would think that with so many adaptations and so many different approaches to the play’s content, that Macbeth would simply retread old ground. You would be mistaken.


Macbeth is in many ways a very literal adaptation of the play, doggedly loyal not just to Shakespeare’s beautiful, poetic dialogue and soliloquies, but also to the emotions and motivations behind them. There is no better display of this approach than in the eponymous protagonist himself. Through Michael Fassbender’s wonderfully underplayed performance we see a man first quietly suffers the consequences of his actions, and then is led to believing his own lies, caught between his ethics and his desires. Macbeth is first caught in a conflict between his sense of morality and his duties to a noble king, and to the resplendent future promised to him by three clairvoyant witches. Fassbender internalises Macbeth’s pain, hidden behind a falsely calm facade, only beginning to burst through as he descends into madness later in the film. Initially, Macbeth cannot bring himself to murder Duncan in cold blood - he does not believe himself capable of murder - but over time he is sold his own lie, and allows himself to become more and more callous and cruel, and it is as he moves further down this dark path that Fassebender allows Macbeth’s facade to slip: when Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo, and has an outburst of anger in the middle of his feasting hall; when ordering the deaths of Macduffs wife and children, and when he lights the execution pyre himself. It is a subtle emotional journey but not one that goes unnoticed, and while not exactly a virtuoso performance, it is one that I believe shows a deeper level of skill from Fassbender; where some actors might go over the top in portraying the throes of insanity, Fassbender brings a more human and beautifully low-key approach.

While faithful to the play in terms of content, Macbeth is also vastly experimental, yet not to a degree that it alienates the viewer. Kurzel’s use of montage editing during the opening battle sequence unglamourises and humanises what could have been a straightforward action sequence. We are brought to the battlefield alongside Macbeth, Paddy Considine’s Banquo, and a handful of other soldiers, and we stand beside them at every stage of the hellish nightmare that this battle becomes. In particular, our focus is drawn to a young soldier (played by newcomer Scot Greenan), who is implied to be partaking in his first battle. Tension rises, as the two armies of Scots race toward each other in slow-motion. Then the chaos begins, and our protagonists are lost in the low mist and a frenzy of near-silhouettes, and as Macbeth himself stands distracted by his first sighting of the witches, all around him, we are forced through slow motion to watch as both friends and enemies - including the young boy soldier - are painfully dispatched. This young soldier, seeing war for the first time, has his throat cut before the day is done.


Every blow and strike by soldiers on either side is with a raw energy that keeps this fight, despite its scale, a personal affair. We cut back to Banquo several times throughout but it is Macbeth’s perspective that provides the most visually interesting parts of the sequence, as halfway through, he becomes distracted by three enemy warriors who he sees as three hooded witches, a change in colour temperature (cutting to the witches in a putrid yellow from the bluish grey of the battle) dividing reality and irreality. The battle passes Macbeth by, and the level of disparity is signal through another clever use of slow and fast motion. The world turns and his soldiers fall, but Macbeth is singularly focused on these three unknown figures who he can palpably sense are somehow tied to his own fate.

Similarly, the final confrontation between Macbeth and Macduff takes place in the reddening smog of a burning forest, hiding everything but the two combatants from our sight and throwing a malicious red glow upon them, as if their battle takes place over the mouth of hell itself. It’s a wonderful visual metaphor considering the film’s use of religious imagery and the Macbeths’ complex relationship with their faith, and makes for a stylish and visually awe-inspiring, almost fantastical finale, reminiscent of the similarly hellish, crimson final frame of Red Sorghum (Zhang Yimou, 1987), which also showed war in an unpatronising and horrific way. Interestingly, this powerful blood-red is seen only in this scene, the opening titles, and in the murder of King Duncan; despite the amount of bloody violence and gruesome deaths, actual gore is generally kept to a tasteful minimum, used sparingly to retain its visual impact. Duncan’s murder is a turning point for the story, the moment when Macbeth takes fate into his own hands and physically sets himself on a path to ruin. The finale is of equal importance, as all of Macbeth’s mistakes become manifest, and he is punished for his moral failures. Justice is done, Macduff kills Macbeth, and leaves his body on the plains before Dunsinane Hill as a red sun fills the sky.


Despite all of this, I have one rather large criticism with the film, one that I found distracting to the point of actually degrading my experience of the piece: mumbling. Shakespeare’s writing is beautiful, and the film consistantly stays loyal to the original text. However, the beauty is in how it is heard, how it is performed, and yet even Fassbender is guilty of fumbling with many of his lines. The rhythmic intonation and delivery is there, but in many cases it is inaudible - often detracting from the emotional value of the characters’ speech, particularly in the cases of Marion Cotillard and Paddy Considine - and when the film is drawing so heavily from such a triumphant work of lyrical art, it just feels like, pardon the pun, wasted breath. Only a few scenes (such as the banquet hall, when Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo) break this pattern, and when the film is already carried by characters with thick, Scottish accents, the sheer volume of mumbled lines makes large swathes of the story difficult to follow.

That’s my major criticism of this film, but unfortunately it’s a rather larger one that detracted considerably from my enjoyment of the film. It prevented me from becoming invested as fully in Lady Macbeth as I clearly should have been, which is a shame considering how wonderfully complex a character she is. That brings me to another criticism, which is that at times, the film moves a little too slowly, most noticably during a few of Lady Macbeth’s monologues. Marion Cotillard’s performance, particularly when she returns to her home village (which, now abandoned, has the air of cursed grounds) is moving and deftly portrays the character’s own personal tragic downfall, but the use of such long takes in already slow, plodding sequences detracted from said sequences as a whole; performance alone can only hold the audience’s attention so far. Film is a visual medium, and while a lot of it is reliant on the actors’ physical performances, cinematography, camera movement and intercutting are also essential in exploiting a film to its full potential. Long takes are great in moderation, and overuse of intercutting is far too common in modern cinema, but we sit in a room watching Lady Macbeth stare into space and talk to herself several minutes. Twice.


In conclusion, I think that despite being incredibly loyal to the source material, Macbeth is a surprisingly fresh and innovative take on the material. The visual style makes this, as a friend of mine described it, a “pretty” film, and the performances (where we can hear them) are richly layered and engaging, drawing us into a very personal experience.

8.5/10

There was room for improvement in the sound design department, and the pacing was a tad slow at times, but overall this was a fantastic exploration both of Shakespeare’s tragic characters and of visual form. I would highly recommend seeing this film in its entirety, since its visual style is one of its greatest achievements. The other? Well, it’s no surprise to me that Michael Fassbender was nominated for Best Actor at the British Independent Film Awards. He poured his soul into Macbeth, and more than deserves the recognition for it.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Avengers Tower: Invasion

After rewrites, reshoots, much kafuffery and myriad setbacks, it's done.


Avengers Tower: Invasion is my longest brickfilm to date, coming in at a grand 8 minutes 21 seconds. It's possibly the most complex I've ever done too, and considering my own internal controversies over this brickfilm, I figured it warranted a proper write-up, just for me to explain everything that went on while I was putting this hunk a' junk together.

The origin story
From March through to August last year I was working on Avengers Tower, a series of fight videos for another channel (though I moved them back to my channel after a disagreement). They were Avengers 'training' fight sequences, and I started trying to use more minor Marvel characters. Anyway, the third video was originally going to be a brainless fight against Ultron and his AIM minions, and so I started animating before I really had a clear idea. At this time, it was called Ultron Ascending, and would be released in two parts. However, part one received a lot of negative backlash, and issues with this other channel caused me to shelve Ultron Ascending.

The dilemma
Ultron Ascending was a really low point for me. I was just about to head off to university and wasn't sure whether I would be able to continue brickfilming there or not (more on that later) and when the reaction to this was so poor, I hated that it could be one of the last things I'd be able to make for a while. It became a sore spot, and I wanted to put the very memory of it out of my mind.

However, I still had about 5 minutes worth of animation done, and a super-complex 1 minute digital intro. That's more than I've ever filmed/edited of anything before, and while I wasn't pleased with much of it, I thought it would be a shame to let it go to waste. At this time, I had also just started talking to Galactic Bricks about a shared LEGO Marvel universe, since I wanted to attempt a different, fresher Avengers project at some point soon. So, I made the decision to try and find a way to use the Ultron Ascending footage.

Invaders assemble
The main difficulty in rewriting Ultron Ascending was that it was such a small-scale story, and the original script had Ultron be destroyed. Thus the first thing I decided to do was have Ultron only appear in a behind-the-scene capacity, and let the Avengers just fight AIM, who I decided (being an organisation of techno-geeks) would somehow have come under the android's sway. Since, with the MBU now better formed in my mind, I wanted to add more set-up for future brickfilms, I tried to interweave some backstory for the robot, while at the same time not making it too oblique. Annoyingly, the original footage, didn't have any space for me to add more in, so it feels like all the build-up is in the second half.

(Click for detail)

Which brings me to my honest truth about the film: I don't like it. It hasn't been much fun to work on: it's riddled with light flicker (in both the new and old footage) which I just seem to get rid of, the story is a bit half-hearted, hastily edited, dodgy VFX, and it represents an unpleasant part of my brickfilming career...I'm already looking at how to make my next large project more of a departure from this. While I made the best of a bad situation, there's so much I've learned from how not to brickfilm.

So I hope you enjoy watching this more than I did making it, basically. I've had months of wanting to work on something else but being driven (for some inexplicable reason) to finish this, and I'm not satisfied with the end result.

On a lighter note...

The MBU
Now this I am pleased with. Together with Galactic Bricks, I've been working on establishing a lot of backstory canon, planning lots of brickfilms, and have even begun filming on a few of them. Black Panther: The Gold Vibranium is my next Marvel brickfilm, while a Doctor Strange tribute is also in the works. I'm also quite happy that I've managed to do two episodes of SHIELD Declassified, which you can view on the MBU playlist. Big things are in the works, and while I'm going to be working on some non-Marvel projects too, the MBU has a lot of my attention. Future installments will be far better than Invasion. That's a promise.

The one good thing that did come out of Invasion was the amount of set-up I managed to add without making it clunky. I've established Ultron, AIM (including Andrew Forson, who'll return in Black Panther), Superior Spider-man, and even threw in Inhumans and the High Evolutionary (shhh, spoilers), all of which will have further repercussions in the MBU.

There's better to come, and now that Invasion isn't at the front of my mind I have time to work on becoming better. Like I said, there's so much I've learned about what not to do, and I'll be experimenting with new techniques to try and improve my work.

That's all I have to say for now. I do hope you enjoyed Invasion, and I hope you'll enjoy the future of the Marvel Brickfilm Universe!

(Click for detail)

Thursday, 4 December 2014

The Nuclear Man (story)

The Nuclear Man
        I have no idea what I’m doing. I should do, being the former apprentice of a world-renowned nuclear physicist - surely he picked me for a reason - but something tells me this is a situation no scientist ever really prepares for.
        First there was that accident at STAR Labs, with the particle accelerator, and then again with Dr Stein...I think I’m hexed. The universe can prove me wrong by letting Doc be alive, somewhere, somehow, though I know the chances are slim.
        Right now, it’s hard to focus. As if trying to control atomic superpowers wasn’t difficult enough on it’s own, I have to do it with Emily stuck in my head. Our head. Whatever.

(Click for detail)

        I should probably explain. After the particle accelerator malfunctioned, I went looking for Dr Martin Stein, to see if he could help me understand these new ‘fire’ powers I’d developed. He called me a meta-human, and it turned out not be fire at all - I was literally making atomic energy, like a living nuclear reactor. Dr Stein’s lab was built right on top of one, and he was trying to tap something called a ‘firestorm matrix’ when a hired gun tried to steal his work. Thank God the whole facility didn’t go up, but whatever Stein was working on blasted him, his assistant Emily Sung and me. Something impossible happened; my powers saved me and Emily, who was standing next to me, but Stein was gone. And when I say Emily and I were ‘saved’, I mean we were...fused.
        I’m not even kidding. We’re currently sharing a superpowered body (my handsome body, to be exact) and while I control the arms and legs, Emily’s the brain. We’ve only just begun to see what this body can do, but already we’ve been able to transmute metals. How sick is that! It’s mainly Em’s work - I direct the power, she does the calculations, remembers formulas, blah blah important stuff.
        But right this moment, I have no idea what I’m doing. Em’s gone silent and this headcase in a hood just did something impossible too; he threw out a miniature black hole. You can’t transmute a black hole! There’s all this energy ‘round my hands, and I’ve got no clue how to use it.
        Unless I go for the guy. I might be able to throw some of this energy, like a fireball.
        I aim through the black hole, which has started to weaken, directing my atomic fire towards the perp. I just want to knock him down, not damage (or kill).

(Click for detail)

A vicious jet of atomic energy fizzes through the air, ignoring the now-fading black hole’s pull and tearing a hole through the other guy’s outstretched hand.
        Ronnie! Careful!
        Oh now Emily chooses to resurface.
        The black hole is completely gone, as is Headcase’s hand; there’s a smouldering stump in its place. Oh my god, I did that. Thankfully, the wound’s cauterised, but I still just took a guy’s hand off.
        What were you thinking?
        Shut up, Em.
        Sirens. I need to go. The police will take care of his wound, but if he uses his powers on them...
        Oh man. I. Have. No. Idea. What. I’m. Doing.

To be continued?

So for anyone not too familiar with their DC heroes, this is Firestorm. I wanted to do something with him after seeing this week's episode of The Flash and thought a photomanip was the best way to go. The second image and the story was me getting a bit carried away. Officially speaking, this does tie into Countdown to Justice, though I have no idea how as I only did this as a spur-of-the-moment project yesterday. Nonetheless, I hope you've enjoyed this story!

Monday, 24 November 2014

Istari Adventures: Back In My Day

Back to Middle-earth for my latest brickfilm. What did Gandalf get up to in his youth?

   

This video was technically a long time in the making. I first had the idea for it this time last year, and wanted to make a Hobbit brickfilm in time for the release of The Desolation of Smaug. I put it aside because I had no orc minifigures at the time and went to work on An Istari Halloween, but that failed and I was left without any Middle-earth mischief for a while. Sometime later I found 79014 Dol Guldur Battle and 79011 Dol Guldur Ambush at supermassive discounts, then in July I finally scripted the thing...and filmed it last week. Procrastinating seems to be strong in this one, mmmmm.

I also really wanted an excuse to use that Bilbo minifig. It was an exclusive with the pre-order of the LEGO Hobbit video game, so I thought I'd missed my chance of getting it, and then found a bundle at GAME with the minifig and a DLC, for half price! I won't be able to play it until I go home for the Christmas holidays, since I couldn't bring my PS3 to uni, but I've already got some use out of that minifigure.

"By the power of Grayskull!"

The fight scene was a lot of fun to do. Parts of it are in homage to Fancy Pants' amazing LEGO The Force Unleashed brickfilm, which you need to go and watch right after you've finished reading this blog post. I tried grading it a greenish tint, to make it feel more like how Dol Guldur appears in the films, and between that and the very dark lighting I think I got the tone right. Some of the effects are a bit dodgy, though. Next time I do lightning, I shall definitely be spending some time getting to be more familiar with After Effects' 'advanced lightning' function. It came out looking okay, but not amazing.

There's not much more to say about this brickfilm. It's just another short bit of lighthearted fun, and I hope I get around to making another episode of Istari Adventures (I have the lines collected for three more, though I have no idea which order or when I'm going to film them). Thanks again to Jorden Davis for voicing Bilbo, and I hope you enjoyed the video!

I leave you with a cut frame, of another hobbit going about his daily hobbit chores.

"Are those pumpkins or carrots?"

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Green (BRAWL 2014 entry)

After a week of work, it's done!


And, as with many of my recent animations, here is some added canon I whipped up. Note that this is meant to enhance the film, but you don't need to read this to understand it, nor does it serve as an explanation of my somewhat shaky plot.

The Crystal Conspiracy: When the Torang Prime mine was first opened, fifty years ago, a few green crystals were found in a volcanic area on the planet’s surface. Tests revealed that a green crystal would produce cleaner, longer-lasting energy than the same amount in orange crystals, and so the company director Sorven Crick (direct descendent Hareton Crick, then president of Octan and nicknamed ‘President Business’) organised a cover-up. The green crystals were hidden, all data pertaining to them was destroyed, and scans of the upper layers of the planet were done to ensure that the robot miners were only 13% or less likely to find them. This was intended to keep consumers buying more of the orange crystals, rather than buying the more efficient green in smaller quantities. 

Following Sorven Crick’s death twenty years ago, all knowledge of the cover-up and the purpose for the specified ‘mining zones’ passed out of memory, and so the company began digging across previously-unexplored parts of the planet. By this time, the upper layers of the surface in which the robots had been mining had been mostly eroded away, and so the rediscovery of the green crystals was inevitable.

Torang Prime: Far out in the Dark Reaches, Torang Prime is the largest planet in a vast system, orbiting a grey sun. As such, there is no organic life on Torang Prime or any other planets in the Torangi system, save for the mining operation that has come to this world. It is similar to what scientist descibe as a ‘canonball world’, where intense pressure has crushed the planet’s surface into diamonds (only on Torang Prime, much of the world’s surface has been crushed into orange crystals instead).

So as not to damage the structural integrity of Torang Prime (as a rival corporation did on the planet Xamathamax, which exploded just minutes before the miners reached the planet’s core), the company planned a hundred year tenure on the planet, which would ensure that the planet would not be damaged or stripped totally bare. Even with the discovery of the green crystals, and increased production in previously unexplored ‘zones’, the company is predicted to fall short of their Maximum Mining Gain by 30%, a prediction which won current company director Orvin Klank the Miner’s Guild Environmental Award. This tenure ends in thirty years.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Vampire Owls

New animation! Party time!

 

Vampire Owls isn't anything special. I've wanted to do a vampire-based animation for a while now - and this won't be the last either - and I decided to make it in my revision breaks over the last couple of weeks. Oh yeah, I'm in the middle of my exam period right now. Which isn't fun. At all.

As with pretty much all of my animations, there are some problems with Vampire Owls. My light flicker issue has returned, and though I could remove the worst of it in After Effects, it's still visible now and then. I hope that doesn't detract from the video too much.

And now, for your reading pleasure, here is some additional canon about the world of the vampires that this video is set in. This is also BrickFilm Cinematic Universe material too, so expect the vampires to go genre-bending some time soon, though I'm saving those projects until well after exams have finished.

Naldo
A relatively young vampire from the south of Italy, Naldo’s greatest regret is losing his accent. The problem was, it used to be so thick that nobody could understand him! Not good, especially if you’re supposed to be threatening mortals. Naldo spends a lot of time outside the vampire realm, in the human world, working with mortal criminals. He is always on the lookout for a new crimelord he can possess. Some of the other members of the Vampire Council believe he is trying to build an army, but that is mere speculation.

Postal Vampire
Nobody knows the Postal Vampire’s real name, and he is as old as the postal tower he inhabits. Though his menagerie of delivery creatures is mostly befitting of vampires - bats and werebats, blackheart dragons and insects - he occasionally hires other creatures, much to his compatriots’ horror. His latest aquisition is Targarioth the Black, a snowy owl who is about as intimidating as a marshmallow. Though he claims that “her speedy of delivery is unparalleled”, the residents of Vampire Town have yet to be convinced.


Blackheart Dragons
Created by dark magic from a dragon egg, beetles’ wings and a Magnus Gem, blackheart dragons are small but fast, agile, and every bit as malicious towards the living as a vampire could want them to be. They are just the right size to carry a single minifigure, have silky black hides and insect wings, and can spit balls of evil, purple lightning from their mouths. Like their vampire masters they are undead, and must feed on animal blood once every two months to survive. They are named after the creator of the first of their kind, an ancient Spanish vampire called Lord Blackheart, who was slain when he dropped a galleon in a ray of sunlight and foolishly bent to pick it up.

That's all for now. I'm going to do a proper post on Avengers Tower soon, and explain a few things about that, and in the meantime I hope you enjoyed this animation!

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Why I Love Mayan Mythology (explained)

When I saw that the latest Animation Challenge on BricksInMotion.com was to 'kick a ball', a Mayan myth immediately sprung to mind and, with the deadline only a day away, I figured it was worth taking a few hours out of my revision (*cough* *cough*) to turn this relatively mundane challenge into something odd. I created something odd indeed.


I released this with the description "If you don't know Mayan mythology, this probably won't make sense. If you know Mayan mythology, this probably won't make sense. Don't worry - the gods give Hunahpu a replacement head later, and then he steals the real one back. Oh, and that bat guy is a vampire god." While I made this video with the intention of being hard to understand, I thought I'd do a quick run-through of what this myth actually is.

Soooooo long story short, in Mayan myth there were these two heroes called Hunahpu and Xbalanque (and no, I can't pronounce them). They were playing football (or the Mayan equivalent) in their favourite ball court when the underworld gods - the Lords of Xibalba - got annoyed by the racket. They invited the twins to play in the underworld ball court, which was a ruse and designed to kill the twins. However, Hunahpu and Xbalanque (and I still can't pronounce their names) were smart enough to avoid the traps, and so got sent through a series of houses, which were again filled with traps.

The last house was the Bat House, home to Camazotz the vampire god (the bat guy with the black armour in the animation). To avoid the deadly bats that were flying around the house, the twins stuffed themselves inside their blowguns and waited it out until morning. Eventually, Hunahpu made the mistake of popping his head out of his blowgun to see if the sun was up, and his head was snatched off by a bat and taken to Camazotz. What happened next? Well, to add insult to injury, Hunahpu took part in another ball game with the Xibalbans, only this time with his head as the football!

Don't worry, the gods weren't totally evil - they shaped him a replacement head and planned to give it to him as an early birthday present. Xbalanque, being craftier than they, decided enough was enough and stole back Hunahpu's real head and put it back onto his brother's body.

After that long and hopefully-not-boring explanation, here endeth the lesson.

(Not the interior design you'd expect from the Vampire God.)

Avengers Tower episode 2 is finished and should be up on BrickUltra's channel some time this week, and when it is, it'll get posted here too. As for more mythology animations...we'll have to wait and see. Next time, it'd be more than a quick animation meant to seem like it has no narrative XD