Tuesday’s Reviews: Thor Ragnarok (2017)

Cate Blanchett, Chris Hemsworth, comic book, comic books, films, fuck yeah, fucking funny, Mark Ruffalo, Marvel, review, silly, Thor, Tom Hiddleston


I have to say , considering the quality of the previous 2 Thor films, it’s been pretty difficult to be a fan of Marvel’s God of Thunder. He has always been my favourite male superhero in the Marvel comic book world but it’s been hard to convince non-comic book fans that he deserves that title. Iron Man is the funny and cool one thanks to RDJ. Captain America has, the best Marvel film, Winter Solider, to make himself look better. But Thor? He’s had a pretty poor showing in terms of solo film outings. I say as someone who adores the first Thor film but also understands that it leaves a lot to be desired. I understand the second one is dire but we don’t need to go into that again. This back catalogue of frustratingly weak films have meant that a lot of people have overlooked Thor. He hasn’t made enough of an impact. His own films are just irritatingly lacking and he tends to get lost in the huge ensembles of the two Avengers movies. Heck, he wasn’t even allowed in Civil War. Instead Thor was benched along with the other Avenger that nobody really knows what to do with: the Hulk. The problem is the very concept of the Thunder God. He’s so caught up in mythology that there is a tendency to play him straight. Living up in his own realm of the God’s means he feels even less realistic than the rest of the line-up and that really is saying something. His roles in these films have left Thor feeling like the weak link in the chain. He’s neither the funniest, the most badass, nor the most memorable of the Avengers. Hollywood just doesn’t know what to do with him. Or at least they didn’t. From the minute the first images of Ragnarok came out I was convinced this would be the film we Thor fans have been waiting for. It had Guardians of the Galaxy style humour, an 80s aesthetic, and a fucking awesome soundtrack. Even before I’d seen it I was sure it was going to be my cup of tea. Of course, the fact that it would also serve as the closest we’d get to a Planet Hulk movie was just an added bonus.

The main problem that I remember from watching Thor: The Dark World is that it tried far too hard to be dark. It was around the time that Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy was at the height of its popularity and before Zack fucking Snyder made us all weary of the grungy, angsty comic book movie. It didn’t really have that fun, silliness, or, at the very least, self-awareness that the best Marvel films have in buckets. It was all dark elves, family melodrama, and a naked Stellan Skarsgård. The second Thor film was trying to be something it wasn’t and the end result really showed what a mistake it was. Thankfully, for his third solo outing for the MCU, it seems Marvel have really learnt their lesson. Despite the title’s reference to Ragnarok, the apocalyptic demise of the Norse God’s, this film is anything but dark. Something we learn from the very first scene is that not only has Thor finally found an on screen presence but he’s managed to pick up a great sense of humour along the way.

For too long comic book movies have been trying to make themselves seem as grown-up and serious. Ragnarok understands that all of this is so crazy that it’s pointless trying to play it straight. Marvel films have dabbled in humour before but Thor 3 has a completely different feel to it. It’s more like a comedy film that happens to be about comic book characters instead of a comic book movie with more jokes. Marvel have always been good at letting unexpected directors have a go at massive Blockbusters but New Zealand born director Taika Waititi is, perhaps, the weirdest so far. Thankfully, he was allowed the chance to do his own thing and, as we can see, it works wonderfully.

Ragnarok has a bit of work to do before it gets down to the real business. We left The Dark World with Loki on the throne in disguise and we last saw Thor vowing the track down the remaining infinity stones. So Thor goes back to Asgard to sort shit out but, before he’s even got time to breathe, his long lost sister Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death, turns up to royally fuck shit up. She wants revenge on her father and his people for casting her out years ago. Unfortunately, as this is going on Thor (Christ Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) find themselves stranded on a distant planet, Sakaar, presided over by the villainous Grand Master (Jeff Goldblum). Whilst Loki is taken in as a friend, Thor is captured and turned into a gladiator. With no other means of escape, Thor is left with no other choice but to fight the Grand Master’s Champion; who, as we all know, just happens to be the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Can Thor, the Big Guy, his sketchy brother and their new ally, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), an ex-Asgardian warrior with a grudge to settle.

In terms of the basic narrative there isn’t a great deal of excitement and Ragnarok treads very worn Marvel ground. This rag-tag bunch of heroes come together to fight a big evil to save the world. However, there is so much more going on that it doesn’t even feel that familiar. The sub-plot on Sakaar is fabulous and both Hemsworth and Ruffalo get the chance they both deserve to flesh out their characters. His recent pitstop in comedy films has left Christ Hemsworth with a greater comedic confidence and, for the first time since he first donned the red cape, he looks comfortable in the role. Conversely, Ruffalo finally has something to do as he starts to flesh out the green monster before the upcoming Infinity War films. I’ve read criticism that the film completely rewrites these characters but I just see it as positive development. This is one friendship I can’t wait to see get stronger.

There are some amazing performances on display in this film. Jeff Goldblum is at his most Jeff Goldblum and manages to walk the line of annoyingly hammy without falling into oblivion. Tess Thompson is sensational in her role and more than makes up for the abysmal female presence in the previous Thor films. Tom Hiddleston is perfect as Loki, as usual, but over time I find myself tiring of the “is he good or bad?” narrative. It just gets old. Still, I’m always happy to see that face. Finally, Idris Elba, returning as Heimdall, is worth noting. If only for the fact that, at the point that he takes off his cloak, his beefy arms. I love the change Heimdall has made from Gatekeeper to fucking badass.

My only real problem with Ragnarok (aside from the pointless and built up Dr Strange cameo) is Hela herself. The great villain looks the part but never gets the chance to get going. It’s a waste of Blanchett’s talents and a potentially great bad guy. Every time the action switches back to Asgard I couldn’t help but wish I was back on Sakaar. Hela feels out of place in this film just as all the references to genocide and darker elements do. These references are fleeting but they do stick out badly. There are also some poignant moments that are not dealt with properly. It can feel a bit weird. But, really, it doesn’t matter. Everything is held together thanks to an immense amount of charm, humour and utter silliness. This film knows it’s dealing with nonsense so plays up on that fact. I lost count of the time I genuinely laugh-out-loud watching this. Minor problems aside, this the greatest Marvel movie you’ll ever have seen.

TOP 10 WEN-SDAY – RANKING MCU MOVIES

Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, comic book, comic books, Edward Norton, list, Mark Ruffalo, Marvel, Paul Rudd, Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hiddleston

Tomorrow I’m watching Spider-Man: Homecoming and I couldn’t be more excited. I’ve enjoyed the majority of Spider-Man films that have been released, probably only really excluding Toby Maguire’s third outing, but none of them have really done fantastic things. I think Andrew Garfield was perfectly cast but the stories just didn’t cut it. Toby Maguire was fine for the time and his films are still astonishing in terms of that era. However, his portrayal of Peter Parker just seems flat nowadays. With this film being the third time a new actor has taken up the spidey suit in 15 years, it’s starting to feel like every young-ish actor will eventually get the chance to play him. Still, I have high hopes for Tom Holland. His brief appearance in Civil War was an absolute treat within all of the heavy shit going on and proved that a solo film could be full of geeky fun. To get myself in the mood for watching this new film I spent today watching some past Marvel films: namely Civil War and Ant-Man. Both were great, obviously, but it got me thinking about my ranking of the films in the MCU. It’s something I’ve tried to avoid doing because it’s such a changeable thing. However, with another Top 10 Wen-sday upon us, I decided it was time to give it a go. Expect this to have changed by tomorrow.

Fifteen: Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 was the first of man disappointing MCU sequels and it is still the worst of the bunch. I understand that it had a lot to live up to because Iron Man was the film that gave the MCU life. Still, this is just a lacklustre film. It is only saved thanks to Robert Downey Jr’s charm. The film offers us two underwhelming villains (wasting the talents of the wonderful Sam Rockwell) and spends too much time showboating to offer anything real. It’s just dreadful.

Fourteen: Thor the Dark World

I think I always look favourably on The Dark World because it contains Tom Hiddleston’s face. Ever since his brief romance with Taylor Swift I’ve kind of gone off the guy. I know it’s fickle but how can I be a massive fan of someone who made that choice? Anyway, as such I now no longer see all of his films through rose-tinted glasses and can see how awful this film really was. The dark elves are not fleshed out in the slightest and Thor becomes a supporting character in his own film. This was a let down from start to finish.

Thirteen: The Incredible Hulk

Before Mark Ruffalo came along I was more than happy to have an Edward Norton shaped Hulk. I mean, yes, you couldn’t have got much worse than Eric Bana (who I assume was only hired because of his name) but Norton brought depth to the character of Bruce Banner. He wanted to explore the pain and suffering that lay behind the huge green rage monsters and it was a welcome change. The problem that this film really faced was that it’s just not going to be easy to make a solo Hulk film. This is something that has become more apparent as time went on but, clearly, having a main character who is silent and ragey most of the time just isn’t a workable formula.

Twelve: Avengers: Age of Ultron

I so wanted to love Age of Ultron. It had everything: Avengers had set us up with a great team full of banter; we were going to see Vision, Scarlett Witch and Quicksilver; and it had James Spader as the voice of Ultron. How could it go wrong? Well, apparently quite easily. Age of Ultron was exciting, maybe, but it was a huge mess of a film. The narrative was all over the place and it was basically just a Michael Bay-esque feast of explosion porn. With every viewing this film pains me more. Not just for how bad it is but for how much it let me down.

Eleven: Captain America

I realise that Captain America is a much better film than I give it credit for but, personally, I just didn’t love this film. I admit that I liked it much better on my second viewing for my TBT post but I still find it difficult to get too excited about Steve’s first outing. Hayley Atwell is amazing and there are some great moments but it all feels a bit rushed. Considering what followed in Steve’s solo outings, this film just doesn’t quite cut it.

Ten: Thor

As with above, this is primarily on personal taste and I’m sure most people would have this film higher up. I get it. Thor isn’t the typical Marvel film but I adore it. Kenneth Branagh may not be the most obvious choice to direct a comic book movie but I loved what he did with Thor. He turned it into a Shakespeare play and I think it worked. He was on firmer ground and Tom Hiddleston excelled at playing Loki as though he was Edmund in King Lear. It’s not perfect and there are some incredibly dodgy moments but Thor always makes me feel full of joy. I don’t care if I’m the only one.

Nine: Iron Man 3

I kind of wanted to put Iron Man 3 higher up the list because of how badly it treated The Mandarin character. That would have been petty though because, all in all, this is a pretty good film. Shane Black did a great job co-writing the script and directing the whole thing. It’s funny, exciting and dramatic. A huge improvement on the second film in the series. Black and Robert Downey Jr. have a great working relationship and Tony Stark is at his best. There were a few moments I could have done without but, for the most part, this was a winner.

Eight: Ant Man

It might just be because I’ve only just finished watching this film but Ant Man is much better than people give it credit. Paul Rudd is fantastic in the role of Scott Lang and there is plenty of fun to be had. It takes a character that nobody really wanted a film about but shows just how good of a decision it was. Yes, I still wish Edgar Wright had directed the story that he had wanted but this definitely showed the potential of the more random Marvel characters.

 Seven: Iron Man

When Iron Man came out way, way back in 2008 there wasn’t an MCU and Robert Downey Jr. was that drug addict from Ally McBeal. This film changed everything for the better. Downey Jr. became a household name and the MCU kicked off in style. This was a brash and exciting film that showed comic book movies could be a spectacle and also a really good film. As important as this film may be in terms of historical importance, it has to be said that it has been overshadowed by future releases. It’s still a great film but there are now better ones out there.

Six: Dr Strange

I can’t say that I was exactly overjoyed to hear that Dr Strange was coming to the big screen because I didn’t know enough about the character. Then I heard the immortal words: Benedict Cumberbatch. I will freely admit that my interest in the film was mostly linked to the face of this great actor but I think that’s reason enough to watch it. There are some fantastic moments in this film and breathtaking sequences where the laws of physics are just ripped to pieces. It’s a visual feast but I wanted this to be better. Dr Strange feels as though it wasn’t give the freedom to be everything it could be and was forced to fit into a Marvel template to keep everyone happy. I hope future films are given more of a chance.

Five: Guardians of the Galaxy 2

The second Guardians film was a great continuation of the series but it made the same mistake that most sequels tend to do. It wanted to make thing bigger and better. Yes, this still has the same funny and relaxed feeling that the first one did but there was something confused about it. The effects were too big and the fights too confusing. However, this was an emotionally charged film that finally added some consequences to the MCU. I adored this film but I wish it had been slicker.

Four: Captain America: Civil War

Again, it might be because I watched this today but Civil War is a fantastic film. It is the film that Avengers 2 wishes it could have been. Watching this film makes me truly sad that the Russo brothers weren’t allowed to direct Age of Ultron because it would have been a massive improvement. Yes, it still runs into the same problems as Ultron has because it deals with so many characters. Yes, the narrative isn’t exactly wonderful considering the comic book story it comes from. And, yes, the villain’s plan doesn’t exactly make sense when you think about it too much. However, this has some of everything. It had the fun and banter of The Avengers, the darkness of Winter Soldier, and the emotional conflict that has followed Steve through all of his films. It could have been better but it was pretty damn good.

Three: The Avengers

This was the film that nobody thought would be possible; something that gathered together every big name in the MCU up until that point and made them work together. With that many egos in one room, how was anyone going to be able to come up with a decent story. Thankfully, somebody agreed to let the legendary Joss Whedon have a crack and he managed to make it work. This was a funny, clever and exciting film. It knew what it was and it worked with it’s problems not against them. It gave us more of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, which cemented him as best villain in the MCU, and gave us our first glimpse at Thanos. As with all Marvel films, the evil minions could have been better and it could have been a bit slicker but this is still one of the greatest film the MCU has produced.

Two: Guardians of the Galaxy

The best thing about Guardians was that it was such a breath of fresh air. It came after Thor: The Dark World and Winter Soldier had given us a supremely grim and dark set of Marvel films. It seemed to be following the Batman trend that dark and gritty was better when it came to superhero films. Guardians was always going to be something of an underdog because the source material wasn’t as well known to the general movie going public at the time. So it decided it wasn’t going to take itself too seriously and, boy, are we glad. This was the first comic book movie in such a long time to have a real sense of humour about itself. Director James Gunn managed to create something so full of joy that was also exciting enough for comic fans. This had it all.

One: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I know a lot of people would put Guardians as their number one because it’s so watchable. I agree that it’s great but, in my heart, I know that Marvel as never been better than in Winter Soldier. Of course, it isn’t as fun or light-hearted but it’s really well crafted and it totally changed the landscape of Marvel’s future. It ramped up the emotional side thanks to Steve and Bucky’s friendship and it gave us the delightful Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson. It may have followed the Marvel staple of having a huge object fall to Earth in it’s finale but this film was so close to perfection. It deserves the top spot.

TBT – Now You See Me (2013)

Jesse Eisenberg, magic, Mark Ruffalo, meh, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, TBT, woody harrelson

We all have those people that irritate us for no real reason. You know what I mean, when literally everything they do just makes you irrationally angry. There’s a girl at work who is highly annoying me at the moment and I really don’t understand why. We have a lot in common so should get on. However, every time she opens her mouth I just feel my entire body scrunching up in annoyance. I mean, I guess it’s partly down the fact that I’m an awful person who hates pretty much all other people but I also put the blame partly on her. I mention this because Dave Franco is another of these people. I think it’s because he was in that awful final season of Scrubs but I just prepare for the worst whenever he’s in a film I’m watching. It’s stupid, I know, to hate someone because they played a really annoying character on a TV show I didn’t even really like many years ago. However, I’m just that petty and ridiculous. Which is why I was surprised to find, upon rewatching the first Now You See Me film, that I actually enjoyed Franco’s work. He was funny and got into the spirit of it. Maybe I’m growing as a person? Or maybe I was just realising how stupid this film really is?

Now You See Me always sounded like a great concept. Thieves who use their careers as magicians to carry out their crimes on a very public and very global scale.  Now that’s a concept that someone like me could get behind. Like Ocean’s Eleven meets Gob Bluth: who could ask for more? Still, Now You See Me just doesn’t quite live up to it’s massive potential. Now You See Me is the worst kind of magic trick where the performer is so concerned with surprising the audience that the actual process becomes less important than the reveal. Director, Louis Leterrier, is less worried about creating a clever film that tricks the audience into believing what he wants. He just points the camera in the opposite direction or changes history when he needs to.

Still, that’s not to say that getting there isn’t fun. The reason people are such fans of magic is because they want to believe that what they are seeing is real. That isn’t to say you won’t enjoy the film but you must be willing to let go of all reason and logic. This film works best if you are okay to play the fool that it needs you to be. If you’re willing to ignore the clumsy fumbles along the way in order to get to the finale. After all, on a basic level the film is entertaining. It has gathered a great cast together and they all do admirably with what is given to them. It can’t have been easy but they manage to keep it together. There is even some interesting chemistry between the group of magicians and the detective chasing them.

However, Leterrier attempts to pull off too much and throws things together in such a small running time. The result is a confusing and badly edited narrative that doesn’t make as much sense as it should. In order to get everything in that it wanted to certain pesky details have been ignored. You know, silly things like character development, common sense, and a strong narrative. Instead, this film is all about surprising you. It gets to the point that, by the final reveal, so many absurd things have taken place that anything could have been possible. This isn’t a finely crafted tale like Ocean’s Eleven it is something that has been cobbled together with enough distractions to keep you preoccupied.

There are things to like, of course. It might just be me but angry magician Jesse Eisenberg is hot. That pretty much made the film for me. Then there are certain sequences that are visually interesting and it’s fun watching the four magicians do their craft, even if it is in a very Hollywood fake manner. There are some great showdowns between Eisenberg and Mark Ruffalo’s detective and Morgan Freeman’s magic debunker is a joy because, well, Morgan Freeman. Plus, Woody Harrelson seems born to play a big-headed mentalist who likes to swindle people using his skills.

However, that doesn’t make up for the fact that, ultimately, this film doesn’t stick. Remember in The Prestige when Michael Caine told us about the three stages of magic? Well, Now You See Me is a trick missing the all important final stage. In the first stage, the pledge, Leterrier takes the simple yet astounding premise of criminal magicians and makes you believe that’s what you’re seeing. In the second, the turn, that plot gets lost in the middle of an unnecessary revenge plot where so many secrets are revealed that the previous hour or so is almost made redundant. What Now You See Me lacks is the all important final act, the prestige. Leterrier forgets to bring the damn thing back.

Of course, this being magic, you want to believe and, if you’re like me, you’ll let the ridiculous nature of the film wash over you. Instead, you’ll be happy to get swept away with the drama and energy on display. You will purposefully ignore what you need to and you’ll take someone else’s word on something that makes absolutely not sense. Somehow, Leterrier manages to convince you that this technically terrible film is actually better than it is. I’m think what I’m saying is, Now You See Me may just be the greatest magic trick of all time.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Now You See Me 2 (2016)

Daniel Radcliffe, films, Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, review

I saw Now You See Me with a couple of friends and vividly remember one of them despairing about how much we enjoyed it. She said it was nonsense and the plot didn’t make sense. She wasn’t wrong, of course, but, as we tried to explain to her, that didn’t make it any less exciting. Yes, finishing the film made you realise everything pretty much happened for no reason but it was still fun. I can’t even say that I am a massive fan of magic as I’m far too cynical to appreciate it. I’m always looking for the hidden aspects and the slight of hand because that’s what adults do. However, films concerning magic are always incredibly exciting. The Prestige is utterly insane when you think about it too much but that doesn’t stop it being fucking amazing. So, whilst I won’t be shouting it from the hill tops, I was a fan of the first film. Still, I can’t say I was exactly thrilled by the idea of a sequel. Especially as it starred Daniel Radcliffe, the least talented actor of the Harry Potter films. At least Mark Ruffalo would be there and I’m sure there’s a lot of things I could get through with the help of Mark Ruffalo.

Remember the fun but otherwise forgettable 2013 magic film Now You See Me? Do you remember how it ended? Well you better because the sequel nobody wanted or expected is here. Despite Now You See Me ending on a very final and satisfactory note, the powers that be obviously thought they could squeeze it for more so we’re picking up where we left of in Now You See Me 2. For those who haven’t spent the last 3 years thinking about this film I’ll sum up. The magicians, known as The Four Horsemen, are in hiding and undercover FBI agent/magician Dylan (Mark Ruffalo) is pretending to hunt for them. Meanwhile, angry patsy Thaddeus (Morgan Freeman) is languishing in prison intent of making the Horsemen pay for setting him up for a pretty flimsy reason. He’s posting internet videos calling for vengeance and, when the Horsemen are called out of retirement, it looks as though he’ll get his chance.

The four magicians, minus the ginger Isla Fisher but with the addition of the more edgy Lizzy Caplan, are called on to reveal the greed of a businessman who possesses software that can steal data from its users. When the plot goes wrong and Dylan is outed as a double agent the group find themselves kidnapped by the supposed dead partner of the businessman, Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe). He forces the magicians to steal the software for him or he’ll kill them or something. It doesn’t really matter because, as we know by now, the plot really isn’t as simple as all that. Everyone is playing games and nobody really knows what’s going on.

It basically becomes the same kind of showdown we saw in the original between the corrupt and dangerous Mabry and our Robin Hood-esque magic group. However, this time there’s more talking and more exposition to get us to the very obvious ending. Plus, just when you think this film couldn’t get more ridiculous than its predecessor, in a weird subplot Dylan works on his continued Daddy issues when he goes to Thaddeus for help in tracking down his magic interns. To any normal person this seems like a fucking stupid idea but Dylan sees no problem with helping his arch-enemy escape from prison.

This film does succeed in providing you with everything you expect, though. There’s magic, brooding Mark Ruffalo, zany Woody Harrelson and annoyed Jesse Eisenberg. Although, in Now You See Me 2 there was far too much of the latter two and not enough magic in any sense of the word. Still, I guess these movies aren’t really about magic but are more of an Ocean’s Eleven meets The Prestige kind of caper. Magi-crime thriller? I dunno. Still, it is fun enough but, you can’t help feeling, second time around it just doesn’t have the same effect. Mostly because it was a completely unnecessary sequel. The story line is stretched super thin because there was just no place to go at the end of the first one. Whatever you may think of the quality, it was pretty self-contained.

No matter how many quirky new characters, secret identical twins or Chinese magic shops you throw into the mix, this sequel still feels like it fails to lie up to the, not so great, heights of its predecessor. Everything feels desperate and there are so many failed attempts to ramp up the thrills. Take Michael Caine’s dramatic reveal, which, thanks to his very obvious appearance in all the marketing, is nowhere near as thrilling as the filmmakers would have liked. The mood is much more bleak and Mark Ruffalo spends most of his time moping around. The rest of the cast seem content to treat the film as the insane story that it is but Ruffalo refuses to take a break. It often feels at odds with the rest of the proceedings.

The first film had no real expectations of itself and was a fun, flashy affair that didn’t care how absurd it was. And I liked that about it. This film is a tepid and unimaginative affair that calls on every stupid trick in the book to try and convince its audience that it’s relevant. Unfortunately, it’s not. I mean there are a couple of stand-out moments but nothing major. The only thing that really got me excited was the moment the group try and hide the stolen chip by slyly chucking a playing card back-and-forth in front of angry security guards. Even that feels half-arsed in the grand scheme of things though. You won’t necessarily hate this film but there is no denying it’s lost the magic of the original.

SUNDAY RUNDOWN – THAT’S WHAT SHE READ

books, currently reading, films, George RR Martin, Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, X-Men
Today is father’s day so I hope that you’re all treating your dad like a King. Me? I forced him to drive me to work at 6:45 am and left his present on the side for him to find when he got back. Who says daughterly love isn’t alive and well. Still, I guess I owe a lot to my father. He’s had a greater influence on my interests than I really appreciate. He’s a fan of J.R.R Tolkein and bought my my first copy of The Fellowship of the Ring when I was younger. He was the one who bought me a copy of The Philosopher’s Stone when it was released. His love of Arthur Conan Doyle pushed me into reading his novels as soon as I could. It was sitting with my dad and watching The Next Generation that really got me into Star Trek. No doubt there’s more that his tastes have influenced but it can’t be ignored that my father is responsible for some of the greatest loves that have followed me through my life. Without Toklein I wouldn’t have read George RR Martin. Without that first copy of Harry Potter I would have missed out on one of the most important series of books in my life. Without TNG I wouldn’t have grown up knowing what a badass Patrick Stewart is. So, despite my lack of celebration this morning, I am celebrating my father today. Who knows what kind of boring life I’d have had without his influence. 
Currently Reading
  • A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George RR Martin
I’m getting through this but still pretty slowly. I’d forgotten how dense George RR’s writing can be. I’m absolutely loving it but it just feels like such an immense task to get through each section. As someone who doesn’t want to finish reading for the night until I’ve reached a suitable place it sometimes doesn’t feel worth starting when I’m in bed. I hope I get into this soon. I’ve spent a lot of my day off reading and I’m slowly falling in love with Dunk and Egg’s bromance. I just need to pray for inspiration.

Recently Purchased
  • The Man with the Golden Typewriter: Ian Fleming’s James Bond Letters by Fergus Fleming
Saw this one in a bookshop and knew I had to have it. I love the James Bond films and have tried, unsuccessfully, to get into the books a few times. However, I love reading people’s letters because I’m so fucking nosy. Seriously, though, I always regretted not writing my postgraduate dissertation about the letters of Romantic poets because it’s always so fascinating to read their personal letters. I tracked down a copy of Jean-Paul Satre’s letters to Simone de Beauvoir because of the film The Truth About Cats and Dogs and have loved it. It’s so great getting a look into their personal loves and the difference in their voices and styles is fantastic. I have to say that the best thing about the Sex and the City movie is the moment Carrie is reading the love letters of great men. I have a similar book and adore it. So, I think it’s pretty safe to say I’ll love this book.
  • The House of Ulloa (Pocket Penguins) by Emilia Pardo Bazán
Another edition to my slowly increasing Pocket Penguins collection and it’s a lovely yellow colour. Yellow is fast becoming my favourite colour so I was, probably, sways towards this one more on the cover than the stroy. However, it is also a Gothic novel and we all know how I feel about them. The story of a young priest entering a morally questionable world sounds ideal. It’s like The Monk but, hopefully, with less “beauteous orbs” 
  • The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane
I saw this book and thought the cover was so good I bought it without knowing anything about the story. However, it sounds pretty great even though it wouldn’t make a difference now. Ruth is widowed and lives alone until an unexpected arrival turns up at her door. Frida appears great at first but Ruth starts to hear a tiger prowling around her house at night. Who is this stranger and what does she want with Ruth? See? Doesn’t that sound fucking awesome? Woman/tiger mystery. Looking forward to this. 

Recently Watched
  • X-Men: Apocalypse
I finally got round to seeing this after bloody ages. After spending months feeling absolutely shit about it, I was pleasantly surprised. Still, it wasn’t exactly good. Check out my review from last week. 
  • X-Men: The Last Stand
In order to really get my TBT review correct this week I went above and beyond and rewatched this fucking film. Wanna hear my thoughts? Check out my Thursday post
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past (Rogue cut)
After watching Apocalypse this week I went on a bit of an X-Men marathon and finally watched the extended edition of Days of Future Past. Considering how much I loved this film and loved the sound of the Rogue scenes I was excited. Turns out, the extra 20 minutes or so didn’t really add a great deal. I can’t say Rogue made much of a difference and, aside from the super hot Beast/Mystique scene, there wasn’t much I wished had been in the final cinematic release. Still, it’s a fucking great film regardless. 
  • Now You See Me 2
I quite liked the first film despite how ridiculous it was. So I was sort of looking forward to the sequel. Did I like it? Find out on Tuesday.

  • Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
I love The Lonely Island and they have a permanent place on my Day to Day Spotify playlist. So I was loving the idea of this film. I’m hoping to do a full review in the coming weeks so keep your eyes peeled. 

Tuesday’s Reviews – Spotlight (2016)

Catholic Church, films, journalism, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, review, true story

There was no real obvious contender for this years Best Picture Oscar. There were the three main possibilities The Revenant, The Big Short, and Spotlight. Then there was Room and Bridge of Spies which had both received a lot of attention but, in terms of this category, couldn’t really compete with the main three. Following on from these still realistic nominations there were the typical outsiders. Films that audiences loved and were great in their own way but that would never appeal to the voters. The Martian and Brooklyn were both films that people enjoyed but were never going to get the big prize. If you ask me, it was the final nomination Mad Max: Fury Road that really deserved the prize but I also have to admit that there was never any chance the voters were going to admit that George Miller’s masterpiece should win. So, it was always a bit of a mystery who would win last Sunday. All I knew is, I didn’t want it to be The Big Short.

Thankfully, Adam McKay’s disappointing look at the financial crisis of 2008 didn’t succeed and the more deserving Spotlight got its place in the, well, spotlight. It is the true story of the reporters from the Boston Globe who uncovered the years of abuse kept hidden by the Catholic Church back in 2002. It has a stellar cast and treats the real life drama with the respect it deserves. It is also very un-Oscary in its own way.

The narrative follows a small group of reporters who spend their time digging deep into the paper’s big stories. When a new boss takes over, he insists that they start looking into the accusations of abuse surrounding one particular priest. What they find is a  problem that runs much deeper than they could have ever imagined. With Catholicism being such an important part of society, the paper have to be careful how they handle the investigation and come across resistance from both the Church and its supporters. For much of the narrative, important and revealing documents are sealed during a legal case fighting to make them public.

It’s a difficult story to deal with and most of the “action” actually involves the group of journalists checking records, meeting sources, and discussing how to proceed. It doesn’t go down the typical Hollywood route and romanticise journalism. It shows the very long, painful and slow process that was needed to get all the facts. Despite the fact that the story broke nearly 15 years ago, Spotlight treats it in such a way that is seems fresh and just as much of an outrage as it was the first time. This isn’t a Hollywood tale

Where Spotlight really wins the day is having enough insight to tell the story as it really was. The facts are on display and the story has neither been embellished or polished to make it more marketable. It is the representation of real people doing their job and wanting to make a difference. It isn’t tempted to turn them into superheroes struggling against the odds but is rather content to show good journalists doing their research. And it’s still a thrilling and enthralling film.

It’s very unshowy and doesn’t really present itself as an Oscar contender. There are no major moments of acting included to make the voting panel sit up in their seats. It’s a very sedate affair and the cast are quietly brilliant in playing their parts. They deal with the topic with the same sombre attitude that director Tom McCarthy does. Everybody is aware that it is the story that matters here, the victims of the abuse, and not the journalists themselves. They are heroic in their own way but neither the film nor the cast try and glorify the people at the front of this film.

It’s a very honest narrative that doesn’t fail to throw shots back in the paper’s face. The Catholic scandal ran so deep because nobody wanted to see it. We discover that the paper itself made mistakes in the past and are forced to come to terms with face-to-face with their unwillingness to go against the status quo. It is a stark reminder of how recent this revelation really was and how easily people were willing to accept the Church’s response. The film doesn’t have the kind of superheroes fighting the big baddie you’ll see advertised throughout this year but it shows that, without people speaking out, corruption like this can go unnoticed for years.

The film constantly talks about the fear that the Catholic Church will come after Spotlight for their investigation. This isn’t in the All the President’s Men sense: this isn’t a threat of violence. It is a treat of being excluded. We are talking about a society where a nod, a nudge or a free drink are enough to get people to keep shtum. Spotlight isn’t a dramatic and over-the-top narrative about uncovering corruption. It is a tense, sophisticated and sensitive treatment of a real-life problem. A deserving winner of the Best Picture Oscar.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Chris Hemsworth, comic book, Joss Whedon, Mark Ruffalo, Marvel, review, Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson
avengers_age_of_ultron_poster
Those of you who have been paying close attention to my Twitter for the last 12 months will know that I’ve been fucking excited about Avengers: Age of Ultron: it’s been my not so secret obsession since James Spader was announced as the voice of titular nemesis. As it happened, it took me a week after its release to finally get around to seeing Age of Ultron and I did so well at avoiding spoilers regarding the shocking ending. That was until the day I had arranged to see it when my fucking dick of a colleague ruined it for me. I haven’t yet forgiven him and its not an exaggeration to say that I probably never will. He fucking knew I was scheduled to see it but still he blundered on, determined to ruin my viewing pleasure. This meant that I was a little underwhelmed when leaving the cinema because I saw through all of Joss Whedon’s intricate plot weaving to the closing act that I knew was heading my way. It was a fucking travesty. However, in the time since my viewing, I’ve had time to calm down and reflect properly on the latest massively multiplayer Marvel movie.
 

Age of Ultron doesn’t waste any time getting us right back into the action. It’s been 3 long years since the World’s Mightiest Heroes were last seen out together and we pick up right in the heart of battle. Yes, no slightly tedious semantics about how the team pair up again in this sequel: we know who everyone is, what they can do and, in many cases, what they’ve been up to in the interim. So fuck the heart-warming reunion; let’s pummel some bad guys. Following on from the aftermath of Winter Soldier, the Avengers are trying to breach a Hydra research facility to get back an all too familiar mind-control staff. Taking place in the fictional eastern European city of Sokovia, the opening action scene is, quite frankly, fucking incredibly. I didn’t even mind the awkward inclusion slow-motion and 3-d friendly visuals. The scene works well by moving between the team one-by-one, neatly allowing each to do their thing before moving along to the next.
 
 
The opening sequence also gives us our first real look at the twins, first introduced to us in the credits of Winter Soldier, and their freaky superpowers. Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) uses his immense speed to expertly fuck with Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Scarlet Witch (Emily Olsen) uses her psychic powers to just fuck with everyone’s head. As villains go, they have an awful lot of potential to actually beat the most powerful group of heroes in the world. Out for revenge against Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in particular, Scarlet Witch implants a vision of death and destruction in Iron Man’s head and leads us all on the road to ruin. Wishing to put “a suit of armour around the world”, Stark and physicist Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) begin experimenting with artificial intelligence: a seriously dangerous move that could have been avoiding if anyone in the Marvel Universe watched a fucking movie from time to time. As such, Ultron (James Spader) is born and he’s not happy with his creators.
 
 
With more than a few knowing nods to Frankenstein, Ultron is born due to his creator’s out of control ego and takes on many of the worst aspects of Stark’s personality. With his tough robotic body, Ultron makes it his mission to destroy the Avengers and bring about “peace in our time”: unfortunately that peace can only be found once mankind is wiped-out. Picking up the Maximoff twins as allies, Ultron looks set to become a real threat once he gets his nifty new body. Age of Ultron just seems more sure of itself than The Avengers ever did. Something that can be seen within the numerous action sequences. The visual effects are fantastic and the way the action moves between each member of the team is much less chaotic than in their previous outing. As further proof that we’re on surer ground here, the fight choreography brings greater emphasis to the group’s teamwork. It finally feels like we’re watching a real unit working together to save the world.
 
There is a real sense of camaraderie oozing out of every scene and its a fucking joy. Something that is even more apparent in the script which features the traditional Joss Whedon style quips and banter that so wonderfully juxtaposes the ensuing mayhem. Everyone gets a chance to make with the funny but in the Whedonesque way that never breaks up the tension or the action. Like The Avengers before it, the film is so much fun that it almost feels wrong. Whedon’s greatest asset will always be the way in which he throws himself into every project with such joy, energy, and care. It’s impossible not to get swept away by it.
 
Although, Age of Ultron does have its flaws. Just as The Avengers was the first step into Marvel’s Phase Two, the sequel has the daunting task of helping to prepare us for Phase Three. As such, Marvel crams so much extra stuff into the film that it often feels a bit too bloated. We see references to a fucking cavalcade future Marvel films: Captain America: Civil War; Thor: RagnarokBlack Panther; and the two-part Avengers: Infinity War. The Ultron plot was enough for the audience to get their head around without glimpses into the fucking future clogging their brain space. Still, Whedon manages to bring his unique style and vision to the film and ensure it never fails to deliver on the one most important thing for a comic book movie: fun. Despite my spoiler-inspired negativity post-credits, I’m happy with the way the film worked out and am happy with the new faces to the Avenger’s line-up.

Foxcatcher (2014)

Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, review, Steve Carell
So 2015 is finally here. The time that film fans have been waiting for ever since their first viewing of Back to the Future II showed us just how different life would be. Unfortunately, the strike of midnight didn’t open us up to a world of hoverboards, flying cars and shoes that lace themselves. Instead we’re looking at an even more unbelievable situation in which Channing Tatum, following in the footsteps of Matthew McConaughey and Mark Wahlberg before him, is slowly becoming one of the most consistently strong actors in Hollywood. I ignored him until I saw 21 Jump Streetand realised how funny and clever he could be. No longer just the hunky star of Step-Upand shitty rom-coms, I embraced the Tates… even though there has been something fucking weird going on with his face of late. As a person who always goes where the hype is, I’ve been looking forward to his latest film, Foxcatcher, for ages. Some of you may remember that New Year’s Day 2014 saw me watching Anchorman2 because it was all my hungover state could handle. This year, my New Year’s Eve was a much more sophisticated affair so I felt I could handle a better class of film.

Foxcatcheris the latest film from director Bennett Miller and it tells the true story of Olympic wrestlers David and Mark Schultz and their relationship with the eccentric and sinister billionaire John Eleuthère Du Pont. It is a tragic-tale concerning rivalry and the awful lengths people will go to in order to carve a reputation for themselves. Mark (Channing Tatum) and David (Mark Ruffalo) share a strong brotherly bond but are still rivals on the wrestling circuit. Despite both winning an Olympic gold, Mark finds himself consistently in the shadow of his more successful, likeable and social adept older brother. Mark has found a comfortable post-Olympics life, making a living as a wrestling coach and raising a family with his wife (Sienna Miller). On the other hand, Mark lives a quiet and lonely life in a dingy flat and surviving on fast-food and Ramen noodles.
That is until he is contacted by John Du Pont (Steve Carell) and offered the chance to move out to Foxcatcher Farm. Du Pont’s dream is to create a world-class training facility at his family’s Pennsylvania estate, which will serve the entire American team prior to the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Mark embraces Du Pont as a stand-in father and mentor but, it quickly becomes clear that Du Pont is only interested in getting Dave on board as well. Dave’s imminent arrival at Foxcatcher Farm causes a ripple affect that promises to uproot all three men’s lives.
Thanks to some amazing direction and some unexpected and fucking brilliant casting, Foxcatcherhas been creating Oscar buzz long before it came out. However, in the midst of all the hype there has been the usual smattering of negativity. The film has been written off by some for lacking depth and, whilst I’m not stubborn enough to write off Miller’s entire work, I can sort of see why some people are pissed off. The script is pretty fucking subtle and a great deal of emphasis is placed on the acting and not words to get the message across. Miller’s direction favours silence and stillness so it can feel like the story isn’t always moving forward and there are plenty of scenes that seem to drag on for fucking hours. However, all of this is just an indulgence that the film can afford to partake in. The moments of peace and quiet only help to build the tension before the tale’s inevitable tragic end. An atmosphere which is allowed to flourish thanks to Greig Fraser’s cinematography, which has clouded the whole thing in a chilling and hostile haze thanks to the desaturated colours. 
The film may go through a bit of shaky ground but it is successfully anchored by some superb performances. Offering an intense performance, Tatum holds back on the frat boy charm that has worked in his favour so far. Schultz is a lumbering, socially awkward jock. With plenty of focus on the sport, Tatum’s performance relies heavily on physical action rather than wordy exchanges but he manages to get his point across. Mark is a lonely man who feels overlooked in his field and is torn between love and resentment for his older brother.
An older brother who possesses the charm and affection that Mark so sorely lacks. Mark Ruffalo portrays Dave with control and a great deal of compassion. Dave loves Mark and wants nothing more than to keep him happy and safe. Ruffalo flourishes in the still, quiet nature of Miller’s direction and is the most capable at depicting the emotional subtext of the script. As good as Tatum and Carell are, it is Ruffalo that really gets to grips with what Miller and co. have in mind.
However, Ruffalo is consistently fucking wonderful so it’s comedian Steve Carell who has been receiving the majority of the press. And so he should. Underneath the mountain of prosthetics that adorns his face, the actor gives an effective performance and one taken on without a hint of caricature. Bottom line here, Carell is fucking creepy. Du Pont’s is forever watched by his disapproving mother (a wonderful but barely seen Vanessa Redgrave). John, in a manner that would make even Norman Bates blush, is eager to impress her but is never able to convince her of the sport’s merits.

Despite the real Mark Schultz’s recent outcry concerning the homoerotic implications this film makes about his relationship with Du Pont, I didn’t think there was that much to worry about. The film flirts with Du Pont’s apparent sexual attraction to his wrestlers but it certainly doesn’t warrant all of the comparisons being make to Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra. Du Pont is in no way a hooked-nosed Liberace and Schultz has very little connection to Scott Thorson. 

If nothing more, Du Pont is the perfect way for Miller to satirise the moneyed classes and their dangerous patriotism and unflinching sense of entitlement. Although when it comes down to it, the filmmakers aren’t keen to make any overt statements about Du Pont’s character. Is he suffering from mental illness or is he just a fucking psychopath? So, yes, the skilled craftsmanship that went into creating Foxcatcheris worthy of all its praise but there is, annoyingly, something lacking.  

Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)

Avengers, Chris Hemsworth, comic book, fucking awesome, Joss Whedon, Mark Ruffalo, Marvel, review, Robert Downey Jr, Samuel L, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hiddleston

I have eagerly awaited the release of The Avengers for about 3 years now and there was very little chance that I would walk out of the cinema without a great sense of glee. To say I had high expectations from Joss Whedon’s turn within the Marvel universe is a disgraceful misrepresentation of my pre-Avengers state of mind. I avoided any review or article that I felt would potentially spoil my viewing and resigned myself to watching the trailer repeatedly for the months before release. I was on fucking tenterhooks.

Thanks to the necessary task of ringing together a fuckload of existing characters, the plot takes a bit of time to get going. The film mainly shows the team coming together and is a lot less focused on big action pieces. It isn’t until well into the film that the super group really get to show off their skills and even then the display isn’t that spectacular. Now I didn’t mind the sedate opening sequences or the elongated sequence where Iron Man and Captain America mend things but  Whedon could have done with fleshing out his villains more. This is a comic-book movie afterall. It’s nice to know why we hate the people we really want you to punch in the face.

Although, as you would expect of Whedon, is is the script that’s the key here; it is funny, dramatic and sentimental. There was always a danger that putting such larger than life characters together in one room would create issues and, more likely, the overpowering talents of Robert Downey Jr. would overshadow the newer members of Marvel’s cinematic family. Whedon does a good job of raining in Stark just enough to allow the group to bounce off one and other and create enough tension.

Downey Jr flourishes within this setting. Playing off the already theatrical and narcissistic Iron Man with the nostalgic Captain and Asgardian Prince creates some truly amazing moments of dialogue. Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth continue in the much the same vane that we have seen in their previous outings as Captain America and Thor respectively. They both do a good job of portraying the fish out of water within the situation. However, I think their role as outsiders could have been utilised to greater effect.

It is Mark Ruffalo’s turn as Bruce Banner that is the biggest revelation of the film. This is the third actor to take on the scientist in recent years and he is simply marvellous. Ruffalo gives the Big Green an even bigger heart and he brings a vulnerability and humour to the character that neither Eric Bana nor Edward Norton managed in their films. His blossoming friendship with Tony provides some wonderful scenes and some exceptional dialogue. He provides some of the most tender and emotional scenes and garners many of the biggest laughs. So much so that it is the Hulk that comes out on top of his fellow Avengers by the end credits.

Jeremy Renner, as Hawkeye, unfortunately gets little to do here but the moments where he is deeply involved in the plot show a great deal of potential for a rather dismal character (I’m sorry he’s hot but being able to shoot arrows at people is neither an awesomely useful or very unique ability.) In the same way Black Widow (played by a rather uncomfortable looking cat-suited Scarlett Johansson) gets very little to do after her first fight scene. She is, like Renner, used to bring extra sex appeal and very little else. She shows off some kick ass moves but this is overshadowed by the many gratuitous shots of her in her skin-tight costume. Consider the directing choice that caused her face-to-face with Loki to be shot from a camera placed at arse height. I’m not entirely sure that scene tells us anything more about Black Widow other than the fact she is rather pleasing on the eye.

The Avengers themselves are such a powerful force both physically and in terms of their screen presence, that every other character is sort of thrown into the shadows. Well all but one. 2011’s Thor introduced us to Loki and set out his path to become the God of Mischief. The Loki we see in The Avengers is something else entirely. Tom Hiddleston is obviously in his element playing the disgraced (adopted) son of Oden and is just phenomenal. Every line is venomous and he has truly perfected the look of madness and pure evil. It is no wonder, then, that it is Loki who has come out of The Avengers with the biggest army of supporters. Yes he’s trying to take over the world but he’s both very beautiful and vulnerable.

The best moments obviously come when the Avengers are doing what they do best. It was always going to be difficult to spread the time between six individuals but the end result is a necessarily confusing, loud but incredibly exciting battle for the earth. Whilst it is uncertain whether Whedon will actually come back to direct a second outing for the super group I certainly hope he does. This film wasn’t perfect but it was certainly worth the wait for those of us who have been desperate for this day to come.