Friday, 12 December 2014

Review of the Year - 2014

Not many blog posts this year. Which is always a good sign for me. Means I've been busy (this year with running a pub quiz company, DJing, playing in a new band and writing a book!)

As always though, I remained opinionated, though didn't get to immerse myself in as much media as I would like. However, some ideas about the best and worst of 2014 below, let me know what you think...

Best Film

Though I'm yet to see some possible contenders (Interstellar, Nightcrawler, The Hobbit, Paddington), 2014 was a solid year for film. In fact, I'm willing to put money on it that I've not seen my film of the year yet. However, two big contenders occupy two very different categories. Inside Llewyn Davis was charming, and what a soundtrack! But 22 Jump Street was just hilarious. Like side-splitting funny. For now it will stand as film of the year, but I reserve the right to retract that once I've caught up...

Best Comic Book Film

Everyone's probably shouting 'Guardians of the Galaxy!' and don't get me wrong, it's bloody awesome. But on second viewings, I really thought Captain America: The Winter Soldier was the better film. A Cold War thriller that hits all of the right beats and had a real impact on the Marvel Cinematic universe.

Best Album

Actually not a great year for music. Or I missed something excellent. Union Sound Set's To the Wolves gets a massive shout-out, though not quite as good as their 2011 outing, and Taking Back Sunday were back on form with Happiness Is. However, for the first time in a very long time (maybe The Matrix managed this) album of the year is a soundtrack album! Soundtrack to the summer of 2014, it's got to be Guardians of the Galaxy.

Disappointment of the Year

The Amazing Spider-man 2 deserves a mention here, but Peter Capaldi as the Doctor was always a a concern. He threw himself into the role and won us over (even if he isn't, and never will be, Matt Smith). The season as a whole was looking excellent, was a nice over-arching plot and some brilliant stand-alone episodes. But the finale. Oh the finale. What a disappointing bundle of mediocre-ness (yes that's a word.)

Character of the Year

Robin Lord Taylor's depiction of Penguin in Gotham is one of the best things about the program. Danny Pink in Doctor Who deserves a mention, as well as Kevin Durand as Daryl, sorry, Vasiliy in The Strain.

But the character that won everyone's hearts this year, no, not a talking tree, but a ripped, green fighting machine in the form of Dave Batista's Drax the Destroyer. Nothing goes over his head. His reflexes are too quick. He would catch it.

Best Comedy Character of the Year

Yes, I'm making up categories as I go along. Gina from Brooklyn Nine Nine was just brilliant. She took the weirdness of New Girl and completely made it her own. Well done Chealsea Perretti, you had our house in stitches every viewing.

Television of the Year

Blimey there was a lot of TV worth mentioning. I'll probably forget something, but most definite honourable mentions to Gotham, The Walking Dead, The Flash, Arrow, Sherlock, Hannibal, American Horror Story, the list goes on. We were truly spoilt.

The Strain almost take it for me. An excellent adaptation of Guillermo Del Toro's novels, it's Walking Dead not quite taking itself as seriously, and it rather brilliant.

However, I've got to split this into two categories....

Best Comedy Televsion

Brooklyn Nine Nine was just brilliant. Consistently hilarious and a awesome and varied cast. Has set the bar for comedy from now on.

Best Drama

Fargo. Not enough people saw it. It was stylish, witty, and completely gripping. Martin Freeman was at his very best.

Best Podcast

I love Kevin Smith's Smodcast network, but the best edited and most informative and entertaining podcast of the year has to be WNYC's Radiolab. Brilliantly put together, engaging hosts, and made with real care and attention, it's essential listening.

Well that's it for now. As said, I reserve the right to change my mind on these. Once I've caught up on everything in the world. If you think I've missed anything important, it's probably because I've not had the chance to catch it, but please let me know!

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Marvel Studios and Doctor Strange

Marvel Studios have so far impressed the world. OK, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but it’s pleasing to see a large studio not only respecting, but also loving the source material. There are three glaring (and probably many less glaring) reasons why the Marvel run of success seems to be showing no sign of slowing, and he top of that list is a certain Mr Feige.

Kevin Feige is the brains behind the operation It’s so important with any film project to have someone who loves the story at the helm, just look at Peter Jackson and the Middle Earth films. With Feige, It’s like having your local comic-book shop owner running the show. The man knows his shit, as they say, probably more than a lot of self-proclaimed geeks. And he’s really not afraid of mixing things up.

And that’s reason number two. This films could have slowly ticked over, trudging towards the big final fight against Thanos. And if that’s a spoiler to you, you’ve really not been paying attention. But it seems that was considered dull. So instead, in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, they took the entire status quo and flushed it down the pan, not only majorly affecting Captain America’s part of the over-all universe, but also confusing followers of the television series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as to what on earth the title of the show would be next season…

It’s that risk-taking attitude that has given Marvel Studios the edge. A more na├»ve company would have churned out superhero movie after superhero movie, but Marvel Studios realised that this would soon get dull. So to spice things up, they not only throw the occasional spanner into the overall plot, but each film is treated as an opportunity to play with genre. It’s the Captain America series that has truly embraced this philosophy, with the first being a classic Indiana Jones style war film, and the second a Tom Clancy style Cold War thriller.

News emerged this week that Doctor Strange has taken another step towards production with the announcement of Scott Derrickson as director. Derrikson directed the brilliant The Exorcism of Emily Rose and the rather frightening Sinister, suggesting that Marvel will be continuing their attitude to genre, and this is excellent news. In the comics, Doctor Strange leads Marvel’s charge into the world of the supernatural, not only in his own adventures, but also cropping up in the likes of Daredevil and Uncanny X-men. As well as being an Avenger. He’s a busy man.

So here’s hoping that the appointment of Derrickson is as it seems, and Marvel will be fully embracing Strange’s world and we’ll be seeing a Constantine-esque outing featuring someone a little more interesting than the currently muttered suggestions; Johnny Depp and Keanu Reeves. This muttering should be silenced immediately. Hopefully more likely are some suggestions by the always sensible Empire, and here’s hoping that Marvel have noticed that Oded Fehr looks exactly like Stephen Strange…

Friday, 30 May 2014

X-men: Days of Future Past Spoiler Review

It’s been a while since Fox released anything good in the X-men franchise. It all started to go a bit downhill with X-men The Last Stand, fell off a cliff entirely with X-men Origins: Wolverine, managed to grab an outstretched branch with The Wolverine and was left clinging for dear life over what was certainly a fatal fall. Then Brian Singer clearly noticed that someone had left his child unattended, lowered a rope and hauled the franchise back onto safer ground.

X-men: Days of Future Past is by no means perfect, but it is possibly the strongest outing for the franchise so far. The first two films were good, especially at the time when the competition in comic based movies was not exactly fierce. 14 years later, and with the likes of The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy knocking around, ensemble hero films have raised the stakes. Singer needed to bring his A-game, and bring it he did.

DOFP is by no means perfect. It’s a time-travel film, so was always going to contain flaws. Some flaws are unavoidable. Like the confusion around the time-travel. The laws are clearly laid out at the beginning of the film for all to see, but that doesn’t mean everyone will be able to keep up. Yet there are a few features of the film that could easily have been improved and just feel a little lazy in the writing department. The first fifteen minutes feel a little forced, with the audience expected to just jump on board an accept what’s happening. More intelligence within the writing could have laid down some solid ground-work, and the main offender here is the expectation that the audience will just accept that Kitty Pride has the ability to send people’s consciousness back in time. Just a line or two of dialogue could have addressed this, yet the writers didn’t deem it worth explaining…
There are a handful of other plot devices that feel a little clunky. Beast’s serum that allows him to control his powers is a necessary device for Charles Xavier’s journey, but feels like a slightly forced way to give Nicholas Holt some proper screen time. And Mystique’s character arc isn’t as logical as it could have been. Yet there is so much good in the film as a whole, these things are easy to overlook.

Singer has been smart. The risk with ensemble films, especially one of this scale, is sacrificing character development. Yet sensibly there are only a handful of characters that follow a proper arc. This is James McAvoy’s film. X-men: First Class followed Magneto’s journey, and Fassbender still does an excellent job of developing him throughout this film. Yet it is Xavier who truly changes. And it’s an emotional one as well, taking McAvoy from being a ruined, drug-addicted mess, to the moral and powerful mutant we see in Patrick Stewart’s Xavier many years later.

A few characters do fall into the lack of character development trap, but in most cases it’s not an issue. Peter Dinklage’s Trask could have been used more, but probably just because Dinklage is a joy to watch. Beast gets sacrificed in this regard. But it’s with Mystique that the damage is done. There are points that she feels like a convenient plot device, and if it weren’t for the always wonderful Jennifer Lawrence, it might actually be a real issue.

This all might seem overly-critical, and that’s the point. These are the worst offenses within this film, and it just emphasises what a good job Singer has done. The action is spectacular, not to mention brutal. He doesn’t shy away from killing off the future X-men in some pretty extreme ways at the beginning of the film, and then does it all again during the final battle, supplying the audience with some pretty shocking moments. Seeing Halle Berry get impaled is not something many will expect to see.

Yet the star of the film comes in the form of American Horror Story’s Evan Peters. Quicksliver is many a fan-favourite in the comics, and there was a lot of excitement and concern surrounding his inclusion in the film. It is not a disappointment. Peters is funny, charming, and every second he is on screen is a delight. He also brings out the best in some of the leading cast (Fassbender actually has the ability to be hilarious) and anyone who can watch Quicksilver’s main scene and not grin throughout needs to get their sense of humour checked.

Some interesting choices have been made concerning Quicksilver. In the comics his power varies between being able to travel around Mach 4 and potentially hitting Mach 10 in his more powerful forms. The version we see in the film is clearly Quicksilver at his most powerful (rivalling DC’s The Flash for speed), and makes for a few amazing scenes, but unfortunately means he has to be dropped halfway through otherwise he would have too much influence on the plot. Considering that the villain in the next film will be Apocalypse (revealed in the post-credits sting), it’s safe to assume we’ll be seeing more of Peters in the next outing. But we’ll be seeing more of the silver-haired one in next year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, and the bar has been set rather high. Can Weedon and co. trump this incarnation of the speedster? With a certain Aaron Taylor-Johnson stepping into his shoes, it’s rather doubtful…

The most important element of DOFP however is the fact that this is effectively a reboot. Or a half reboot. The events of X-men, X-men 2, The Last Stand and the two Wolverine films have been cancelled out by this latest outing, allowing for the First Class generation to take over. It’s almost as if someone was apologising for some rather silly decisions made, especially during The Last Stand. Seeing Jean, and especially Cyclops back alive warms the heart. It could be great to see that generation strutting their stuff again, but it seems that the torch has been passed. But do not despair. We’ll likely see them again, just maybe a little younger…

Friday, 23 May 2014

Godzilla Review

Who would have thought giant monsters fighting each other could be beautiful? Impressive, to be expected, exciting, you could hope, but beautiful? Impressively, that’s exactly what director Gareth Edwards has achieved.

Edwards was given the reins for Godzilla (and what mighty big reins you would need) after his first monster flick, the appropriately named Monsters, impressed the right people. Yet taking on such an iconic beast, despite being a logic step, was definitely a brave decision for such a young director.

Godzilla requires a little bit of patience. The first 45 minutes is spent in character development and establishing the mythology behind this incarnation of an already familiar character. There are some excellent choices on this front; neat laws that keep the story on track and allow for some excellent set pieces. Some will find flaws in the plot, but they really are only there if you really want them to be.

The film, as is often the case in monster flicks, is brought down a notch by the humans. Cranston is unsurprisingly brilliant, but doesn’t get enough screen time. Instead, we follow the excellently constructed arc of Taylor-Johnson, who despite giving good performances in various other films (Kick-Ass springs to mind), is just a little lukewarm. Yet he makes a reasonable vessel to take us from set-piece to set-piece. Elizabeth Olsen doesn't fare so well, with a bit of a non-plot. Equally so, Ken Watanabe is also afflicted by a mediocre storyline and spends the majority of the film with a look of surprise on his face, which is ironic as he’s one of a few to have actually encountered the monsters before.

However none of this matters. The human stories are interesting enough not to bring the film down around them, and are quickly forgotten when the big G himself enters the ring. In appearance, Godzilla is phenomenal. The design has reverted back to the classic upright poise. Equally so, his opponents (the M.U.T.O.) are creepy and threatening. Every set-piece is perfectly constructed. The first reveal in Hawaii is ridiculously exciting, whilst the final battle is desperate and brutal.

Yet no matter how awesome the monsters, and how mediocre the characters, what takes Godzilla from being a 3 star job to 4, is Edward’s directing. Every shot is a pleasure to watch. He holds back in just the right places, knows when to let the camera do the work, and can make a giant rampaging lizard the most personable character on the screen. The likes of Michael Bay should take a leaf out of this director’s hand-book and realise that film is still an art, even if there are explosions involved.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

The Amazing Spider-man 2 Spoiler Review

There seems to be very little halting the torrent of super-hero films dominating our screens. It started as a trickle, with Burton’s Batman films (and those two afterwards that we don’t talk about anymore) followed a decade later by Raimi’s Spider-man films (and that one afterwards that we don’t talk about anymore). And then Marvel Studios became a thing. A big, hulking, juggernaut of a thing that just doesn’t seem to be stopping. Even DC, a company that truly gives the big M a run for their money in the print world, is poking it’s head out from behind the barricades and wondering if they can possible replicate what Marvel has achieved.

Another company that wants to emulate Marvel’s ‘cinematic universe’ success is Sony. Holders of the rights to Spider-man (bet Marvel’s regretting selling him off now) they are slowly trying to build their own Spider-man cinematic universe. The Amazing Spider-man 2 graced our screens this month, and there was a lot to make up for after the lukewarm attempt that was The Amazing Spider-man. Andrew Garfield’s first outing in lycra saw him face the Lizard, not the most prolific of Spider-man enemies, or the most threatening. But then it was an origin story, and it did a reasonable job of establishing Garfield as our web-slinging hero, and introducing Emma Stone as the inevitably doomed Gwen Stacey.

Number two threatened to repeat the mistakes of the past. Raimi’s Spider-man 3 introduced the world to a new way of ruining a film, often referred to as ‘too many villains syndrome’. Yet surprisingly that wasn’t the downfall of Garfield’s second outing. What brought our handsome hero down instead was poor writing. Jamie Fox’s Electro was an excellent choice for the big-bad. With powers verging on God-like, there are points at which an audience will truly wonder how good old Spidey could possibly beat such a threat. Oh. He just did.

The Amazing Spider-man 2 may not have fallen short because of too many villains, but it did fall short because of too much conspiracy. Peter’s father’s connection to Oscorp was something that was introduced in the first film, and although it was clearly an attempt to make the Spider-man universe richer, all it achieved was taking up valuable screen time with a plot that was, for most inconsequential, and served as a weak device to turn Harry Osborne against Peter.

That screen time would have been much better spent building Harry and Peter’s relationship, and developing Fox’s character. His switch between good and evil was so sudden, and so extreme, that it could only be put down to Max Dillon being utterly insane, which doesn’t appear to be what the writers were intending. Equally so, Harry and Peter were portrayed as long estranged friends. The audience were given two scenes of them rekindling their old friendship before Harry snapped. Again, a character who was clearly unhinged. It’s a sad return to the big flaw in Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. What motivates the bad guys? Not a huge amount unfortunately.

But enough negativity. There are positive aspects to the film. It’s visually stunning. It’s funny. It’s probably the closest we’ve ever seen to the comic-book Spider-man on the big screen. And Garfield and Stone’s chemistry on screen in contagious. So why on earth would you kill her off?

Every comic-book fan knows that Gwen Stacey dies. However, did that mean she had to be killed off in film series? Why shoot yourself in the foot by killing off one half of an amazing partnership? No matter who they cast in number 3 as Mary-Jane, they won’t be able to replicate the enjoyment of Garfield and Stone together on the screen. That said, the death of Gwen Stacey is actually what saves The Amazing Spider-man 2 from taking a seat with its predecessor in the carriage reserved for the average superhero films (a car occupied by the likes of The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2). Anyone in the know has been made to think that Gwen’s got away with it. The pair stand on the very bridge where she meets her fate in the comics, and nothing happens. It makes the final battle against Green Goblin feel a little crow-barred in. (Or maybe Hobgoblin? We’re never told… Either way, Harry’s laughter as he flies in is chilling and horribly ominous). But the scene is so perfectly directed, and so well performed by Garfield, the loss feels as desperate and tragic is if you were Peter himself.

Over the next few years, we’ll be venturing back into the Spider-man universe, not only in The Amazing Spider-man 3, but also in Venom and Sinister Six, a film that will spring from the end of Spidey’s latest outing thanks to Harry using his father’s technology to put together a band of villains powerful enough to take down the Spider-man. At the moment, the Spider-man universe feels a little under-cooked, but then that’s in comparison to the Marvel universe which has had 9 films (10 come the end of this summer with the very exciting Guardians of the Galaxy being released). Maybe in three films time, it’ll feel a little different.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Review of the Year - 2013

So it's been a busy year, hence the lack of posts on T3-House. But it's always nice to take a look back at a year that, at first glance seemed weak for entertainment, but when you delve a little deeper...

Film of the Year

2013 was looking weak for films. Especially with 2015s films being announced (and what a year that will be...) But it all turned out OK in the end, with the final list to choose from being a tricky one. The top five including Thor 2: The Dark World, Rush, Django Unchained and The World's End. Yet, with some strong competition, the final choice has to go to Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity.

Album of the Year

There was a lot of disappointments this year thanks to the likes of Kings of Leon and Daft Punk, but some rather excellent efforts from Frank Turner, Paramore and especially The 1975. Any other year, any of these albums could have made the top spot, but a truly impressive come-back from a band that just keeps growing has to have it...

Television Series of the Year

An excellent year for television that left many people struggling to keep up to date, and a real rise in the popularity of online services such as Netflix. It's the future, deal with it.

Solid seasons from the usual suspects, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead and Doctor Who, and apparently an excellent final series of Breaking Bad. But it was the new television this year that really impressed, with the stylish and surprisingly enjoyable Dracula and of course yet another home-run from a certain Mr Joss Whedon with Marvel's Agents of Shield.

But Bryan Fuller's Hannibal blew the rest out of the park. Quality over quantity presided here, with 13 episodes that gripped the audience, and a cast of actors at the top of their game.

Television Event of the Year

There's no competition for this one right? Well maybe come Christmas Day there might be...

Agree? Disagree? Remember they're just opinions, but feel free to comment!

Thursday, 15 August 2013

The Problem With Edgar Wright Films...

I am a big Edgar Wright fan. Spaced is a masterpiece of British television, the Cornetto trilogy is thoroughly enjoyable and I love Scott Pilgrim Versus the World. But I have recently noticed something sinister about Edgar Wright's work that has been bugging me and I've found difficult to ignore. There are no black people in Edgar Wright's films.

I heard through the grapevine that a dear friend of mine found Scott Pilgrim offensive. For various reasons. She knows who she is. My automatic response was that this was an over-reaction, how could anyone find Scott Pilgrim offensive? It's an adorable film, full of humour and wonderful geeky references. One of her complaints was the lack of any characters who weren't white. Again, my automatic reaction was to defend the film. There are two characters who aren't white!

Oh. Wait. Two characters. Of a cast of at least 35 speaking parts. And the Matthew Patel scene is horrifically stereotypical even to someone of my numbed sensibilities.

So I got thinking. I thought about The Worlds End. Everyone's white. I thought about Hot Fuzz. Everyone's white. I thought about Shaun of the Dead. Everyone's White. I thought about Spaced. Everyone's white...

I'm not normally someone who draws attention to this sort of thing. I don't post news articles on Facebook and claim people's rights are being oppressed. I don't yell at the television when adverts employ stereotypes to market their product. It's just not what I do. But I can't help but feel disappointed in the fact that someone who I held in such high regard is so oblivious in his casting.

We're not even talking about the usual film industry issue of a lack of lead black characters who have an impact on the story. Many people are aware that this is an issue in many films. But to have four hit films, and two seasons of a television series, with not only all-white leads, but other than the two mentioned, all-white supporting casts as well! I don't think there are even any black extras! Though that I do need to check out...

Which leads me to the fact that another disappoint came when I searched the internet for information about this. Nothing. No-one has brought this up. All I could find was one comment on Edgar Wright's blog, which wasn't acknowledged by the man himself, and oddly wasn't commented on by any other readers of the blog...

Take what you want from this observation of mine. I'm not going to stand on the rooftops and yell 'Edgar Wright's a racist!' I'm not like that, and I don't want to believe that either. Neither will I be likely to mention this in the pub. Unless really drunk. And then I'll likely regret doing so as I don't know enough about fighting for equality in the world, and I'd likely lose any argument. I just felt that it was something that needed to be noticed. I shall leave you with the comment from Edgar Wright's blog, and be slightly relieved that I wasn't the only one who noticed...

"While I am truly in awe with each work of yours that I have seen, there has always be just ONE thing that truly bothers me about your films. As I said before, I have not seen very many of your television shows or films before "Shaun of the Dead," much of this criticism will be based on your works after 2004. Perhaps you have even already acknowledged this in your future films or perhaps someone else (another fan or just a colleague) has brought this to your attention. So, please forgive me if you've heard this before.
In my opinion, most of your biggest films feature LITTLE TO NO PEOPLE OF COLOR. In other words, except for Knives Chau and Matthew Patel, both characters from the derivative work of the "Scott Pilgrim" graphic novels, there are almost NO other main or secondary characters who are NOT white. While I understand that most of your films take place in England or Canada, I feel like an all-white cast in such metropolitan areas like Toronto and other locations in England is sort of misleading and under-representative of the ethnic and racial diversity of these areas.
As an African American man, I find it harder to absolutely love and fawn over a Edgar Wright film when I don't get to see any black characters, unless they are zombies or background pieces. Plus, I find it harder to get my black (and other minority) movie buffs in love with your awesome films when almost EVERYONE IN THE MOVIE IS WHITE. I am not trying to say that I have a problem with predominantly white casts, or white people in film. I was able to suspend this criticism for "Hot Fuzz" because it took place in a rural, conservative English community, but something like "Shaun of the Dead" or "Scott Pilgrim" has no excuse for the lack of racial/ethnic diversity in casting.
Like I said, I love your movies, and I truly hope that you continue to do more great and hilarious works of arts, comedy, and action, but, as a black movie buff and a film studies student, PLEASE INCLUDE MORE PEOPLE OF COLOR IN YOUR FUTURE FILMS.
-- Thank you for reading this message
-- Have a Great Week
A.C.D. Ashford"