Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Let’s pretend we’re in the Marvel universe. New York has been attacked by aliens, London has been a substitute wrestling ring for Gods, a World War Two veteran is looking pretty good for his age and out there in deep space, a group of ne’er do wells have bandied together to chase a McGuffin to make a hell of a lot money and potentially save their galaxy. Whichever comes first. Though hopefully the former.

Guardians of the Galaxy is not just a great Marvel film. It’s a great film period. A bulging sack of fine storytelling and rich imagination. And talking raccoons, never forget the talking raccoons. Directed by James Gunn (Super and Tromeo and Juliet) with a script co-written by Nicole Perlman and himself, Guardians has so much going for it, it’s amazing to think the less than mainstream comic hadn’t been picked up before.

What makes the film so enjoyable – aside from the soundtrack, the acting, the characters, the set pieces, the humour, the pace, the smile the whole thing staple guns to your face – is how well it stands up on its own. As great as the last few Marvel films have been, they’re in danger of alienating the casual viewer with their throwbacks and references (Did anyone really watch Agents of SHIELD?). Guardians feels liberated and fresh. Hell, the film isn’t even bogged down by pop culture references since Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill, the human of our band of miscreants, left earth as a child in the 80s. A nod to the Ninja Turtles is about all you’re going to get.

The eclectic cast is superb, with Bradley Cooper’s Rocket and Vin Diesel’s Groot clearly, and probably deliberately, stealing the show. Though special attention must be given to emerald-tinged assassin Gamora played by Zoe Saldana, who manages to have a life of her own not dependent on Quill. In fact, another of the film’s strengths is how tangible everybody is without having to go down the usual route of comic book movies of 45 minutes of exposition before the cape or mask is donned.

If it isn’t coming across clearly enough, Guardians of the Galaxy is ball-bouncingly brilliant. It’s a triumphant return to the days of the 80s blockbuster before everything became homogenized. Again, something even the latest Marvel movies veer towards. Hopefully, Guardians will spark a renaissance not just at its parent company but across the board. Let’s pretend we’re in a universe where summer blockbusters start taking more risks. Let’s pretend.


Doctor Who: Deep Breath (2014)

Warning: The following contains spoilers.

Once again, the BBC have graced us with the opportunity to see Doctor Who on the big screen. Last time, it was all chins, old faces and Zygons for the show’s 50th anniversary and now it’s regenerations, steampunk and dinosaurs in this, the series 8 opening.

Bursting onto our screens literally like a belch from a T-Rex, Deep Breath hit the ground running acting as a reboot, relaunch and continuation all in one feature length portion. The Doctor may look older, but the show appears to have undergone a bit of a renaissance.

After the baddy stuffed, exposition overload that was last year’s Christmas special, showrunner Steven Moffat has wiped the table clean of all his timey wimey, Silence Will FALL, ‘I can’t go back for Amy. No, really I can’t. I’m not listening, lalalala.’ bag of tricks, to focus on a lean plot that still manages to sow the seeds for future plot lines in a manner reminiscent of the Davies era. Ben Wheatley (A Field in England) took over directing duties in this season opener, which certainly gave the whole bit of oomph; a meaningless word and one which doesn’t do his work justice, but it’s done now. There were some glorious set pieces, from a T-Rex on fire, Peter Capaldi riding a horse through London in his jim-jams and, let us not forget, the spine-tingling and tense scene of Clara holding her breath. It’s great to see Doctor Who experimenting with people at the helm, and it’ll be fascinating to see what Rachel Talalay (Tank Girl) does with her pieces later this year.

Having been painted into a corner (in the nicest possible way) last season, Jenna Coleman has had her role beefed up. Not that the Impossible Girl wasn’t beefy last year. She was just more beef flavoured. Oxo cubes; the role was the equivalent Oxo cubes. Yes, let’s stick with that.

This time around, relating it back to the Davies era, here was a companion ready to think on her feet and fend for herself. Admittedly, the opportunity arose because she was left with her backside in the breeze by a still-percolating Doctor. ‘We can’t risk both getting caught.’ The Doctor said, skirting ever so close to his time during the Twin Dilemma.

Speaking of the Doctor, Peter Capaldi looks set to be one of the more iconic interpretations. He was rude, impertinent, insulting, confused, loving, unable to do hugs and prone to throwing people onto church steeples (or did he?). In short: brilliant. If his previous incarnation could be seen as a midlife crisis wrapped in a new face and tweed, then here was a teenager in middle age clothing. Sensing that an old Doctor might put off the kids – sorry folks, we need to remember, this show is always about the kids first and foremost – time was taken to ease the nippers into this new fierce face. All of which was topped off by a cameo by Matt Smith lovingly telling Clara (ie us) that he is he, and he is he and we are altogether.

Let’s not forget the return of the Paternoster Gang, clockwork baddies and new potential baddy, Missy played by the always brilliant Michelle Gomez. Deep Breath was bursting with fun. Here’s to keeping our fingers crossed that the momentum can be kept up. Here’s hoping.

Deep breath everyone.

Robocop (2014)

Michael Keaton plays the CEO of OmniCorp; a corporation with designs installing their humanoid drones across the United States in the spirit of maintaining peace. And profit. And justice. But mainly profit. Despite having the media in his back pocket (personified by Samuel L Jackson’s Bill O’Reilly – sorry Pat Novak), Keaton is having trouble convincing America that machines with deadly weapons are really the best thing for policing its streets. When young detective, Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is horrifically disfigured after a car bomb, a plan is put into place to bring about the first hybrid of man and machine, or – to those of you paying attention at the back – RoboCop!

Whilst there are car chases and gunfights and all the fun things to keep you chomping on your popcorn, his interpretation of RoboCop feels more like the opening chapter to a story than a stand-alone film with its heavy expositon. The script seems to think we need to see every step towards Murphy’s transformation from emotional human being to steely eyed, unquestioning drone. So, we witness training montages with watchmen’s Jackie Earle Haley’s mean sunuvabitch drone controller and boardroom discussions with Gary Oldman’s compassionate medical team. It’s all stuff that could have been condescend to 20 minutes of the opening act.

The nihilism of the original has been jettisoned in favour of more emotion through Murphy’s family who, unlike in the original, are front and centre for the majority of the film. As such, we spend large gun-less sections of the film worrying about Murphy’s humanity and compassion. It’s a bold move, but it doesn’t entirely convince and, unfortunately, it all just feels superfluous to what people have paid to see, which is RoboCop robocopping.

When it was announced that Paul Verhoeven’s seminal and ultra-violent RoboCop was up for a reboot, eyebrows were raised so high, they could only be brought down by industrial machinery. But on the basis of what’s on show Jose Padilha’s reboot, there’s not that much on show that justifies the vitriol that was fired at it with angst cannons. But then it’s also not exactly winning us over.

Under the Skin (2014)

When we first meet Scarlett Johansson, she is carefully removing and wearing the clothes of a dead woman. Wordlessly, she climbs into a white van and for a large part of the first act we follow her as she drives around Glasgow picking up young men. Those unfortunate to accept a lift are promised sex and some bragging rights down the pub later on. What really happens is only hinted at and never properly explained. Which summarises Under The Skin as a whole really.

A lot has been made about who Johansson really is, with many articles saying up front what is only really revealed in the final ten minutes of the film. However, this semi-spoiler won’t go much further in helping you fully understand what’s truly going on. With the exception of her discourse with the gentlemen of Scotland, Johansson’s role is practically mute. When not out collecting, she wanders around Glasgow in a daze. She’s clearly not from this planet, let alone this country. In one particularly harrowing scene, she leaves a baby to drown simply because it’s not part of her plan. Whatever that may be. Whilst her actions seem atrocious, there’s an underlying sympathy that suggests she’s just following orders. A mysterious biker follows her everywhere and inspects her on occasion. Director Jonathan Glazer doesn’t allow for breakdown scenes. No one recaps why tab A has to go into tab B. It simply does.

The closing scene of Glazer’s Sexy Beast hinted at the surrealism he was capable of playing with. And whilst it isn’t going to challenge the likes of The Cremaster Cycle, its structure and pace provides enough for people to dissect afterwards if they’re inclined to do so. It is powerfully dreamy piece of filmmaking that adds a seriousness and artful tone to sci-fi that can often be missing, reminding us equally of work of Malick and Lynch and riding that thin line between cinema and modern art.

Simply put, it’s wonderful.

The Day of the Doctor (2013)

Warning: We’ve tried to keep spoilers to a minimum, but please advised that if you’ve still yet to see the 50th Anniversary Special of Doctor Who, you’re best looking elsewhere for now.

You’ll have to have been trapped in some distant nebula to not know that that Doctor Who is now into its 50th year. As part of the celebrations, the anniversary special has made it the cinemas in glorious 3D – and not 12D as the good Doctor (Matt Smith) suggests in the opening promo.

Steven Moffat was always going to have to a hard time of it with The Day of the Doctor. On the one hand, we have the hardcore, dyed in the wool fans who want to see a special that carts out William Hartnell’s corpse to appease them. To them the show goes beyond pin-up boy David Tennant and his lovey-dovey Doctor. They want a dark doctor! On the other hand, we have the youngsters, the ones who helped make the show’s resurgence. They embraced Russell T. Davies’ reboot and The Day of the Doctor should acknowledge them. And on the third hand – This is sci-fi! We’re allowed three hands – there will be people who know Doctor Who as nothing more than that show with the metal pepperpots, and will be tuning in to see what all the fuss is about.

So, how did it go?

Well, pretty well actually. In fact, very well. In actual fact, we’re still recovering from it all.

Moffat seems to have managed to address concerns on all fronts; embracing the show’s canon, whilst providing a narrative that embraces newcomers one and all. A series of events leads to three incarnations of the Doctor having to join forces to save the world from the Zygons. Well, that’s not really the A-Story, but it’s the one we’re going to tell you. The Day of the Doctor is a bit like opening presents on Christmas Day. You don’t really know what you’ve got until you open them, and then there’s that giddy joy of finding one or two extras tucked away behind the tree. From Gallifrey, to long scarves, to mockney accents, references appear like little chunky nuggets of fun that won’t confuse the casual viewer.

It’s not just Moffat’s script that’s worth mention, Nick Hurran’s direction is particularly dynamic. It’s very easy for a show-runner to say his script is dynamic, but it’s the director that has to realise it. From to barren deserts to war-torn cities, Hurran has added some real weight to the visuals. We are far, far, far from the days when two school teachers turned up at a junkyard to talk to an old man in a blue box.

Whilst we take a break from the gushing praise, we should address the elephant in the room. John Hurt. Yes, he’s a forgotten Doctor, but it’s quite obvious that the character was originally the Ninth Doctor, played by Christopher Eccleston. Whilst Moffat has provided a backstory to explain all this away, it does irk a little. But only a little. Hurt is superb as the earlier and grumpier incarnation of Smith and Tennant. He acts as a bridge not only from the classic series to the new, but he also plays mouthpiece to the numerous old school fans who have had quibbles with the new show’s tropes, such as the overuse of sonic screwdrivers as a weapon. ‘What are you going to do? Assemble a wardrobe at them?!’

The other major problem is a cameo from the show’s past that comes out of nowhere and doesn’t really add anything to the story. But then again, who are we to fault a desire to please everyone.

The Day of the Doctor is a funny, moving, fast paced adventure. It’s big and bold and it’s a standing testament to the endurance of the show. Not bad for something that was cobbled together 50 years ago to fill a gap between the football and Top of the Pops. Not bad at all.

The World’s End (2013) “Just 3 cornettos, give them to me”

2004 saw the big screen debut of the comedy triumvirate that is Simon Pegg, best mate Nick Frost and director Edgar Wright. What they gave us was, quite frankly, fucking brilliant. Shaun of the Dead is a brilliant homage to the zombie greats that have gone before, paying particular reverence to all things George A Romero, (all hail to the king). It was so good that Romero himself is a huge fan of the film.

2007 then brought us part 2 of the 3 flavours Cornetto trilogy. This time spoofing/loving/improving on the action movie genre. Hot Fuzz is a film that just gets better and better with repeat viewings (something we think will be true of this one as well). Once again the trio of Spaced alumni absolutely nailed it.
2013 The World’s End. The finale. If they were worried about their ability to bottle lightning for a third time, they really shouldn’t have. They’ve nailed it again.

The World’s End sees a tonal shift from the gang. Gone is Pegg and Frosts buddy buddy shtick, instead they are former best friends who were driven apart by an event in their past. Also gone is Simon Pegg as a loveable slacker or an uber cop, here he is barely likable as Gary ‘The King’ King, one time most popular kid in school now…..a bit of a twat.

The confidence of the 3 writers here is obvious. They trust the script enough to allow it a slow start. A very slow start. We are sloooowly introduced to the main players as King runs round trying to put the band back together to take on ‘The Golden Mile’. A stretch of 12 pubs, (1 pint in each), that they attempted but failed to conquer when they were 17. We meet Nick Frost as Andrew, a corporate lawyer, Paddy Considine as Steven a successful developer, Eddie Marsan (excellent) as the formerly bullied Peter and finally Martin Freeman as  Oliver or Oman as Gary likes to call him.

Fortunately for the film once they get back together and head back to their old stomping ground of Newton Haven it gathers pace in double-quick time. After they settle in to their old banter routines, (it’s obvious how close they all are off-screen as some of the interplay flows as well as any you’re ever likely to see) the reveal of the aliens who have taken over the town happens almost immediately. Cue a brilliant fight scene in a toilet, a wonderful moment when a very drunk gang try to figure out a name for the invaders, a scene that Buster Keaton would be proud of when Gary is trying to fight off an invader whilst not spilling his pint and a scene stealing turn from the bloke who plays the caretaker from the Harry Potter films.

Whereas in the previous 2 films Pegg was clearly the star here it is Frost who steals the show. He is excellent and very funny throughout. He carries the emotional scenes brilliantly and is quite the mover when it comes to a fight sequence. Who’d have thunk it. All of the main cast are great and ably supported by those around them, particularly Rossamund Pike as Oliver’s sister and the object of both Gary and Steven’s affections. Both get some great lines to share with her including, “I love you…I always have. And I’m not just saying that because I’ve had 7 pints” and Gary’s “We’ll always have the disableds” which is as beautifully written a line as you will ever hear.

What follows is a couple of rug pulls and lots of running, jumping and whacking people with bar stools all done with plenty of vim and vigour. We did have to question how they were all such brilliant fighters but we’ll let it slide because it was so much fun we didn’t really care.

If you are a fan of Pegg, Frost and Wright then you should love this film. It ticks all the boxes and is different enough from what’s gone before to be interesting while not so different that you will be scared off.
And if you aren’t a fan of these 3 we think you will be by pint 12.

The World’s End is out now and well worth a watch.

Man Of Steel (2013)

Zach Snyder hates skyscrapers. I mean really hates them. In 20 minutes of spectacular action he destroys more of them than The Hulk, Thor, Iron Man and the whole Chitari race put together.

But skyscrapercide apart what he has done here is taken, what is seen by many, as the poisoned chalice of Superman and formed a thoroughly entertaining film full of intense performances.

As my co-veiwer rightly pointed out, Superman has been done to death. We’ve had George Reeves, Christopher Reeve, Dean Cain, Tom Welling (Smallville), Brandon Routh, (seriously, what has happened to him?) and now Henry Cavill. That’s a lot of water under the spandex.

Because of all this history with the big blue Boy Scout a different approach was needed. We’ve only ever seen the same kind of Supes. Of course Christopher Reeve was the definitive version and every subsequent Superman or Boy has basically played Christopher Reeve playing Superman. However, here we don’t. We get our own, very Dark Knight inspired Superman. (The Clark Knight anyone?)

This Clark is brooding and intense. You feel that the burden of him growing up and having to hide who he truly is weighing down on him. As such he doesn’t fit in and so lives a nomadic existence, helping those who need him and then moving on again before he’s discovered. He’s a fisherman one day and a waiter in a backwater town the next.

The first hour of the film is great but not perfect, Snyder forgets that he’s giving us a backstory that 98% of the world already know and he includes everything, including a prolonged visit to Krypton. Although spectacular the scenes on Krypton at the beginning could have been trimmed down a little, we meet Clark’s real Mum and Dad, (a quite buff looking Russell Crowe) and the big bad General Zod, (an intense as always Michael Shannon). Gone is Terrance Stamp’s camp Zod, you would not spill this fella’s pint. We see Krypton as it is collapsing around in inhabitants and a battle ensues in which our Super Bairn escapes.

The rest of Clark’s growing up is dealt with via non-linear flashbacks. We meet his adoptive Mum and Dad, (Dianne Lane and Kevin Costner, both very good) as they struggle to impress on Clark his importance to the world and how he may be rejected out of fear of the unknown.

In giving us everything, the running time of the film is well north of 2 hours. It’s at least an hour or so before the cape and boots finally get an airing but it’s worth it when they do. The action set pieces are absolutely breath-taking. When Zod and Co finally arrive and start beating the living krypton out of Clark, it is stunning. Snyder’s eye is well and truly in when it comes to the fighting. We see what it would be like if these God like beings actually punched one another. Buildings are hewn in two by the impact of one of them being ka-powed right through a foundation. Trains are thrown like Aerobies, (anyone else remember them?) and beatings are handed out all over the place. But. There’s always a but. Snyder seems to enjoy the rough stuff and the explosions so much that he doesn’t know when to stop. Some of the action goes on sooooooo long that you start to become a little overwhelmed and desensitised to it. Because of this the feeling of peril for much of the cast is lost, save for one scene where Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White is helping a colleague trapped under a building.

Lois Lane is no longer the wise cracking sass machine. Amy Adams version is a tough as nails war journalist. Her and Clarks relationship is different to the ones we’ve seen before. This time she knows who Clark is and is the only person on Earth who manages to track him down. She also isn’t just a screaming girly who seems to be falling off buildings the whole time. She is integral to the overall victory of Big Blue.

Cavill does a grand job as Superman, he looks incredible, (man crush engaged) and is believably nails but it’s Shannon’s show. Michael Shannon is a fantastic actor and here he turns what could have been clunky dialogue into an intense, brooding performance that even has you appreciating his point of view regardless of how genocidal it is.

One criticism we’ve read several times is that Man of Steel takes itself too seriously but honestly, I think it has to. The DC universe IS a darker and more serious place than its Marvel counterpart. Superman has never been a wise cracker and shouldn’t change just because The Avengers are quick with a pithy remark.

All in all this is a really solid effort and Super-enjoyable. There was a lot that could have been tightened up and trimmed down and there may have been one to many Christ allegories but generally good stuff. Welcome back Kal-El it’s good to see you again.