The Corfu Trilogy
I read My Family and Other Animals in year 10 English. I adored it and went on to read more of Gerald Durrell’s memoirs, of being a naturalist and collecting animals for various zoological places. I realised that of course this collecting of animals is slightly problematic, but he really does write well.
I watched the tv adaptation of the Durrells in Corfu a few years ago; and for some reason I was reminded of it again recently. Given current circumstances I thought something comforting would be the go. And then I discovered that for barely any more $$ I could get the entire Corfu trilogy – which I didn’t realise existed – rather than only My Family. So, of course, I did.
It’s one of those cases where the Suck Fairy hasn’t entirely ruined what you used to love… but there are definitely elements that were, um, problematic.
Firstly, the positives: while Durrell’s writing does occasionally veer dangerously close to purple, I still adore the evocative descriptions and once again was overcome with the desire to run away to Corfu and live in a rambling villa. Durrell makes Corfu of the 1930s sound like a child’s paradise, with long lazy days of botanical and zoological collecting. And Mum gets to spend all day gardening and cooking and knitting – except when bloody Larry has invited friends over. I enjoyed reading about Gerry’s adventures and he definitely has a turn of phrase when it comes to describing animals. I’ve always thought of magpies as Maggenpies.
However. There are definitely caveats for recommending anyone read this today. Firstly, there’s the condescending nature of Gerry and his family to the ‘peasants’ of Corfu. I guess Gerry is a kid and so he can be forgiven for the fact that he takes advantage of the kind-hearted nature of his neighbours who always want to feed him; but it does get painful. There’s also the odd bit of racism – unpleasant comparisons between races, for instance, and generalisations based on nationality or race. I suspect part of the reason there’s not more is that Gerry is generally disinterested in people, unless they can teach him about natural history or help him acquire animals. So that is something to keep in mind if you considered reading these stories.
Finally, I continue to find it hilarious that the louche and irritating older brother Larry who barely gets anything written because he’s talking about it rather than doing it, became Lawrence Durrell, famous author. And even more hilarious that his Dark Labyrinth is a novel I truly love.
As well as the MCU films, I’ve also been watching the X-Men movies (yes, thank you Disney). I have been a fan of these films ever since they came out – I’ve seen all of them before; they even inspired me to read some of the comics… once there was a run that was focussed on an all-female team. It is fair to say, though, that not all X-Men movies are created equal. So here’s my order, based almost entirely on my subjective attitude towards the various characters and their portrayals (and it doesn’t include the Deadpool films because they don’t seem like X-Men movies to me… by which lights the Wolverine films ought also not to be here, but I’m not claiming consistency).
- X-Men 2: while #1 was fine, I enjoyed this far more; I like the Stryker storyline, I like that the characters are already largely established and we can just get on with a storyline. There might be an element of nostalgia in this ranking, but I’m fine with that.
- Logan: I guess it fits here? it sort of feels bad to put a movie like this into the list, because it feels so completely different – on another level really.
- X-Men First Class: it’s not entirely about Michael Fassbender as Magneto, although he is enthralling in this role. Despite what I said about X2, in this instance I did enjoy the ‘getting the team together’ aspect and seriously, mucking around with the Cuban Missile Crisis is just hilarious. Also: Kevin Bacon. What’s not to like about Bacon as a villain?
- X-Men: Days of Future Past: love me a crazy time travel story, and a film that has both Fassbender and McKellen as Magneto is fine by me (he is such a more compelling character than Charles). Wolverine seems to provide a splendid vehicle for the time travel, although the explanation for why his mind is as resilient as his body is … nonexistent. First Class was 60s, now it’s the 70s (and 50 years later); so much scope for fashion and cars and politics. I really like the way the narrative flicks between then and now; it does excellent things for the tension.
- X-Men: The Last Stand. Probably the most controversial of my choices. I really like this film! I like the way it deals with the issue that basically all the films confront: is it necessary to be violent to get the rights you deserve? Also, there’s a fabulous range of mutations here, which is a lot of fun to watch. Hilariously, at the end, after Wolverine has killed Jean Grey and feeling super bummed about it, Jackman’s pose is identical to the pose he strikes at the end of Van Helsing when, as the werewolf, he’s just killed a woman he loves (and he’s shirtless both times, too).
- X Men Origins: Wolverine. Apparently Hugh Jackman was way down the list of possible actors to play Wolverine, which… these days is just bizarre. I don’t really get why Wolverine is the character that has been so obsessively followed in the films – I want more Storm, myself – but as origins go this is a pretty good, and horrifying, one.
- X-Men: it’s fine. Rogue’s fine. Magneto’s plan is appropriately appalling. It’s just not the best.
- X-Men Apocalypse: this is a very silly film. I guess it explains how you go from James MacAvoy’s full head of hair to Patrick Stewart’s chrome dome? Yet another explanation for the pyramids! (I pay Stargate more credit, personally; landing pad for spaceship makes much more sense.) A mutant who can supercharge other mutants is … an idea, sure.
- The Wolverine: gosh this film is stupid. Logan is all cut up about Jean – fine. He goes to farewell the Japanese soldier he rescued from the Nagasaki bomb – also fine, I guess? But then family politics and human selfishness happen… and Logan sleeps with a woman so much younger than him it’s just not funny… and things blow up. Meh.
- X-Men: Dark Phoenix: this film just makes me angry. It does exactly the same thing as Last Stand, which makes zero sense for a franchise; and it doesn’t even do it better: it removes even more of Jean’s agency, and the added aliens are just ridiculous (sorry, Jessica Chastain, but you were). The idea that Jean’s control is overridden because of some ~~cosmic force~~ is insulting, and she basically becomes a lampshade, which is infuriating and retrograde. And then she sacrifices herself – after killing Mystique, who is afforded a redemption arc – and Charles says that “she’s free”? and Tuner’s voice over says she’s evolved? Get lost.
Avengers: Endgame (MCU 20)
And so it all comes to an end, and many (but not quite all) of the narrative points are tied up, etc. It’s an epic finale (and too long, but that’s basically to be expected), and most people get interesting parts, and there are some great working-together moments too.
Except for what happens to Natasha.
I LOVE the start of this film. That it’s on such a small scale – Tony and Nebula hanging out dying together, and then saved by the BIG DAMN HERO Carol Danvers. Then coming back to Earth, and that’s all a big reunion and so on.
And then it’s five years later.
I was intrigued and a bit boggled by that time jump. It felt so out of place in the entire MCU run – which has been much more about relatively small jumps in time, keeping everything together. On the other hand, from a narrative perspective, how absolutely brilliant and devastating. And the idea that people have, largely, been… getting on with things….
The changes that people have experienced are fascinating. Steve is the one doing the counselling, and Sam is off being a hero. I loathe how Clint has become a vigilante, as if somehow that’s what he would become – it’s not like the people he’s killing are in any way connected to his family’s deaths. I am kinda delighted by Tony and Pepper and Morgan, and their rural retreat. I am devastated by Thor’s reaction to his perceived mistakes, and feel that – while it’s maybe a bit exaggerated, and uncomfortably played for laughs a couple of times – this is entirely believable and in some ways was a bold choice. Genuinely showing the effects of PTS? The idea, at least, is a good one. I do not like BannerHulk at all, but whatever.
And then there’s Natasha. Who has lost her family and is desperately trying to keep it together and I’m not sure people really appreciate all that she’s doing. She is so ill-served in this film.
Then there’s Scott coming back, and somehow The Quantum Realm etc etc oh and NOW we get to have time travel and basically write another massive love letter to the entire franchise. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a neat way to try and deal with the issue, and I love seeing some of those earlier scenes from a different perspective – but let’s not be under any illusions about this being a bit too self-referential and delighted with its own cleverness.
The replay of Steve’s fight in the elevator: brilliant. And fighting himself – hilarious. Tony with his dad – I mean, ok, Stark finally gets to deal with his self-loathing re: dad. Thor getting to see Friga again was wonderful (although no way would she make a jibe about his weight, that’s just offensive). Unsurprisingly I kinda love how Quill is shown to be a douche with his whole dancing routine from the first Guardians film.
And then there’s Natasha. On the one hand I can love that she wants to be sacrificial because she loves Clint and the rest of her family. On the other… it makes me so, so mad that it was her that died. After all she’s been through, and all the evil Clint has done. I refuse to believe that her death was inevitable. It’s the single biggest thing I dislike about… probably the whole franchise, actually.
Finally, the stones are back and we have two Nebulas running around and the final, epic battle. Which once again brings together all of our heroes (Sam’s “on your left” may have brought a wee tear to my eye… again…), and is genuinely a culmination of everything. And how restrained that this is the first and only time the writers used “Avengers, assemble”! I know I’m falling for some emotional manipulation, but golly the whole passing-between-women scene made me happy.
Can we all just agree that Danvers and Wanda are the strongest Avengers, by the way?
And finally proof that Steve can lift Thor’s hammer – everything about that little by-play made me happy.
I know certain people who complain The Return of the King has too many endings. Clearly they’re wrong (because it’s missing one, the scouring of the Shire), but I feel like that’s the case here. I can basically see the point for all of them, but… it does go on a bit.
- Tony’s death. Appropriately shocking, and in some ways a bold choice, but so appropriate for the entire franchise that started with him.
- Tony’s funeral. yeh yeh, whatever. A small mention of Natasha which also made me scowl.
- Thor giving up Asgardian kingship. This is a great moment, actually, and I really want to see a film all about Valkyrie in the role.
- Steve returning the stones and then… not coming back. Until he does, as an old man. And this is where I have LOTS OF QUESTIONS. In particular:
- Which timeline did Steve’s happy ending happen in? because if it was the timeline of the films, how the HECK did Steve and Peggy let Hydra get to that point in SHIELD??
- If it wasn’t “our” timeline, how did he come back to Sam and Bucky?
- Other timey-wimey, cranky, questions.
So now the whole Infinity Stones set up has come to its end. The Iron Man saga is done; the Thor saga, as initially set up, is done; the Steve Rogers saga is done. Natasha is dead and I’m still cranky, and Hawkeye does not deserve any sort of standalone. But there’s still room for more Captain Marvel, and how I wish there could be more Black Panther with Chadwick Boseman. And I can imagine there will be more Guardians of the Galaxy but whatevs. I am waaaay more excited for Thor: Love and Thunder.
Avengers: Infinity War (MCU 19)
It’s taken me ages to write this review because… once you’re through, it has felt like there’s not much to say. So this isn’t going to be the most comprehensive of reviews.
The opening is awesome: Banner arriving back and Stark and Strange having to work together; Wanda and Vision having Their Moment; all of Thanos’ minions are very much bad takes on 1960s-style Bond villains. The interaction between Quill and Thor is just cringeworthy and I continue to dislike Quill.
Etc etc. Things go bad, people meet up, Peter Parker is adorable (“this really old film called Aliens…”). The fight in Wakanda is wonderfully choreographed and showcases different abilities. I think one thing I love about this and the next film is the way people from the different franchises are matched up and work together.
I love that Shuri gets such great moments. And Wanda – although her arc is one of the more heartrending. Okoye is of course transcendent, and M’Baku can have his own film as far as I’m concerned.
And then Quill proves that he’s a right tosser and destroys everything. Yeh, yeh, Strange saw all possible futures etc blah blah. Doesn’t negate the fact that Quill let his emotions get in the way in a spectacular way that basically means half the galaxy’s population DIES, QUILL. Tosser.
The very end, with people disintegrating, is genuinely distressing (although also a bit nonsensical, since why do some people take a while to go, and others don’t? why doesn’t everyone disappear at the same time?). And it took someone else to point out that basically we’re left with the original Avengers, at the end; everyone else is dead.
This film is exactly what it needs to be (except: too long). It brings together a whole bunch of threads that have been building up for nearly 20 films; it destroys the world and leaves the desperate need for things to be better in the next film; it gives some lovely character moments (except not for you, Quill. You suck). It doesn’t ignore the problems that have gone before – Steve and Tony, etc – but allows the characters to be genuinely heroic (except for Quill) in swallowing that animosity, in general, and doing what is required.
It’s not a perfect film, but I like it a lot. It doesn’t really have a heap of rewatchability, for me; the dramatic tension is a bit lessened with repeat viewings. But I have to admire the foresight that enabled a film like this to be the culmination of all that came before – and if there were reworkings and things had to be rewritten because they previously hadn’t worked, well, the writers and producers did a good job of that, too.
Ant-Man and the Wasp (MCU 18? or 19?)
So we watched this after Infinity Wars, but in retrospect that was stupid. The argument is that because the mid-credit scene happens in the Snapture, this should be watched between the two Avengers films, but I am deeply unconvinced. I think it would be better to get to the mid-credit scene and be wildly confused by what happened… and then have the explanation in Infinity Wars. So, I’m putting this next in my reviews.
This movie is pretty daft, all told. I like that it’s the after-effects of Civil War; I think that’s a really nice aspect to the entire saga. But… a lot of this film is just silly. Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, and Michael Pena continue to be perfect little cinnamon rolls and honestly they give me life. I’m intrigued by Hank Pym turning out to be actually not a very nice person, here – and I really like this as a reveal! – and I had no idea Laurence Fishburne was in this film and that was a splendid discovery.
But the rest of the film? the narrative? Sheesh. It’s just… so silly.
Quantum realm! Time… stuff! Living in miniature and completely alone and not going nuts!
(The opening, where we find Scott has been under house arrest for nearly two years and has had to entertain the kid for weekends in that situation, is all too real right now.)
Anyway… yeh. This is not a great film. I mean, it’s fine – I don’t regret watching it, I’m super glad the ex-wife and new partner came around to actually accept Scott into Cassie’s life, and so on. I can put up with a lot of hand-wave-y science nonsense (I have watched The Core… more than once) but this pushed even my limits. Perhaps the best bits were cars getting big and small during car chases, but only if you don’t think about it too much. The narrative also suffered from lacking a convincing antagonist. Ava was theoretically interesting but she absolutely should not have been playing a villainous role – and that does kinda switch with the arms dealer stepping into that, but the whole thing was just so messy and confusing.
So. Not great. Only got made to set up ~~the quantum realm~~ for the Infinity saga, as far as I can tell.
Thor: Ragnarok (MCU 17)
And so we complete my top 5 favourite MCU movies.
The change in tone from the earlier Thor films can be summed up in one moment: the use of Led Zeppelin for the opening fight.
I love this film a lot. Objectively, there’s an argument that it shouldn’t work: that there are two quite different narratives – the one on Sakaar, and the one involving Hela – and putting them together is pretty weird. But it totally works: partly because of flashing between the two of them, and partly because Thor himself is always fixated on getting out of Sakaar, so the viewer never loses sight of the big picture.
Hemsworth and Hiddleston are, again, excellent in this film. Thor is definitely more relaxed and more enjoyable to watch than in previous iterations. And Loki is still wavering between heroic and villainous and I love how he walks that line. The interactions between the brothers are the most honest, and most heartfelt, of any of the films, for my money; also the ‘get help’ discussion is hilarious.
I’ll be honest, though: I’m mostly here for the secondary characters in this film.
Is Hela a secondary character? I guess so, but hands up who would watch a whole film about her? That’s not even a question for me. I think Blanchett is brilliant, and I love everything about her attitude and her snark and her arrogance. Also the costuming, which is outrageous and awesome. Speaking of, Valkyrie is also outrageous and awesome in attitude and snark: her interactions with Topaz (whom I also love), and with Hulk; pretty much everything about her attitude towards Thor (his comment about her drinking too much, and her withering ‘I’m not going to stop drinking‘: perfection): MORE VALKYRIE PLEASE. I understand she is in the next Thor film, so that makes me happy.
And then there’s the fellas. Jeff Goldblum is, of course, an everything. … There’s nothing else I can say about him. Karl Urban is fantastic as Skurge, a character who goes from naming his guns Des and Troy to sacrificing his life to save his people. Korg makes me happy every moment he’s on screen (I tried to start a revolution, but I didn’t print enough pamphlets…). And then there’s that little play-within-a-play, and it tells you something about the MCU that they got Matt Damon and Sam Neill (who really is perfect as the Anthony Hopkins stand-in!), and of course Liam Hemsworth, to do those tiny parts. The Hulk is pretty good, too.
So yeh. This film. I love the cinematography, I love the colour, I love the soundtrack.
This book is an absolute trip.
I should preface my comments here with the reminder that I’m Australian. While cultural imperialism means I have a better knowledge of American culture than is probably appropriate, I don’t know all the ins and outs of American myth: I have heard of Paul Bunyan and Babe, for instance, but I have zero knowledge of their context, or what purpose they served, and so on. There is undoubtedly nuance that I missed, here, as a result; clever puns or narrative twists that passed me by.
Having said that, this is still a really fun and weird and clever book.
In case you haven’t come across it ‘anthropocene’ is a proposed name for the geological epoch in which we currently live: the time when humans are having a significant impact on Earth’s systems. The ‘rag’ in the title is mostly the musical version of the word.
The narrative takes place across an America that has been completely taken over by nanotech – the Boom. This tech is somewhat driven by a consciousness, but not entirely. What it is driven by is a fascination with story. And it will go to great lengths to recreate stories and historical moments – up to and including completely remaking places… and people. So there’s a whole new level of danger in living in America, never quite knowing whether the person over there is biological or a construct, and whether they might coopt you into their narrative.
The story itself centres around six individuals who have received Golden Tickets from… someone… to enter Monument City, which may or may not actually exist but if it does, it’s connected to the Boom. And at this point hopefully you, like me, are thinking: wait, wasn’t Roald Dahl English?? Yes he was, but I can only assume that Irvine is going with the idea of Willy Wonka having been so completely Hollywood-ised that he’s basically been subsumed into the American cultural myth. Anyway: essentially this is a set of road trips that showcase the weird things that have happened to America thanks to the Boom, and allow Irvine to explore American mythology.
Anthropocene Rag is a lot of fun. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, it does have some lovely lyrical moments, and its range of characters were always entertaining.
Black Panther (MCU 16)
Everything about this film is wonderful.
I firmly believe T’Challa is one of the greatest MCU heroes. He is confident, without being cocky. He is humble when appropriate – in the face of Shuri’s genius, for example – and he is righteous; he wants the best for his people and he is willing to change when he’s shown a better option. He is a better man than Tony, or Thor, or even Steve (maybe he’s excused for having been wrenched 70 years into the future). I am devastated there will be no future Boseman Black Panther.
Of course, a great hero doesn’t automatically make a great film. Happily, everything else about this film is also excellent. Including – contrary to some other MCU films – Killmonger/ Eric Stevens, who is an amazing antagonist. He has an entirely appropriate personal reason to be furious at T’Challa and his family… and it’s tied in to an entirely understandable political reason, which makes everything that much more devastating. I think the notion of Wakanda never having intervened throughout history is troubling, and should be troubling. Eric’s bitter ‘bury me in the sea with my ancestors’ is a powerful strike at Wakandan serenity; at the idea they are righteous to have isolated themselves. Eric is one of the great opponents of the MCU because he is a genuine reflection of T’Challa: a product of his upbringing, a fearless warrior, passionate about what he believes is right… and he’s not wrong, about wanting to support oppressed peoples. Frame this slightly differently and Eric becomes the hero. And that helps make this film amazing.
Other things that make this film amazing: M’Baku. I love everything about him. Shuri, and Nakia, and Okoye, and Ramonda – fabulous characters, who exist in their own right. Shuri is probably my favourite; she’s a fearless Q-style character who knows exactly who she is and how she wants to be and I love her attitude. General Okoye is also fantastic; her loyalty to her nation and her fearlessness and her disgust with that wig. Plus, it was only on this viewing that I realised: the queen’s headdresses, but especially the one when T’Challa comes home, must be based on the Nefertiti bust now in Berlin. It’s glorious.
I love the costuming and the music and everything about the visual appearance of the film, too. Honestly if I had to choose between this and Captain Marvel… I would be in trouble.
The one problem I have with the film is that it promotes the idea of ‘might is right’. That’s the sole reason for fighting for the right to be king. Yes yes, you need to be a warrior to be the Black Panther… but it’s still a problematic way to confirm your ruler.
Also some of the fights are too long, but that’s not a surprise any more.
Doctor Strange (MCU 15)
(We chose to skip Spiderman; I don’t think it adds much to the MCU.)
This film is very, very silly.
Firstly, Benedict Cumberbatch’s accent. Very silly.
Secondly, the CG. It’s a bit too in love with some of the effects. And they just get a bit… kiddy-kaleidoscopic.
Mostly, I think it feels uncomfortable with the mystical nature of what it’s trying to do. With the exception of the Thor movies, the MCU is resolutely science fiction – it’s drugs or radiation or tech. Even the Thor movies kind of try to skip over the fantastical elements of being gods – I know they use the Bifrost and so on, but Thor himself tells Jane that what she’s talking about (Einstein-Rosen bridges etc) is just another word for… . What Thor can do is just an ability, not so much being a god. Here… while, yes, there’s a bit of vague handwaving about the multiverse, this is trying to be all mystical while simultaneously (it seems to me) being a bit embarrassed about that.
The movie isn’t a complete loss. It has Chiwetel Ejiofor. And Benedict Wong. And Mads Mikkelsen as an entirely acceptable villain.
I do not, though, like Steven Strange. He’s an arrogant twat without Tony Stark’s redeeming features of a) a good line in snark, b) attempts to genuinely do better, c) Pepper, d) Mickey Rourke (ok, that might be rectified in the sequel), and e) tin suits rather than an uppity cloak. Also, his facial hair is ridiculous.
The cloak is actually another thing that’s ok about the film. But there’s a bit too much playing up its ?sentience, which as a result got old faster than it should have.
I don’t mind Tilda Swinton in the role as the Ancient One, considering the position in isolation. I do have a problem with the fact that the film made the character “Celtic” (whatever that means) rather than from [somewhere in the Himalayas], as the comics portray her (him) – given the initiate school is actually in Kathmandu, that seems a bit off.
The film is necessary within the context of the “Infinity Saga” – we need to know what the Time Stone can do, and that it’s protected. I feel like it could have had a better vehicle than this.
Captain America: Civil War (MCU 14)
Weirds me out every time that this is a Captain America film, rather than an Avengers one. Clearly the focus is on Steve and what he will do in order to save Bucky… but there’s so much of everyone else that this is definitely more of an ensemble film.
And I know the character has to be introduced – but did there have to be quite so much Tony-meeting-Peter Parker?
Overall I do really like this film. It’s a bridging film, like Age of Ultron, but it’s less annoying because it fits better into the ongoing narrative: while it might have been logical for Tony to want to create AI, it hadn’t really been flagged before Ultron; but finding and saving Bucky has been driving Steve for ages. Also, as with most of the other films, the fight scenes are Just. Too. Long.
Except for the airport fight. That one is awesome: displaying the different skills of each of the fighters, pointing out the seriousness of the split in the Avengers, and some nice snark too. I really like Spiderman here, and Scott Lang makes so much more sense having seen Ant-Man. Of course, this fight is also heartbreaking, to see friends and allies against each other – pitting their knowledge against each other, as well as their skills. I think especially pitting Wanda against Vision; that’s the worst.
Another favourite part of this film is Sam and Bucky together. They are so jealous of each other’s friendship with Steve. I can’t wait for the tv show. It’s going to be hilarious.
I also really like the fact that all of the events here are a direct result of Age of Ultron. That the Avengers do actually face consequences for the events of Sokovia is both dreadful and necessary. I’m thinking mostly of Zemo, here, and his compulsive need for revenge. His brilliant ability to manipulate people and to organise all the parts of his plan would be less impressive if it were for a lesser motive.
On the other hand, I am… troubled by the Sokovia Accords. I think they make sense, yes, and I can understand wanting to have some sort of control over ‘enhanced individuals’. Trying to actually make that work is a completely different thing (witness SHIELD), and I agree with a lot of Steve’s arguments. But that’s not even addressing one of the big issues: we all know that Tony, and Rhodes, and Natasha, and Clint, and Scott, and Sam, all have no need to sign the Accords, right? They are not enhanced. They just have access to tech. Otherwise… are they getting all graduates of the Red Room to sign? All assassins?
Anyway, there’s a lot more to this film, of course. It puts some of our heroes underground, and splits up beautiful friendships, and makes a lot of people suspicious about superheroes. One thing that’s not ok is Steve kissing Sharon Carter. Just no.
Finally, perhaps the greatest things this film does is introduce Black Panther. T’Challa is one of the very greatest characters in the entire MCU canon. I will entertain no arguments at this time.