Tag Archives: action

Thor: The Dark World (MCU 8)

Some thoughts:

Any movie that requires such an extensive prologue to set up the premise of the film is… already heading into dubious territory. It’s barely even framed as “dad telling a story” which would have been better – the first one has Thor and Loki as kids, so why couldn’t this have been a bedtime story for them growing up? This would also have given a little more context to Odin and/or Frigga as parents, which would have been good, too.

Slapping is never ok. Ever. Not even if it’s a wee lady slapping a large gentleman. It’s not funny and it’s not ok.

Darcy, though, does continue to be both funny and ok. Happily, we also get more Rene Russo as Frigga in this one than the first, and she was great! with a sword and all! Christopher Eccleston, however, was utterly wasted. It could have been anyone in that makeup and with the dialogue. What an utterly lacklustre villain.

And speaking of lacklustre: Natalie Portman was fine, but Jane was… well, basically a sexy lampshade. For a film that purports to revolve around her, she has essentially no agency; she is an object, not a subject. The ether infects her; Thor takes her to Asgard; Odin dismisses her; Frigga protects, Sif steals, and Thor and Loki con Malekith into taking it out of her. What does she do? Um… freak out at a lunch date… actually she does do some Science Stuff at the end. But not much else. Which is disappointing.

As with the first Thor, I was interested to see how much more of a fantasy this feels, rather than SF which the other films do. Basically it’s a portal fantasy, with the Bifrost – and then Consequences of the Amazing Convergence – as the portals. For all it’s designed on a more epic scale, the narrative itself somehow… doesn’t feel it. I think I just don’t care that much about the nine worlds, because although we are introduced to them in the film, I have no emotional connection. I barely care about Asgard.

Two final things that are good about this film: it begins a commentary on genocide that is continued in the third Thor, and I had forgotten it was already here. Honestly, you could blink and miss it… but it is there. And certainly Odin isn’t a great and magnanimous ruler, here, which I think the first one tried to convince viewers of.

And then there’s Selvig. Whose running around in the nudes is played for laughs, basically, right up until he points out that he had a god in his head, and maybe it’s not so unreasonable that he’s having trouble adjusting to ordinary society.

Thor (MCU 5)

This is one of the films that I wasn’t sure of, going back. It’s been a while since I saw it, and I just wondered…

Everything about this film is fine. Hemsworth is pretty good (although gosh a decade is a long time); Portman is great, actually; Hiddleston is fine. Idris Elba is always wonderful, as is Jamie Alexander. And Kat Dennings as Darcy and Stellan Skarsgaard can help me with my research any time. Also the criminally underused Rene Russo.

There’s just something about the film that feels … odd. Or off. Especially coming on the heels of Iron Man.

I think that, compared to those (internally) earlier movies, Thor – and Thor – feel… naive, somehow. Matched against the cynical, world-weary but still philanthropic Stark, Thor feels… young. Arrogant – or proud? – although at least theoretically committed to doing what’s right; and naive, even innocent. And still so much in his father’s shadow (which, actually, is very much a Tony thing too. OMG how much of the MCU is actually about fathers?? Wait, I don’t want to think about that too much or I might get really sad). The film itself is an example of how the MCU films are allowed to have their own aesthetic, matching the different aesthetics of the comics (I assume); and I think this more fantasy-oriented feel does feel jarring, coming after the very-high-tech, very modern, Iron Man – and even Captain Marvel.

The plot is nothing exceptional; it’s fine as an introduction to Thor and his world. I had forgotten what we learn about Loki and his relationship with Thor; it felt simultaneously like a lot and too little. The one thing I did notice and appreciate greatly is that right from the start, it’s unclear whether Loki is being devious for the sake of evil, or because it’s his nature to be a trickster. Does he know that he’s revving Thor up about their father, and is he doing it for nefarious purposes, or… not? There’s so much about Loki that is vital to however many films, and I think some aspects of him remain unknowable. At the same time: it is clear he loved Odin and Frigga, and that his world being shown to be a lie is the catalyst for most of his later actions.

Iron Man 2 (MCU 4)

THIS FILM.

It’s not quite the Platonic Ideal of Captain Marvel, but. Well. It’s definitely in my top 5 MCU films.

And it’s not just because of Sam Rockwell. Not… entirely, anyway.

It is definitely problematic that a narcissistic, arrogant man like Stark is so compelling as a character. I think partly it’s his self-awareness that helps this. Also, what I noticed on this viewing – perhaps more than any other time – is just how much of his behaviour in this film is driven by the knowledge that he is, in fact, dying. I don’t think I had fully appreciated that before. I continue to love watching his genius at work, and the fact that he is perfectly willing to take a sledgehammer to walls in order to build – what? a synchrotron?

I continue to like Pepper. I like that the development of her character makes sense – also driven by a desire for getting things right, at heart – and that she was perfectly capable of cutting off from Tony when it was clear that he was going in a bad direction. And then there’s Rhodes – now played by Don Cheadle, and maybe it’s just because he’s been Rhodes for longer than Howard had the chance but Cheadle really IS Rhodes for me. There’s something that he brings to the character – understated determination and resilience, and humour, that I really love.

Far, far more than Obadiah, the villains really make this film. I do not love Mickey Rourke as an actor, but as Vanko here he is magnificent (“I vant. My boid”.) It’s just such an off-the-wall character – out of proportion, an exaggerated and distorted vision of Stark himself, as shown by Vanko making an arc reactor in his own version of a cave – and all of his actions are outrageous. He’s so much fun to watch. And then there’s Justin Hammer. Truly, any opportunity to watch Sam Rockwell cut a dance move is all right by me. Everything about Hammer’s character is such a spectacular cringe: he wants to be the exaggerated vision of Stark and he just. Never. Will. Be. Calling Stark Anthony! Trying to sleep with a woman who slept with Stark! Copying his weapons! Oh Hammer. You’re terrible.

Another thing that makes this film is the soundtrack. I am not the biggest AC/DC fan, but it works in this context. As with Captain Marvel, all of this comes together with a fact-paced narrative with an appropriate number of explosions, chases and well-choreographed fight scenes to make a really great film.

This makes it sound like I’m mostly here for the characters, but that’s not true: the story is great! Genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropist goes on self-discovery trip that nearly destroys the people around him and is nearly brought low by psychotic Russian genius-poor-convict-revengenut!

Also, Scarlett Johannsen in some of the most ridiculous outfits a woman has been compelled to wear while pretending to be “from Legal” or while being an assassin. Plus a cold, tired, take-no-shit Fury, who really can’t be having with Stark’s nonsense.

I am so ready for Avengers. I don’t mind watching Thor first, but… I am so ready for Avengers.

Captain Marvel: MCU 2 (internal)

I guess it would be foolish to call any movie perfect, but Captain Marvel comes pretty close to the Platonic Ideal for me.

Brie Larson is fantastic: has the comedy timing when required, serious and distressed and determined when required… I read about how she went up with female fighter pilots to get a sense of what it was like being in the cockpit, which is awesome. And I love the character of Vers/Carol: always committed to what’s right but not so fanatical that she can’t accept when her truth is challenged. An excellent friend; balancing compassion and ruthlessness (looking at you, Yonn Rogg); her persistence as a child and young woman make me so happy. Also, THAT COMMENT to Yonn Rogg at the end makes me SO HAPPY every time.

I adore that this film has no romance. Don’t get me wrong: I am totally here for romance in my stories; ask me why I like Empire Strikes Back so much. But so often when the focus of a story is a woman, romance gets shoehorned in as if audiences can’t cope with a woman not having men fall over her, or her over men (and let’s be honest, it’s usually hetero). So it’s refreshing to have a female hero with male and female friends, but no hint of romance.

The friends! Maria Rambeau is awesome – the right mix of courage and guts with appropriate trepidation (going into space in a vehicle not designed for it…) – what a great best friend; just falls back into the friendship after six years of anger and grief. Monica is also cool and I look forward to seeing her as a hero in her own right. And Fury… well. Fury. I adore that we got a younger Fury in this film, to see where he was before the Avengers Project really blew up in his face. And maybe it’s a bit tacky but I love the jokes about his eye throughout the film.

Then there’s Ben Mendelsohn. MENDO. Playing brilliantly on the expectation that he plays a villain – inspired casting! – I think the writers did a really great job with the character of Talos, and Mendo fulfils it wonderfully. Why would I want to turn into a filing cabinet?

AND Annette Bening! Such a delightful cameo; I know it mucks with the comic canon to have her as Mar Vel but ask me how much I care.

The mid-90s setting is hilarious for someone of my age; the Blockbuster always sets me to reminiscing about getting 5 weeklies for $10, and the awesome responsibility of getting an overnight rental. The flannel, the NIN tshirt, the waiting for the modem to connect… and of course, the music. What a soundtrack. I’d forgotten about Elastica and “Connection” before seeing this; back in heavy rotation now. Aside from Guardians, this makes the best use of music of any MCU film.

All of the characters and the setting work together with a really great narrative. The contrast between the high-tech Hala and what looks like a very low-tech Earth is pretty funny; the gradual reveal of Carol’s past and the truth about the Kree is paced beautifully; there are a good number of chases, well-choreographed fight scenes, and explosions. Like I said: Platonic Ideal for me.

Oh, and I forgot Goose. Sorry Goose. Who’s a good pussy cat, eh?

MCU 1 (well, 2 for us)

We got Disney+; we decided to rewatch the MCU; we decided (after watching Iron Man) to watch in internal chronological order.

Thus, we went back to Captain America: The First Avenger.

This is… not my favourite MCU. It’s fine. It’s a solid war film. And that’s what this is: a WW2 film. It’s Where Eagles Dare without Richard Burton, but with weird ray-guns and a disfigured villain (because that’s such a novel idea; see: every James Bond film ever).

This is actually one of the positives about the MCU. The Powers That Be haven’t insisted that every film have exactly the same feel; Iron Man and this film are very different. And so they should be! They’re telling different stories, and Rogers and Stark are very different men, and so on.

The film is: little guy doesn’t like bullies, undergoes radical transformation, becomes a ripped Chris Evans… manages to stay the virtuous little guy in a buff bod, and punches villains. Don’t get me wrong, I do think Chris Evans is great in this role; as an Australian I can say that he seems to fill a very particular idea of American masculinity (which, ahem, given the period of this film, is remarkably like the Nazi version of Aryan…).

I love Stanley Tucci in the minimal time he’s given; I would watch Tommy Lee Jones in basically anything (fight me if you don’t like Space Cowboys); Hayley Atwell is excellent, of course. And Sebastian Stan is fun, and it does make me excited about re-watching the Winter Soldier stuff. Hugo Weaving is a marvellous scenery-chewing villain, and Toby Jones is also fantastic.

Having seen the rest of the films, this feels like such a prequel in many ways. It sets up Cap’s personality – his quirks, his doggedness, his reasons for the at times holier-than-thou attitudes that so pisses off Stark; and of course, the dedication to Bucky. Which is integral to all that is to come, and the depths of which I had probably forgotten when I watched Winter Soldier last time.

I didn’t love this film, particularly, but it does make me excited for what’s to come.

Iron Man: MCU 3 (well, 1 for us)

We’re however far into lockdown 2.

We have however long left until things even begin to be ‘normal’.

And so we have caved. We have subscribed to Disney+. Partly for The Mandalorian… partly for the MCU.

And so, we have begun The Epic Rewatch Of The Entire MCU (movies only).

(We love Agents of SHIELD and look forward to catching up on the season/s we haven’t seen yet, but I have zero intention of rewatching the whole lot. Also, I watched the first couple of eps of Agent Carter, and it just didn’t work for me.)

Initially, we planned to go on production order, and so:

Iron Man

We’ve probably seen this three or four times, I guess? Of the individual-focused films, Iron Man would have to be my favourite set. I haven’t seen this in a while and I did wonder whether it had aged.

The answer: nope.

Downey Jr is still marvellous to watch as Tony. Tony is an unpleasant, arrogant, wilful, privileged, and selfish man, who actually begins to change through the movie. The fact that he is also a mechanical and theoretical genius makes his other traits more frustrating, for me – but yes, I still like him overall. Yes, this is a problem. I really liked the cave-construction part of the film, and the fact that it’s clear Tony is no Elon Musk; he can actually make stuff. He’s a Tesla rather than an Edison; a Robert Hooke or Robert Boyle. In fact one thing I really like is the somewhat-reality of the iterative nature of making the suit: that it’s not perfect, needs refining, etc. (And looking forward, the way that this progresses for Tony’s character is truly fascinating.)

Everyone else in the film is also great. Jeff Bridges is outrageous as Obadiah; Terrence Howard is fine as the long-suffering Rhodes; yes, I like Paltrow as Pepper, too. The pacing works, the soundtrack is infectious, the graphics still look fine to my eyes (which may be slightly rosily-hued, who can say). It was delightful to see people who carry on through the whole set – especially Coulson, of course, and Fury in the end-of-credits scene; and Iron Man’s musical motif, too.

Overall, this is a film that really stand up.

————————————————————

… as foreshadowed, after we watched this, we reconsidered our viewing order. We’ve decided to go internal chronology, which means we go back to The First Avenger and Captain Marvel next, rather than moving straight to Iron Man 2. So that will be fun.

Great Scott! presents: Top Gun

Tony: 1986images-1.jpeg

Every fortnight (ish)* my beloved and I are watching a film by either Ridley or Tony Scott. We’re watching in chronological order. There are, of course, spoilers.

*Yeh… not so much with the fortnight(ish)… but we ARE still committed to it!

(Of course, this is not actually chronological. But that’s because it turns out Bladerunner isn’t on iTunes, so now we need to source that. THEN we will be back to chronological.)

 

It should be noted that this is one of J’s favourite movies Of All Time, whereas A consistently and constantly disses it whenever it gets mentioned. 

A: The opening music is very cool. It builds a lovely level of suspense. I even like the opening on the aircraft carrier; the music matches beautifully. This movie has the opening of a truly awesome film. (Context: I grew up wishing I could have been a pilot in WW1 or 2 with Biggles and his crew, ignoring the whole ‘you’re a girl’ aspect.)

J: Tobacco graduate filters, steam catapults, jets, slow motion footage. AFTERBURNERS.  Jets doing unnecessary aileron rolls at takeoff.  This is the film that made me fall in love with Tony Scott’s cinematography.

A: A plane takes off and KENNY LOGAN AW YEH DANGER ZONE. LOTSA planes taking off and braking and men looking serious.  (cue some serious couch dancing)

J: All the aerial footage was all shot on super 35mm film from the jets and it still looks fantastic if a little gritty on blu-ray Continue reading →

You only Live Twice

This review is part of Project Bond, wherein over the course of 2014 we watch all of the James Bond movies in production order.

images

Summary: in which Bond dies, resurrects, and foils SPECTRE’s attempts to start a war between the US and USSR by eating their spacecraft. Also, he becomes a Japanese man. And gets married.

Alex: I love this theme song.

Once again, this movie sees James Bond become a science fictional film. The opening sequence is of Gemini 16, an American spacecraft, with its astronauts preparing for EVA. And then oh no! it gets swallowed by another spacecraft which appeared from nowhere! The USSR is, of course, blamed; the UK politely dissents with this assessment, but the US ignore their Anglo cousins.

Cut to credits. (And the revelation that the screenplay was written by Roald Dahl!)

I’ve made the point before about so much of Bond being set outside of England, and it’s only today that I realised that of course Bond is part of MI6 – the international arm of the British secret service. So of course he’s in exotic locales. This time, it’s Japan, and when Moneypenny throws Bond a book of Instant Japanese, he primly reminds her that he took Oriental Languages at Cambridge… which is, I think, one of the first time we get any information about Bond’s background. It’s interesting to think that after five films we know so little about our hero: no knowledge of his family background, his interests (aside from drinking and womanising)… nada. Apparently the Mystery Man was genuinely thought to be intriguing enough that it wasn’t necessary.

For an ambiguously SFnal film, Japan of the 1960s is an intriguing setting. Tokyo as a city is shown to be a place of, on the one hand, neon lights, while on the other traditional sumo wrestling. This dichotomy of future/past is repeated throughout. There are more security cameras than in the previous four films together, I think, and the head of Japanese security – “Tiger” – has cool round screens for showing scenes. He also has a private train and is disappointed that M doesn’t. The head of Osato Chemicals – the ostensible villain – has electric shutters and an X-ray machine in his desk.

On the other hand, there’s sumo wrestling and ninjas. In fact, there’s a remarkable amount of (Anglo-mediated) Japanese culture in this film, including a fake marriage ceremony that was both irrelevant to the plot and slowed the pace to a dead stop. I wonder whether this was because the opportunity of showcasing Japanese rituals was deemed worth it – and, indeed, exotic enough that it would work for 60s viewers? Screening “the Other” often has cachet, I know. From a gender perspective traditional Japan is suggested to be deeply sexist: Tiger gravely tells Bond that in Japan, “men always come first. Women always come second”… while four women in their underwear are washing them (“never do for yourself what someone else can,” or words to that effect). So that’s a thing.

There’s nothing really new about the gender politics here. The two Japanese women with whom Bond works are highly competent, but/and both fall in love with him. On reflection this makes Bond remarkably cold, since he’s making movies on the second – Kissy –  just a week or so after Aki, for whom he seemed quite affectionate, has been killed. There’s also a female villain (number 11), whom he maybe sleeps with but certainly appears to have used his magical powers on, but then she does actually try to kill him. She’s a distinctly confused character, actually, and I was quite disappointed that they didn’t make her entirely straightforward (like Rosa in From Russia with Love). Also, Bond comments that Japanese girls “taste different” from their English counterparts. Er… wha??

images-2

The race element is present here, also. The absolutely worst moment is that Bond “becomes Japanese” in order to… I’m not sure what. He proceeds to train as a ninja, so maybe the appearance is really important? Basically he gets a bad haircut, has it dyed black, and gets some prosthetics on his eyes. It’s unconvincing. It is also, happily, the only case of yellow-face, so that’s positive. In terms of deaths, of the main characters only Aki – non-white and female – dies. I really expected Tiger to die, too, but happily he survives. And in looking up the cast I discovered that Tetsuro Tamba started acting in 1953, and had his last role in 2006. In that time, he was had 265 roles! By comparison, Connery’s credits go from 1954 to 2012, and come to 93.

Finally, it’s important to note that it turns out to be SPECTRE behind the eating-spacecraft thing; they’ve done it to a Russian craft, too, and their express purpose is to instigate a war between the US and USSR. Quite why… I’m not sure. Hoping to be

images-1the phoenix rising from the ashes and taking over the world? Because mayhem is its own reward? But that’s almost beside the point when we actually get the great reveal: Number 1 is Ernst Stavro Blofeld (played by Donald Pleasance), and he introduces himself to James Bond. So we see his face. And, as almost always with a Bond villain, he is disfigured: his right hand is damaged somehow (and is thus literally sinister), and he also has scarring around one eye. Nothing like making an obvious play on the whole physical/moral connection, is there? I can’t help but be a bit sad that the mystery has gone out from Number 1. Being faceless is far more intriguing than being scarred, in an Ultimate Villain. (I’d also like to take this opportunity to point out that a Supervillain Organisation that relies on its ultimate boss for such instructions as “lower the shutters” when the rocket is about to take off has some serious management issues.)

James: It was a little incongruous when the ninja had to use explosives to break through the obviously chicken wire and plastic roof over the volcano lair, but otherwise quite an enjoyable film.  Also, what’s not to love about Little Nellie, the helicopter with rockets, flame thrower, machine guns and aerial land mines which can fit in 4 stylish Louis Vuitton suitcases and be brought in at a moments notice by Q.  For the movie nerds, I’m not sure the blu-ray transfer was quite as magical as some of the earlier films, but perhaps the novelty has worn off.  3 Martinis.

Escape Plan

Every now and then I feel a bit embarrassed by the sort of movies I like. But then I remember, actually? a) no one gets to tell me to be embarrassed, and b) just because I like explosions and chase scenes doesn’t mean I have to hand in my feminist credentials.

So yes, I love action movies. And when we saw that iTunes had a movie called Escape Plan listed, starring Sylvester and Arnie – and that we had never heard of it – well, that sounded like a perfect Saturday afternoon. And amazingly, it was way better than either of us expected.

escape-plan-schwarzenegger-stallone

There were problems with it, yes. The enemy-turned-ally becomes the plucky self sacrificing brown man. Which is always worth wincing over, not least because it’s so damned cliched. I still have absolutely no idea why we were meant to care about Schwarznegger’s character – that is, why the revelation at the end was meant to be so momentous. And of course it doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, but actually in this context I have no problem with that. The fact that there actually are two women, with names, is impressive. And they’re not even love interests.

The premise: Sly has spent 14 years getting put into jail in order to figure out whether they can be broken out of. And of course, they all can be. So it’s Sneakers but with jailbreaks. Then he gets put into one that’s been designed to be used now that the US has ended extraordinary rendition. It’s a jail that will be privately run, privately organised, and house “the people no government wants responsibility for.”

Let’s just pause there for a moment and shudder. And then consider Australia’s policy on where it sends refugees that try to come here.

Inside, things are bleak, and Sly’s get-out plan is dead in the water. Then he makes friends with Arnie and they start planning how to break out. The prison is built vertically, and Sly thinks it might be built into cave fissures… but then he climbs up, and discovers that actually they’re on a massive ship. Which sounds crazytown, until today we read that Manus Island staff are living in a floating hotel. Which… hilarious. Sly can build a sextant from nothing and figures out where they are, and then it’s just a matter of calling in favours until they can escape.

What worked? Sly and Arnie together. They were awesome. The prison idea itself is pretty cool, and prison escapes lend themselves to entertaining convolutions of plot. It has zero re-watchability, but sometimes that’s ok.

When we finished, my darling suggested we watch the 6th Fast&Furious film, which neither of us has seen. But I refused.

I said that we had to start from the start, and watch the whole lot. So that’s what we’re doing at the moment.

A Good Day… to watch Bruce Willis

Wellllll… let’s be honest here. Pretty much any day is a good day to watch Bruce Willis. But to be specific, I finally watched A Good Day to Die Hard.

UnknownIt seems to me that the Die Hard franchise is much like the early Star Trek movies; the odd-numbered ones are the good one (I do have a soft spot for #2, but it is not as good as 1 or 3). This outing for old-man-McLean is definitely a more enjoyable film than the fourth one was. And I think there’s a really significant reason for that: he’s with his son, rather than his daughter.

SPOILERS ahoy!

The story: Our McLean finds out his son is in a Russian prison. He goes to see what’s happening. He arrives as his son is breaking a Russian political prisoner out. It is revealed that the son is in fact working for the CIA… and then things continue to Not Be As They Seem. And Chernobyl is involved.

Firstly, the good bits: there are some awesome chase scenes. There are helicopters doing mad things. One of the villains regrets that he did not become a dancer, and does a shuffle to prove it while also kicking away McLeanx2’s guns. Some great banter ensues, especially between father and son, and there are two (that I counted) delightful references to early Die Hard which I think is probably perfect – they were very good and appropriate references, and it doesn’t overdo the call-back which is always a threat in such films.

And then… well, I did have a couple of issues. As mentioned above, I enjoyed this film more than the fourth because of the interaction between the father and child, in this case the son. The daughter is not wholly lacking in awesome in the fourth, but she is a captive and therefore lacking in real agency. And the dude/son-replacement that McLean goes along with just got annoying. Whereas here, father and son are totally equal; their skills complement each other, in every fight they’re equally awesome, etc. So that made me a little bit sad for the daughter. Interestingly, there is a daughter character in this film too (actually two, since the McLean daughter gets a look-in as well, but she is largely irrelevant), who is also interacting with her father – she first appears to be working against him, but then it turns out she is actually working with him. So that’s an interesting inversion of what’s going on with the McLeans. I was a bit worried that the two youngsters would end up getting it on, but that wasn’t a problem because she ended up being Evil, as did Pa, and there wasn’t even time for flutter-eyes between the two Hot Young Things (thus, bonus: no romance!). Good Family have issues but work together despite them; Bad Family are sneaky and always working together even when it doesn’t look like it.

Very watchable, but not re-watchable. I really hope this is the end of the franchise, because the only place to go from here is McLean and grandchildren – which he’s already done in Look Who’s Talking – or McLean in retirement village, which he’s already done in RED (and eeee so excited for RED 2).