Tag Archives: films

Captain America: Winter Soldier (MCU 9)

From here, a lot of these films start to… blur together a bit. Not that they are indistinguishable, as such, but I forget which aspects of the overarching Avengers narrative happens when. Because in some ways this film seems more like an Avengers than a standalone Captain America film.

You can watch the Iron Man films almost independently of the franchise. Yes, the third one has some reliance on the audience knowing what happened in New York… but it does have flashback that give you some sense of what happened. The first two Thor movies don’t require knowledge of the rest of the franchise, really; again, really only in understanding Selvig, I would argue. And you also don’t need to know about Thor or Iron Man to understand the first Avengers film.

But here… without a sense of what SHIELD is, without a sense of the role Fury plays and how disillusioned Steve started to be in the first Avengers… you’re a bit lost. And going forward: without a knowledge of who Bucky is, and the world-shaking events of this film, the rest of the Avengers movies don’t really make sense.

None of which is necessarily a problem. It’s just interesting to note.

Additionally, this feels a bit less of a standalone Captain America and more… well, not quite an ensemble; but certainly Natasha is significant, as is Sam Wilson (YAY SAM). Maybe Rhodey manages this in the third Iron Man, but not before; and there’s no equivalent in the first two Thor flicks.

This is also the film where things start to get grittier. Yes Coulson was sad; yes the first Captain America is a war movie – but while it’s not quite a full-on WW2 movie in the classic style, it’s pretty close. This, though: it’s starting to feel like a grim, gritted teeth, relentless punch-em-up film that I don’t really like. It doesn’t quite get there; there are redeeming features that lighten the atmosphere a bit, and demonstrate alternatives to just straight-up fistfights. But not that many. This film feels too long not because of the narrative but because the fights Just. Go. On. Yes, they’re well choreographed; yes, they signal just how serious all of this is; yes, to see Steve equally or over-matched is distressing. But really. Cut a few minutes from every fight and it would be a tighter film.

Were we spoiled for the Winter Soldier’s identity from the trailers? Probably; I can imagine those who make decisions wanting the presumed emotional drawcard. That moment you first see his face properly, shadowed, in Pierce’s kitchen, is splendidly dramatic. And I do like Sebastian Stan. I also really like Robert Redford – like Ben Mendelsohn, playing against type brilliantly. I remember being deeply shocked when I realised what was going on.

The first Avengers changes the world by making aliens and superheroes something everyone knows about. Winter Soldier changes the world by removing the SHIELD security blanket, and threatening the integrity of that patriotic rock, Steve Rogers. No film in the franchise chronologically after this can ignore that.

Jolie Oldman #1

Unknown.jpegGone in 60 Seconds – 2000

Character name: Sway

Style: tough, a bit rough

Mannerisms: nothing memorable 

Look: kinda working class? Blonde dreads. Tattoos. Very blue eyes

How the film promotes her: Jolie is second in the credits, after Nicholas Cage; the promo poster shows her (and her, uh, assets) prominently. 

In the narrative: The first sight we have of Jolie is in the credits, in a photo frame.

The first real sight is under a car. First her legs, as she comes out from under the car under a trolley. Lips are prominent; blonde dreads are very obvious because despite working as a mechanic she hasn’t tied her back (!?). She dismisses Cage, her ex, completely; she initially refuses to participate in the boost.

Eventually, she turns up on a motorcycle in leathers, spectacularly, and says “I’m here for Kip”. Apparently Sway didn’t need to participate in the preparation for the car boosting. Probably because she actually has two jobs and therefore the chance, and necessity, to keep looking like she’s not a criminal. Unlike everyone else. Also, then the writers would have had to write script for her, which might have strained their abilities; she’s the only girl in the crew, what a surprise. She is at least presented as competent and skilled; also happy to fall into the “one of the boys” thing (“always was a sucker for a redhead”). If this were today, or it were a more edgy film, I’d suggest she’s meant to be bi – pretty sure that’s not the case in this sort of mainstream film from 2000.

Apparently she’s still heartbroken that Memphis left her. They eventually ride off into the sunset together; all it took was stealing some cars together and some barely-innuendo car talk. 

Age difference with love interest: Eleven years (Cage older). 

Other thoughts on the film:

J: Man this intro feels dated.

A: I love the music. (Meanwhile I can’t stand the brother. Delroy Lindo, though!! And a lot of the other secondaries, too. WHAT A YOUNG ECCELSTON.) 

J: I have a love/hate relationship with Nicholas… but he’s really quite good in this.

Reflection: 

J: Perhaps this was the wrong first film… Jolie isn’t very prominent. 

A: Pretty sure it’s better than Hackers; this way we get to see her move from very secondary to headline.  

 

Jolie Oldman

We’ve done a James Bond viewing (one movie a fortnight, for a year. It was quite a thing.)

We’ve done Great Scott! – watching Tony and Ridley Scott films. (Turns out, epics are not really for us.)

We realised we hadn’t had a viewing project for a while, and decided this was a good time to start one. We’d been thinking of following an actor, and decided Gary Oldman would be awesome – we both love several of his films. And then I pointed that we’ve focussed entirely on dudes. So we thought about what not-dudes would be interesting, and we decided Angelina Jolie fit the bill.

Thus: Jolie Oldman.

I have to admit, though, it doesn’t feel like a time for much experimentation. So we’re largely watching films we’ve seen before. We’ll watch them in chronological order, and it will be interesting to see the development and changes over time. But it won’t be a whole lot of new stuff. And we’re fine with that.

Angelina Jolie: 

Gone in 60 Seconds
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (new for J)
Mr & Mr Smith
Wanted (new for us)
Salt
The Tourist

Gary Oldman

JFK (new for us)
The Fifth Element
Air Force One
Harry Potter – Order of the Phoenix
The Dark Knight
The Book of Eli
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Come along for the ride!

Radiance

This book was provided by the publisher at no cost.

images.jpegMy big problem in writing this review will be making sure it makes sense and isn’t just full of incoherent hand-waving. Here area a few initial points that will establish my position:

a) I’m really glad I got to read this before finalising (coughstartingcough) my Hugo nominations.

b) Because I got old, this is the first book in ages that I’ve stayed up past midnight to finish (18yo me is shaking her head in disappointment). Letting me finish it in a day (although not a sitting).

c) When I read Illuminae, I was immensely pleased with the found-footage style, but thought I wouldn’t want it to become TOO common. And then I read this. And now: I’m happy for Catherynne Valente* to use any damn style she likes.

So. This book.

This book is wonderful.

The New York Times describes it as “a sleek rocket ship of a novel swaddled in ArtDeco decadence.” That’s pretty apt.

The overview: set in an alternate universe where the solar system’s planets are all inhabitable, and where interplanetary travel kicked off even before the Wright brothers were doing their thing in our universe, the twentieth century has developed rather differently from ours. The focus is on the film industry, but there are tantalising glimpses into politics as well (like a reference to the Tsar in the 1940s). Anyway, the film industry has mostly developed on the Moon, and it’s a mostly silent industry, because of issues over paying for the rights to sound technology. One of the focal characters, Severin, has grown up with a director-father and eventually goes into the industry herself… and something happened when she’s shooting on location.

That really doesn’t do the novel justice, of course. The story doesn’t develop in a linear manner; it starts at the end and jumps all over the place, gradually filling in gaps. Some of the ‘footage’ comes from Severin’s childhood, when her father filmed her; some from the films of Severin herself, or her father. Some of the documents are in the form of diaries, or gossip columns. There are even ads. And all of it comes together, ultimately, to describe a rich and intriguing solar system, full of the sorts of people in ours – good and bad, selfish and selfless, looking for glory or love. They’re just further apart, being on different planets. And there’s a mystery that just keeps getting deeper and deeper and draws you further in and it’s just, well, radiant.

The story is excellent. But Valente is doing more than telling a luscious story. She’s interrogating ideas of reality and of memory and truth. After all, are you sure that those memories of your third birthday are your memories, or are they a patchwork made from photos and maybe footage and family stories? And if the latter is true, does it matter? What is reality, when it’s mediated through a lens? But then, what is story-telling but putting words to fragmented memories and trying to make sense of the world – as Valente, of course, is doing here.

 

I love the worlds that Valente has created, with the names of towns and features on the different planets relating to different godly versions of the planet’s namesake. I love that each has a different personality, reflecting in part which nation has settled there but also developing separately – and that despite this being a largely human-friendly system, there are still issues of colonial attitudes and how to feed everyone.

I love the prose.

I half-want a huge sprawling set of stories set in this universe, but at the same time I want this one beautiful object to exist in pristine serenity all by itself.

 

Other books this reminded me of: Christopher Priest’s The Islanders because of the way the plot is gradually unveiled. Every story ever set on a tropical Venus. Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 because of the grand tour of the solar system.

 

Do not go into this book expecting ‘hard science’; this is not Greg Egan (although there are certainly some similarities in vibe). Don’t read it if you want a linear narrative. Do read it if you want to be swept up on a joyous sometimes confusing but breathtaking ride.

 

*Wordpress thinks her name is Catherine Valence, which is interesting enough but just no. Seriously.

 

Diamonds are Forever

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

Summary: in which Bond is Connery again, Blofeld is the villain again, and the action takes place in a remarkably tacky Vegas that includes an elephant playing the slots (and winning). This is the first new Bond for Alex!Unknown

Alex: Yes friends, Connery came back for one more film after what was apparently a spectacular flop thanks to George Lasenby (unfair!). Mimicking the opening of that film, we hear Bond’s voice in the prologue long before we see his face, going for that tantalising thing of “is it? Is it??” which must have been completely offset by what was undoubtedly a massive advertising campaign.

If you haven’t seen the film, then my summary contains a massive spoiler, because Bond kills Blofeld in the prologue just before he undergoes some sort of plastic surgery. After all, the man has just shot his bride! … about which M is astonishingly insensitive, asking acerbically whether he can expect Bond to get back to his job now please? If he’s quite over being all emotional? Anyway, the grand denouement in the final act is that Blofeld is in fact not dead, but is manipulating a diamond-smuggling racket by impersonating a reclusive casino mogul. As one does when one has once again changed appearance, no longer being Telly Savalas but now Charles Gray.

The franchise can’t really decide whether it wants continuity or not: Bond kills Blofeld for revenge, but then ignores being a widower; Blofeld remarks that “science was never my strong suit” – except that of course it was, in the last film, since it was never suggested that he was simply the manager of the anti-allergy clinic. I imagine that this was a problem at least partly because that mysterious they never imagined the franchise would extend to six films; after all, who needs to think too hard about continuity for a run of maybe three films?

Before this reveal, it appears that the main villains are two utterly inscrutable men: Mr Wint and Mr Kidd, as they always call each other. Their motives for creating mayhem are never, as far as I can tell, fully revealed; they don’t evenUnknown-1 seem to be in it for the money. Maybe they just like killing and creating mayhem. They do have that feature common to most Bond villains: something that sets them apart from that manliest of men. Not a deformed hand or a scar… instead, they appear to be gay. Evidence? They are grown men who hold hands, and one comments that “Miss Case seems quite attractive – for a lady.” I’m intrigued that a film from the late 60s got away with having a homosexual couple. Villainous and hardly flaunting it, but still; my expectation of this era is that this was utterly verboten. Perhaps a franchise like this could get away with it? … but if that’s the case, then why don’t we see more gay characters in mainstream cinema in the 21st century? These are the questions that try, etc.

The plot revolves around diamond smuggling, which lends Moneypenny the opportunity to hint very broadly at Bond bringing her back a diamond ring – too soon! The real problem with the smuggling is that those diamonds are not, then, appearing on the market – they are presumably being stockpiled to then be dumped, or such a tactic threatened for blackmailing purposes. So once again Bond’s talents are being utilised for the benefit of the economy, not national security. To figure out what’s going on, Bond impersonates a diamond smuggler to hook up with Tiffany Case, to whom one of his first comments is “That’s a nice little nothing you’re almost wearing; I approve.” So what I think of as Roger Moore-era scripting, isn’t.

Which leads me sideways into a discussion, as always, of the women in the film. Case is initially a tough, business-oriented middleman for the smuggling operation. However, her character rapidly descends into can’t-do-anything-ness, which I found intensely irritating. Bond slaps her at one oint, to get information from her, and she barely reacts. My own reaction to this is complicated. I understand that in action films, there is violence. The fight scene between Pitt and Jolie in Mr and Mrs Smith? Brutal, and appropriate. The dance/fight between Starbuck and Apollo? Ditto. I don’t have a problem with men and women being violent in that context. Done in a manner that actually makes sense in the context, even demonstrations of the horror of domestic violence can make sense (this is an exception rather than a rule though). My problem with the violence shown in this – and other Bonds – is less that it’s a man hitting a woman, and much more that the woman rarely complains and it’s frequently immediately preceding or following sex. Yes, I know that the psychology around women in domestic violence situations is incredibly difficult: but this is Bond. It’s not aiming at verisimilitude, nor is it attempting to get across a deep message. Instead it’s suggesting that such violence is completely acceptable in someone like Bond – someone we admire. And I think that’s contemptibly lazy.

imagesI should also mention the other three women in the film, but that won’t take much space. Bond meets Plenty O’Toole at the craps table; they go back to his place where a goon throws her over a balcony – fortunately for her, into a pool; she ends up drowned in a different images-2pool later in the film. And then there’s Bambi (who’s white) and Thumper (who’s black): (body)guards of Willard Whyte, the man Blofeld is impersonating. They’re beautiful and athletic and tough, and of course Bond manages to take them both down.

Back to the plot, briefly: Unlike Goldfinger, whose goal really did revolve around the economy, Blofeld’s plans are grand and involve worldwide nuclear disarmament. For this reason he is working hand-in-glove with Professor Metz, a committed pacifist, who of course believes that Blofeld won’t actually take the final step of using the laser to harm anyone. Aw, so sad to see his disillusionment. Bond foils the plan to use the laser by switching cassettes (cassettes!) and stuffing the real one down Case’s bikini bottoms. Case then switches them back, thinking this is what Bond wants her to do and that she’s the one putting in a fake. Bond’s wrath at Case’s incompetence is spectacular… except of course it wasn’t incompetence, it was an entirely understandable and incredibly brave undertaking on her part – Bond just didn’t think she had the ability to do anything useful. It all comes good of course and Blofeld is really and truly killed, The End.

There is further evidence in this film of the franchise’s inherent SFnal nature. Tiffany Case has a most awesome machine that scans a photograph of Bond’s fingerprints and compares them with a set on file; Q has provided Bond with fake fingerprints for just such a contingency. There’s some discussion of radiation shields, a fake moon setting, and the whole point of the diamonds is actually to somehow allow the satellite to focus its laaaaaassseerrrrrrr better.

James: The most striking thing about this film is how different it feels to all the European based films which have come before. The American muscle cars, the desert and big sky country. Vegas is super cheesy and the car chases contrived. It would seem the world was still obsessed with space when this film was made with yet another villain using satellites to create a mayhem and destruction story line. One particular conjunction of all these themes was a chase involving a moon buggy, moto-trikes and cars across the desert – incomprehensibly the moon buggy with its top speed of about 7km per hour easily beats all comers. 1.5 Martinis.