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|Monday, September 5th, 2016|
|Captain America: Civil War
Captain America: Civil War turned out better than I expected. The politics weren't as one-sided and heavy-handed as in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The conflict between the various superheroes was handled fairly well. Captain America wasn't annoying the way he's been recently in the movies and Chris Evans' natural likeability was allowed to come to the fore.
Some of the scenes seem to really stretch things though. Captain America and Bucky beating Iron Man seems implausible. Captain America is a much better fighter than Iron Man, but Iron Man can lift about 90 tons while Cap can lift 800 pounds. There’s no comparison. Iron Man is also very well armoured and has powerful energy blasts and other powers. And Cap’s shield can’t protect him from everything. It’s not big enough to protect his whole body. Bucky is clearly on about Cap’s level. Iron Man should have creamed them. I think the writers really stretched things to make Cap win.
Curiously, none of the heroes in the film actually got killed, though War Machine got pretty badly injured. I think the film would have been more resonant if one of them had died. As usual, Marvel films don’t go for greater depth.
I had hoped an African actor would be cast as the Black Panther (who’s African), an opportunity to for Hollywood to, for a change, pay attention a continent full of actors they habitually neglect. But the American Chadwick Boseman was pretty good in the role. I was less enthusiastic about the new Spider Man, Tom Holland. That kid was dreadful. The weak little voice made him sound like a six year old. He was the worst thing in the film. I wish films would stop concentrating on Spider Man as a high school kid anyway. Sure, he started out as that, but he quit being that after the early period of his time in comics and he’s been in comics a long time since then. He moved onto adulthood and the films should too. And while Spider Man is definitely not a big, bulky guy like many superheroes, he’s not a little wimp either, so the casting of a thin, scrawny guy is inappropriate. He was given some good lines in the film, but they were ruined by the delivery. Andrew Garfield was good as Spider Man in the recent Spider Man films. I don’t see the need for a new Spider Man and I have no interest in seeing the new Spider Man film.
While I liked Chris Evans’ acting, I can’t say the same for Sebastian Stan as Bucky. He’s not totally ineffective, but he continues to go through the films looking like a morose puppy dog and the hair doesn’t help either. Back when I followed Marvel comics in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Bucky was a kid who’d been Captain America’s sidekick long ago and been killed way back when. He was dead and gone and I think he should have stayed that way. The return of Bucky as the Winter Soldier is a product of 21st century and, from what I’ve read about them, Marvel comics in the 21st century have been full of changes I can’t stick, horrible things done to characters I care about and a lot of mess. Starting even before Disney bought Marvel. I prefer to keep those stories at arm's length. Civil War is one of those stories, which is one of the reasons I was wary of the film, though it worked out ok. However, I can’t really say the film really felt like the Avengers, at least as I knew them.
Most of the performances in the film were good. The Marvel films do have that going for them. Good actors. Likeable actors too. However I can’t say that for Daniel Bruhl as Helmut Zemo. I’ve seen Bruhl in a bunch of films by now and I’ve never been a fan of his acting. Here he was a pretty pathetic villain. Plus I didn’t appreciate the way that Helmut Zemo was totally changed, who and what he was totally reinvented. They pulled that with the Mandarin in Iron Man 3 and I didn’t appreciate it there either. If you don’t want to do a character as they are in the comics, don’t use them.
Overall I was fairly happy with the film. It is true that it lacked flavour, like most films about Marvel superheroes (unlike, for example, Batman vs Superman), but it was enjoyable enough and there was some thought put into it at least.
|Thursday, August 4th, 2016|
|Batman vs Superman: Way better than the competition
I saw Batman vs Superman and it wasn’t perfect, a bit incoherent, but it was way better than the Disney Marvel movies we’ve been getting recently. I certainly enjoyed Avengers: Age of Ultron, but in retrospect it seems all too shallow the way the rest of the Marvel Disney movies feel. Actors like Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) add quality performances to these Marvel films, but they can’t save the films overall, because the underlying mentality of the works is one of sunny shallowness, even when they’re pretending to be “dark”. It’s extremely disappointing. Switch to DC and you get better quality. I had mixed feelings about Superman: Man of Steel, but I remember feeling it was generally stronger than the Marvel movies being released around the same time. Fast forward to Batman vs Superman and you get a movie that is darker, more intense, more emotionally serious and more genuinely dramatic than the Marvel dreck. No matter what happens in the Marvel movies, no matter how tragic or intense the events portrayed, you don’t get the feeling they really MEAN it. DC means it.
In Batman vs Superman, Ben Affleck anchored the movie with a brilliant portrayal of a really screwed up, grim, aging Batman with an attitude. Henry Cavill again turned in a quality performance as an aloof, alien, but awkwardly well-meaning Superman. Amy Adams is not what I imagine Lois Lane as, but she definitely turns in a good performance. This is Lois Lane as a human being, not a mere cipher for Clark Kent to crush on. Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor was certainly not what I expected, but once you get used to him you realize he’s damn good. There’s quality support from Laurence Fishburne, Diane Lane and Jeremy Irons. But the best part of the film is Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. She brings the character to life as intelligent, self-possessed and strong. It’s a great moment when she suddenly pops up to save the day. You can really believe this version of Wonder Woman knows how to get things done. It’s a pity she didn’t have more screen time.
Critics and moviegoers apparently didn’t like this movie all that much. They seem to prefer the empty Marvel tripe. Well, this is the same brainless human race that has brought Donald Trump so close to the US Presidency. Generally, if something is crap it has more chance of doing well than if it is genuinely good. Mind you, Batman vs Superman isn’t the greatest movie of all time or anything like that, but it’s pretty damn good for a superhero movie, judging by what we’ve been taught to expect.
Apart from Disney's Marvel movies, this century’s Marvel-based superhero movies have most notably included the Sony Spider Man ones and the Fox X-Men (including Deadpool) ones. The Tobey Maguire Spider Man ones were made to be as shallow as possible and Maguire was beyond useless as Spider Man. Andrew Garfield made a splendid Peter Parker in the reboot and his Spider Man movies also benefitted from Emma’s Stone fine turn as Gwen Stacy. Those films were deeper and more sincere than the useless Tobey Maguire ones, but their level of quality only went so far. Still, I was sorry to see that series go, only to be replaced with one tied in with Disney’s movies and starring the kid from In the Heart of the Sea as Spider Man. I can’t say I’m looking forward to these new ones. The X-Men movies have ranged from terrible (X-Men 3 and the Wolverine movies) to quite good (X-Men: First Class), with one exception being better –Deadpool. Deadpool was a smart film with a great sense of fun, but it wasn’t any more than that. I enjoyed it, but it didn’t make the sort of impression on me that Batman vs Superman did.
Batman vs Superman was one of the very few superhero films outside of Nolan’s Batman movies to come across like it had sincere depth of feeling. Now, let’s not go too far with this. It wasn’t the deepest thing ever. But it was a hell of a lot deeper than the competition. And it seems people don’t want depth in a superhero movie. Which comes back to this being the same human race that’s in danger of putting Donald Trump in the White House.
I’m looking forward to DC’s Suicide Squad. Judging by the trailers, Margot Robbie is doing a great job in her role. The critics don’t like it, but they tend to be full of bullshit anyway, so I’ll make up my own mind when I see it.
|Friday, July 15th, 2016|
|Boycott Doctor Strange!
One of the upcoming Disney Marvel superhero movies is about the Marvel Earth's Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange. In the comics, Doctor Strange's mentor, the Ancient One, is a 500 year old Tibetan man. This was an opportunity for Hollywood to create a major Tibetan character in a major Hollywood blockbuster and show that Hollywood hasn't forgotten Tibet and its suffering under Chinese oppression and imperialism. Instead, Disney changed the Ancient One to a "Celtic mystic" and cast a white actor, Tilda Swinton. Not only is this the racist casting of a white actor in a role that should be Asian, but it is clear pandering to the Chinese government. The Chinese market is a lucrative one for Hollywood films now and Disney clearly feels it is more important to appeal to this market than to show any recognition for Tibet. It has been openly admitted that one of the reasons they changed the character was so they could market the movie in China. The moral cowardice involved in that decision is immense. Back in 1997, Martin Scorsese made Kundun, a biopic of Tibet's exiled leader, the Dalai Lama. Actors such as Harrison Ford and Richard Gere stood up to China. Hollywood has clearly fallen far since those days. Shame on Disney. Boycott this cowardly film.
|Nice: Bastille Day
84 people were murdered in Nice, France, by some fucking terrorist when they were out on the promenade celebrating Bastille Day last night. When is this going to end? France is beginning to seem like a bloody war zone. Around the world, there seems to be a terrorist attack every time you turn around. It's not so long since the Orlando attack in Florida and bombs still seem to be going off in Iraq on a regular basis. How do you discourage an enemy that wants to be killed? We'd better figure out fast. The people in Nice were just celebrating their holiday, doing no harm to anyone, and this loony comes along and murders them. What next? Where next? We've got to bring an end to this mad terrorist era.
|Thursday, July 14th, 2016|
|The Revenant, Trumbo, The Hateful Eight, In the Heart of the Sea
The film has great visuals and appreciation of nature and it has atmosphere, but it doesn’t tell its story well and it makes some annoying changes to the historical events it was based on. Leonardo DiCaprio won an Oscar for his performance in this, which is an outrage, because the film is conclusive proof that he can’t act. He spends almost the whole film with the same dull, vaguely annoyed expression on his face. It’s a massively uninspiring performance. He gives his character no personality whatsoever. By contrast, Tom Hardy, playing the villain, gives a fine performance full of personality (as is the case with all his performances, really). They should have given Tom the lead role. Tom got nominated for a supporting actor Oscar, but didn’t win. Domhnall Gleeson has a role in the film too, and makes up for his terrible performance in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, where he struggled with awful material in a thankless role. It’s nice to see him back to form.
Bryan Cranston is very good in this (though not as great as he was in Breaking Bad), but the film deals in a simplistic, naïve way with a complex topic that deserves a far more intelligent treatment. The overall filmmaking level isn’t great, but then this film is directed by the same guy who directed Austin Powers and Meet the Parents, so I guess it’s too much to ask for depth and quality. Still, there are quite a few good performances. I particularly liked Diane Lane’s performance as Trumbo’s wife.
The Hateful Eight
This film was brilliant. Darkly hilarious, with marvellous dialogue and character interaction, fun playing with politics, great characters and great performances. Samuel L Jackson shows again why he’s one of the world’s best actors. Tarantino is still great. In fact, I think his most recent three films are his best. Some people felt this film was misogynistic because the main female character got treated pretty viciously, but I don’t think she got treated any worse than a male character in her position would be.
In the Heart of the Sea
This is a great seafaring film, really gives you a feel for what seafaring and whaling were like in the early 19th century. The film has great spirit and really makes its avenging whale scary. There are excellent performances from Irish actors Brendan Gleeson and Michelle Fairley. I last saw Fairley doing a wonderful job as Catelyn Stark in Game of Thrones, a superb older female character when there aren’t enough good roles for older women. Also from Game of Thrones were Donald Sumpter (Maister Luwin) and Joseph Mawle (Benjen Stark), in small roles. Charlotte Riley gave a particularly good performance in a fairly small but significant role as the wife of the lead character. I haven't seen her before, but apparently she's married to Tom Hardy in real life. Cillian Murphy and Benjamin Walker (Abraham Lincoln in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) were also good in their roles. But the film belongs to Chris Hemsworth, who once again proves he’s no mere musclebound pretty boy. I wish people would recognize how good an actor he is. I underestimated him when I first saw him in Star Trek, thinking him only a big block of beef, but when I saw Thor I was blown away by his performance. As played by Hemsworth, Thor was no simple action hero, he was a character performance perfectly executed.
|Tuesday, July 5th, 2016|
|Brexit: Jean-Claude Juncker, please resign!
So, on the 23rd of June Britain voted to leave the European Union (EU). This affects trade, travel and law, not just in Britain, but in Ireland and the rest of Europe. It’s affected people I know as far away as Brazil and America. As for Ireland, Britain is Ireland's lead trading partner and the Irish are used to going back and forth between Britain and Ireland the whole time and some of the Irish live there, so this has us really screwed here in Ireland. Not to mention it totally fucks up Northern Ireland and even threatens to undermine the peace process there. Northern Ireland and its relationship to the rest of Ireland have been very dependent on the EU and in the British EU referendum, Northern Ireland was a region that voted for staying in the EU. But regions don’t get to stay even if they voted to. The idea was that Britain was to go or stay as a whole and Britain views Northern Ireland as a region of Britain. Taken out of the EU, Northern Ireland is fucked. This could lead to Irish terrorists bombing Britain again, in an attempt to get Northern Ireland out of British control and back into the EU. Here in Ireland, we are very sick of terrorism and I’m sure the British are too. Meanwhile, there’s Scotland, which voted to stay in the EU and which will probably now vote to leave Britain and rejoin the EU.
The reaction to all this in continental (mainland) Europe has sometimes been nasty. Some EU leaders want to take hard line with Britain in negotiations for terms of the final arrangement between Britain and the EU. Which is bad not just for Britain, but for Ireland as well. And now with Britain out of the picture, significant EU leaders now want to move the EU closer to being a superstate, subjugating national governments. This is a nightmare.
If I had to point to one person most responsible for all this it would be the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, who was previously Prime Minister of Luxembourg until he quit after a scandal. In May, Juncker said to European politicians "If you are listening to your national opinion you are not developing what should be a common European sense." In other words, ignore your voters, ignore democracy. The EU is not a democratic institution. So much of what is decided for the whole of the EU is decided by unelected bureaucrats. The power of the elected governments of the member states is gradually being eroded. It will be eroded all the faster if Juncker and his kind have their way. The EU sucks. I understand why Britain voted to leave. But we’re all too connected together now for anybody to leave without causing massive damage. Detaching a country is like trying to tear your guts out. We all need to stay in the EU and try to reform it from the inside.
Of course, that’s what British Prime Minister David Cameron tried to do before the referendum, and Juncker wouldn’t give him an inch in negotiating compromises for Britain. It’s precisely because Juncker wouldn’t compromise that so many people in Britain got fed up and voted to leave. Yet Juncker has the cheek to act offended that Britain voted to leave. And now, with Britain gone, he wants to create his superstate.
This is straight out of the Star Wars Prequels. In those, the Galactic Republic was corrupt and its power-hungry leader, Palpatine, transformed it into the tyrannical Galactic Empire. I see strong parallels with the EU and Juncker. David Cameron announced his resignation after Britain voted to leave, but what I wanted was for Juncker to resign. Since then there have been calls for just that. That’s what we need. Kick out Juncker, the hardline Eurocrat, and maybe Europe can have a more reasoned discussion about what direction we should go.
|Monday, July 4th, 2016|
|Some great female characters from some of my favorite films
Leia Organa from the Star Wars films
This character set the foundation for many who came later. Yes, she was a princess who got rescued, but she took over the rescue operation and to a considerable extent rescued herself. Later she single-handedly killed the monstrous crime lord Jabba the Hutt. Her greatest strength is in the spectacular performances Carrie Fisher gave for the character in the Star Wars Original Trilogy. Carrie put so much life and personality into the role and made her so relatable. Leia was nobody’s pushover and that’s due as much to the acting as to the writing. There are ways she’d have been written stronger if she was written now (rather than back in the 1970s and 1980s when the Star Wars Original Trilogy came out), but nobody could have played her stronger. Carrie Fisher was that good. Unfortunately, when they brought her back in the new film thirty years later, they wrote a much more subdued version of the character with less screen time and Carrie wasn’t given the chance to shine. I suspect prejudice against older women explains why the character and actress were treated this way. Nonetheless, one could still see the considerable depth of humanity and genuine emotion Carrie puts into roles.
Judge Cassandra Anderson and Ma-Ma from Dredd
Apparently, the vast majority of the people who’ve watched the 2012 film Dredd are men and that’s a pity, because the film has so much to offer women, specifically two great female characters. Judge Anderson is a trainee Judge (futuristic cop in a dark urban future) with telepathic powers. She works as Judge Dredd’s partner over the course of the film and she earns his respect, which doesn’t come easy. In many ways she’s the protagonist of the film, because Judge Dredd is a distant, unrelatable figure, while Anderson is highly relatable, particularly as played by Olivia Thirlby. Anderson grows in strength over the course of the film. She goes from being pushed by Dredd to kill a man she feels should be spared to later facing Dredd down and insisting on showing mercy when she feels it is appropriate (and he accepts her decision). She’s never rescued by Dredd but rescues herself and then rescues Dredd. Thirlby brings out both Anderson’s strength and her compassion and makes the character thoroughly believable. Ma-Ma is the villain of the film, a ruthless drug lord that the Judges must defeat. Lena Headey (Cersei in Game of Thrones) plays the character superbly as a soft-spoken villain who can be terrifying without shouting or engaging in macho posturing. Ma-Ma leads through strength of personality, not force of arms. She means business. These two characters are a big part of why the film is so good.
Valeria from Conan the Barbarian (1982)
I’m a fan of the work of fantasy writer Robert E Howard (1906-1936), the creator of Conan, but his portrayal of women often bugs me bigtime. He’s got so many weak, ineffectual women teamed with formidable males. But sometimes he wrote stronger women, sometimes very strong (see the story The Shadow of the Vulture), and it’s the stronger female characters the film draws on in creating the screen version of Valeria. As portrayed by Sandahl Bergman, Valeria is a thoroughly convincing warrior, moving with deadly grace and radiating self-assured competence. She’s unapologetically strong. She’s never rescued by Conan, but saves his life twice. She’s also a very human character with real feelings you can relate to. Just as Anderson is a big part of why Dredd is one of my favorite films, Valeria is a big part of why Conan is one of my favorite films.
|Why I hate Peeta Mallark: Thumbs Down on Mockingjay Part 2 (Hunger Games film 4)
Preamble: I only know the Hunger Games series from the movies, so I’m judging the characters on acting as well as the story.
There’s been a long practice in fiction, tv and film of hooking up some strong male character with some weak female character, totally imbalanced relationship. I’ve always hated that. It’s so sexist. I also hate it the other way around too –strong female character, weak male character. That version is sexist too.
Enter Peeta Mallark, the male love interest in the Hunger Games, a guy who just radiates wimp. He’s so bland he’s practically a nonentity and the actor’s performance is pathetic. But that wasn’t good enough for Hunger Games writer Suzanne Collins or the makers of the films. They had to make Peeta even weaker by making him a pawn of evil President Snow and then breaking him to bits by conditioning him to hate Hunger Games heroine Katniss like an idiot and trying to kill her, so in the final movie he’s got to go around handcuffed all time and can’t contribute properly most of the time. It’s not enough they have to make Katniss’s love interest a wimp, they have to totally disable him as well. This seems to be a product of a particular kind of faux feminist writing philosophy that shows so little confidence in its female lead that it feels the need to seriously weaken and disable her male love interest for fear she wouldn’t dominate enough if he wasn’t squashed. This was the deal in Dark Angel (tv show 2000-2002, created by James Cameron, starring Jessica Alba). You’d think the lead in that show (Max, Jessica Alba) being a superhuman super soldier would give them confidence that the non-super-powered boyfriend (Logan) wouldn’t overshadow her, but no, they had to smash him up and put him in a wheelchair just to make sure. Overkill, much? Reminds me of Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte’s novel (published 1847), in which Bronte had to blind the male love interest (Rochester) so her female lead (Jane) could manage him.
There’s one word for all this: Misandry, in other words anti-male sexism. Actually, two words, the second being misogyny, because it shows a criminal lack of confidence in the strength of the lead female characters involved. Anyway, it stinks.
In the Hunger Games series there’s another one of these bloody love triangles and Peeta’s rival for Katniss’s love is Gale, a guy who fits her a lot better than Peeta. Somebody once showed me an excerpt from one of the books, in which it is explained that Katniss needs somebody different from her, like Peeta, not somebody similar to her like Gale. Reality check: In the real world, it’s likes that attract, more often than not. Gale fits Katniss so much better than the pathetic Peeta and like her he’s a strong character. Peeta is not Katniss's partner. He's her pet. Gale is a partner to Katniss. To crush the Katiniss/Gale relationship they cynically write Gale coming out with some ruthless-sounding talk and implicate him in the death of Katniss’s sister. Low blow. It’s like they’re saying strong males are bad and the only good choice is a weak male. More sexism.
In fact, what they did to Gale reminds me of the AR (attempted rape) they made Spike commit in Buffy to show Spike was the Bad Boyfriend. The AR was both misogynistic and misandristic simultaneously. So is what they did to Gale, actually. I mean do they think their female character is so dumb she can’t choose between boyfriends without one of them being made responsible for killing her sister? Overkill again.
Stuff like this is what makes me prefer the Divergent series to the Hunger Games. Lower quality filmmaking with less intelligent storytelling, but no stupid love triangle and both the female lead (Tris) and her male love interest (Tobias) are strong characters. Though I did hear that in the third Divergent film (which I haven’t seen yet), Tris gets pushed into the background a bit. If that were so, it would be a pity.
Mockingjay 2 did suck in other ways too. The intelligence of the film series seemed reduced and so much of it was just meaningless action. Sucky film.
|Thursday, June 23rd, 2016|
Last week, the US saw a horrible homophobic terrorist attack take place in a gay nightclub called Pulse in Orlando, Florida, in which one guy shot dead 49 people and wounded 53 others. But the US government has yet again failed to pass measures for gun control. The US authorities put people who seem likely to commit a terrorist attack on the terrorist watchlist. As of now those people can still buy guns in the US. WTF? The Orlando killer was on the watchlist. His attack could have beeen prevented. The US has mass shootings on a regular basis. Isn't it time for a bit more gun control?
More recently, an English politician called Jo Cox was shot dead by a British nationalist nutjob, possibly over her support for Britain staying in the European Union. Britain has long been working up to a referendum on whether it stays in the EU.The referendum takes place today on the 23rd of June and I really hope they vote to stay in, because if Britain leaves it will be bad for Britain, bad for Ireland and bad for Europe.
Meanwhile the US election trundles on and we've got to worry whether that arsehole Trump will become the most powerful political leader in the world by the end of this year.
|Tuesday, March 1st, 2016|
The Oscars are a joke again. Leonardo DiCaprio winning is dreadful. Sorry, that's not a deserving actor. And Brie Larson grabbed the Oscar that should properly have gone to Saoirse Ronan. The Irish media have boasted about "two Irish wins" -the short film The Stutterer and Brie Larson because she got it for Room, which is an Irish-made film. But we can do better than shorts and Brie Larson isn't Irish. Mark Rylance won the best supporting actor award that should have gone to Tom Hardy and Brooklyn should have won best picture, not Spotlight. As for the DiCaprio Oscar, it probably should gone to Bryan Cranston, a far deeper actor. Alternatively it could have gone to Donald Trump for conning half of America into thinking he's genuine when he's the fakest thing ever.
|Friday, January 29th, 2016|
|Some great movies I saw in 2015
This is a Second World War film starring Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Pena and others. Hard-hitting and intense, with powerful, no-bullshit action, but also quality acting and a lot of humanity. It tells the story of an American tank crew led by Brad Pitt's character. It manages a satisfying balance between gritty and humanizing realism on one hand and stirring heroics on the other. It gets inside the tank and shows these people as human beings, warts and all. Powerful ending. And Brad Pitt, as always, is a byword for quality acting.
Complex, thoughtful science fiction film about the end of the world, the future of humanity, the passing of time, generations, loss, love and family. So gracefully made, with genuine intelligence and delicacy of feeling. Haunting. And Matthew McConaughey amazed me in this one. Never again will I sneer at him as just an actor who comes off smug. He delivered a powerhouse performance of real human depth. Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine and others turned in quality performances as well. Directed by Christopher Nolan, who has truly distinguished himself as a director.
The story of a none-too-smart boxer struggling with his career, with loss and with bringing up his daughter. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal in one of his best performances, perfectly portraying this struggling man-child. Forest Whitaker is great as his mentor, an interesting character who Whitaker plays with conviction. Rachel McAdams turns in a superb and very human performance as the main character's wife. The boxing scenes are powerful and gripping. The development in the main character's personality is well-charted. There is some level of cliche, but this is still a standout film. Gritty realism and deep humanity. Directed by Antoine Fuqua, a Black director in a time when we need more Black directors.
This film is about a politically-motivated attempt to suppress a murder investigation in the post-Stalinist Soviet Union, and one man's obsession with the truth and how it affects those around him. It is a powerful portrayal of the time and place, intense and with a feeling of paranoia. I generally don't like it when non-Russians are endlessly cast as Russians. It's not very authentic. But Tom Hardy pulls it off better than I've seen any other Westerner do. He gives a splendid performance, intense, fevered and complex. Noomi Rapace does a good job playing his wife and their characters' relationship is interesting. The film also stars Gary Oldman and Charles Dance shows up as well, both excellent actors. It is an intelligent film, but it was sneered at by critics because they took it as just a thriller and didn't find it exciting enough. I found it plenty exciting, but it is so much more than a thriller.
|Oscars 2016: Some Good Nominations
After all my cursing and swearing about the Oscars, there are still some acting nominations that I'd like to point to and celebrate. More of those than I expected. While there are certainly nominations that I feel are undeserved and some which I'm undecided on either way, I'd like to pick out four really good actors who were nominated.
Bryan Cranston for Trumbo
This guy is one of the best actors on the planet. He was Breaking Bad's secret weapon. His acting in that show blew me away. He was so intense, so relatable and so believable. And he reminds me eerily of another great actor, Harrison Ford. His nomination means, I think, that he's moved from being a highly respected tv actor to being a highly respected movie actor as well. I'm glad to see that happen. Trumbo hasn't come out here yet, but I've no doubt he's great in it.
Saoirse Ronan for Brooklyn
She was already nominated as a kid for Atonement, so this is her second nomination. A brilliant actress. Like Cranston, she's both intense and relatable (and intensely relatable). She's done so many amazing performances. She even turned in a spectacular, complex and supremely relatable turn in a film (The Host) based on a book by Stephenie Meyer, which really takes some doing. She's one of Ireland's best actors and I'm so glad to see her talent recognized.
Jennifer Lawrence for Joy
Lawrence has won an Oscar before, so maybe she doesn't need this as much as some others, but she's always a good bet for a quality performance, with sympathy and humanity, always relatable. She's been excellent in those Hunger Games films. They really should quit being snobby and nominate her for one of those.
Tom Hardy for The Revenant
This guy is quite unique. I'm still trying to figure out the magic that makes his acting work. He'd turned in so many great performances already before The Revenant -Bronson, Lawless, Child 44, The Drop, The Dark Knight Rises, etc. He gives these complicated performances that present you with characters who are hard to gauge or categorize in simple terms. His acting is outside the box and really quite incredible. I'm thrilled to see his acting recognized with an Oscar nomination.
So I guess there's some good to be found in the Oscars still.
|Sunday, January 24th, 2016|
|The Oscars and Race
It has been pointed out that out of twenty actors nominated for an Oscar this time none are black and none were black last year either. This has caused uproar, with accusations of racism. Personally I don’t like the idea that Oscar nominations should be doled out on a quota basis, x number for white people, x number for black people, x number for Hispanics, etc, but at the same time, not finding even one black actor to nominate out of twenty nomination slots two years in a row does stink of something rotten.
People such as Spike Lee and Will Smith have spoken out against the Oscars over the lack of black nominees, calling for a boycott. Well, I’m fine with boycotting the Oscars. They’re a load of shite. That said, I don’t like Spike Lee and I’ve seen it said that Will Smith might just be bitter because he didn’t get nominated for Concussion. Will Smith is a likable enough actor, but he’s a lightweight and I don’t see how I’d ever be in favour of him winning an Oscar. Still, they nominated Leonardo DiCaprio and I wouldn’t be in favour of him ever winning an Oscar either.
Two other black actors mentioned as ignored are Idris Elba for Beasts of No Nation and Michael B Jordan for Creed. Creed is a spinoff of the Rocky movies. I didn’t know we were taking Rocky movies seriously. That said, Jordan is a good actor and I don’t see why Sylvester Stallone should be nominated for the same film if Jordan isn’t (Stallone was nominated for it). Idris Elba, now here’s where the Academy seriously messed up. This guy’s a Class A actor. See him as Stringer Bell in The Wire if you doubt it. He even shone in the role of Heimdall, a Viking god, even though there’s nothing more white than a Viking god. I’m generally not enthusiastic about characters’ races being changed, but Elba really scored there.
On the topic of characters’ races being changed, one of the many awful things Marvel comics has done in recent years was make black X-Men character Bishop into an Australian Aborigine. So many years of him being black and suddenly they decide he’s an Aborigine? How insulting to both black people and Aborigines is that? It’s like saying that because both groups are dark-skinned there’s no difference between them, as if their own distinct identities don’t count. The two racial identities are not interchangeable and to think they are is the sort of racial chauvinism that assumes all dark-skinned people are the same. Certainly I think it was a good idea to introduce an Aborigine X-Men character, but that should have been a new character. Marvel has had no trouble successfully introducing new characters in the past, so I don’t see why they have to steal a character from African Americans. I enjoyed Bishop’s black identity and I don’t appreciate it being changed. I haven’t been following Marvel comics since the ‘90s and reading about things like this make me glad I dumped them.
Michael B Jordan was involved a case of race-change casting himself recently, playing Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four film. Johnny Storm has been white since he was invented in the early ‘60s, so I think he should be played by a white actor. That said, Jordan did do a good job in the role. As much as anybody did a good job in that film. It was a dreadful film. Race-changing characters is an issue I have mixed feelings about. It is important to provide more roles for minorities, which is why they do it, and while I generally like adaptions to remain faithful to the material they’re based on, a good actor can make it work, like with Idris Elba’s marvellous Heimdall. Tara Thornton was a minor character in the pathetic Sookie Stackhouse novels that the excellent True Blood HBO series was based on. In the books she was white, but they cast a black actress in the role, Rutina Wesley, and she brought the character to life spectacularly. It was a resounding success.
Anyway, back to Idris Elba. Beasts of no Nation, the film he should have been nominated for, is serious business, all about child soldiers in Africa, not a light matter. If the Academy wants to celebrate serious films, this would be a good one to recognize. I can’t see how actors such as Eddie Redmayne, Matt Damon, Mark Rylance, Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale or Leonardo DiCaprio are more deserving than Idris. Personally I’d never give Oscars to any of those actors if it was my choice. And some of them already have (undeserved) Oscars. So maybe the Academy can stop nominating a bunch of undeserving white actors and add a few black actors into the mix?
All the above said, it’s not true that no minorities were nominated in the acting categories. Jennifer Jason Leigh was nominated and she’s Jewish. It’s commonplace nowadays to try to deny the minority status of Jews. It’s part of pretending all Jews are rich (many are poor), part of denying that anti-Semitism is serious (people are killed for being Jewish in various places around the globe these days) and part of denying the (genetically-proven) Middle Eastern heritage of Jews. When racists on the net were enraged at the casting of black actor John Boyega in a lead role in the new Star Wars, it was big news, but less has been heard about the anti-Semitic abuse heaped on an another star of the new Star Wars, Adam Driver. Driver is not Jewish, but anti-Semites decided he was and had a fit about it. Some things never change. On the John Boyega topic, his performance put the racists to shame –he made his character the best new character in the new Star Wars, giving the character real humanity, relatability and charm.
But as for the Oscars, it would be best if everybody turned their back on them for good. It’s so offensive that they are taken as a measure of quality when they so often get it horribly wrong.
|Friday, January 15th, 2016|
|Oscars all over again
So the bloody Oscars are coming up. Sometimes somebody deserving gets nominated (such as Saoirse Ronan or Tom Hardy), but so many of the awards and nominations tend to go to undeserving films, actors, directors, etc. Meryl Streep has bagged so much in that regard and I've never seen a performance of hers that I'd consider good. Meanwhile, Harrison Ford, who puts more depth of humanity into his facial expressions than any actor, has only been nominated once. The great Peter O'Toole went to his grave without an Oscar, as did Ireland's greatest actor, Richard Harris. Miracle of miracles, Sandra Bullock won an Oscar some years back. I thought she was too sympathetic and human to get one. But Gina Gershon has faded into obscurity without her great work on films such as Bound being recognized. Samuel L Jackson should have won an Oscar by now, but hasn't. Now it looks like Leonardo DiCaprio will win an Oscar. As far as I can tell his acting consists of two facial expressions, annoying smugness and and self-important sulking. If he gets an Oscar it will be a new low for the Academy.
Let's remember, the Oscars aren't about merit. To get nominated and to win an Oscar, an Oscar campaign has to be mounted for you, costing millions. Sort of like a presidential campaign, and we know what those are like.
The Oscars are a pile of stinking elephant dung and that's it. If somebody gets an Oscar it doesn't mean they're any good. If somebody doesn't get an Oscar it doesn't mean they're not.
Harrison Ford should have been nominated this year for his riveting turn as Han Solo in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but the elitism of the Academy meant that was an impossibility. I have mixed feelings about the film, but Harrison's performance was magical and his ability to effortlessly slide back into the character after an absence of over thirty years was very impressive.
There are some good actors and films nominated this year, but there are too many great ones being overlooked and too many undeserving ones nominated. The Oscars never fail to piss me off.
|Thursday, November 26th, 2015|
|Mad Max: Fury Road, Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Age of Adaline
I saw the old Mad Max films years ago, before I knew what sort of person Mel Gibson was. They were interesting films. When I heard a new one was being made with Gibson replaced by Tom Hardy I marked it as a film to see. Hardy is a splendid actor with real acting magic. I've seen him put in riveting performances in films such as Bronson, Lawless, Child 44 and The Dark Knight Rises. Even early in his career he gave an impressive performance as a creepy Star Trek villain in Star Trek: Nemesis. His acting is relatable, unique and powerful. In Mad Max he doesn't give his best performance. He's a bit too understated. But it's still damn good acting. The critics preferred Charlize Theron's performance as Furiosa. Usually I dislike Theron's acting. This time I can admit she did a good job. But Hardy's performance was better, deeper, more relatable. Visually and atmospherically the film is stunning, really beautiful. The action got quite silly sometimes, as often happens with modern action films, but quite a lot of it was really good anyway. The film is quite intense and hard-hitting. Overall a satisfying film. There's going to be sequel, with Hardy.
I wasn't impressed with Joss Whedon's original Avengers film, which I found cheap, dumb and uninvolving, and I've been disappointed by the majority of superhero films I've seen, so I wasn't expecting much from Avengers: Age of Ultron. To my amazement it proved to be quite good. Sure, there's silly overdone action and silly politics, but it's a surprisingly good film. It works. The acting was generally good. The heart of the film is Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, relatable and strong. When I heard that Paul Bettany was going to be cast as the Vision, an old favorite from my days of reading my uncles' 1970s Marvel comics, I thought it sounded like dreadful miscasting. To my surprise, Bettany was excellent in the role. He nailed it spot on. Wasn't totally thrilled with the acting for Wanda, the Scarlet Witch, though. Elizabeth Olsen even carelessy dropped her cod-Eastern European accent in one scene. But otherwise I liked the acting. Captain America's self-righteous moralizing gets a bit much at times, but I guess that's what he's there for. Linda Cardellini turning up as Hawkeye's wife was a blast from the past -Freaks and Geeks is over 15 years back now. I did like how Joss tried to build up Hawkeye and make him more interesting. After all, Jeremy Renner is a fine actor and deserves something to work with. Black Widow's romance with Bruce Banner felt a bit forced, but I didn't mind it. Mark Ruffalo is very sympathetic as Banner. He's been turning in good performances in films for many years. I think Thor was handled slightly better here than in the previous Avengers film, but clearly Joss doesn't really know how to use the character to his maximum. Still, I enjoyed Hemsworth's performance. A very underrated actor. See Rush if you doubt it. It was good to see Samuel L Jackson again as Fury. One of the better actors in Hollywood. Coby Smulders continues to be convincing in her role. I don't know who her agent is now, but in the old days she used to share an agent with Brendan Fehr of Roswell and Carly Pope of Popular. A lot of talent in that agency, then. We get guest appearances from some characters of the greater Avengers universe, such as Idris Elba (always effective) as Heimdall and Don Cheadle (likable as always) as War Machine. Sadly no Natalie Portman, though. Seeing Aaron Taylor-Johnson playing a real superhero was kind of funny after seeing him play a wannabe twice in the excellent Kick-Ass films. Another familiar actor for me was Irish actress, Kerry Condon, from HBO's Rome, as the voice of Iron Man's computer Friday. I was wondering why the computer sounded like it had an Irish accent, so I looked it up, only to find it was Kerry. Being a Whedon film, the movie has some notable touches of Whedonesque humour and this time they worked well. Thanos turned up for the second time in a Marvel film and he looks exactly like he looked in the comics. Now that's a scary villain. Anyway, I was happy with this film.
The Age of Adaline is a film about a woman born in 1908 who stops aging while she's still young and keeps changing her identity to stop people catching on to her immortality. A romance complicates this, particularly when, in the present day, she meets an old flame from the '60s. The film touches nicely on themes of time passing and loss of things to time. It doesn't make the most of its subject, but it did enough for me to find it interesting and enjoyable. Blake Lively plays the lead character. I don't have much respect for Gossip Girl, but I like Lively. She's got a dignified maturity of manner that was appropriate for this character and she makes her quite relatable. Her love interest is played by Michiel Huisman, Daario Naharis from Game of Thrones. Harrison Ford plays Michiel's father. He doesn't appear until halfway through the film, but he gets some good material and turns in an excellent performance. Ford is pure movie magic, one of the most underrated actors of our time. Not a brilliant film, but a good one, worth seeing.
Edited in later: Just rewatched The Age of Adaline and it was better the second time around. It's a very worthwhile film. Blake Lively and Harrison Ford are splendid in it and Michiel Huisman and Ellen Burstyn are damn good too. There are some interesting character dynamics, notably between Lively and Ford's characters. The themes of time, mortality, family, loss, etc that the movie deals with give it extra interest. I very much recommend this film.
|Sunday, November 15th, 2015|
|We are all French today
I'm sure everybody's heard how on Friday night, Isis jihadi terrorists murdered 127 people in Paris, with bomb and gun. We have to stand in soldarity with the French people. This could happen anywhere. This could happen to you.
These terrorists are trying to make our world a nightmare. They've already turned large areas of Iraq and Syria into hellzones under their rule. They must be stopped. They want to conquer a large part of the world (or, in fact, as much as they can get hold of) and turn it into a totalitarian religious state under their brutal rule. They've institutionalized rape, they mass-murder, they torture, they crucify, they behead. They must be fought.
|Friday, July 24th, 2015|
|Screw this damn election -Make Hillary president and have done with it
Just a few years after the world was a captive audience for all this bullshit, we have it all over again. In this US presidential election, not only is there a line-up of ridiculous Republican would-be presidents, there's a line-up of ridiculous Democrat ones too. And worse yet, we've got Donald Trump, a perfect example of the sort of rich person who gives rich people a bad name, a guy with tons of money, none of which he deserves to have, money he's misusing to fund his hijacking of the US presidential election just for shallow self-promotion. Not to mention for racism, sneering at torture victims and giving out telephone numbers of people he doesn't like.
Everybody knows Hillary is going to win this thing. And she should win this thing. So why do we have to go through all this ridiculous show and posturing (and giving Donald Trump a chance to publicly wank off)? Just make Hillary president and forget having an election. It would be so much better than making the world go through two years of Donald Trump's posturing, stone age rightwingers and loony lefties.
Re Trump: If only he would SHUT THE FUCK UP. I can't stand this guy. He's not a real person. He's just a carefully orchestrated media image. Apparently his family's name was originally Drumpf. That sounds like a fart. Donald Drumpf.
Wake me up when it's 2017.
|Wednesday, July 15th, 2015|
|Blast from the past: My view of the Buffy/Angel relationship, as of a decade ago.
The Buffy/Angel Relationship:
An old guy with a history of drunken womanizing, serial killing, sadistic cruelty and longterm two-timing is living as a vagrant on the streets. He's found by a weird little guy who shows him a teenage girl walking down the school steps in a skimpy outfit. The old guy is fixated and stalks her, hangs around outside her house, follows her from her home city to the town she moves to.
Eventually, she meets him, when she finds him following her in an alleyway at night. He leers "I don't bite". Gives her jewellery. Plays mysterious. Keeps playing mysterious from then on, turning up at odd times to make cryptic statements. Plays sensitive and manages to get into her bedroom. They kiss and he freaks out. She finds out about his past. They nonetheless keep contact. He keeps turning up. Eventually, they start dating, him acting as if he's a teen. He plays it up real sensitive and romantic and eventually she's ready to have sex with him. She's still underage and he's really old, but they have sex anyway.
After that, he starts acting weird, says deliberately hurtful things to her, goes psycho. He's been acting stalkery all the time, but now it's in full swing. He's all over the place. Leaves pictures of her around. Leaves flowers mysteriously at her door at night. Sneaks into her bedroom while she's sleeping. Stalks her friends. Kills their pets. Kills some of her friends. Threatens to kill her. Pesters her mother. Meanwhile, he's fooling around with the longterm girlfriend of a guy who's in a wheelchair. But the wheelchair guy gets better and helps the girl to do something about her old guy stalker. In the end, the old guy seems to be gone.
Months later, he's back. He acts psycho and then a bit more normal. She hangs around with him. She's dating another teen, but she's now got an unhealthy fixation on her ex-stalker. Her new boyfriend breaks up with her because of her weird behavior. She's keeping the old guy's return (and her new involvement with him) secret from her friends. But they find out and they're really bothered. But she keeps hanging around with him. He goes through a suicidal phase. Then they start dating again. Then after a while, he breaks up with her, calling their relationship a "freakshow", saying he doesn't want to be with her. He leaves town, breaking her heart.
Months later, she (by now 18) is out of high school and in college. He comes back to town to stalk her for a bit and then heads back to LA, which is where he's moved. In LA, he's been lurking around in the night, hanging out in bars, looking for people to kill, thinks he's a vigilante of some sort, calls himself a private detective and claims he "helps the helpless". She follows him to LA. They argue but then get involved again, plenty of sex. He breaks it off again, hurting her again. Now suffering memory loss, she heads back to her town.
In her home town, she gets involved with a normal guy, tries to recover from her involvement with the old guy. She eventually makes another visit to LA months later and argues with the old guy, who follows her back to her town and attacks her boyfriend. She argues with him and sends him back to LA, telling him that next time he has something to say to her he should do it by phone. He goes back to LA and doesn't return until most of a year later. Her mother has just died and he turns up by the grave, kisses her. Then he heads back to LA. They meet again briefly, some months later.
And then, well over a year after that (which is about 4 years after their original break-up during her high school years), he's back in town. She's involved with another guy and deeply in love, but the old guy wants her back with him. He's been involved with another woman, obsessed even, but that's all forgotten, now that he's back to his old obsession. He gives her jewellery again and kisses her. But she sends him back to LA and stays with the guy she loves.
Later, the old guy is shocked to be told (by one of her friends, who's visiting LA) that she doesn't trust him any more. Later yet, he sends someone to stalk her for him. And when that doesn't work out, he tries to go after her himself. Though that doesn't work out for him either. He's still obsessed with her. But I don't think she should have anything to do with him, do you?
(I wrote this about a decade back, so it's not up to date with the bullshit from the comics, but I don't think my view of B/A has changed much.)
|Wednesday, July 1st, 2015|
|The third Hobbit film and musings on action in cinema: A rant
I saw the third Hobbit film a while back (The Battle of the Five Wankers, or whatever it's called). It's incredible how Peter Jackson has managed to turn Tolkien's finely-honed little book into a big, loud extravaganza of really dumb action (three of them to be precise). I recently saw American Sniper, a fine film by a fine director (Clint Eastwood), and it had action scenes and they were powerful, but they were handled perfectly, with no overdone nonsense of the sort that is common in modern cinematic action scenes. Part of the difference is that American Sniper is a serious film, while Jackson's Hobbit films are most definitely not. Why does Peter Jackson seemingly think fantasy can't be done seriously? Look at Game of Thrones. There's fantasy done as serious art (no matter how many sex scenes it has). The show managed in episode 8 of season 5 to give us a powerful battle aganst the undead that was both great action and emotionally resonant art. You won't find that in Jackson's Hobbit films. They're just dumbed-down entertainiment with no finesse, class, restraint or sense. About the only good thing in those films was some of casting, which was a reverse situation from Jackson's Lord of the Rings films, which were well-made but had bad casting.
We seem to be under a deluge of dumb action films these days. I've spoken about this repeatedly here, but I'll try to spell it out more now. In so many modern action films we get endless, unnecessarily drawn-out action scenes of jumping, running, explosions, fights dragging on tediously forever with endless reversals, twirling combatants and balletic fighting. Every attempt is made to make fight scenes as extravagant as possible, with as much showy bullshit as possible. Action scenes should be hard, fast, realistic and to the point. There are exceptions to the requirement that they be realistic, such as the gunfight scenes in Sergio Leone's Dollars trilogy (in which the heroes are basically superhumanly fast gunfighters), but those scenes were certainly hard, fast and to the point. So many modern action films seem to be structured around overdone rollercoaster action bullshite. The story and characters in those films seem mainly to be an excuse for the brainless action scenes. The success of such films seems to prove that somebody likes this stuff. God knows why.
I admit I don't come to action films purely for action entertainment. I come to them for a dramatic, moving, epical storyline, an appreciation of the ancient heroic tradition that has marked the literature and legends of so much of humanity for eons. It's the heroic tradition I want, including also variations in anti-heroic, self-critical and self-mocking forms. I'm not looking for endless, drawn-out action for its own sake, aimed at merely entertaining people who aren't looking for anything meaningful. I find it bewildering that people find that stuff entertaining. To me it's just tedious, annoying and frustrating. The action scenes in Iron Man 3 are a classic example. Such empty, meaningless crap. Action, done right, can have a lot of emotional resonance and can have real artistic value. But done like in Iron Man 3 it has zero value. I'll never understand the success of that film or ones like it. When I watch a film like Iron Man 3 or Revenge of the Sith or the Wolverine films or the Avengers film by Joss Whedon or some painful Transformers film or that godforsaken A-Team film or 300: The Rise of an Empire, not to mention the above-discussed Hobbit films, I feel like I've been served up a plate full of somebody's vomit. And my feelings are "I asked for a film, not this puke! Give me a goddman film!"
It's bad enough that such filmmaking should be so widespread and so successful, but for somebody to render Tolkien's excellent little book that way is a major artistic crime and a sign of disrespect. That style of filmmaking couldn't be farther from the spirit and style of the Hobbit.
And a personal pet peeve: I never liked Legolas, since I first read The Lord of the Rings thirty years ago. And Orlando Bloom is an actor I find quite uninspiring, wooden, ineffectual. The combination of the character and actor is quite unbearable. That needn't have been a problem for a film adaption of The Hobbit, because LEGOLAS ISN'T IN THE BOOK. But Peter Jackson had to put him in and portray him as some sort of super-ninja Mary Sue. It made me SICK.
|Thursday, June 18th, 2015|
|Charleston Shooting and Hate Crimes
Recent news is that a young white man opened fire in a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, USA, killing nine people. And he got away. Who knows what he might do if he's not caught? He'd better be caught fast, but I amn't very concerned that he's caught alive.
This incident comes on the heels of an incident a while back in the same state, in nearby North Charleston, in which a white police officer named Michael Slager was caught on video shooting a fifty year old unarmed black man, Walter Scott, in the back, eight times, before planting his taser on Scott's corpse so as to claim the man had run off with his taser, some sort of attempt to create an excuse for the killing.
Hate crimes seem to be on the increase in the Western world this year, considering the Charleston church incident comes in the same six months as two murderous attacks on Jews in continental Europe. The antisemitic incidents highlighted a rise in antisemitism in Europe and the South Carolina incidents are part of a wave of anti-black killings that have hit America in the past year (the other cases being cases of white police officers killing unarmed black men, or in one case, a 12 year old boy).
Can we stop this trend somehow? Because we must.
The police caught the guy. His name is Dylann Roof and he's 21. Not only is he a mass-murdering racist, but his parents can't spell "Dylan". I'm wary of the death penalty generally and I'm glad my country doesn't have it, but I think it fits as a reaction to some particularly extreme crimes. I think it fits in this case.