Tag Archives: Magic

MARVEL AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019) – MOVIE REVIEW

MARVEL AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019) – MOVIE REVIEW

Directed by: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo

Produced by: Kevin Feige

Screenplay: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

Based on The Avengers by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

Starring: Robert Downey Jnr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Bradley Cooper, Josh Brolin and many, many more.

Music by: Alan Silvestri

Cinematography: Trent Opaloch

Edited by: Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Schmidt

Production Company: Marvel Studios

**RELATIVELY SPOILER FREE REVIEW**

So, we are finally here; assembled and ready to experience the last battle in this particular phase of Marvel films. Twenty-two movies released over an eleven year period now culminate in the adroitly named: Avengers: Endgame. While they may have all the money in the multiverse backing their superhero endeavours, Marvel deserve much credit for releasing so many great films within the eleven year cycle. Yes, of course many have followed a tried and tested genre formula, however, their legion of production staff, producers, directors, writers and actors did whatever it took to entertain the public.

This final film was set up perfectly by what preceded. I mean, the dust had not even settled at the end of Infinity War, and I, along with many others, were agog at the crushing defeat suffered by our heroes and Earth, at the click of Thanos’ finger and thumb. Thanos had achieved the impossible and obtained the six soul stones and eradicated fifty per cent of the population. This tragic genocide included many of the Avengers we had grown to root for and Endgame begins where its predecessor finished. Here we find a depleted and dejected Avengers team on Earth and a barely surviving Tony Stark in space facing the abyss. Collectively they are hurting, grieving and feeling vengeful.

The sombre and angry tone to the opening of the film was something I was drawn to. Emotionally it made sense to, within the first hour, colour the film with a slower, mournful pace and darker mood. This is encapsulated in the character of Hawkeye, who is using his special set of skills for destructive and nihilistic purposes. Similarly, Thor is twisted into a self-pitying anti-god; and this plays out with both surprise and humour. Of course, the remaining Avengers are not going to lie down for three hours in a reflective study of sorrow. Because, they want their friends and the population of Earth back; and they will do whatever it takes to achieve this goal.

The middle part of the film is where the narrative really gathers pace. Once Stark, Bruce Banner and Scott Lang/Ant Man discover a means with which to somehow alter the tragic events, we are thrown into many imaginative and entertaining set-pieces. I was so pleased Paul Rudd was back as Ant-Man in a key role. He is such a likeable and funny actor who always brings sharp comedy timing and warmth to his roles. Further, like Lang, Karen Gillen as Nebula, while seemingly a secondary character, plays an important role in Endgame. In more ways than one Nebula becomes a vital cog in the intricate and multi-stranded plotting.

The various Avengers including the aforementioned and: Black Widow, Captain America, War Machine and Rocket etc. all splinter to different places in order to achieve their mission. Here the film really finds a perfect pace and stride, delivering a series of brilliant action scenes. Indeed, Endgame is full of brilliant cross-cutting call-backs to the previous Marvel films; presenting a multitude of ‘Easter Egg’ or inter-textual moments.

Safe to say the action unfurls rapidly but the writers also have the confidence to slow the pace and allow several key emotional moments for certain characters. But, mostly there is action and fighting and humour and just so many memorable moments of a light and dark tone. My personal favourite was during Captain America’s mission; this plot strand just sang and hit so many high notes.

I am striving hard to avoid spoilers here, so all I can add is that the Marvel production team deserve so much credit for bringing this multi-stranded story home in such a thrilling fashion. I just loved the direction they took it in regard to the temporal, spatial and universal narrative choices. They assembled, pushed and pulled the formula in certain ways which surprised and kept the characters vibrant and fresh. The tonal balance was positive and only ever slightly threatened to slip into parody; mostly with Chris Hemsworth’s depressed rendition of Thor. My only gripe was I felt Brie Larson’s effervescent Captain Marvel was sadly under-used.

Unsurprisingly, the final gigantic battle sequences were expected but still delivered on a massive scale. Thanos is, and was, a mighty enemy and the last war against him and his hordes were full of epic surprise, pulsating action and heartfelt emotion. Undeniably, it was a most spectacular and moving climax. Thus, overall, I am actually shocked at how much I enjoyed a bunch of superheroes made of computer pixels larking about on a big screen. Maybe, however, given the time, money and energy spent over the last eleven years by the filmmakers and audience alike, it was, like Thanos, inevitable!

Mark: 9.5 out of 11

FAMILIARITY AND NOSTALGIA IN THE FANTASY FILM GENRE 

FAMILIARITY AND NOSTALGIA IN THE FANTASY FILM GENRE

“Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy.”

Walt Disney Company

Once upon a Time. . . four simple words which immediately conjure a whole host of possibilities and eventualities in literature and by extension, cinema. In her book A Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale, Marina Warner attests that fairy tales are “Stories that try to find the truth and give us glimpses of greater things. . . this is the principle that underlies their growing presence in writing, art and cinema.” My own personal experience growing up was of reading fairy tales, myths and legends. Indeed, such stories formed a narrative backbone to my childhood and opened my mind to all manner of worlds of monsters, magicians, Kings, Queens, dragons, spiders, ghosts, gold-haired heroines, muscular heroes, acts of love and war, epic journeys; as well as breath-taking battles and feats of unimaginable compassion and bravery.

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Such an education conditioned my young mind for an array of imaginative potentialities and in later life my love of fairy tales and stories would bleed through into my love of cinema. But how does one make the leap off the page onto the screen, making that which is fantastic believable to our eyes, hearts and minds? In this article I would like to consider certain ways we have been conditioned and how storytellers develop their narratives in the fantasy genre. How does the unbelievable become believable in our minds? There are many ways in which this is achieved but I would like to focus on two methods which are familiarity and nostalgia.

How does one define fantasy cinema?  One could certainly posit the notion that the fantasy genre deals with fantastic themes including: magic, the supernatural, myth, folklore, exotic worlds, and fairy tales; and for the benefit of this article can encapsulate science fiction, horror and superhero movie genres. Essentially, fantasy is that which is not of our perceived rendition of reality, enabling escape into the extraordinary. Fantasy cinema is not simply dragons and wizards but more far-reaching as their stories cast their magic from childhood to adulthood. I myself recall the day when I first saw The Wizard of Oz (1939) as Dorothy’s journey from Oz literally took my breath away. Moreover, only recently I marvelled at the fantastic images and comedy of Thor: Ragnarok (2017) on the big screen.

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Lew Hunter’s book Screenwriting 434 is a fine research tool for all budding writers. He opines, “You have to make the audience care about your on-screen people and their dilemmas, and when that occurs you’ve created believable unbelievabilty. Audiences will not just get with a film that starts with what they perceive as unbelievable unbelievability.” Thus, this is an integral rule in getting the audience to suspend disbelief and come into a fantastic world. I mean for every Lord of the Rings Trilogy, which in my view brilliantly brought to life J. R. R. Tolkien’s incredible literary behemoth, you get many films which fail to achieve this. Peter Jackson obviously used, at the time, state of the art special effects to achieve his vision of the book but more important, in my view, is establishing the world and characters in the audience’s psychology and making the unbelievable believable.

As aforementioned there are many other movies which do not arguably work as fantasy films. Of course these are subjective choices but offerings such as: The Island of Dr Moreau (1996), Judge Dredd (1995), Batman and Robin (1997), Van Helsing (2004), Cat Woman (2004) The Lady in the Water (2006), Eragon (2008), Foodfight (2012), Terminator: Genisys (2015), Death-Note (2017), to name a few, could all be argued to have failed to make the unbelievable believable. Be it the poor writing, bad production choices or a lack of cogency in the presentation of the rules of their respective worlds, these are a few examples of movies which arguably did not work. But what of the films that successfully connect with our imagination. How do they achieve that?

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Disney Studios has been presenting animated and live action films for close to a century now. As well as developing short animated films centred on iconic characters such as Mickey Mouse, Disney Studios used established texts too. Their first short was Little Red Riding Hood (1922) and subsequently they would win an Oscar for The Three Little Pigs (1933). Thus, the Disney template of utilising familiar stories from folklore or fairy tales was born and since then they have produced many, many such short and feature length productions such as: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Sleeping Beauty (1959) and The Little Mermaid (1989). The suspension of narrative disbelief is achieved because innately we are accustomed to the idea of talking animals or wicked witches or half-woman-half-fish characters as they were familiarised to us in infancy. Indeed, as famous fantasy writer Neil Gaiman confirms, “We encounter fairy tales as kids, in retellings or panto. We breathe them. We know how they go.” Thus, believable unbelievability is achieved due to conditioning as children with the extraordinary. Likewise, our acclimatization with commercial products when growing up, including toys such as: Lego, Transformers, Barbie and the Pixar’s ingenious Toy Story trilogy tap into this familiarity model and the child’s dream that perhaps our toys can actually come to life.

As we grow older though many of us can become cynical and lose the innocence and imagination we had when younger. Thus, the challenge for filmmakers is to make not only children but also adults believe in the fantastic and the unbelievable. One way of doing this is through nostalgia or harking back to narrative conventions established from yesteryear. Academic Frederick Jameson wrote in his seminal essay Postmodernism and Consumer Society, that society entered a key cultural period from around the 1960s onwards where modernism had given rise to postmodernism and that originality per se was being replaced by emulation; more specifically satire, parody and pastiche. He goes on to suggest “. . . individualism and personal identity is a thing of the past. . . stylistic innovation is no longer possible and all that is left is the imitate dead styles.” A cinematic element of pastiche he argues is the “nostalgia film” which consists, not of original narrative, but of film moments and narratives from the previous films.

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Indeed, one of the most successful cinema franchises of all time is George Lucas’ series which began with, Star Wars (1977). While containing many original elements in regard to the fictional monsters, creatures, planets, space ships, weapons, heroes and villains it’s structurally very familiar, featuring the archetypal hero rescuing a “Princess in a Tower” narrative.  Even the “Once Upon a Time. . .” like beginning is echoed in the now classic opening text: “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. . .” Moreover, the expositional crawl which then follows is inspired by the early Saturday cinema sci-fi adventures such as: Flash Gordon. Lucas’ genius in using such nostalgic devices creates a clear pattern of familiarity and mental preparation for the fantasy elements yet to come in the story. Lastly, and less obvious, Star Wars also draws heavily, in terms of structure and characters, from Akira Kurosawa’s classic film Hidden Fortress (1958).

Similarly, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is equally adept at creating a magical world out of nostalgia and familiarity. The films are all structured around the school year and generally begin with an opening set-piece set in a mundane suburban area before slowly introducing the fantasy elements. Of course, some of us may not be so nostalgic for our school years but we are familiar with the educational structure. The Harry Potter books and films are a creative stroke of genius creating both emotional connections for children and adults. Children see the characters of Harry, Hermione and Ron as reflection and wish to emulate such characters; while adults can look back on their school days nostalgically and perhaps also enjoy the magical adventures from a position of halcyon positivity. What Star Wars and Harry Potter both offer is a means to project some incredibly fantastical elements but make it believable by setting their worlds in a recognizable environment such as school or through the stylistic signifiers like the opening Star Wars text.

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Ultimately, most of us love reading or going to the cinema in order to be entertained and escape from our reality. However, if the writer or filmmakers have not successfully created a suspension of disbelief we as an audience will fail to enter their fantasy world. Quality writing, production design, costumes, make-up, performance are of course integral to ensuring we believe what we read and see on the screen. However, as I have attested films also work on a more psychological level of drawing us in using methods such as familiarity and nostalgia to tell their stories. We may not even be aware of this but to make the unbelievable believable it paradoxically must connect with our prior knowledge and experiences, especially those we had as children.

*Originally posted on http://www.sothetheorygoes.com

SIX OF THE BEST #7 – GAME OF THRONES: SCENE STEALERS!

SIX OF THE BEST #7 – GAME OF THRONES: SCENE STEALERS!

Game of Thrones is one of the biggest literary and TV phenomena of recent years. It has entered Western cultures’ psyche offering a glut of: plotting, death, sex, class-divide, war, fantastical beasts and devilish sorcery!  I think the main strength lies though in the wonderful writing that stems first from George R.R. Martin’s behemoth tomes and the incredible production values of the show. Plus, the casting, acting and directing is more often than not better than most cinema offerings.

With Season Seven almost upon us I have been re-watching the show on Sky Atlantic and decided to run a few blog items over the next few weeks dedicated to Game of Thrones.  Today, I choose six characters that for me have excelled in essentially supporting roles and usually end up stealing scenes from the main characters. One could argue that some of these are now main characters, however, in an ensemble cast I consider Tyrion, Daenerys, Cersei, Jamie, Arya, Sansa, Bran, Jon Snow, Varys and – due to his heavy plot machinations – Petyr Baelish etc. to arguably be the main characters. Well, of the ones who are still alive that is!

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**


BRONN – JEROME FLYNN

“Give me ten good men and some climbing spikes. I’ll impregnate the bitch.”

Bronn initially appeared in the first season and championed for Tyrion Lannister when he faced certain death in the Eyrie. Subsequently his Northern working class “charm”, philandering and brilliant fighting skills have provided many scene-stealing moments as Jerome Flynn presents a likeable and honest sword-for-hire-killer to a tee.

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JAQEN H’GHAR/THE FACELESS MAN – TOM WLASCHIBA  

“Help was not promised. Only death. Give a name, any name.”

Another assassin but this time one that is more mysterious and fantastical. Jaqen first appeared as a “tutor” of death and magical helper to Arya as he aided her escape from a Harrenhal bolthole. Subsequently, we saw nothing of him until seasons 5 and 6 when he takes Arya into his Braavos school for assassins and teaches her to become a “Faceless Man”, well women, or person of non-face and non-gendered persuasion.

jaqen

SANDOR “THE HOUND” CLEGANE – RORY McCANN

“Any man dies with a clean sword, I’ll rape his fucking corpse!”

He may have a burnt face and rotten murderous soul but I love the Hound. First seen as part of the Lannister’s sworn swords he bailed at the battle of Blackwater due to the wildfire burning bodies, ships and the horizon. After which he became a Ronin, walking the land and attempting some kind of symbolic redemption. Left for dead by Brienne of Tarth (who should be on this list) we thought we’d never see him again. But in the last season he was back; swearing, murderising and spitting out brutal one-liners with disgusting joy!


WALDER FREY
– DAVID BRADLEY

“Stark, Tully, Lannister, Baratheon. Give me one good reason why I should waste a single thought on any of you?”

The brilliant character actor David Bradley plays the nastiest, grim, old, sexist, racist, murderous bastard perfectly. You are both squirming in shock and then grimacing in horror at the words which leave his gnarled mouth. Of course, Robb Stark and his mother will never forget Walder Frey as he was the host at the infamous Red Wedding; which has a reception no one will ever forget.

YARA GREYJOY – GEMMA WHELAN

“Anything with a cock is easy to fool.”

Sister of the tragic Theon Greyjoy, Yara is the one with the proper balls in the family. Her character is first seen in Season 2, when from the start she tricks her brother with an incestuous practical joke. Yara impresses with her no nonsense attitude, intelligence and fearless confidence throughout as Gemma Whelan instils her character with a playful, yet fierce and probably psychotic depth and determination.

Game-of-Thrones-Season-4-Episode-6-Yara

YGRITTE – ROSE LESLIE

“I’ll cut your pretty cock right off and wear it round me neck.”

Ygritte was a feisty, fiery but sharp player who belied her Wildling roots to develop a passion and love for Jon Snow amidst the cold landscape beyond the wall.  Initially taken prisoner by Jon she turns the tables and eventually the two become entwined. Even watching today the chemistry between the two actors on-screen is very powerful as Rose Leslie brings real passion to the role. Moreover, their relationship also propels Jon’s softening in attitude toward the Wildling people; ultimately forging a powerful alliance.

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THE PRESTIGE – CLASSIC FILM REVIEW

THE PRESTIGE (2006) – CLASSIC FILM REVIEW

**YOU KNOW THE DRILL – SPOILERS!**

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With Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (2014) orbiting the cinemas this week I thought I’d look back at the film which he made in between breathing life into the Batman franchise.   No doubt Nolan is an important genre filmmaker and as his budgets have got more grandiose then so have his ideas.  I just love that he is interested in attempting to make intelligent blockbusters where ideas, character and theme lead the story rather than rely simply on action, explosions and special effects (no offence Michael Bay.)

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Memento (2000) was a stunning and complex low-budget noir which dealt with obsession, murder and memory and Nolan continued these themes in superior cop thriller Insomnia (2002). Having delivered a cracking origins film in Batman Begins (2005) the director followed this up with a story about battling magicians based on Christopher Priest’s novel called The Prestige (2006).  For me it confirmed him as a force-to-be-reckoned with director. Following on the themes and tropes established in his prior films, The Prestige is centred around two obsessives brilliantly portrayed by the always excellent Christian Bale as Alfred Borden and the never-been-better (until Prisoners (2013), Hugh Jackman, playing his bitter rival, Robert Angier. The story starts at the end with Borden facing the hangman for Angier’s murder. After which the narrative flashes back to a time when the pair were freshman trick-smiths learning the ropes from mentor Cutter (always solid Michael Caine). When the cockney and cocky Bordens’ actions accidentally lead to the death of Angiers’ wife (Piper Perabo) – during a particularly complex and dangerous trick – the two go their separate ways. This sets in motion a story full of bitter twists of active and reactive vengeance. Each protagonist becomes so obsessed outdoing the other –  with the ultimate trick – they are prepared to sacrifice the ones they love in doing so.

The film is rich in plot, character and theme and investigates thoroughly the very human aspects of obsession and revenge. The double or doppleganger trope is also integral to the story as the writers Jonathan and Christopher Nolan literally dissect the characters’ souls. The gritty, dirty period of Victorian London is wonderfully evoked and the fascinating world of magicians and their mysterious secrets is expertly represented. At it’s heart the story begins by showing us the cons of the magicians and the lengths they will go to amaze and astound an audience. By the end though the film becomes something much different with a chilling and fantastic turn which you think you see but ultimately don’t see coming.

Brilliantly directed by Christopher Nolan The Prestige is inventive, intelligent and ingenious. His cast does not let the magical screenplay down with the gorgeous Scarlett Johannson and – albeit briefly – pretty Piper Perabo bringing some glamour to the gritty proceedings. Rebecca Hall is also on commanding form bringing a subtle pain to the role of Borden’s wife.

Overall, it’s a challenging big-budget tale in which you never quite know what is real or what is a con. It keeps you guessing to the end, leaving you with a jaw-dropping final act as the story moves from sleight-of-hand tricks to science fact and finally science fiction. Ultimately, the film successfully combines fantastical, existential, and scientific elements. The film gives us a kind of magic but asks whether it’s worth the damage it causes to lives? THAT, for me, is The Prestige’s greatest trick.