Monthly Archives: November 2014

Movie Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America: The First Avenger starring Chris Evans

Warning: Major Spoilers!

This film is very important overall in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, because it introduces two recurring elements: Captain America (one of the key Avengers) and the Tesseract, one of the six ‘Infinity Stones/Gems’ that will play a major role in Avengers 3: Infinity War…

The main problem in Marvel’s phase one is a lack of good villains. Only Loki in Thor had been memorable, with both Iron Man films and The Incredible Hulk failing to provide interesting villains. The First Avenger makes a decent attempt with the Red Skull (played by Hugo Weaving, who is always good value as a villain even if he doesn’t match Loki) leader of the Nazi organisation HYDRA, to provide a more threatening/interesting threat. Arnim Zola (Toby Jones) is also a good supporting villain as an immoral scientist recruited by the Red Skull to harness the power of the Tesseract. The problem is while they make a physical/creepy threat, they are a very black and white one, unlike Loki, who is more morally grey and possibly misguided – a more multi-layered villain.

We also have a very black and white hero – Captain America is probably the most moral of all the Avengers, and Steve Rogers is a likeable hero (much more likeable than Chris Evans was in Fantastic Four as the Human Torch!!) who isn’t afraid to question his orders if he disagrees with them and sees it as his duty to help out in the war. Initially rejected by the military due to his small stature and multiple health problems, Rogers enters a program to create super-soldiers where he gets chosen to test the serum because it amplifies the physical AND mental qualities of the user – so only a soldier as moral as Rogers is suitable. After the testing he becomes a muscular hero named ‘Captain America’ who becomes dissatisfied with the propaganda role the US government is using him for and decides to take the fight to the Red Skull, who had taken an earlier version of the serum and is leading a HYDRA using weapons powered by the Tesseract.

The action scenes are all good (especially with HYDRA’s Tesseract powered weaponry), but as its an origin story there’s little sense of any threat to the main character – you know Captain America will survive! His squad of ‘howling commandos’ are afforded so little screen time or development you don’t really care about them. Only four supporting characters make an impression, Steve’s best friend Bucky (Sebastian Stan), his love interest Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), his commanding officer Colonel Philips (Tommy Lee Jones) and scientist friend Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) who provides him with his iconic shield made of Vibranium. All give good performances, though Howard doesn’t get much screen time and Colonel Philips’ disapproval of Steve seems mainly to be to pad out the film’s running time a bit. While Bucky and Steve’s friendship is believable, it’s Atwell’s Agent Carter who makes the best impression (probably why she’s getting a TV spin-off series) as a feisty, modern woman who finds something of a kindred spirit in Steve and is impressed by his natural heroism.

The film’s climax sets up several factors for the sequel and the Avengers with Zola’s capture, Bucky’s apparent death and the ending where the Captain heroically sacrifices himself to destroy HYDRA’s supply of Weapons of Mass Destruction by crashing their transport plane into the arctic, only to be unfrozen 70 years later by SHIELD and greeted by Nick Fury. The final fight between him and the Red Skull isn’t as good as i was hoping, with the Red Skull’s apparent vaporisation by the Tesseract cutting the fight unfortunately short – just so the Tesseract’s power is evident before the Avengers?

Overall a promising film but one that lacks the spark of greatness – but still one of the better efforts in Marvel’s phase one.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Coming Soon: Review of the sequel, The Winter Soldier

TV Review: Doctor Who Season 1 (The Doctor Dances)

The Doctor Dances by Steven Moffat

Warning: Spoilers!

Firstly, sorry for the brief lull in updates but several university essays got in the way, hopefully should be back to 5-7 updates per week now.

Now onto this week’s episode. There isn’t too much to say here to be honest, it maintains the quality of the first part while moving the plot forward nicely, but doesn’t differ too much in tone or acting from The Empty Child. Moffat’s script continues to be excellent and you can see why he was chosen to replace Russell T. Davies at the end of David Tennant’s era. As for the plot? After escaping the Gas Mask Zombies, which spend a large part of the episode chasing them round the hospital, the infection goes airborne (memorably infecting a soldier at the bomb site before Jack’s eyes) the Doctor discovers the alien ambulance which Jack crashed was full of ‘nanogenes’ tiny robots designed to fix injuries but who hadn’t seen a human being before and thus resurrected the child, but as a gas mask zombie rather than a proper human.

Eccleston is on fine form here, whether chastising Jack for accidently causing this epidemic or his pure, undiluted happiness as he delivers the line ‘just this once…everybody lives!’. Billie Piper is good value as usual and John Barrowman continues his fabulous performance as Captain Jack, whether flirting with other guys or calmly drinking a martini as his ship is about to blow up (only to be rescued in the nick of time by the Doctor) he’s just a great character to have around.

There are some great scenes worth mentioning; the really creepy moment when the child remotely uses a typewriter, Captain Jack in his spaceship contemplating his imminent death, the scenes with the Doctor and Rose arguing about whether or not he ‘dances’ (dancing is used both here and in The Girl in the Fireplace as a metaphor for sex). Better still are the scenes where, after being sent to its room, the Child corners the Doctor, Rose and Jack in its hospital room while they are listening to a recording of it and the hilarious scene where the Doctor and Jack compare sonic weaponry¬† – only for the Doctor to be embarrassed by the fact its a screwdriver rather than Jack’s more useful blaster. The conclusion is great, as the Doctor deduces Nancy is actually the child’s mother rather than his sister as she pretended (due to being an under-age single mum), allowing the nanogenes to work out what human beings are meant to look like and restore the child (Jamie) to normal. In Eccleston’s coolest moment he then throws a cloud of nanogenes at the infected patients and soldiers, saving them and returning them to normal (everybody lives!). It’s an upbeat ending which contrasts nicely with the creepy darker tone of the two episodes.

Overall an excellent conclusion to a superb two-parter. And i for one am glad Jack is now a regular!

Rating: 5 out of 5

Next Time: The Tardis Crew take a holiday in Cardiff, only to find an old enemy has become the city’s new mayoress…

TV Review: Atlantis Series 2: A New Dawn (Part 1)

A New Dawn (Part 1) by Howard Overman

Warning: Spoilers!

The BBC’s answer to what will fill the gap on Saturday evenings when Doctor Who isn’t on, Atlantis is the third show (after Robin Hood and Merlin) to attempt this. Like both it’s predecessors, it had a mixed first season as it struggled to find its form. It had a lot of potential, too much juvenile humour, a few good episodes balanced by a few dreadful ones, and a few great performances from Mark Addy as Hercules and Sarah Parish as the villainous Pasiphae. There was a lot of promotion about season 2 being darker and more adult, and for the most part it delivers. It’s what they did with Merlin’s fourth and fifth seasons (which the same writers worked on) – which did help the overall quality even if it stifled some of its creativity.

As for the episode itself, it’s a decent one starting with a cast change from last season as King Minos’ funeral takes place, making Jason’s love interest Ariadne the new Queen but also giving Pasiphae her chance to strike back at the city. Pasiphae sends three agents, including a former exiled lord who swiftly gains Ariadne’s trust (Robert Pugh) and Medea, to infiltrate Atlantis. Medea steals the Palladium, a statue which the Atlantian soldiers believe makes the city untakeable in battle – once the soldiers realise it’s gone, many of them desert, leaving Ariadne with too few to face Pasiphae’s army. Ariadne sends Jason, Pythagoras and Hercules to retrieve the Palladium from the heart of Pasiphae’s army – an obvious suicide mission which Jason nevertheless accepts.

Standout scenes? Hercules and Pythagoras’ conversation about why they both follow Jason is both eye-opening and welcome (especially Hercules revelation he does this is an attempt to feel like the hero he’s always pretended to be). The scene where the three try to decide the fate of an unarmed enemy soldier (played by Pyp from Game of Thrones!), with moral Jason predictably refusing to kill in cold blood but Hercules and Pythagoras also finding themselves unwilling to kill an unarmed man, is a lot more grown-up and moralistic than anything we got last season. It also takes a dark turn when after retrieving the Palladium from the enemy camp, the same soldier shoots Jason with an arrow, only to be killed by a spear thrown by a furious Hercules. Bad points? Some very predictable plot moments and while the sword fights are well-choreographed, there are too many of them for a 45 minute episode!

The episode ends on a cliffhanger as Pasiphae traps the wounded Jason and his friends in a cave (inhabited by the cyclops!) before marching on the defenceless Atlantis…

Overall a good episode if a bit predictable, which matches the best Atlantis managed last season.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Next Time: The Heroes are cornered by the Cyclops as Pasiphae’s forces assault Atlantis…

TV Review: Game of Thrones Season 4 (The Children)

The Children by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss

Warning: MAJOR Spoilers!!

This finale featured some departures from the books (I’m not going into the Lady Stoneheart omission because i couldn’t care less about it – always hated that plot-line anyway) and some major character deaths – as well as setting the stage for the next season. The direction and the music is as good as ever, so I’ll just jump straight into the plot.

Leading on from last weeks cliffhanger, Jon Snow surrenders to the Wildlings and is brought to Mance to negotiate. After raising a few glasses to the fallen (Ygritte, Grenn and the giant he killed) Mance (Ciaran Hinds) realises Jon’s intention is to assassinate him. However before Jon can decide whether or not to do so (especially after Mance has made an offer to peacefully move through the wall without killing anyone) they are distracted by an army of knights who attack Mance’s army and scatter them. The army is revealed to be led by Stannis, who saves Jon and at his advice imprisons Mance (and the surrending Wildlings) rather than killing him. The Night’s Watch then burn their dead (including Pyp and Grenn) during which Melisandre locks eyes with him (suggesting their characters will interact next season?). Jon then (at Tormund’s request) takes Ygritte’s body beyond the wall to ‘the real North’ and burns it – one of the moments in this finale that tugs at your heartstrings quite a bit.

In King’s landing, the Mountain is dying after being stabbed repeatedly by Oberyn’s spear, but Cersei allows Qyburn to attempt to save him (over Pycelle’s objections) by any means, however unnatural. Cersei then threatens Tywin, refusing to marry Loras Tyrell – and saying if he tries to force her she will admit the incestuous relationship between her and Jaime (something Tywin did not actually believe) thus nullifying Tommen’s claim to the throne. Jaime meanwhile realises the imprisoned Tyrion, who instead of escaping goes to confront his father – and finds Shae in his bed. It’s a shock which needless to say goes down badly and after a brief struggle Tyrion violently strangles her. Feeling completely betrayed he takes Joffrey’s crossbow and confronts his father (who is sitting on the privy defenceless). After a tense conversation (and some brilliant acting from Charles Dance and Peter Dinklage) Tyrion shoots his father. After Tywin claims Tyrion is ‘no son of his!’ Tyrion says pointedly ‘i am your son, i have ALWAYS been your son’ he shoots him again in the chest, killing him. Funny how this episode was broadcast on father’s day – all three Lannister children betray Tywin in different ways in this finale! This is the first time Tyrion’s outright murdered anyone on the show (well outside a battle anyway) and killing his former lover and his father is bound to have a lasting impact on him in future seasons. He (along with Varys, who helped him) then flees king’s landing on a ship.

Bran and his party finally reach the tree where the ‘three eyed raven’ lives, only to be attacked by some reanimated skeletons, who in a surprising turn of events kill off Jojen – whose been a major part of Bran’s storyline for so long now. The CGI skeletons are very good – as are the magical bombs thrown by a ‘child of the forest’ who saves the group and takes them to the three eyed raven – who tells Bran he will never walk again, but he will fly (this will hopefully make sense in a later season). Meanwhile Daenerys is forced to betray her own children after he dragon Drogon kills a young peasant girl, forcing her to lock up and imprison the other dragons Viserion and Rhaegar – Emilia Clarke’s tears and the dragons haunting screams as they are locked in make this a very unsettling scene.

And now a moment that never happened in the books: Brienne and Pod come face to face with Arya and the Hound. Unfortunately, Arya doesn’t believe Brienne’s story (it is a very extravagant tale of how she came to serve Catelyn Stark and Jaime Lannister) and the Hound recognises her sword and armour as being brought and paid for by Lannister gold. After one last great Hound/Arya moment “that’s what I’m doing – protecting her” a brutal fight breaks out – first with swords and then with fists. Gwendoline Christie and Rory McCann give great physical performances here, and the fight staging is excellent, leading up to the final shot of Brienne punching the Hound off a large hill. Brienne and Pod then lose Arya, who goes to the (fatally injured?) Hound, who begs her to kill him quickly and wipe another name off her list. Arya however, says nothing despite the Hound’s pleas/threats/provocations, steals his silver and walks away – leaving his fate somewhat ambiguous. Why Arya does this is also open to debate – whether she doesn’t want to kill him after their long time together or she thinks leaving him to die slowly is a far worse fate (I’ll incline to the latter given Arya’s ruthlessness this season and the Hound provoking her on several occasions. Arya then buys passage to Braavos (with the coin Jaqen H’ghar gave her in season 2) setting up her story for next season nicely.

Overall a great finale to a great season, i hope season 5 can keep up the good work!

Rating: 5 out of 5

News on next season? The series first flashback sequence, a look at Oberyn Martell’s family in Dorne and no Bran or Hodor (they’ve run out of storylines for the moment).

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 1 (The Empty Child)

The Empty Child by Steven Moffat

Warning: Spoilers!

Steven Moffat. Love him or hate him as showrunner he writes some of the best stories in modern who: Blink, The Girl in the Fireplace, The Eleventh Hour, The Pandorica Opens, The Day of the Doctor, Listen – i could go on for ages but this is where it all started – The Empty Child. Russell T. Davies once said Moffat’s scripts were the only ones he didn’t edit, and you can see why, he barely puts a foot wrong here. Eccleston also gets some decent material to work with for the first time since Dalek and he firmly grasps the oppurtunity, while Piper is still great to watch even if there aren’t any character defining moments for her this time.

The episode is set in London, 1941 at the height of the German blitz. The Doctor pursues an out of control spaceship which crash lands in London, but is assumed to be an unexploded German bomb by the army. He gets separated from Rose who ends up dangling from a barrage balloon in the middle of a german air raid – only to be rescued by a handsome and flirtatious stranger named Captain Jack, who has a spaceship of his own and assumes the Doctor and Rose are fellow time-agents. Jack (John Barrowman) is a brilliant creation and one of my favourite characters in Who. The scenes where him and Rose flirt (using the psychic paper to do so!) are hilarious and you can’t help but instantly like him.

However the main thrust of the episode is centred around the Doctor’s investigation of a strange child in a gas mask, who is stalking a young woman named Nancy (Florence Hoath) and the group of orphans and street urchins she looks after. The child is constantly asking for his ‘mummy’ and doesn’t respond to anything else but has some very creepy abilities – including the power to make any phone ring (including fake Tardis phone!) so he can ask his question ‘are you my mummy?’. The Doctor then discovers at the local hospital, run by Doctor Constantine (Richard Wilson in a brilliant cameo appearance), a group of patients who have exactly the same injuries (a gas mask seared onto their face, one collapsed lung, a scar on the back of the hand etc.) as the child, which they were infected with after coming into contact with him. As Constantine says ‘physical injury…as plague!’. It’s a scary idea and one of Moffat’s most original and effective ones.

I remember the reaction to this episode at school, so many people in my year (we were 11 at the time) were pretending to be gas mask zombies during lunch break (one guy was so creeped out by the episode he didn’t watch the second part for another 5 years!). This episode had more impact than any other except possibly Dalek. The scariest part of the episode is when Constantine succumbs to the infection and a gas mask GROWS out of his face. Rose and Jack then turn up, where Jack reveals the spaceship was crashed by him, as he planned to sell it to the Doctor and Rose then destroy it with a German bomb before they could find out it was worthless in a con. The episode then ends on a cliffhanger as the child corners Nancy and the gas mask zombies wake up from their hospital beds and surround the Doctor, Rose and Jack…

Overall a great scripting debut from Moffat, a great character in Captain Jack and an episode that is not easily forgotten.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Next Time: The infection spreads across London as the child hunts The Doctor and his companions…

Movie Review: Fury

Fury starring Brad Pitt.

Warning: Spoilers!

Good war films are always two things. Brutal. And powerful. Fury is both of those. It is relentless throughout and doesn’t fall into the common trap of glorifying war. Fury is the name of a tank whose crew are the focus of the film as they lead a push into Germany near the end of the Second World War (April 1945 to be exact).

The acting credits chiefly go to Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier (Brad Pitt) the war-weary but ruthless captain of Fury and Norman (Logan Lerman) the recruit who experiences the brutality of front-line warfare for the first time. The two are fantastic throughout and the difficult relationship between the two of them and Norman’s rite of passage into becoming a soldier is very much the core of the film. Initially reluctant to kill Nazis (especially child-soldiers and prisoners) to the point where his hesitation actually costs another tank crew their lives, Norman is an outsider in his squad. A particularly disturbing scene where ‘Wardaddy’ forces Norman to shoot a captured German prisoner sets the tone for the film. The supporting cast of driver ‘Gordo’ (Michael Pena), gunner ‘Bible’ (Shia Labeouf) and loader Grady ‘Coon-Ass’ Travis (Jon Bernthal) all perform well (indeed, LaBeouf is one of my least favourite actors, but he does the job here).

The direction and look of the film is admirable and realistic, and backed up by a superb emotional score by Steven Price (who did the music for Gravity). Some of the imagery is haunting (a woman chopping up a dead horse for food, dead children who have been hanged by the SS for refusing to fight, a tank crew burnt alive by an incendiary bomb thrown by child soldiers etc.) and relentless – if anyone has a romanticised view of being a soldier, you won’t have it by the end of the film. The morality displayed here is a definitely grey one, with ‘Wardaddy’s utter hatred of SS soldiers leading to several of them (while defenceless) being executed without a second thought. As Pitt says after one of the supporting characters gets killed ‘a lot of people gotta die before we win this war’. It’s a bleak and unforgiving picture of warfare. Fortunately it avoids the cliche that all enemy soldiers are evil/all allied soldiers are good men – a cliche that occurs far too often in war films and TV shows.

Standout scenes include four American ‘Sherman’ tanks including Fury being ambushed by a single superior German tiger tank (which proceeds to ruthless cut through the inferior tanks leaving Fury alone left to take it out) and the crew of Fury’s desperate final stand at a crossroads against a 300 strong SS column – which racks up quite a body count (of both German soldiers and main cast members) and ends the film on a suitably bleak note. But any other ending would have been at odds with the tone and nature of the film, so good on you scriptwriters.

Overall a powerful film which, despite one or two scenes that don’t work as well as intended and a few predictable plot moments, is one of the best war films i can remember seeing. But it isn’t for the light-hearted.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Agents of SHIELD: Season 1 Overview, Part 2

Agents of Shield, Season 1, Part 2 (Episodes 9-15)

Warning: Minor Spoilers!

The show’s second batch of episodes fixes a few of the problems i had with it’s opening salvo. May’s character finally gets some development in Repairs and her relationship with Agent Ward is refreshing (mainly because they didn’t go down the obvious route of pairing him with Skye). The characters seem to be much more vulnerable (one gets shot, two get brainwashed by an Asgardian, one captured by project centipede etc.) which adds some much needed tension into the show. The introduction of John Garrett (Bill Paxton) and Agent Triplett also adds some welcome fresh faces to the cast, with Paxton in particular showing great promise.

The show could still use a few more decent villains, although Deathlok poses a physical threat he isn’t that interesting as a villain. Lorelei was a good guest villain and as an Asgardian with power over any man she wishes posed a credible threat to the team. We got some movement on the mystery of Coulson’s resurrection and the Clairvoyant, but the show isn’t moving as quickly or throwing in as many twists as, say, Arrow. A few too many episodes feel like their setting up future episodes rather than moving the plot along, hopefully the final third of the season will improve upon this.

Here’s my ratings for each episode:

Repairs – 4/5 – May is finally a good character!

The Bridge – 3.5/5 – Some good action scenes but lacking that moment of greatness.

The Magical Place – 4/5 – So that’s what happened to Coulson? Interesting!

Seeds – 4/5 – A great Fitz/Simmons episode.

T.R.A.C.K.S. – 3.5/5 – Too gimmicky with it’s use of flashbacks, but otherwise good.

T.A.H.I.T.I. – 4/5 – Bill Paxton! Just the shot in the arm this series needed!

Yes Men – 4/5 – Lorelei is a great villain (and a fairly hot one too)! Sif is a bad-ass guest character. The episode was good as well. Can we have more Asgardian women on the show please?

Overall the series is becoming more consistent but still hasn’t had any stand-out episodes yet – but the introduction of John Garrett and the increasing mystery of the Clairvoyant show promise for the final run of episodes.

Next Time: A crossover with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the Clairvoyant is finally revealed, along with a treacherous team member…