Monthly Archives: November 2016

Doctor Strange Review

Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong and Mads Mikkelsen

Warning: Major Spoilers (but this has been out for several weeks so I’m assuming most of you will have seen it!)

First up, the positives: visually, the film is stunning and has the most memorable special effects I’ve ever seen in a Marvel film. The direction was superb, particularly in the mind-bending Mirror-realm segments. The acting was excellent as well, with Benedict Cumberbatch nailing both the arrogant, slightly unlikeable Doctor and the hero you end up rooting for in the second half (the transition in Strange’s personality is both believable and well executed). Rachel McAdams was one of the better love interests Marvel has given us (putting both Gwyneth Paltrow and Natalie Portman’s bland attempts to shame) being both believable, likeable and a important character in her own right. Chiwetel Ejiofor shines as Mordo, Strange’s mentor/friend/ally destined to become his nemesis (as comic-book fans well know), Benedict Wong and Tilda Swinton are excellent supporting characters and Mads Mikkelsen makes the most of his thankless role as yet another forgettable Marvel villain in Sorcerer Caecilius. The only major downside of the production was the soundtrack, which is very workmanlike and forgettable when it really should be complementing the sense of wonder the visuals are providing – especially disappointing from Michael Giacchino (who scored the Incredibles, which has a great soundtrack, so we know he could have done better).

I won’t go into detail about the film’s plot (mainly because AGAIN its something we’ve seen before in Marvel’s origin stories – Guy struggles with adverse circumstances, guy becomes a hero, underdeveloped villain has seemingly overcomeable advantage, hero’s mentor/parent dies/hero defeats villain rather easily/hero gets girl – seriously – get some new fucking ideas Marvel! At the very least give us a decent villain who doesn’t lose the final confrontation in 2 mins for once!!!!) Caecilius was the latest in a line of one-note villains played by talented actors who don’t get enough screen time (seriously, aside from , Magneto, Loki and the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy’s villains when have any Marvel villains ever gotten a decent amount of screen-time and good writing backing them up???)

Fortunately Dormammu was a step-up as a villain, despite his 5 mins of screen time, Benedict Cumberbatch voicing the villainous entity lent him a feeling of sheer power and malovence that Marvel villains almost always fail to achieve. Hopefully he will return in the sequel (or maybe be a more prominent villain in phase 4 once Thanos is dealt with? He was dealt with rather easily – but it was refreshing that the hero had to bargain for Earth’s safety rather than fight because Dormammu was too powerful to defeat outright – and only lost because of Strange’s infinity stone.

As yes, the Eye of Agamotto is officially the Time Stone. Five down, one to go, and if the comics are an indicator, the Soul Stone will show up in Guardians 2. I’ll say this for Marvel, they are building up Infinity War remarkably well… don’t blow it now guys. Also shown were two post-credit scenes, one with Strange and Thor joining forces (presumably setting up the events of Thor:Ragnarok) and the other revealing the villain for the second film (surprise! Not really. Its Mordo, whose shift from hero to villain seemed a bit abrupt to me – i’d rather see him slowly be corrupted in film 2 and then be the villain in a third film, but I doubt that’s what Marvel has planned). The Thor scene was brilliant, fortunately featuring a return to the lightness that makes Thor such a fun character to watch.

Overall, a very fun and enjoyable Marvel film with dazzling visuals and a winning turn from Cumberbatch, plus the best post-credits scene Marvel’s given us in years. Unfortunately plot-wise, we’ve seen it all before, and Mads Mikkelsen is the latest great actor to be wasted in a thankless role as an under-used villain (following Ben Kingsley, Christopher Eccleston, Lee Pace etc.) hopefully Mordo will avoid that fate in the inevitable sequel.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

So for those interested on my list of Superhero films in 2016 this would come fourth, behind Deadpool and X-Men: Apocalypse but ahead of Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. Marvel has officially won 4-0 in 2016 (thank god DC has a far better run on TV – its getting creamed at the cinema – hopefully Wonder Woman and Justice league can save them!) Despite their success, my patience with Marvel playing it safe is running low – if Black Panther ends up being another bloody origin story with the same plot and a forgettable villain I’m going to explode.

Review: Harry Potter: Philosopher’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban.

I’ll be seeing Fantastic Beasts later in the week, so every day before I’ll be looking back on the films/books it has to live up to (1-3 today, 4 and 5 tomorrow and 6 and 7 on Tuesday).

Not putting a spoiler warning on these reviews. If you haven’t watched/read them by now: 1. That’s your problem. 2. What the hell?!? 3. Why not???

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

The one that started it all. I re-read all the books over the summer and they’re still as much of a joy as ever. The first book is both the shortest and has the simplest plotline, but is still fun to read simply due to nostalgia’s sake. The characters are for the most part instantly memorable and leap off the page at you, Professor Quirrell being an unfortunate exception (quite possibly one of the least notable characters in the series, his lack of notoriety was probably to avoid making it too guessable that he was the real villain, not Snape, who gets a much more expansive role), while the various magic concepts of Hogwarts, Quidditch, Platform 9 3/4 etc. are all described in vivid detail.

The stand out sections in the film have to be the Quidditch match (vividly brought to life) and the sequences with the Devil’s Snare, Flying Keys and the Chess Game while the trio attempt to find the Philosophers Stone (which surpass their equivalent sections in the book). John Williams’ score is instantly memorable and Emma Watson and Tom Felton get their characters spot-on first try, while Radcliffe and Grint are both adorable even if their acting at times could use a bit of polish. The adult cast are all perfect as well, particularly Alan Rickman and Robbie Coltrane as Snape and Hagrid. The only criticism I have of the film is that’s there’s a very safe feel to proceedings, there isn’t a lot of ambition here yet, as shown by how rigid Chris Columbus is in reproducing his source material (only really cutting three bits from the book that I can think of)

Book Rating: 3 out of 5, Film Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

The second book improves upon the first’s plot and tone while being just as fun to read, with the mystery of the Heir of Slytherin and the terrifying Basilisk making this a significantly darker entry, to its advantage in my opinion. Harry faces a far rougher time of it in book 2, which only makes us root for the character more, while Voldemort’s younger self Riddle manages somehow to be even more creepy and hateful than the shattered remnant that possessed Quirrell in the first book. The additional focus on Voldemort, Hagrid and Dumbledore is welcome, while Gilderoy Lockhart makes for a more memorable Defence against the Dark Arts teacher than Quirrell (even though looking back its hard to swallow that Dumbledore would have been taken in by such an obvious fraudster enough to hire him).

Overall I think the film has come in for more than it’s fair share of criticism – yes it’s overly long but tbh, I’m not sure what they could have cut without losing some of what made the book memorable. Both the book and the film are a darker, more ambitious adventure than their predecessor but for me, the film comes to life just that bit more easily. The most memorable sequences have to be (again) the Quidditch match, the spiders in the Forbidden Forest, the confrontation between Harry and Riddle and the whole Polyjuice potion sequence, which manages to be both tense and hilarious. Ultimately it’s a step up from the first film, but again things are played too safe to be truly great. The acting remains of a very high standard, with Snape and Malfoy again proving deliciously evil as characters and a nice (and regrettably final) turn from Richard Harris as Dumbledore while the additions to the cast such as Mark Williams as Mr. Weasley and Jason Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy are memorable. Solid work again from John Williams, Fawkes’ theme and ‘Reunion of Friends’ are some of the best pieces in the series.

Book Rating: 3.5 out of 5, Film Rating: 4 out of 5

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Both this book and the film adaptation is where most people place the point where the series truly took off. The book is a joy from start to finish, with the best Quidditch sequences in the series, one of the most memorable (and my personal favourite) characters in Remus Lupin, a villain who exudes menace despite not appearing in the flesh till the final few chapters in Sirius Black, and a joyous tone throughout juxtaposed against a slightly bittersweet ending. The Marauder’s Map, Hogsmeade, the awful Professor Trelawney, Hermione punching Malfoy, this book has basically everything, and the Dementors are arguably one of Rowling’s scariest creations. If by some miracle you haven’t guessed already, I bloody love this book and genuinely can’t think of a flaw with it, so I’ll move on to the film adaptation.

The three leads are all at their best in this film, Watson clearly relishes Hermione’s character development, and Grint and Radcliffe’s improvement from the first two films is very welcome (not that either were bad, but they both come into their own here). The film’s adult casting remains faultless, with Michael Gambon giving us a memorable take on Dumbledore that remains true to the book version while not mimicking Richard Harris’ take on the character. Gary Oldman shines as Sirius Black, being both menacing in his turn as the apparent villain and instantly likeable once his true personality is revealed. The greatest praise however, must go to David Thewlis as an endearing and memorable Lupin, given the success of the film was always going to rest on Lupin and Harry’s bond, which is one of the strongest parts of the novel. The visuals are more striking than ever this time, from the Night Bus to the Dementors to the Whomping Willow, largely in part to the wonderful work of director Alfonso Cuaron, who easily surpasses Columbus. John Williams is also on stellar form, delivering his most memorable and inventive score (no mean feat given how good the first two were!). My only problem with the film (ironically, given that I criticise the first two films for the opposite reason) is it isn’t faithful enough to the novel. The Quidditch bits in particular really shouldn’t have been dropped – I’d have happily stayed another 15 mins if those were included. Most of the changes are fine for time reasons, but I feel like some of them just aren’t necessary.

Book Rating: 5 out of 5!, Film Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Next up: Goblet of Fire’s impressive action sequences and Order of the Phoenix’s somewhat downbeat plotline…

The Grand Tour, Episode 1 Review

Clarkson, Hammond and May are back!

After the critical and ratings failure that was Chris Evans pathetic attempt to keep the show running (whoever hired that twat should have been fired the instant they made that decision) Amazon brings back the original presenters in their re-imagined version of Top Gear, the Grand Tour.

The main news: it’s bloody good. The enhanced budget, lack of BBC oversight and a general acknowledgement that the 3 presenters can basically get away with saying anything this time around breathes fresh life into the show. The opening has Clarkson balefully leaving the rain-soaked BBC offices in London and catching a flight to the US, only to smile in joy as his colleagues join him in a trio of American muscle cars to the song ‘I can see clearly now’. Its a very direct statement to the trio’s former bosses: Good riddance! You don’t miss the old track, the theme music or the studio because essentially, Top Gear was always about the interactions between the 3 presenters. And the Grand Tour nails that.

The first stop on the tour is the middle of a desert in California, and putting the team up next to an American studio audience (in their mobile tent which serves as a admirable replacement for the aircraft hangar) leads to some predictable comedy gold (Clarkson educating Americans on the correct ‘English’ terminology for car components was classic Top Gear). The studio segments in general are pretty funny, mainly in how the trio savagely tear into both the bbc and new top gear (including a bizarre studio segment where they not only laugh at James’ stupid suggestion of having celebs drive round their new racetrack, but proceed to accidentally ‘kill’ all of their celebrity guests).

Speaking of the new racetrack, it’s a lot more gimmicky than the old one, with fields of sheep, electric generators and an unexploded bomb featuring, though as it’s only used for car tests and setting fast car times it does add something to a potentially bland section of the show. The only disappointment is new racing driver ‘The American’ who is a poor substitute for the copyrighted Stig, who is neither as iconic as his predecessor nor particularly funny (though he is suitably fast and only onscreen for 2 minutes) which is almost certainly down to Amazon’s insistence on hiring a US driver.

The main event in the first show is a series of car tests at a racetrack in Portugal, with Clarkson in a McClaren P1, Hammond in a Porsche 918 and May in a Ferrari LaFerrari. Its a very familiar set of tests, with drag races, professional racing drivers doing fast laps in the presenters cars and a typically cocky Clarkson joking that if the McClaren loses May and Hammond can demolish his house… While it wasn’t the most memorable challenge the three have ever done, it was quintessential top gear all the same and a trailer for the rest of the series hinted that the best is definitely yet to come.

Overall, the show we all love no matter how foolish or manic it gets is back with a bang. It proves once and for all the chemistry between the 3 leads was the foundation of Top Gears success, and not only sinks any hope the BBC may have had that the amazon re-imagining would fail, but actively blows the shit Chris Evans version out of the water. A very promising start, which while not a classic episode in itself, was a great teaser of things to come. Bloody good work Amazon.

Rating: 4 out of 5.