September 16, 2019

The MCU Project: Captain Marvel [2019]

The project is coming closer and closer to the end. With more and more references to “The Event”, it looms like a slithery sea creature or perhaps a foul odour. Due to the team-based nature of this review series, this is the penultimate review that I will be contributing. The time has flown by.

Captain Marvel was released earlier this year, and at the time I remember being vaguely aware of a certain amount of the usual kerfuffle that seems to surround any big-budget film with a female lead. You know, lots of people saying “I’m not sexist! It’s just not a very good film and she’s not a very good actress!” When’s the last time you saw someone say that about a film with a male lead? Exactly. Anyway, I put it down to just the usual fragile white men being fragile, and paid it no more mind.

The opening of the film introduces us to Vers (pronounced “Veers”), a highly trained soldier for the Kree empire, another of those alien races that are basically humanoid shape with one small difference, usually something bumpy on their head, though in this case, their blood is a delightful shade of bluey green. She’s under the tutelage of her mentor, who’s not only humanoid-shaped, but looks like the spitting image of Terran actor Jude Law. He’s teaching her that to fight she must learn to control her emotions, to not use her awesome super powers at every available opportunity, but instead fight with her fists like some sort of dummy. There’s an obscure reference to “your past which fuels you” – one of these days it would be hilarious if a film dropped a line like this, and then just never did anything with it. You know, make it clear that so-and-so has a mysterious past that defines them as a person, and then just completely “forget” to fill it in. Actually, now I write it down, an example comes to mind: Book in Firefly. His mysterious backstory is never revealed in the TV series (though apparently it does get filled in in one of the official comics).

Vers and her mentor and the rest of the Kree soldiering team go on a mission to rescue one of their agents who has infiltrated a group of Skrulls, who are the enemies of the Kree. This is a dangerous mission, and it is stressed that it’s important to follow the protocols TO THE LETTER. Vers checks her cuticles and mumbles “yeah, whatevs.” She’s a maverick, and I use this specific term because it sets up a joke in the next paragraph.

The mission goes somewhat awry. The Skrull are shapeshifters, and one of them turns into a shami kebab. Vers doesn’t notice that there are now three shami kebabs on her plate, not two, and hilarity ensues. They capture her and start sucking out her memories using the same memory-sucking machine that all these villains seem to have access to. This gives us a delightfully convenient opportunity to share some of Vers’ memories with her. But are they memories or dreams? In one of them, we see Vers working on an air force base, and it’s eerily reminiscent of Top Gun, even down to the colour filter used on the lens. This is now the bit where I make the joke that “maverick” was setting up, but I haven’t thought of one yet, so I’ll either come back and fill it in later, or just leave this rambling sentence in place and hope that it elicits a little pity laugh.

With this flashback montage we discover a key element of what makes Vers who she is – all her life, she’s been patronised because she’s a girl, and told that she can’t do things because she’s a girl. All this stuff is clearly going on on Earth, so the big open mystery now is: why is Vers apparently a Kree? Please to be explaining the blue blood? Or are the memories not to be trusted? Tantalising.

Vers manages to escape the Skrull, and flies down to Earth in a fantastic spacesuit with a brilliant helmet that somehow protects the form of her hairdo, so when the helmet does it’s fold-away trick, her hair just ploofs down into place without any awkward tufty bits or flat spots. I want one. The escape pod is a less impressive feat of engineering, and completely burns up on re-entry, unceremoniously dumping her into a branch of Blockbuster video, which tells us that this film is either set in Bend, Oregon, or the mid-nineties. The appearance of a digitally-youthened, ocularly-complete Nick Fury, heavily implies the latter.

I’ve reached the point in my review where I realise that I’m just giving a commentary of the plot, and feel the need to disrupt the flow, so let’s take a carefully-timed tangent.

The fact that this film is set in the mid-nineties does provide the opportunity for some gentle humour. Dial-up internet, beige box computers, Windows 95 doing its chunky grey thing, all of these are played for laughs. It’s quite a sweet film, all things considered, with 90% of it being Captain America levels of seriousness, but interspersed with occasional moments of comic relief and some really touching interactions between the characters. DYOCNF serves many roles in this film – on the one hand, he becomes Vers’ good friend, but he is also the relatively-naive SHIELD agent to act as the audience surrogate for Vers’ exposition. One of the most “fuck yeah” comic moments is when Vers follows a Skrull onto a train, and once she’s identified the form into which the Skrull has shapeshifted, a magnificent fight scene ensues.

We also at one point meet a cat, called Goose (which I refuse to believe is not another deliberate Top Gun reference). DYOCNF is clearly a cat person, but the Skrull seem to believe that it is a terrifying creature that will kill them all. Silly Skrull, eh? Anyway, the cat stows away on their ship and you just know that all sorts of funny feline shenanigans will ensue. Cat lovers are really getting their money’s worth with this film.

As the film reaches its denouement, various truths emerge, including Vers’ true history and the realisation that not all those around her are as they seem. She also discovers that her powers are greater than she initially thought, and once she’s unlocked those (the standard MCU “level upgrade” moment that happens in a few other films where the hero usually gains access to new tech) then none of her foes stand a chance, and it all starts to feel a bit unfair, but undoubtedly very superheroey. For some inexplicable reason, she allows the main bad guy to escape, when she could have annihilated him effortlessly, but I guess that’s one of those situations where the long-term plot requires it. The film ends with some huge setups for The Event, as well as a moderately satisfying but somewhat mundane reveal of how Nick Fury lost his eye, and how The Avengers Initiative got its name.

I really enjoyed this film and was near-glued to the screen throughout. It had a pitch-perfect blend of action, humour and gravitas, with no overlong expositionary dialogue, and relatively few immersion-breaking violations of the laws of science and logic. I suppose it’s true that if you look at Vers’ story in isolation, there’s nothing terribly innovative or surprising there, but it’s the interactions with other characters which give this film its edge.

I’m feeling very eager for Infinity War and Endgame now.

Pete
September 11, 2019

The MCU Project: Ant Man and The Wasp [2018]

Ant Man and the Wasp [2018] is the second Ant Man movie from the MCU oeuvre, and you may remember how much Pete and Bernard enjoyed the first movie, and how I fell asleep. So I bring to this movie a sense of confusion, and spend the first 15 minutes feeling completely lost.

It begins with a recap scene in which Fully Grown Michael Douglas (FGMD)1 loses his wife (not Catherine Zeta Jones, although IMDB tells us that he wanted her to play this part, but Michelle Pfeiffer) when she goes sub-atomic in order to save something from something. In the next scene, Scott Lang/Ant Man2 is being an amazing dad in a cosy domestic setting, and we learn that he has three days remaining of his house arrest. I take it we all know what that implies for the plot of the movie?

Yes, shortly after learning this, we see him leaving the house in his pyjamas in the company of a woman who doesn’t like him. She assures him that their business will be concluded by lunchtime.

There follows much minification and embiggenment of cars and houses and salt cellars. Suddenly the woman who doesn’t like Scott Lang/Ant Man needs to be rescued, and FGMD hands Scott Lang/Ant Man a “prototype” Ant Man suit, with a glint in his eye such as the one seen in the eye of Willy Wonka when Violet Beauregarde eats the dodgy chewing gum and turns into a giant blueberry. Hilarious mis-sized antics ensue.

This is purported to be an Action Comedy, and does indeed have some amusing moments. My favourite was when Bernard pointed out how much Larry Fucking Fishburne resembles Dr Pockless3. Have you ever seen them in the same room? I haven’t.

At one point, Scott Lang/Ant Man asks the question, “do you guys just put the word ‘quantum’ in front of everything?” which is a good demonstration of how futuristic technology is discussed, using nonsensical combinations of words that viewers are never intended to understand. I was particularly intrigued to know how Michelle Pfeiffer’s mascara survived 30 years in the quantum realm. I consulted Pete and Bernard, both known to have a better grasp of science than myself, and they replied “because it’s the quantum realm.” I asked them why, then, did she age (a bit)? “Shuddup,” they said.

Three out of the four female characters in the movie have serious daddy issues; and given that the entire premise of this film is the rescuing of a female character, it’s clear that the marvellous minds at Marvel learned nothing from Black Panther about female empowerment. The smaller rescue of FGMD’s daughter Hope (the one who doesn’t like Scott Lang/Ant Man, although there is a tedious romantic subplot shoehorned in, so it turns out that she protested too much) is an important plot point, and the other adult female character Ava/The Ghost also has to be saved.

Nonetheless, I managed to keep my eyes open and pay, ooh, let’s say about 60-70% attention to this movie, which makes it one of the more enjoyable of the project so far.

  1. seriously, you’re going to have to read Pete’s review of Ant Man to make sense of this []
  2. or Scott Lang/Ant Man/Crap Bag, but that’s a bit of a mouthful []
  3. and not only for his sartorial elegance []
Karen
September 2, 2019

The MCU Project: Doctor Strange [2016]

Doctor Strange, a doctor if you didn’t know or guess.

For being a doctor I would think he would be a very safe person because he saw how bad it was for his patients and I don’t think he would want to end up in the same predicament so it suprises me when he is driving down a road in a very fast car on his phone. You don’t have to be good at maths to realise Fast car + Driving down road + Public road + It’s on a cliff  + On phone = Fast car hits other car on public road which is on a cliff because on phone and if you put that to the power of 1 you get a fast car rolling down a cliff face.

It turns out his injuries provide him disabled and he cant move his hands properly so he goes to Kathmandu in Nepal to get his hands fixed by The Ancient One who also teaches him how to twist the world and other magical stuff.

The editing for the battles are very interesting as most of the battles involve shaping the space around the people and creating complex angles, it’s quite easy to lose yourself trying to figure out what is happening as things are being turned on their heads and twisted into strange objects.

I like the scene where one of the assisting teachers hands Doctor Strange some paper which says “shanballa” on it, Doctor Strange asks, “What’s this? Some sort of spell?” but the teacher replies with “No, it’s the WiFi password, what do you think we are, savages?” which I feel really shows how Marvel Studios are trying to give everything a fun sense of modern into it.

Bernard
August 25, 2019

Alcohol-Free Beers (Part Six)

(View previous instalments here)

One of the nice things about visiting a different region in the country is seeing a different range of products on the supermarket shelves. Heading up to Yorkshire for the week yielded some new options for alcohol-free beers, and 3 of the 4 beers in this review came from Morrisons in Skipton.

Guinness Pure Brew

This is a lager, and let me put it this way – if I were set the challenge of “tricking” someone into drinking an alcohol-free beer without them noticing the subterfuge, then this might be the one I’d use. It just tastes like a good lager, nothing weird or objectionable about it whatsoever. There is a tiny trace of that sweet wortiness, but it’s only noticeable if you really concentrate. This is definitely right up there with the Brooklyn Special Effects at the top of the lager charts.

Brewdog Punk AF

I was quite looking forward to this one, as the Nanny State is such a good beer, but I found this one a little disappointing by comparison. It’s got quite an interesting smell, but once in the mouth it’s just a very fizzy, tangy, hoppy IPA which feels thin and unsatisfying.

There’s a curious thing though – as I’ve mentioned before, I initially started drinking alcohol free beer with the intention of replacing some of my alcohol intake, but a couple of months back had to cut out alcohol entirely due to a very specific and unpleasant physical reaction. I had 4 cans of Punk AF, spread across 2 nights, and on both occasions I experienced symptoms of that physical reaction. This suggests one of two things – either the connection between the physical reaction and alcohol consumption isn’t as clear-cut as I originally thought, or this beer has significantly more alcohol in it than any of the other alcohol-free beers I’ve reviewed. Either way, I’m definitely not going to risk touching this stuff again.

I’m also a little sour on Brewdog on the whole. The more I read about their scummy business practices, the more I want to give my money to another brewery.

Thornbridge Big Easy

I was quite excited to try this one, as it’s fairly rare to get an alcohol-free beer from a smaller brewery (unless it’s one that exclusively does alcohol-free). Sadly, it was a bit of a disappointment – this is a very hoppy pale ale, with a lot of that thinness and metallic quality that I came across in some of my earlier forays into alcohol-free beerery. While drinking it I was just completely overwhelmed by the sensation of it fizzing in my mouth, and any trace of flavour was left floundering. Which is a shame, because what flavours I could pick up on were reminiscent of the Infinite Session pale ale, which is an absolute triumph. Big Easy also has a very offputting aroma of damp dog.

Infinite Session IPA

I had high hopes for this one, as the brewery’s “Pale” is one of my all-time favourite alcohol-free beers. However, and maybe unavoidably, this one fails to match up to that standard. In what seems to be a theme in this batch of reviews, it’s just a little bit too thin and harsh for my tastes, and is lacking in smooth mellow flavours to give it a bit of body and round out the profile. It just veers too much towards being plain carbonated water. Of the three pale ales that I’ve reviewed here, it’s by far the least objectionable, but it’s still pretty borderline whether I’d buy this one again or not. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.

Pete
August 24, 2019

The MCU Project: Spiderman Homecoming [2017]

I approached this movie with some trepidation. “Oh goody, ” I thought, “yet another Spiderman. I’m bored of all the Spidermen.” It feels like Spiderman gets movie-rebooted about every 6 weeks at the moment. Which baffles me, because it doesn’t seem like he’s really that interesting a character. The endless Batman reboots are a little less annoying, because at least he’s a somewhat complex character, but Spiderman just seems really superficial and bland. I can’t recall the plot of a single Spiderman movie. All I really remember is lots of swinging through cities, and intermittent jokes about shooting a substance from his wrists that is somewhat reminiscent of cum. Those never get old.

Anyway, but here we are. The opening scene of the film confounds all expectations by being… dun dun dun… a flashback! This one doesn’t go too far back though, just to the aftermath of the first Avengers movie, and it shows Michael Keaton and friends cleaning up the site of Tony Stark’s skyscraper. There’s lots of alien tech there, and some people in suits make the mistake of annoying Michael Keaton, hereafter referred to as “Roose Bwayne” because I want to. In a fit of pique, he instructs his lackeys to keep all the alien tech instead of turning over to the authorities. EIGHT YEARS LATER they’ve managed to decipher its secrets and Roose Bwayne now has his own wingsuit, a little bit like Falcon’s but a little more “budget” in appearance. The usual environmental clues are in place to hint that he’s not going to be the good guy. While wearing this suit he goes by the villain name “Vulture” but I’m going to refer to him as “Batman” just to fuck with your heads.

There then follows a very cute little sequence which shows alternate clips of Captain America: Civil War, in which, as you may recall, Spiderman was press-ganged by Tony Stark to fight on his side. These clips are shown from the perspective of Peter Parker’s phone camera, in which he acts like a perfect 15 year old, and chats non-stop like a YouTuber. This sequence is expertly put together, and nicely sets the stage for the style of humour you can expect from the movie. The frequency and level of the humour are in a similar ballpark to Iron Man, though obviously with a slightly more teenage focus. A lot of the comic relief comes from his friend Ned, who is a colossal nerd but utterly adorable.

After the events of Civil War, Tony Stark tells Peter Parker to go back home, and await further instructions. Months pass, and nothing. Peter pesters for his next mission, but it never comes. In the meantime, he does a little local crimefighting, often doing more harm than good through his clumsiness. While intercepting an ATM robbery, he encounters Roose Bwayne’s team of thugs and their tech. He feels that this is very important but Tony still won’t take his calls. Spiderman then stumbles upon the alien tech again, when he encounters one of Roose Bwayne’s henchmen attempting to sell it to a guy who looks suspiciously like Donald Glover. Spidey chases the henchmen through the suburbs, leaving a trail of destruction in his wake, until Batman (see above) pops out of the sky and ruins his day. One Deus ex Iron Man later, and Peter’s safely back home, being tucked into bed by Aunt May who most definitely isn’t an old lady this time round.

Peter did manage to pick up one of Roose Bwayne’s guns though, and decides to try and investigate its secrets. However, the bad guys are able to trace its location, and they come to collect it. “Two can play at that game, ” thinks Peter, and pops a tracker on them in turn.

All this time, he’s been using the Spiderman suit that Tony Stark gave him way back in Civil War. With the help of Ned, he discovers that the suit’s been in “training wheels” mode, and so they bypass this lockdown. What could go wrong, eh? The suit now has a sultry female voice, and gradually we are introduced to its advanced features.

There then follow a couple of impressive action set-pieces, one in the Washington Monument and another on the Staten Island Ferry, where Spiderman has to rescue his friends and a ferry load of passengers successively, and the laws of physics are generally brushed aside whenever they get too inconvenient. Once again, Iron Man has to come in and save the day, and Tony Stark decides Peter can’t be trusted with all this responsibility and takes the suit back. Peter goes home once more, and his local crimefighting projects are severely hampered. He seems to be settling into this lifestyle, when something quite unexpected occurs, and he’s thrust back into the fighting ways once again. I will say no more on the plot, for fear of spoiling the culmination.

My feelings about the representation of women in this film are hard to clarify in my own mind, let alone on the page. There are no female main characters. There are a decent number of female supporting characters, and while Peter’s girlfriend serves as just a love interest who needs to be rescued, the rest have a bit more depth to them. His friend Michelle, in particular, is superb and steals every scene that she’s in. So, on the whole, could be better, but could be a whole lot worse. I’ll leave it at that.

So, what’s the conclusion? Well, the plot is pretty much as expected – just an excuse to tie some action sequences together, and I fully anticipate that in a few weeks I’ll have forgotten pretty much everything that happened, just like any other Spiderman film. The action sequences didn’t make me go “wow” like some of the films had, but they were perfectly entertaining, and the humour was pitched about right too. So, it’s a decently entertaining and amusing film, but there’s nothing that really elevates it above the pack. While the phrase “with great power comes great responsibility” is never stated explicitly, it’s pretty obvious that this idiom is intended to be one of the thematic foundations upon which the plot is built.

Pete
August 20, 2019

The MCU Project: Black Panther [2018]

Here we are stepping outside of the film release chronology and into the MCU chronology for the 2018 movie Black Panther, a standalone story that overlaps very slightly iin terms of plot with Captain America Civil War. With a black director (Ryan Coogler) and a cast of almost entirely black actors, this Black Panther takes an enormous stride away from the stunning lack of both gender and racial diversity that we have seen so far. Of the two white actors in the film, Andy Serkis plays a thoroughly nasty villain, and Martin Freeman a surprisingly heroic token white; roles which the Slate Spoiler Special pointed our are usually reserved for the black actors. Meanwhile Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira absolutely rule this film, with sharp dialogue and engaging onscreen presence. The male actors are ok too.

Much of the film is set in the fictional African country of Wakanda, which is a beautifully realised almost magical place, where incredible technology has been developed using an important substance found only within their borders, called vibranium. This is the special material of which Captain America’s shield is made, and Tony Stark’s suits are powered. Wakanda is gorgeous to look at, combining the bright colours of busy traditional marketplaces with the sleek lines of high speed transport. Hoverbikes are, at one point, referred to as some sort of old technology. The question – one of the questions – this film is trying to answer, is: is there an obligation on the Kingdom of Wakanda to use these advanced technological powers to improve the lives of the black population of the world in general, and the small Wakandan diaspora in particular? Wakanda has so far held a firmly isolationist position, protecting their secrets so that they don’t lose their land and resources to larger colonising powers. Villain Number 2 of this film, played by Michael B Jordan, is the son of a Wakandan prince, growing up without his father as a black kid in the USA; he is firmly of the belief that Wakandan tech should be used to defeat white supremacy, and takes steps to further his cause.

It wouldn’t be a Marvel Movie without long fighty bits and car chases; however the fighty bits are written with story-telling power, and the car chases are cleverly remote-controlled and this made them interesting enough for me to stay awake through most of them. You’ll note that I haven’t shown you the view from my window once during this post.

I do get that you, dear reader, enjoy my snarky reviews more. But I did enjoy this film and felt it was an important and necessary addition to the body of work. Why can’t they all be like this, with real and relevant politics, and women who don’t just leap around attacking people with their perfectly toned thighs, or need to be rescued on a regular basis?

Karen
August 19, 2019

Faceplant

Maisy is a delightful cat and gets more bonkers with every passing year. I think that this might be the first time we’ve caught her performing a Lap Blanket Faceplant though.

Pete
August 17, 2019

The MCU Project: Captain America: Civil War [2016]

Captain America: Civil War had my standards very lowered by the fact that it has Captain America in the title as he is the complete blandest character in the Avengers, he takes things way too seriously and he is very egotistical!

However, it turned out it wasn’t only about Captain America and the title was a complete misnomer as it also had Winter Soldier, Iron Man, War Machine, Ant Man, Falcon, Hawkeye and Black Widow along with new characters into our ever-growing index, Spider Man and Black Panther.

The whole thing is about “A political involvement in the Avengers’ affairs causes a rift between Captain America and Iron Man.” but the thing about the rift is that Captain America and Iron Man never got along anyway and the rift didn’t seem more significant then any other rift that they have had before and they haven’t gone to war about it, the planning for the build up to the battle doesn’t really seem like it shouldn’t have happened before!

Bernard