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
August 13, 2019

The MCU Project: Ant-Man [2015]

Ant Man opens in a similar fashion to many of the MCU films with a short flashback scene. Starting a film with a “boardroom” scene is a puzzling choice – I respond by doing what I usually do when confronted with a phalanx of middle aged white men in suits, which is, fall into a senseless stupor. I am just about alert enough to register the presence of Howard Stark and a man who looks like a young Michael Douglas. Upon consulting a wiki afterwards, I discover that the revelations in this scene are basically critical to the entire plot of the film, which explains why I felt like I was spending the whole two hours playing catch-up. Young Michael Douglas is Hank Pym, who was referred to in Thor, and he’s been working on shrinking technology but come to the conclusion that it’s unspeakably dangerous. He’s angry that Howard Stark is also now working on shrinking technology, and so Pym resigns from SHIELD in a fit of pique.

Flash forward to the present day, and here’s Paul Rudd, who will always to me be Crap Bag from Friends. He is freshly out of prison and trying to go clean, though it’s hard work when even his job at an ice cream parlour falls through when they discover about his past. In case you’re worried that there’s going to be any sort of challenging moral grey areas here, fret ye not – he’s unambiguously portrayed as one of The Good Guys, and just to put a cherry on it, it’s revealed that though he’s a cat burglar, the crime that he was put away for was a Robin Hood sort of theft. I open my notebook and jot down something tells me that there will be one last “big score”.

Meanwhile, in a lab that has been given the appropriate lighting, decor and mood music that the sign reading “You don’t have to be evil to work here – but it helps!” is rendered unnecessary, a bald man in a suit (Darren Cross, and you know he’s a baddie, because he’s both bald and in a suit) is introducing more men in suits to a teeny tiny mech suit called the yellowjacket which has the power to shrink its wearer into a centimetre-high supersoldier. One of the men in suits sweats nervously and stammers “imagine what our enemies could do with this tech?” and you know that he’s not going to be long for this world. You can literally see Cross thinking “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

Surprise surprise, Crap Bag ends up doing one last big score, because otherwise his ex-wife is going to stop him from seeing his daughter. As a Good Guy, his illegal activities must be motivated by wholesome desires. He runs into some slightly tighter than expected security, but he’s quick on his feet and cracks a fingerprint scanner in less than 5 minutes. This segment nicely satisfies my lust for what I call “competence porn” – scenes in films and TV shows which show people being really bloody good at what they do. Once inside the vault, Crap Bag discovers what looks like an old motorcycle suit, only to discover that it’s an older version of the yellowjacket suit, and we get our first ant-scale action sequence. These sequences are all absolutely brilliant – top notch action, great CG, and also some cracking humour injected into them, by occasionally interspersing the high-octane ant-scale action with a brief clip of how it looks from human-scale, which is often hilariously anticlimactic.

At this point, two brilliant things happen, for which I absolutely love this film. First, Scott – sorry, Crap Bag – panics and tries to return the suit. This fills me with glee, because whereas in most films the protagonist would accept his new responsibility and just advance to the next plot point, in this one he does the logical thing and tries to hit the undo key. It is then revealed that the big heist was actually a set up, and the owner/inventor of the suit is a fully-grown Michael Douglas, who deliberately selected Scott and wanted him to have the suit in order to half-inch the yellowjacket suit from the evil bald man. Cue brilliant thing number two, which is that Scott says “uh, why don’t we call up The Avengers and get them to fight evil instead?” Again, entirely logical. Fully-Grown Michael Douglas gives an explanation why that’s not possible, and I’m sure it was a very good one, but I was too busy noting down my joy that the writers of the film made an attempt to answer the fans’ inevitable “why didn’t they do sensible course of action instead of dumb thing” questions before they are even asked.

Scott finally accepts his duty and we then get a very funny training montage of him learning to effectively use the suit. At this point I would like to briefly mention the humour in this film. While it’s not quite as over-the-top as the Guardians Of The Galaxy movies, it’s definitely one of the funnier films in the stable, and for me personally, I think this might be the sweet spot. When we got to the credits and the writers were revealed as Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, everything slotted into place. It is certainly a very British sort of humour – sometimes subtle but generally quite humble.

Then there’s another one of those gratuitous shirtless scenes like the one in Guardians Of The Galaxy 2 – for the benefit of anyone who hasn’t seen behind the curtain, you should be aware that preparing for that sort of scene is a months-long process in itself, it’s incredibly unhealthy (one of the main components is being incredibly dehydrated), and if you whipped off the actor’s shirt during any other scene in the movie, his stomach would not look anything like that (though that’s obviously what they’re trying to imply). Just so you know. Apologies if I’ve ruined your wanking session.

There are three female characters in this film, also known as “people who may need rescuing at some point”. Scott’s ex-wife and his daughter I’ve already mentioned, and the third is Fully-Grown Michael Douglas’ daughter, Hope. She’s a bit pissed off that FGMD has roped in Scott for this mission against evil, when she thinks that she’s the ideal candidate. You get no points if you correctly guess FGMD’s reasoning, which is that her mother was, like FGMD himself, once an agent working for SHIELD in one of FGMD’s tiny suits. Faced with humanity’s demise, she was forced to “go sub-atomic” as a noble sacrifice, and FGMD never got over it and doesn’t want to put his daughter in the same danger. “Never go sub-atomic”, FGMD warns Scott. The wise film fan laughs wryly. Remember in 1984, when Egon Spengler told the other Ghostbusters to never cross the streams, and then they ended up having to cross the streams because the plot demanded it? Yeah, you can see where this is going. Anyway, this paragraph went down a bit of a rabbit hole – the point I originally set out to make was that there are only two adult female characters in this film, which is about par for the course for MCU films, but most refreshingly there is no romance subplot. Protocol dictates that in this film, there should be flirting and eventual snogging between Hope and Scott, but that protocol is delightfully ignored. Hoo-fucking-ray!

We enter the final act of the film, and it is time to retrieve the yellowjacket suit. Things pan out exactly as predictably but entertainingly as I have prepped you for. I shall say no more, as I’ve already said enough.

The main theme of this film is that nothing is more powerful than a man’s love for his family. I would request that you remind me of this idiom next time I’m sat next to Bernard on the sofa and he says “Dad, I managed to keep a fart in!” about 0.75 seconds before a clarion “parp!” echoes off of the sofa cushions.

 

Pete
  • Comments: 3
  • Maybe we'll watch it again sometime - Pete
  • Also, I'm almost sorry I feel asleep during this one, it sounds quite good. - Karen
  • It seems like you have figured out the formula they are using. - Karen
August 9, 2019

The MCU Project: Avengers Age of Ultron

It falls to me to critique 2015’s Avengers Age of Ultron, directed by Joss Whedon along similar lines to some other Avengers movies I have known. The opening sequence reveals which members of the Avengers team will be entertaining us today, to joyful squeals from Pete and Bernard: Thor! Captain America! Black Widow! War Crime! Hulk! Iron Man! Etc. I recognise some of these, though admittedly the one called War Crime is new.

To provide that important context, we are watching this from a cosy cottage in the Yorkshire Dales, while back in Commuterville the physical Casa Uborka is having essential works done to the bathroom. The room is arranged such that from where I am sitting, I can mostly see the reflection of sunshine on the TV screen, rendering the action obscure. I am knitting (for the third time) a shawl pattern called Ishbel, rendering the plot impenetrable.

From what I can gather, the initial plot is to defeat Hydra and seize Loki’s sceptre. Hydra immediately surrenders, leaving me for a moment delighted that the film is only half an hour long. However there is a development! Stark and Banner have been developing some sort of global peace initiative, the software for which suddenly becomes sentient and megalomaniacal (basically a more sympathetic Iron Man with a shinier outfit). Some various confusing things happen and it turns out this one is a baddie after all, and the action resumes.

The theme of this movie is around relationships and teamwork, or the lack of them. Unable to resolve the continual pissing contest between the main male characters, and without Nick Furry, they have no leadership or coherent plan. There is a tediously long fighting scene between Iron Man and Hulk, resulting in the whole crew being disgraced and dashing off to hide in a bucolic setting much like our own. Enjoy the view from my window which occasionally distracts me from this less-than-absorbing movie.

Other points to note are the utterly wooden flirting between Black Widow (has she ever been married? Is this her correct marital status? Perhaps there was a back story movie about her that I have so far missed. Perhaps this is all still for me to look forward to) and Bruce Banner. Also the question or who or what are The Avengers avenging? I see no avengement going on, other than the avengement postulated (but never carried out) by the Speedy Twins, who are new characters complete with their mini-arc which I will not spoil.

I seem not to have made any further notes. Perhaps I was drawn into the movie to the extent that I was rendered incapable of putting pen to paper. Perhaps I reached the lace rows in my knitting. Perhaps I fell asleep.

Karen
  • Comments: 1
  • Please oh please can we get multi-reviews of these films, one for each of you? Please!! (l... - Gordon McLean
August 8, 2019

The MCU Project: Guardians of the Galaxy II [2017]

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is, for me, significantly better than Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 1 because the characters are much more developed and play a much stronger role. Drax is, by far, my favourite character because of the humour the developers have added. As my favourite scene goes, Rocket Racoon and Peter Quill are having an argument and Rocket says “In your bed tonight there will be something large and sticky and that thing will be a turd. BUT not my turd, it will be one of Drax’s”, to which Drax replies, “Hahaha I have famously large turds!”

You can obviously see why this is my favourite scene.

I also think that the developers have chosen good songs for which Peter will listen to as they felt very boppy. There is also good editing when Rocket and the Ravagers are using a space jump because jumping more than 50 is deemed unsafe so when Rocket and the Ravagers jump 700 that is a very funny, well edited scene! After the film, ‘The Guardians of the Galaxy will return…” it makes me really can’t wait for it.

The Film Reviews will return…

Bernard
  • Comments: 1
  • I enjoyed this movie too, but I think I prefer the first one a little more as it wasn't as... - Gordon McLean