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
August 2, 2019

No Booze Is Served… (but what if it was?)

Today’s guests would appear to be more sensible than expected, not helping one bit with the clearly stated aim of clearing the above shelf. Do take a seat while I get your drinks.

Pete, Love of my Life, this is the perfect opportunity for you to imbibe the rest of your Laphroig, and perhaps the Talisker too. Especially given the risk that they get knocked off the shelf by the bathroom fitters in the next week. I mean that in the accidental sense, not that I suspect them of being thieves; they seem very trustworthy to me. Only the virtual cocktail will leave you hale and hearty my dear.

Lyle. What goes well with excessive amounts of coke? Oh yes, excessive amounts of triple sec. May your Friday sparkle and your feet never become sore.

Graybo’s request for earl grey tea was particularly inspired, and I do have a tin of stale biscuits to offer you with that. I hope you like it with the addition of sloe liqueueuer, which I understand is how they drink it in Luxembourg, land of delightful fragrances. Maybe. I have never been there.

We are particularly delighted to welcome our dear old friend the sartorially elegant Dr Pockless, who has accidentally asked for a sparkling water. I will Dr his drink, if you’ll excuse the abbreviation, with the rest of that Kahlua and some angostura bitters, which will surely be delicious, and also improve his poetry.

And I’ll have the rest, combined and whizzed in the blender with some of the mint leaves that have taken over the garden. I call this the Ubornicorn. Have a lovely weekend.

Karen

Cocktail Hour

Once upon a time, Friday afternoon was all about the cocktails here at Casa Uborka. But as all you regular readers will know from Pete’s recent posts, there has been much less of that sort of thing lately. I may not have mentioned this, but a couple of years ago I was diagnosed with stomach ulcers. I should have mentioned it, because starting on the meds changed my world from one where continual acid indigestion was an accepted norm, the only variant being how much worse it got when I was under stress; to one where I never have to reach for a bottle of gaviscon to get through the night again. Helpfully, there is also the option of modifying my diet to reduce the symptoms: I can stop eating and drinking all my favourite things. Chocolate. Red wine. Spicy food. Tomatoes. Garlic. Coffee. Happy days. I’d rather take the drugs. However it turns out that as time goes by, some of things don’t taste good anymore – what’s that about? I can no longer drink even a small glass of wine, even the most mellow and expensive lovely old red (and I am salivating thinking about such a thing) will turn into plonk in my mouth. This has taken some mental and emotional adjustment.

For a while there, I made do with fruity ciders (apple ciders generally being waaaay too acidic), but find them excessively sweet and sugary. Then I turned to Crabbie’s ginger beer, and actually would very happily exist on that for the rest of time, but once Pete decided he was no longer a Beer And Whiskey Man, it occurred to me that there’s plenty of perfectly nice non-alcoholic ginger beer, cordial, and so on, and I too could simply stop drinking alcohol.

So I did. And it is fine. And I have to try quite hard not to be a bit born-again about it, but I really don’t miss the booze. It helps that I don’t have that many nights out, but we did most of our drinking on our own sofa anyway.

So I’d like to lift a glass of elderflower and lime cordial to all of you, and offer you something from the bar; we’ve got a load of stuff to get rid of now.

Karen
  • Comments: 6
  • Can I have a chaser of some obscure artisan spirit from the Med? - ... graybo...
  • Okay but how is any of this helping me to offload the shelf full of kalhua and hibiscus sy... - Karen
  • If we're booze-free, I'll stick with my usual excessive amounts of diet coke, thanks. - Lyle
  • This brings back so many memories. Earl Grey tea please, no milk, no sugar. - ... graybo...
  • I'm confused. Should I just have a glass of sparkling water? - Doctor Pockless