Thor: Ragnarok

I can see why some people thought it was too broad. Because it probably was, a smidge.

I don’t quite get why people thought it was so wow, but it was fun. Which is something which should never be underestimated or undervalued.

Spoilers begin underneath

I would probably have restructured it slightly, with less time on planet weird so that Skurge got more screentime for his last stand.

Karl Urban is great in the time he does get. Because he makes it quite clear that Skurge is a loser, rather than evil, and that he’s in over his head. Without any dialogue. This use of Skurge also fits in with the overall theme of the Thor films – we all make mistakes, the important thing is to try to fix them, rather than pretend you didn’t make them (or you know, bury them and paint over them with a giant mural).

Thematic consistency, I like it.

The new stuff also makes sense of things from the first film, like why Odin flipped out when he thought Thor was being too blasé about war with the Frost Giants. To have one child go kill crazy is unfortunate, to have two smacks of carelessness.

I love that Thor has learnt enough to push Loki’s buttons back. That scene in the elevator is some of the best work Hiddleston has done as Loki, because he conveys how worried Loki is that this is it and Thor has finally had enough of him and it upsets him.

That’s the thing. Loki would do anything for Thor if Thor made it clear how much he loves him, while Thor just doesn’t get it because of course he loves his little brother. Even if they occasionally stab each other.

I know it was deliberate, but I didn’t like how every serious scene was immediately undercut with a silly bit.

I would also have saved “Immigrant Song” for the last fight only.

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I had been pre-warned that Matt Damon would appear, possibly so that I didn’t grab L and go “OMG, is that Matt Damon?!” It didn’t stop me from giggling and then going “OMG is that Sam Neill?!” Of course Odin is Loki, you’d think someone else that wasn’t Heimdall would have twigged roughly when the statue was made with horns!

I see that Doctor Strange has taken over his rightful role as explainer of mystic weirdness from Selvig. Which makes more sense than Selvig knowing about mystic weirdness in Age of Ultron.

I did love Doctor Strange inconveniencing Thor and then Thor being gloriously petty back. Particularly Thor’s smile of “sorry, not sorry”.

I know they killed off the Warriors Three to make Hela look dangerous but there must have been a better way. Then again, I am probably out of step with everyone else in missing them and the usual Earthers.

That being said, notice that Hogun, on his own, did nearly as much damage as Thor and Loki did in their first confrontation with Hela. Warriors Three represent.

I do love that Thor now has sub-plans for that moment when Loki betrays him. The boy is not as stupid as he looks or pretends to be. I’m also reasonably sure that Loki stole both the tesseract and any other shiny things present in the treasury, because he’s a power magpie in human form.

I also love that Valkyrie is every bit as fight mad as the rest of the Asgardians. I believe Thor when he says that he wanted to be a Valkyrie when he was little. I just get this vision of him running around pretending to be a Valkyrie, Odin going “someone’s going to have to tell him,” and Frigga going “nah, what’s the harm.” Loki is, of course, the one to tell him in the end.

I am trying to decide if Cate Blanchett can do *that* with her voice naturally or if she just has a voice SFX pedal on hand at all times. I want to believe she has a natural reverb setting.

Heimdall is the most polite rescuer ever – “sorry about the violence while I was rescuing you”.

I get why there was almost nothing of the gladiators’ revolt, but I would have liked to have seen a bit of it anyway.

Somehow, Chris Hemsworth looks ever more attractive the more damage he takes. That is voodoo, either from the actor or the director.

I know the scene where Bruce chooses to Hulk out is a counterpoint to the one where Black Widow forces him to, but I think Natasha did the least worst thing there so I am, once again, not the intended audience. It also shows the problem with any Hulk solo film. A goodly chunk of the audience are waiting for the bit where Bruce loses and becomes the Hulk despite himself.

I do love that Thor’s plans involve him doing the risky bit, and total trust in Loki, because he knows that Loki can be trusted, as long as you don’t give him time to think. I wish we’d got the hug that came roughly three nano-seconds after Thor realised that Loki was staying.

The loudest laugh I gave was when the Grandmaster landed amidst the people he’d held under. I live in hope he got his the same way the Beast Rabban got his.

~~~~

In other important news, I’d like to give a shout out to EJ at the BFI IMAX. He deserves any Nandos that he got from the blue forms.

Also, just an FYI, if you position yourself just right, the subway tunnels running from the BFI IMAX to Victoria have fantastic acoustics if you’re singing along with Robert Plant. It’s possible that I don’t need the help on the volume though 😉

Blade Runner 2049

 

A lot of the points I am going to mention cover the same ground as Selenak does here.  She explains what I liked and disliked better than I can, in fewer words, so I recommend reading her take on the film, and then coming back to read this for the couple of points where we disagree, and a few more specifically-me points.

 

  • I maintain my feeling of unease about a film about 30 years in the future of what people 40 years ago thought now would look like. Where are the films about what people now think 40 years in the future will look like?

 

  • Denis Villeneuve is a stonkingly good director.  He keeps a lot of the visual language from the original, but imbues it with his own feel which is a lot softer than Ridley Scott’s.

 

  • The BBFC rating includes a warning for sexualised nudity.  Anyone who finds any of the nudity in this film arousing has issues.  I think it was very well done, and thematically works but yes, the director deliberately went for “the commodification of sex and bodies is bad” and it worked.

 

  • The film works best when deals with the flipside of Blade Runner’s “what does it mean to be human”.  2049 asks “what does it mean to not be human?”

Everything below this is a spoiler.

Because the “what is it to be non-human” bits do work, I am more than a little bit miffed that the film’s main answer to the question is reproduction makes you human.  

My miffed is four-fold.  

1) I like to believe that I am not any less human than my friends who have reproduced.  

2) Of all the facets of humanity to choose, the film choose the one we share with animals.  Birds do, bees do it, even educated bacteria do it and so on.  

3) I am sorry to put this quite so bluntly, but in terms of the replicants wanting their freedom, I’ve never known the ability of their slaves to reproduce ever stopping slavemasters keeping their slaves enslaved.  

4)  It goes against the message of the first film, where being human is what you do, not what you are.  The replicants were more human than the humans, quite literally.  Leon and Pris’s willingness to risk what lifespan they had for Zhora and Roy Batty, Pris and Roy Batty’s love for each other and Roy Batty letting Dekker live are all more human than any act of the humans in Blade Runner.

I’m not sure some of the background of the story works with the information from Blade Runner.  Do you believe that a technology that had already been banned from Earth after several previous rebellions would suddenly become legalised just because someone said the technology was now safe?  I don’t either.

I presume that they let the replicants live out amongst humans to try to tie them in closer to humanity so that they’re less likely to rebel.  That’s also reflected in the words that Joe is expected to repeat in his check-ups.

I’m pleased that they decided that Joe wasn’t a human, mostly because you know, Ryan Gosling only has the one facial expression.  It also meant that something I thought was a plot hole wasn’t.  (I’ve gone with calling him Joe because I am terrible at remembering alphanumerics.)

I guessed that the child was actually the girl because the quickest way of hiding someone is saying that they’re dead.  I should have guessed who the child was because such an extreme immunodeficiency suddenly cropping up at 8 is … unlikely.  But I didn’t.  The DNA section threw up another plot hole though because if Joe has the DNA sequence of the child, it should be easy enough to compare it with his own, and, depending on what DNA segment is recorded, he should have been able to check if the female identity or the male one was the real one.

Joi is probably the most human of the characters, in one of the bits where the film decides humanity is the ghost in the machine.  Which is interesting, given that she’s the only unembodied/disembodied character.  She’s the one who makes decisions about herself and chooses danger rather than being forced to betray Joe.  She’s so lovely. And also opens up a whole vista of philosophical questions. Like is she any less human because she’s disembodied? Why does Joe choose her over another replicant (presuming, of course, that as a Replicant he’s not allowed to date humans – did I mention whole vistas?)?  Does Joi choose Joe as a name because it’s the name she’s been programmed to use it as a name or because she likes it?  How much of Joi is Joi and how much is the programming, and is that any different for Joe?

My favourite scene is the one where Joe is going back to Los Angeles and sees the advert for Joi.  He looks at her and it’s so full of love and sadness, because he knows that a new Joi would not be his Joi, and the ghost is in the electrons.  (Okay, so Gosling actually has three expressions, but he’d be more effective if he used the other two in more than one scene each.)

The odd thing is that the weakest scenes in Blade Runner 2049 are the ones that tie it into Blade Runner.

I feel bad about saying that because Harrison Ford is exceptional in his scenes.  The silhouette of Rachel was possibly the most terrifying unseen person since Joyce in “Forever” (Buffy, episode 17 season 5).  And yet, they slow an already slow film down and add nothing, because trust me, I already hated Wallace.  It feels like there were two scripts, one a direct sequel to Blade Runner, and one a more general sci-fi “what measure is a human” one, that they smushed together.

I am not sure what they were trying to do with Wallace, who was so much just Tyrell that D and I just called him not-Tyrell when we were talking about the film.  He’s just so unnecessarily horrible that I was hoping that dear, unstable Luv was going to gut him.  I am most sad that no-one gutted him.

My uncertainty with Wallace begins with his casting.  Given that he’s surrounded by faux-Japanese cultural motifs, why they didn’t just cast a Japanese actor is beyond me.  That was one of the things that did strike me, the film had much less of an Asian influence than the first one (even if I do understand the complaints that for all the Asian set dressing, there were no Asian characters in Blade Runner), and much more of a Soviet one.  It felt odd since I don’t think the Soviets were mentioned even once in Blade Runner, possibly to avoid dating the film.  I suspect this is partly a hangover from filming in Hungary.

On to some more general points:

  • I know why film-makers have characters use axe kicks in films.  They look cool.  I am willing to go with “rule of cool”, even if I don’t like axe kicks.  What I don’t get is why the characters being attacked by axe kicks never use the “proper” defence against them, even if that character is supposed to have fight training.  Axe kicks are so easy to defend against, why does nobody ever do it?!

 

  • I say this about every film he’s in, but when did Dave Batista get so good?  He’s a foot taller than me and about two of me in weight, and yet, when Sapper Morton put his glasses on I wanted to protect him.  That’s a neat trick.

 

  • I really like Hans Zimmer’s work.  If you need a film composer who can ape someone else’s style and rework it into something new, he’s the best choice.  The problem isn’t him, the problem is when the soundsystem of the cinema you are in can’t take all those tones at once, and you get massive reverb even when the soundtrack doesn’t want it.  Also, I’m reasonably sure that chunks of the soundtrack could be used for soundboarding people.  I know it’s deliberate but some of that really messed with my brain.

 

~~~~

In short (too late, I know), Blade Runner 2049 is a good film.  It’s not as good as Blade Runner.  It may or may not be a good sequel to Blade Runner.

Book Review – As Good As It Gets – The Story of St Helens’ Grand Slam Class of 2006

This book is about the glorious, all-conquering Saints team that won every trophy 🏆 available to them in 2006.

It’s written by Mike Critchley who works as the sports editor for one of the local papers, the St Helens Star. He sets the team’s year in context, not just of rugby league, but also the team’s importance to the town.

It’s wonderfully one-sided. It’s also written in authentic Northern gibberish in parts, to the point that I feel like asking my London Correspondent if it makes any sense to someone not from my neck of the woods.

The pro-Saints angle actually quite nice, because it’s so common that Saints don’t get the credit they deserve. It does occasionally leave me wanting more information or analysis than the book gives. But that’s understandable because it is quite clearly designed to be an happy overview of that glorious season, not an in-depth rugby analysis book.

The book is also rather obviously pro-Daniel Anderson. Which makes sense. It was a season of success that was partly down to his tactical choices and player rotation. It should actually have been his second title. Saints would have won the title the year before if Sean Long hadn’t had his face broken in a match against Wigan. No part of that last sentence is an exaggeration.  But the book chooses to do this not just by bigging up Daniel Anderson, which is reasonable, but by putting down Ian Millward at any opportunity. I have no idea what Mr. Millward did to the author but it must have been something. (It’s Ian Millward and the author is a journalist so I presume Millward swore at him.)

That, and a couple of “I do not think it means what you think it means” word usage issues, are the only problems I found.

It was interesting to get an insight into how a successful team works, and how it really is all the little things and building things up step by step. The Ade Gardener section, and indeed Gardener’s own analysis of both season and how wing-play works in rugby league, was probably the most interesting part, but there were lots of interesting tidbits.

As for an actual number of stars, this is 5/5 for a Saints fan, 4/5 for rugby league fans and probably 3/5 for other sport fans.

Atomic Blonde

Atomic Blonde is a great soundtrack in search of a film.

I think my anger with the film is because of its wasted potential. It could, and should, have been so much better.

The acting is solid, as is the directing and the technical stuff. The make-up department deserve an Oscar nomination. No, seriously. A character goes into shock and they made the character up to the right shade of pale.

The problem is the plot.

It makes no sense. No, seriously.

Without the last two “twists” (neither of which is a twist if you’d paid any attention during the film), it just about makes sense, because of some serious legwork by the actors, mostly Charlize Theron.

SPOILERS BEGIN HERE

With the penultimate twist, it becomes a solid entry in the gay spy drama category.

Think about it, young British agent, commits a lesbian indiscretion and is blackmailed by the Soviets, becoming Satchel. In protecting herself, she loses yet another chance at happiness and gets Delphine, who is very much the girl she was, killed. But she’s got to see it through to get her freedom. It’s all very bleak and actually works with the story.

Unfortunately, that’s when they throw in the last twist.  Which isn’t a twist and ruins all that has gone before. I’m not joking about it not being a twist. If you’ve ever heard John Goodman’s voice before, you’ll get it about halfway through the film.

With the last twist, a CIA op has killed 3 Allied agents, and one defector, mostly because of a lack of communication by the CIA. And we’re supposed to be happy about this and think it was a successful operation.

Also, MI6 is so incompetent that it didn’t notice a CIA mole, who was pretending to be a Russian mole, for about 10 years.

You’ve got poor Spyglass, killed trying to do the right thing. Then poor David Percival, who is a see you next Tuesday, don’t get me wrong, and in the throws of the traditional British spy middle-life crisis, who finds out that a friend of his was killed by the Russians to protect someone who has betrayed Percival’s government, and therefore goes all dark side. We’re supposed to be happy she kills him, and that he gets blamed for the whole thing, even though she’s the mole and there isn’t a mole, she’s actually triple-agent but the CIA didn’t bother to tell anyone. And I’m like … no.

In short, when your most sympathetic character is a Stasi agent, there is something wrong with the film!

I’m not even going to go into the really weird thing where there is only 1 German actor, who gets no lines in German. All the other Germans and Russians are played by Scandinavians. Now the amassed Vikings all do a damn good job (no, seriously, all my love for Roland Møller and Bill Skarsgård) but if you’re actually filming in Germany, which this was, it’s a bloody odd casting choice.

 

 

Doctor Strange

 

Doctor Strange is a brilliant example of the danger of expectations.

I expected cool SFX and Mads Mikkelsen. I got that, and bonus Benedict Wong, so I was happy. L expected a film that actually worked on its own merits and was left disappointed. It is quite a flat film, that spends most of its time setting up its own sequel and whatever the Marvel Cinematic Universe equivalent of the Infinity Wars is going to be.

It’s also telling that the memorable scenes are the ones with very little in the way of obvious SFX, where they give the actors are given something to do.

I want 16 films of Rachel McAdams’s Nurse Palmer going ‘oh FFS’ at superheroics. But then again I am entirely happy with the idea of 16 films with Rachel McAdams in. Dear Hollywood, please cast her in more things.

Spoilers Underneath

For all that I’m supposed to think Doctor Strange is a bit much, he’s not actually that much worse than several doctors I know.

I know that Marvel have said that the flyer with a broken spine is not Rhodey, but 1) I think they’re lying and 2) if it’s Sam Wilson, I riot.

I can’t help but feel more sorry for Doctor Strange in the scene where he shouts at Christine than the film wants me to, not least because he was a lot more polite than I would have been. I don’t know if that’s because I know how much time and effort you have to become a neurosurgeon, never mind one at the top of his field. I did like the irony of other surgeons saying to him re: his condition.

One interesting thing is how much Kaecilius thinks that what he’s doing is the right thing (as does Mordo, and the Ancient One).

I can see why people make the Tony Stark / Stephen Strange parallels, except it misses the important thing about them. Tony is driven by not wanting to let his father down, while Stephen Strange is driven by his belief in his own greatness. Strange doesn’t have the same self-destructive tendencies as Tony. Tony would happily get himself killed several times over to save the Earth or Universe, but I doubt he’d have come up with a plan that got himself out of it alive too.

They’ve also got very different attitudes to killing people. I like how seriously Doctor Strange takes the whole try not to kill thing. The fight scenes did lead to me going hallo there Scott Adkins. He has joined that select group of people that I recognise from their shoulders. Maybe recognise isn’t the right word, because I couldn’t put a name to the shoulders, but I did go ‘I know those shoulders from somewhere else’.

Like lots of superhero films, both Marvel and not, the end boss is a bit of an anti-climax. Although I am deeply amused by the method used to defeat him, it all seemed so easy, and the cost doesn’t become apparent until the end stinger.

Saying Chiwetel Ejiofor is good is telling you stuff you already know, but he was oh so good when the film finally gave him something to do. It meant that for all that this film was flat, I am looking forward to the sequel just for Mordo vs Strange. But that’s exactly what I mean when I say the film spent a lot of time setting up its sequel rather than being its own film.

End Spoilers

Disney Marvel are missing out on oodles of money by not having a Doctor Strange replica cape for sale. As this isn’t like them at all, I do wonder if it’s to avoid lawsuits from parents of children who try to levitate. If they do ever bring out a replica cape, I will be all over that.

I am very aware of the film’s flaws, but I am the target audience so I enjoyed it. To paraphrase N on Facebook, “make a competent films with Marvel Studios at the beginning and I’ll enjoy it”.

 

Suicide Squad

Was far better than it had any right to be.

As in was actually fun. And Will Smith is amazing. As is Margot Robble. And I ❤ Diablo, and Katana and Captain Boomerang.

Joel Kinnaman looks terrifyingly like Carmine Giovinazzo, so I apologise in advance if I make any Danny Messer on steroids jokes.

It’s only as I’m reading back through this that I realise that I’ve gone through the film character by character rather than thematically or chronologically. This wasn’t deliberate but may well show one of the weaknesses of the film. It’s a series of character bits strung together with action scenes. Now I don’t mind that at all, but other people will.

Some spoilers for Batman vs Superman follow (because they’re in the film) and mention of most of the Marvel Filmverse.

Spoilers Beneath

The story mostly makes sense. There’s a couple of moments of ‘that move was too boneheaded for that character to make’ but we will forgive them for this. The characters work as versions of themselves, even if a few people have had some of their rougher edges smoothed down. It is interesting, for instance, that the film does flash up that Harley was involved with Robin’s death but it is blink and you’ll miss it.

The film is tightly tied to Batman vs Superman, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, Suicide Squad does its bit to set up Justice League with a much lighter, easier and more fun touch than B v S did. On the other hand, I feel that this means that the Batfleck solo film we’re going to get (thank you, whoever) is going to be Bats vs the Joker, again. And while I am all over that, because … oh I’m hopeless, I do feel it’s been done and is only going to be compared to The Dark Knight, and that may not end well.

I am aware I am the only person that liked the Leto Joker. He doesn’t quite work, but it is at least blatantly not based on the Ledger-Joker (no diss against him). Given that other films keep turning other characters into the Ledger-Joker it’s a refreshing change. Also Jared Leto is the only person who looks more terrifying out of Joker make up than in it. Harley’s fantasy is legitimately eerie.

Deadshot is lovely, and it’s one of the interesting things about the film, that he is clearly a good guy and a bad man at the same time. And Will Smith is good at both. Better at being the good guy but … Deadshot so lovely. As is his daughter. Whose name I didn’t catch. In the film’s defence, I can’t hear out of my right ear properly at the moment so I don’t think it was their fault.

The film gave me an Amanda Waller who was just right. Because yes. Although it does worry me somewhat that her line on the topic of Superman is mine. No good comes of me and Amanda Waller agreeing. I also liked that the film let the “heroes” (well, you know) call her out when she does things that are really not good, see also *that* scene in the bunker. One of the things that annoyed me about the first Avengers film and the second Captain America film is that Nick Fury kept doing things that were decidedly shades of grey and no-one shouted at him. I don’t mind Nat and Clint not doing it, but I refuse to believe that Tony would be able to keep his opinions to himself. Also, I think she knows about the Bat and that makes me want to yell at Bruce going ‘Bruce, you really don’t want her to know’.

Harley Quinn was, well, she was herself. I can see why people might be annoyed that she always goes back to her Pudding. But the whole thing with her character is that she would (and indeed is) lovely, if only she avoids the Joker. And they got that over. Margot Robble is far better than I expected her to be. My favourite scene was the one just after the helicopter is shot down when the rest of the Squad find her again. The minute she sees them she tries to fake being alright, and then Deadshot holds his arms out so she can get down and she just melts into his arms. It’s so lovely. Because Deadshot is lovely.

Actually, the whole escape sequence is lovely. From Deadshot not telling anyone about Harley’s plans to him pulling his shot (and the rest of the squad being happy about it) and Captain Boomerang, who is by someway the member with the least empathy, trying to comfort him when the helicopter is shot down.

Joel Kinnaman does a bang up job in what could have been a thankless role. Because Flagg is the least bad of the good guys (because that’s how this film does it’s shades of grey), and less interesting than the bad guys and could just have been a bland GI Joe a-like. Instead Kinnaman gives him a reality and just enough human weakness to believable and real and solid. (Although the rest of the military squad were pretty much misc. disposable military types and hello Scott Eastwood. Because Scott Eastwood is always hello!)

I am going to presume that they cast Cara Delavigne for her ability to gyrate convincingly in very little for that bit at the end with the Enchantress. It doesn’t work. Then again, I don’t think anyone would have been convincing doing those gyrations, Josephine Baker notwithstanding.

Jay Hernandez is good as Diablo, who gets to be the regretful one of the squad. I think he’s literally the only one who regrets their crimes.

Captain Boomerang, on the other hand, really doesn’t. He’s, I think, the only one of the Squad who isn’t given some excuse or reason or redeeming feature. He’s fun, nonetheless, and it makes those moments where he is vaguely human more effective. It’s interesting that they choose him, who is the least dangerous and deadly Squad member as the one without redeeming features.

His accent is merely ludicrous. I have no idea if Jai Courtney just can’t do an Aussie accent, or if he’s an Aussie they told to put on the most stereotypical and ridiculous accent ever. All I know is that it sounds even more bizarre given that Margot Robble occasionally breaks into ‘Strine next to him.

I ❤ Killer Croc, which I really didn’t expect. He’s one of the few Bat-villains I know more from the comics than any adaptation, and I’m used to feeling sorry for him, but not loving him. Because he knows what he is, and he’s okay with it – see the scene in the bar. (Also, just cast Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje in everything.) I’m also trying to figure out if his line about ‘being born into the sewers’ is supposed to be a call-back to Bane.

Nothing about Katana makes any sense. If she’s got Flagg’s back, then why does she leave him and join the rest of the Squad in the bar scene? But if she’s one of the Squad, why is she allowed to roam free? She’s cool, but as I said, makes no sense.

It’s not a classic by any means, but its a fun way to spend a couple of hours, and if nothing else, it has a cracking soundtrack. I really don’t want to know how much Warners paid to get that soundtrack.

Star Trek Beyond

Was fun.

In a way the other two Reboot films haven’t been.

I think it’s because the creatives this time got that Star Trek’s job is to be the positive sci-fi franchise, the hopeful one, the one where people do make mistakes but learn from them.  It’s job is not to be grimdark (DS9 never was, no matter what people tell you) or to get lost in continuity loops to amuse the fanboys (Enterprise, here’s looking at you). I liked the film’s message and its positivity.

I also approve of the fact the story was original. It wasn’t based on a previous story, instead it was based on the experiences of these characters, not the experiences of their TOS versions.

Justin Lin should be allowed to direct anything he wants.  The thing I liked most about his directing style is how well he (and the SFX crew) conveyed the three-dimensional nature of space.  The establishing shots of the Yorktown were incredible.  I do wish he’d use fewer cuts in the hand-to-hand fight scenes.

I know at least one person is going to complain that my main objection to JJ Abrams is his flashy style so how can I love Justin Lin’s directing so much? It’s because the flash in Lin’s style helps the story while Abrams’s is just there to look cool. Lin used flashy tricks to show, not tell, the size of space, its three-dimensionality and the Escher-esque qualities something like the Yorktown [or a zero-G battle] is going to have.

Chris Pine’s Kirk was much less punchable in this one, which helped matters enormously.

I am utterly in love with Jaylah, but I think everyone is.

SPOILERS BEYOND HERE

It wasn’t perfect. I thought that Spock was too emotional and the twist was predictable. The minute you heard Edison’s name you could guess that nothing good had happened, but that’s a Star Trek tradition too. Seriously, Star Trek pulled “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain” way before Batman ever did.

It’s clear that someone in the writing staff liked Enterprise, and treated it with more respect than its own finale did.

I liked the way the film gave you enough detail to get what was going on but allowed you to fill in the blanks yourself. I am intrigued by the alien tech. I wonder if Krall’s appearance was down to how the machine worked. Maybe it transfers more than life energy but also some part of the victim’s DNA. I’d also love to know how the swarm actually worked.

That’s how you use “modern” music in your sci-fi film! It turns what was a pretty cringey moment in the first Reboot film into a moment of awesome. “I like the beats and the shouting,” indeed.

I do worry that I am turning in to Urban-Bones though 😉

Book Review – The Piranha Club: Power and Influence in Formula One by Timothy Collings

The ever wonderful L got me this as a present a couple of years ago and has been very patient waiting for me to read it.

I almost want to write two reviews, one for F1 fans and one for other readers.  Because, despite a few flaws, I would utterly recommend this for anyone with more than a passing interest in F1.  If you’ve not got an interest in F1, you’re really not the target audience.

Both reviews would make one similar complaint – what Collings needs, even more than someone to thoroughly proof-read the book (I’d complain less, were this not supposed to be the revised edition), is someone to help him organise his thoughts.

The book follows a mostly chronological path, beginning with Enzo Ferrari and carrying on to the present day (which was 2003).  Which makes sense, and it was interesting to get an overview of how the sport developed and changed, through the prism of the teams and team bosses.

Only sometimes the book randomly jumps so Ron Dennis and Frank Williams get introduced before Ken Tyrrell, for no obvious reason, especially as Ken Tyrrell was also a garagiste.

And then we suddenly get a section on the skulduggery of the 1993, 1997, 1999 and 2003.  And each individual section is very good (especially the 1997 bit, which, as a Ferrari fan, I remember *differently*), but the whole would have been so much better with an introductory paragraph to the chapter (which is called Tempestuous Times) and and intro to each section.  For the price of five extra paragraphs, the chapter could have gone from ‘really good’ to ‘excellent’.

Following that chapter we jump back to 1997 (admittedly to a really excellent chapter on Jackie Stewart, Stewart Racing and how to organise an F1 team).

The jumping also affects the flow of his introductions to team managers, so we get Paul Stoddart doing his thing in the 2003 section of ‘Tempestuous Times’, before he, Minardi, and why he bought Minardi are introduced a chapter and a half later in ‘2001 – A Political Odyssey’.

I think the lack of organising principle is why, particularly in the early chapters, you quite often get an anecdote on one page, only to have it be repeated over the page.

All those complaints are utterly unimportant if you’re an F1 fan though, because the book has so much interesting stuff, especially about how things work (or don’t work) on the business front, and some of the personality background on the team leaders.

And Bernie.  Oh the Bernie stuff was interesting.  Particularly Stirling Moss saying that Bernie was a half decent driver.  There is a man whose opinion I respect in these matters.

I keep forgetting how old Bernie really is.  Because I always assume that he’s Ron Dennis’s age, and he’s not, he’s 16 years older, which I think is because one reaches one’s business years about 20 years after one reaches one’s racing years.

Collings also tries to predict the future, and while there’s a reason that’s a mug’s game, he does get some of it right.  The imbalance in the prize money has lead to other teams going bust, and is still causing ructions between the remaining teams.  He’s right that it will probably be the EU Commission that eventually gets it sorted (courtesy of complaints from Sauber, where Peter Sauber has left F1, rejoined, and then sold his team).

He’s also right in predicting the rise of manufacturer teams such as Renault, and teams that are part of larger organisations, where they’re basically extended marketing departments (looking at you so much Red Bull), at the expense of truly privateer teams.

Where he’s wrong is the effect that that’s had on who the team bosses are.  Contrary to what Collings predicts, they are still mostly ex-racers and mad petrolheads, for example Christian Horner (and if anyone wants to horrify us all by digging out *that* centrefold of Horner, now would be the right time) and Toto Wolff.  The bosses of big companies don’t have the time to devote to just one part of their brand that it would need for them to truly run a Formula 1 team, so they’re going to try to hire the best they can and those people are going to come from the same motorsports-enthusiastic places they’ve always done, they’re just not doing it under their own names now.  And I don’t think you could.  Gene Haas apart, and time will tell if he stays, you need a pre-existing business empire to enter F1 nowadays.

And Bernie still prevails.  As I suspect he always shall until he’s bored of it.  The book was written before the present Concord agreement was signed and therefore ends on a note of ‘how will the teams ever agree to a new one, and how will Bernie cling on to power?’  Sound familiar?  The book also has a fantastic anecdote that explains why Bernie remains,

“At various times, he has left a room, during a meeting, after suggesting that the team principals present decide among themselves who the new leader should be, only to return and find they had spent so long arguing about the air-conditioning levels, or something similar, that no-one had even proposed a replacement leader.” (pg 137)

Now, yes, it’s one of those anecdotes that’s probably far too good to be true, but it sounds infinitely plausible and I suspect the same thing would happen now.  He is what keeps F1 moving, and I actually do worry about what happens post-Bernie, and I think the ‘Bernie out’ people should consider that before they get too vociferous.

But yes, in short, definitely read it if you’re an F1 fan. Not so much if you’re not.

X-Men: Apocalypse

Well that didn’t quite work.

And I’m not sure why.  I’m also not sure why a film with an alleged running time of 2 1/2 hours feels like it’s missing half its story.  I think it could have done with 6 months extra work on the story and the script.  It all feels a bit bland.

Spoilers from here on in.

In particular, I feel it could have done with more about the Horsemen and something, anything, in between the final battle and them rebuilding a school.  I think it’s mostly I can’t see Erik being that forgiving, especially given his last rage-bender lasted for ~20 years.  (Yes, I have no problem with him being imprisoned in solitary confinement for 10 years without going crazy, but I have trouble with him being forgiving.  I know I am everything wrong with comic-book fans.)

I didn’t like was how Apocalypse felt like an afterthought in his own movie.  I’m not sure why it felt that way, but it did.

I think it would have been a better film if they’d hired someone who could act for Scott Summers.

I also refuse to believe that there isn’t one young German actor who can tolerate latex make-up that they could have had as Kurt.  Nothing against the guy they had but really!

Michael Fassbender can join Hugh Jackman in the list of actors who can’t pull off a big ‘NO’.  No offence intended to either of them, since I ❤ them muchly, but they can’t.

I do like that the film doesn’t even try to pretend Erik’s wife and child aren’t dead meat.  Even non-comic book readers know what is about to happen.  The details are suitably horrifying (because doing the right thing is what outed Magneto, and the actual deaths were an accident and …) but the final result was very similar to that bit in Wolverine: Origins, down to the flannel and no-ing.  (Although I approve of the flannel and the cinematography for the Polish bits).  I was deeply amused when he (far too suddenly, see also the ‘half this film seems to be missing’) changes sides at the end.  The minute that X flew down you knew who it was because who else on that battlefield had quite that flair and need for the over-dramatic.

You could also tell which bits they’d been forced to put in to prop up the next Wolverine movie.  I love Wolverine as much as the next person (actually depending who reads this, more than them) but I could have done without his cameo.  It felt kind of forced (although I did love that the minute I saw the helicopters I went ‘oh no, Stryker, yuck’.  All three of the actors who have played him have done bang up jobs of being truly, truly vile.  Well played, sirs.)  But I suppose you have to put that in if you’re suddenly got a 27 year age gap between two actors.  I know she won’t be, but I do hope we get Famke Janssen at some point in the next Wolverine film.

There was, basically, too much CGI and not enough real peril.  The only bits where I felt the characters were in danger was Angel and Nightcrawler at the beginning, and then Mystique and Quicksilver at the end.

That’s my complaints out of the way.

I would have complained about how much more martial Prof. X was at the end if it hadn’t turned out to be deliberate.  Doing it deliberately I am happy with.  (Because it works with the theme that he, Mystique and Magneto can and should learn from each other.)

On to the stuff I really liked:

1 – The opening.  Go team normal that defeated (or very nearly defeated) Apocalypse and his Horsemen.

It was a bit too obviously shot for 3D but was so prettily done that I am almost tempted to watch the film again (even though its not that good) just to watch it.

2 – Moira.  Go, go, secret agent Moira.  Who is a better person than I am for not smacking Charles when he reveals what happened.

3 – Storm, although she was one of the characters who could have done with more time, because she at least got a character arc.  The actress does a damn good job given the lack of scenes, the lack of dialogue and general telling, not showing of her bits.

4 – Angel.  (Who is not Warren Worthington as far as I’m concerned).  Just yes.  Very convincing when they gave him stuff to do, and I loved how the film made it clear he was just as much a prisoner of the fight club as Nightcrawler was.  I also loved the bit when Apocalypse recruited him.

5 – Alex.  Okay, I knew he was also dead meat because the actor has a new TV job and he was suddenly very present after being absent for film 2 but he was so good in what we did have.

which leads to

6 – Oh Peter Maximoff.  I knew Evan Peters could act, but … oh Peter.  Just … he was fantastic, in all his doubt and amused self-loathing.

I also liked that he couldn’t save everyone, because it’s a nice counterpoint to the silliness of the rescue scene.

7 – The music.  Throughout.

8 – Charles Xavier.  Who has grown up.  That’s what I got from the film.  He’s not as wide-eyed and bushy-tailed as in First Class, but he’s accepted he has responsibilities, which he didn’t in Days of Future Past.  And even enjoys them.

Also, I loved that he went along with Apocalypse’s thing just to get his own message out there.  And his complete and utter trust in Jean.

9 – Hank!! Always Hank.  He’s just so … he’s the kind of person who really would knock up a pair of red quartz glasses and pretend he just had them lying around his workshop.  So that his friend’s little brother won’t feel bad.

10 – Mystique!  Who turns into Field Marshal Mystique when needed and hates being a hero and is doing her best.

I am deeply amused that Caliban’s response to hearing that Magneto is in trouble is to pass it on to Mystique.  Everyone knows!  Hank’s response to hearing this is even more fun.

Then there’s the scene in the plane, which calls back to both the equivalent scene in X-Men 2, where it’s Rogue, Pyro and Iceman who are the newbies, and the scene in First Class, and that heavy silence when Mystique has to tell them that they’re the only survivors from First Class.

I actually really like how they tied this in to both the other two Reboot films and to the Originals, because, for all people say that the Originals have been ret-conned out of existence, they’ve done something much cleverer, which makes the “conversation” Xavier had with himself vital for the ‘new’ future’s existence, and yet avoids a few continuity snarls.

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So yes, overall I like what it was trying to do, but I don’t think it quite worked.

Captain America 3 – Civil War

(Spoilers throughout)

It’s not every day Marvel blow up a building where your mother used to work.

I know there’s a rest of the film that isn’t set in Vienna, but I am, for somewhat obvious reasons, stuck on that bit.

Moving on to the actual film, although I will return to the above later, it’s definitely the best of the Captain America films and it’s a fine pragmatic adaptation of the Civil War story.  I use pragmatic in the best sense of the word, because whoever the writers are obviously went ‘what were the missteps of the comics Civil War arc, and how do we avoid them?’

And they have.  Even Tony Stark gets to make reasonable, sensible points, and the Sokovia Protocols are significantly less stupid than the Superhero Registration Act.  (My own views are somewhere between Cap’s and Vision’s, with a fair dose of Natasha’s thrown in.  You’ll notice I’m on Cap’s side despite that.)

Discussion of superhero politics

Admittedly I did mostly want to shout ‘stop falling for sentimental illogic’ at Tony, but at least his reasoning was better in the comics.  Part of my problem is that, Ultron excepted, I’m not sure any of the things that happened (New York, Washington or Lagos) would have ended in any other way had there been an oversight committee or if the Avengers hadn’t been there.  In fact, I’m reasonably sure that the Avengers not being there would have lead to far worse things in the case of New York, Washington and Lagos.  (To wit, alien invasion, Hydra getting hold of the Insight Programme and Hydra getting hold of a biological nasty.)

So while I dig Tony’s personal guilt re: Sokovia, I don’t think this is the best way of assuaging it.

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I basically came out of the film going ❤ T’Challa, Sam Wilson and Rhodey.  No really, all my love belongs to those three.

Also that Nat and Steve (and Clint and Rhodey and Sam) are the very, very best friends anyone could ever hope for (except mine.  My friends are the most awesome.).

Discussion of Steve’s Awesome

One of the things that really interested me is how everything that Steve does is defensive, from preventing Hydra getting hold of whatever the bionasty was, to protecting Bucky.  Even when he’s doing that, even at the end when Tony is (understandably) kill crazy, Steve’s also doing minimal damage.  He’s so lovely.

I also loved that shot just before the end of the fight with Tony where Tony thinks he’s won because Bucky is unconscious and Steve’s disarmed and Steve just puts up his fists and OMG he looks so much like pre-serum Steve, and, if Tony Stark without Iron Man is a billionaire playboy philanthropist, Steve without anything else is a heart of gold.

I also completely and utterly stars and hearts love that Steve’s motivation was ‘I don’t want them to kill my friend’.  Like he’d be okay with jailed, was okay with jailed, just not with killed and I just want to give him a hug.

Discussion about the bad guy

Okay so I saw Daniel Bruhl being sinister and he’s a German actor and I thought ‘oh no, here we go again’, but oh they went to interesting places instead and used Bruhl’s talents and that scene with Zemo and T’Challa!!!

It was interesting that they gave Zemo the same motivation as two of the good guys and had the good guys (or at least T’Challa) admit that.  And !!!! again.

I could have done without infinitely punchable psychiatrist (as ably portrayed by Martin Freeman) but Zemo as a whole was interesting.

Iron Man and the family Stark

When I say they made Tony Stark more reasonable than in the comics I meant it.  But that doesn’t mean he was any less himself than usual.  I mean, the rest of it, including the revenge rampage I can understand, but imprisoning Wanda and dragging in child soldiers, not so much.  (I do not care how old Peter is supposed to be, he looks like a child.)

He also did the usual Tony thing of starting something then not seeing it through.  So okay, Cap is out and away, (along with Bucky) and he’s okay with that, but he’s happy to leave Clint, Wanda, Sam and Scott Lang in prison.  Fuck you Tony with a vengeance.

Robert Downey jnr does a fantastic job throughout of being just lovable enough to get away with it and just aggravating enough to be Tony Stark.  He’s marvelous.  (As are whoever did the CGI work for young Tony because that’s uncanny.)

The twist of who was in the car is solid.  As in I didn’t twig before the film wanted me to.  (Also the music for that scene was really good.)  It’s also a solid example of when there is no “right” thing to do in a situation, which there are several of in the film, which I really like.  I can see Tony’s point that he had a right to know, but that suggests that if it had been AN Other SHIELD agent who’d been killed, he’d be okay with it (see also being okay with Black Widow despite what she’s done).  Then again, Steve’s reason for not telling him isn’t exactly selfless either, ‘I know how you will react and I would like you to not go kill-crazy on my best friend’ is again, understandable if flawed.  As usual Marvel, both films and comics, is best when its messy rather than clear cut.

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Now we get to the bit where I snark.  About things like the German armed police being involved in a raid in Bucharest, and all the cars having the wrong number plates.  And the area around the UN buildings being nothing like that.  I was hopeful when the establishing shot was right but the location shooting was blatantly not in Vienna.

But yes, I did have a fun moment of going ‘yay, it’s my home town they’re blowing up,’ which friend L says is odd because he’s getting sick of London being blown up in films.

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While I still think this should and could have been Avengers 3 (even without Hulk and Thor), the ending bit made it clear why this was named for Captain America.  Oh Steve!