Avengers: Infinity War

Giant purple glove enthusiast Thanos (Josh Brolin) has a sad back story. His people, the Titans of Titan (which isn’t confusing at all, couldn’t it at least have been the Titons of Titan, or the Titaniums of Titan, or the Titans of Titanic? All viable options) were ravaged by over-population and over-use of natural resources, leaving their home world in ruins. Thanos had proposed an option to prior to this, which would have meant randomly killing half of Titan’s entire population, which was understandably vetoed. Now, in the wake of Titan’s ruin, Thanos has seen the opportunity to enact his plan on a much grander scale, wiping out half of all known life in existence, for which he will need the golden infinity gauntlet and six infinity stones scattered across the galaxy. It’s up to Earth’s mightiest heroes – and a few from some other places too – to try and stop Thanos before it’s too late.
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Hail, Caesar! (2016)

Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a put-upon movie producer for Capitol Pictures in 1951. Over the course of one 27-hour period he must deal with rival gossip columnist twins Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton), a rising western star (Alden Ehrenreich) being reimagined as a dramatic actor, much to the chagrin of his new director (Ralph Fiennes), the unexpected pregnancy of a swimming starlet (Scarlett Johansson), offers for Mannix himself to change to a high powered position in another company, as well as the supposed kidnapping of major star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) by a Communist cell calling themselves “The Future” and the fall-out from Whitlock’s disappearance, which is delaying the production of a lavish epic.
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Captain America: The Winter Soldier

When we last saw Steve Rogers, aka Captain America (Chris Evans), the scientifically advanced super soldier had been frozen during the Second World War and defrosted in modern day, where he helped sort out the attack from Loki and the Chitauri in The Avengers. Now he’s dealing with a threat that’s much closer to home, when it appears SHIELD, the company he works for, may be a little more corrupt than he anticipated.capt_a
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Violence is Funny

Everybody has their own favourite Christmas films, and more often than not they tend to be those watched every year during your childhood. The ones you can quote line for line, and aren’t ashamed to admit you love. That’s the beauty of the Christmas film, by their very nature they almost have to be sappy, family-friendly, it’ll-all-be-OK-in-the-end schmaltz, and some are so much the better for it. Whilst A Christmas Story may not be my personal favourite, I can absolutely see why others may adore it, and you give me National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, The Muppet Christmas Carol or Elf every day of December and you’ll find it a difficult task to prise me from the sofa. But this post isn’t about any of those film, it’s about a series of films, all set over the holiday period, which I feel I should write about, because I love them so much. That’s right, it’s Home Alone.

Growing up, I must have watched Home Alone and its sequel, Lost in New York, every Christmas since about 1995, but for some reason or another I hadn’t seen either of them for a good few years, so earlier this year I spotted the 4-disc boxset in my local second-hand DVD store for far less money than I would have been willing to pay, so I made a swift purchase and shelved them aside, looking ahead to Christmas when numbers 1 and 2 would be watched for the umpteenth time, and parts 3 and 4would be seen for the first. Well on the weekend before Christmas the time finally came, and was made all the more special by it being my girlfriend’s first viewing of all of them (quickly followed by her first viewing of The Muppet Christmas Carol, although I’ve yet to sit her down for Christmas Vacation).
Before watching, I was slightly apprehensive as to whether the first two films would live up to my memories, but I can attest that they are still amazing. There’s something about spending a considerable amount of time setting up the premise – Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) is, through a series of coincidences and mishaps, left alone at his family’s palatial home over Christmas whilst they are holidaying in Paris. After coming to terms with his situation and learning how to take care of himself and the house, his troubles are deemed far from over when two bumbling crooks, Harry and Marv (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern), pick the McCallister’s apparently empty house as the perfect target for a little festive theft, so Kevin must use every trick at his disposal to stop them.
This is the very definition of a film of two halves. The first half outlines Kevin’s predicament – his family waking up late after a downed power line, confusion at the taxi head count and rushing through the boarding gates – and introduces our hero’s nemeses, gradually setting up the life lessons that Kevin will have learned by the end of the film – the importance of both independence and family, ingenuity and friendship – whilst the second half is a monumental payoff, with the two crooks getting absolutely everything they deserve in a masterpiece milieu of slapstick, gurning and cringing (the nail through the foot, always the nail through the foot!).
The sequel manages to recreate the same sense of wonder and excitement at the prospect of being allowed to run amok with no adult supervision, but this time gives Kevin not just his home town to play with, but the entirety of New York City, complete with a grand hotel and a magnificent toy store to muck about in. Although the structure is almost exactly identical – Kevin argues with his family, is separated from them, thrives on his own, befriends an apparently scary local loner, runs into difficulties, thwarts the plans of Harry and Marv, rigs a house full of wince-inducing booby traps, uses the aforementioned friend to catch the thieves before being reunited with his family – it remains fresh by approaching each aspect in a new and interesting way. And it features Daniel Stern being hit in the face with a brick, four times. Stern’s subsequent defiant yell of “Suck brick, kid” when he is presented with the opportunity to retaliate is one of my favourite moments in festive cinema, up there with Jimmy Stewart’s life-affirmed canter through Bedford Falls and Andrew Lincoln’s title card confession to Keira Knightley. And Buddy the Elf being hit by a car.
The real universal joy of these first two films lies partly with the heartwarming morals and happy endings, colourful characters and the triumph over adversity of not just a child alone at Christmas, but his parents’ desperate attempts to reunite the family, but personally I believe the true unique quality that sets this duo apart from other festive fare is the violence, of which almost the entirety is directed towards Harry and Marv. Throughout the films they endure enough torment and torture to kill them many, many times, be it from five-storey falls onto concrete, toilet bowl explosions (after an impressive handstand from Harry), being crushed by numerous heavy objects (the nose-bending tool chest down the stairs is a personal highlight) or just being conked on the back of a head with a snow shovel. The beauty is, no matter how much the pair are put through, they can always get back up again and continue their chase of the kid at the other end of the string those paint cans are tied to. It’s a live-action cartoon, and made all the better by the expressions Pesci and Stern are able to contort their faces into. Pesci’s acting decision to channel Muttley in the second film does tend to throw me a little, but it fits the feel.
This love in the first films of all things potentially disabling and dismembering was surely the reason for my high hopes for parts three and four. I had of course heard that these films were sub-par at worst, and disappointing at best, but I had assumed this would be because the film-makers hadn’t understood that you need to have that balance of the gentler, expositionary first half, before the riotous free-for-all of a conclusion. I’d anticipated the directors (The Smurfs’ Raja Gosnell and Teen Wolf’s Rod Daniel, rather than Chris Columbus) would have settled for the most basic of premises before unleashing a never ending torrent of flamethrowers, anvils and rocket-packs, but it turns out I could not have been more wrong. Instead of the expected violence-fest, there was a seemingly endless amount of set-up with so little pay-off I almost missed it completely. Home Alone 3 at least puts a little effort in, but the traps set are far less ingenious and incapacitating than in the previous installments, with at one point of the crooks (four this time, none of whom have done enough to remove Home Alone 3 from their top four films on IMDb) being forcibly restrained by nothing more than a weak hose pipe going off in his face, and they all go through a lot worse than what ultimately immobilizes each of them. Also, where in the first two films Kevin’s isolation was accidental, here Alex (Alex D. Linz) is left home alone on purpose, and only for a few hours at a time, when he’s home sick, his parents are at work and his siblings (including a young Scarlett Johansson) are at school. The fact that at the end of every day the rest of his family comes home to surround him with safety kind of ruins most of the tension. My main issue though, other than the lack of Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci, or a John Candy/Tim Curry-style comedic actor in a supporting role, is that the villains are international terrorists on the trail of a misplaced microchip hidden inside a remote control car Alex has recently acquired. The first times around the crooks were a pair of bumbling ne’er-do-wells who couldn’t find a bag of cement if it fell on their heads, so their being bested by a bratty kid is almost plausible, but this time the crooks come equipped with enough plans and gadgetry that it just becomes silly, and not in the way it’s supposed to.
All of this is fine, however, in comparison to Home Alone 4, a film which justifiably was only released as a TV movie. It tries to bring back the character of Kevin McCallister (Mike Weinberg, hands down the worst child actor I’ve seen) and Marv (French Stewart), but this time Kevin’s parents are separated, and Kevin runs away to spend Christmas with his Dad (Jason Beghe) and his mega-rich new girlfriend (and potential fiancé) Natalie (Joanna Going). Natalie lives in an ultra-modern, remote controlled house complete with a butler and maid, and the British royal family are coming to stay for the festive period. Marv and his girlfriend Vera (Missi Pyle) plan to kidnap the young prince, but weren’t expecting the young Kevin to be around and get in the way. I have four main problems with this film, other than the aforementioned acting talent on display. The predominant one is that, in a film series called Home Alone, and in which the previous three installments have all featured a child being abandoned and left to fend for himself; at no point in this film is Kevin actually alone. The maid and butler are always there somewhere, and if they are ever both unavailable for assistance, this isn’t made clear until after the events have taken place, so you spend the entire time just waiting for help to arrive. Secondly, there’s a twist signposted early on that so obviously wants you to think one thing that the only possible alternative becomes abundantly clear, yet is portrayed as a dramatic surprise when it is eventually spelled out. Thirdly, this is a film in the Home Alone series, yet there’s barely any traps laid out for the crooks to fall into. I’m going to spoil it a little now, but I strongly advise you not to watch this film, which makes it OK in my book. The whole point of the Home Alone films is for a kid to find novel ways to injure trespassers using household objects and toys, but this is almost entirely ignored. The only trap Kevin actually sets is a large frying pan rigged behind a door to bash someone in the head, and he even has to stand next to it to release it. Granted, seeing French Stewart being smacked in the face with a swinging pan is still pretty damn funny, but I really wanted more. A stereo playing one of the crook’s voices doesn’t make sense, and setting up a revolving bookcase to spin faster when there’s people trapped inside is nowhere near what could have been achieved with so much gadgetry to hand. Oh, and the elevator that can’t go up so gets stuck between floors? Well why not just go down or force the doors open? Ridiculous. Anyway. My fourth and final problem is the film’s final shot, when Kevin looks into the camera and instructs his voice-activated remote-control, that apparently only controls the house, to alter the weather patterns and make it snow. I hate this kind of thing, and this may well have just replaced Sex and the City 2 as the worst film I’ve ever seen.
So, other than one smirk-inducing frying pan to the face, there is absolutely no reason to watch Home Alone 4, and don’t bother with part 3 either, just watch 1and 2, every Christmas, forever.
Home Alone: Choose Film 8/10
Home Alone 2: Choose Film 8/10
Home Alone 3: Choose Life 3/10
Home Alone 4: Choose Life 1/10

Avengers Assemble

Ugh, typing that name made me feel so dirty. Avengers Assemble. Ugh. There was nothing wrong with just The Avengers, no-one was going to go in expecting umbrellas, bowler hats and catsuits, and even if they had been, they’d have got something better anyway. Plus, ‘Assemble’ is possibly the least exciting word to ever appear in a movie title since The Adjustment Bureau.
Now chances are this isn’t the first Avengers review you’ve read, hell chances are this isn’t even the first Avengers review you’ve read that starts off by telling you it’s not the first Avengers review you’ve read, seeing as this is one of those movies (let’s not kid ourselves by calling it a film, this is for entertainment purposes only) seemingly designed to be discussed at length on the Internet. We’ve sat through 4 years of 5 prequels, and for literally years the Internet has been lying in wait to rip apart this inevitable car crash of a movie. Which makes it something of a surprise that not only is it not bad, it’s bloody good.
No-one saw this coming. They said it couldn’t be done. I agreed. The last few Avengers prequels hadn’t been great, especially Iron Man 2 and Captain America (I don’t know what everyone has against Thor, I thought Kenneth Branagh did a good job with a lesser-known character) and I firmly believed that throwing six superheroes at one another in the same film was going to look like something Hulk had sat on. The only things it had going for it were a stellar cast and a solid director in Joss Whedon, of whom I’m unashamedly a fanboy (other than I’ve never seen an episode of Buffy or Angel). Whedon is known for handling rambling, ensemble casts (Firefly) and has always managed to balance action with snappy dialogue, drama with romance and a hefty dollop of comedy, but I didn’t think there was a great enough female presence here to draw his attention, with Black Widow as the only main girl. So, going in, my hopes were high but my expectations primed for mediocrity, so it’s a pleasure to say that I honestly can’t think of many ways the film could have been handled better.
Essentially, this is an origin movie. What’s unusual is that most of the main characters have already had at least one movie of their own, mostly origin stories, so what we have here is the beginnings of a culmination of pre-established characters. You don’t necessarily need to have seen all of the other films before watching this one, but I think it’d help, as the plot is partially set-up within Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America, in terms of the basis of the Avengers, the bad guy and the maguffin. I saw this with my girlfriend, who hadn’t seen Thor but had all the rest, and she didn’t need much explaining to her other than that Thor’s devious brother Loki isn’t played by Michael Fassbender, but is instead the brilliant Tom Hiddleston, who performs ably as the primarily sole lead bad guy against an entire team of heroes.
It would have been very easy, and very foolish, to have made this Iron Man & Co, seeing as Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark is undoubtedly the most enigmatic and entertaining character on screen, yet wisely Whedon scaled down the potential for the Stark Show into giving him just as much time on screen as everyone else. There is no lead character here, everyone gets their moments, no-one is our entry point into the team and there appears to be no jostling for the limelight. In fact, the first people we meet are the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, Cobie Smulders’ Maria Hill and the ever dependable Clark Gregg’s Coulson (“Phil? His first name is Agent.”). These guys, along with existing Avengers members Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) then set about recruiting the rest of the team from across the world (and a little bit further, in Thor’s case).
Once recruited, the plot revolves around a Transformers-esque power cube known as the Tesseract that Loki has obtained, and intends to use to rule the Earth. Yadda-yadda-ya, it’s not all that important, and isn’t what you’re here to see. No, we’re here to watch some superheroes fight, bicker, argue and smash. I’ve heard arguments that there isn’t quite enough action in this 142-minute movie to satisfy, but I found the dialogue scenes to be just as entertaining. As expected, the superheroes, all previously alphas in their own movies, don’t initially gel together all that easily, and Iron Man keeps the insults flying at his comrades (Thor is referred to as “Shakespeare in the park,” Captain America is ribbed for being an old man). It’s clear this isn’t just friendly banter.
When the action scenes do come along, including one mid-way through worthy of any summer tentpole finale, they will have you marvelling at everything. And the actual finale, involving a mass brawl around New York City, features an incredible tracking shot that finds all the Avengers showing off the only way they know how, that I can only fault by being not long enough. Granted, with such a large cast there are occasional incidents of characters appearing to be forgotten or sidelined temporarily whilst the others are front and centre, but this isn’t too noticeable at the time, and doesn’t distract from the action.
Unlike his previous films, here the Hulk is neither under nor overused, and is easily one of the best aspects of the movie. Mark Ruffalo, taking the giant green reins from Edward Norton, delivers possibly the greatest Hulk yet, portraying Dr. Bruce Banner as an amiable everyman only too aware of the situation he’s in. He’s rewarded with some of the best, and funniest moments from the film, not least his one-on-one meeting with Loki.
Whedon seems unable to let a few trademarks go, though discussing them could be delving a little too deep into spoiler territory, but look out for a couple of cameos from his other projects, as well as appearances from Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany and Stellan Skarsgard all reprising roles from the prequels. Natalie Portman, however, is conspicuous only by her absence. Bizarrely, the likes of Powers Boothe, Harry Dean Stanton and Jenny Agutter also crop up in tiny roles.
Some moments seem entirely shot for trailers, and I was a bit annoyed that my knowledge of Marvel’s upcoming slate and a couple of shots from the trailers ensured that some of the would-be tense moments were obviously going to be resolved (albeit awesomely), but that’s my fault for watching trailers. There is a scene to wait for after the credits, but unless you’re a fan of the comic books there’s really no point, as I had no idea what the scene was about when it appeared until I delved around the web once home. All-in-all, I’ve very little to fault about the film, other than the incessant use of ass-level shots as characters walks away from the camera. I’m genuinely tempted to go and watch it again at the cinema, something to this day I’ve never done before, and I’m not the least bit annoyed that talks are already being made about an Avengers sequel.
Choose film 9/10

Unlisted: Iron Man 2

Yesterday I discussed the near flawlessness that is Iron Man, and whilst all these praises remain for the sequel, it suffered from having far greater levels of hype, anticipation and expectation. It seemed that all who had loved the first couldn’t wait for the second, everyone wanted more, and more was most certainly what they got, especially when it comes to an overabundance of supporting characters, superfluous plot strands and men in metal suits hitting each other. Where the original finale, with Stark and his business partner, Jeff Bridges Obediah Stane, knocking seven bells out of each other in their rocket-propelled armour, seemed fresh, new and exciting, in the sequel we get something similar not once, but three times, as well as two metal men fighting an army of remote-controlled drones and an early confrontation between Stark and new villain Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) at the Monaco Grand Prix. Some of the action set pieces, like the aforementioned meeting, seem a little shoehorned in to put an action beat in place, but are still impressive, and the suiting-up sequences have also been greatly improved upon, especially the Suit-case.
All the supporting characters are back, but Don Cheadle has replaced Terrence Howard (Howard apparently wanted more money than Marvel thought he deserved, and seeing how little he brought to the table in the first film I’m inclined to agree with them) as Rhodes, and all the characters get an expanded upon arc, even director Jon Favreau’s background cameo as driver Hogan gets himself something to do. Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts is the new Stark Industries CEO, Rhodes wants a suit to take back to the military, Scarlett Johansson is Tony’s new assistant/undercover S.H.I.E.L.D. agent (a welcome addition to the cast, if only for aesthetic reasons), Tony is in talks with Samuel L. Jackson’s one-eyed Nick Fury about his role in the Avengers, weapons rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) is desperate to better Stark and bird-obsessed Vanko aims to settle the score regarding his father working with Stark’s dear old Dad (Mad Men’s John Slattery). See, that’s a really long sentence. Far too much to take in. The first film was streamlined, with not much chaff around the wheat, but here there’s just too many strands. I didn’t even mention that the arc reactor keeping Stark alive is also killing him, a completely unnecessary plot point that adds nothing and is resolved by the end, so doesn’t affect the series, but takes up about 20 minutes of screen time. Even with so much going on, the film is 5 minutes shorter than the first, but feels half an hour longer, as boredom sets in from watching metal men punch each other repeatedly.
Even more so than in Iron Man, this feels like a prequel to the Avengers, especially with Johansson’s Black Widow, bigger roles for Nick Fury and Agent Coulson and references to Captain America and Thor. That, and the film’s finale feeling disappointing after a protracted build up leaves this film with all the entertaining pats of the first, but an unfulfilling sequel that doesn’t take them anywhere. Favreau has since dropped out of part three, but Kiss Kiss Bang Bang director Shane Black has stepped up instead. He’s worked with Downey Jr. on one of his best roles to date, so here’s hoping.
Choose life 6/10

Ghost World

Enid and Rebecca (Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson) have just graduated high school, and have no plans as to their future. They have no desire for college, careers or being members of society, are proud of their outcast status yet mock everyone else either for conforming to societies standards or differing from it. When they respond to a lonely guy’s missed connection in a newspaper, Birch’s Enid takes a shining to the shy, unassuming Seymour (Steve Buscemi). Enid is a destructive force, bringing down all those around her whilst she steadfastly refuses to grow up. Where consciously or not, everything she does prevents her life from progressing, be it dying her hair green before going apartment hunting with Rebecca or criticising the films at the cinema where she is hired. Understandably, everyone around her seems eager to develop their lives to a stage where she is no longer involved, be it her overly doting yet unattached father (Bob Balaban), her friends or Seymour, whom she helps to find a partner, only to be excluded from his life once three becomes a crowd. The movie fails the one-hour test; after 60 minutes I still didn’t care what happened to any of the characters, as watching Enid self-destructive cycle spin around again left me bored and disinterested. The only saving grace however is Buscemi, remaining just the right side of creepy, even with a horrendous side parting. His obsessed record collector struck a note with me, for if you replaced the music with books and DVDs, I’m fairly sure I’ll be him in 20 years should my girlfriend ever leave me.

Choose life 4/10