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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Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen continues his obsession with Europe (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, the upcoming To Rome With Love) and adds a little time travel into the mix with this delightful slice of whimsy. Owen Wilson picks up the Allen role as Gil, a writer tagging along with his fiance Inez (Rachel McAdams) visiting her parents as they embark on a business merger in Paris. Gil has made a name for himself writing not terribly good films for Hollywood, but has aspirations for writing novels, and dreams of moving back to Paris, whereas Inez and her disapproving parents seem far more level headed. On a late night drunken stroll Gil finds himself in the 1920s world he so wishes to live in, and gets to meet his idols from a time long passed.

It all sounds a little bit ridiculous – a Woody Allen time travel film – and my parents and girlfriend, with whom I watched the film, were expecting something quite different and tuned out quite early on – but I thought it was wonderful. Wilson is a perfect fit as the neurotic Gil, refusing to tolerate Inez’s pedantic know-it-all friend Paul (Michael Sheen, brilliantly punchable) and forever wishing he’d been born in a different time.
Many films would dumb down the references to the past, and I’ll admit there were many I didn’t get, but the characters portrayed are so rich and interesting that I’m encouraged to discover more about them on my own. I’m ashamed to say that I’m unfamiliar with the likes of F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein, and have only a passing knowledge of Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway, Picasso and T. S. Eliot, though I think I got most of the Bunuel and Dali references (I’ve even seen The Exterminating Angel, the film Gil proposes to Bunuel, and it’s not even on the List), and as for the others I’m now making an effort to better myself by looking into their works. This is exactly what a film should do, not work out what its audience already knows and repeat that to them, but provide an opportunity to further their own knowledge.
The supporting cast is incredible. Kathy Bates is Stein, Tom Hiddleston and Scott Pilgrim‘s drummer Alison Pill are the Fitzgeralds and Marion Cotillard is delightful as Gil’s 1920s love interest Adriana, but it is the brief appearance of Adrien Brody as a flamboyantly insane Dali that steals the show (“I see rhinoceroses!”). Rachel McAdams plays a fairly thin character in the almost-bitchy, not understanding fiance, and her parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy) begin to grate after a while as their characters refuse to develop throughout the film.
All the typical Parisian tourist attractions are acknowedged, and got out the way, early on in a brief montage. This is nice, as it’d be a shame to ignore them, for they aren’t part of the story, but they show perhaps the draw of the city to Inez and her family, whereas Gil prefers the layers of life and history underneath. The present day scenes are shot crisply, everything looking bright and new, whereas those set in the past are softer, slightly fuzzy around the edges, and with such a warm palette it’s no wonder Gil wants to live there. It has a more mysterious atmosphere full of soirees and flapper dresses.
 It’s not for everyone, and many may find it just too odd to come to grips with, but if you are a Woody Allen fan (and you should be), and have either a good knowledge of the 1920s or want a place to build yours from, check this out.
Choose film 8/10

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

War Horse

Went to see War Horse last night, and to be honest I wasn’t expecting that much, a kind of Au Hasard Balthazar combined with a WWI Band of Brothers, following the exploits of a boy and his horse as they navigate the major events of the first world war trying to find one another. But what I found was an uplifting, beautifully shot old fashioned film that was far more entertaining than I could have hoped.
Though at times the plot gave way for nosebags of sentimentality (this is a Spielberg film, after all), and few of the characters are onscreen enough to leave a resounding impression, though their parts of the story are some of the most touching (hello, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Kebbell and Eddie Marsan) every second of footage used is shot so perfectly, by Spielberg’s regular director of photography Janusz Kamisnki, who will surely receive an Oscar nod, if not a statue. The most beautiful moments are those in a far from beautiful setting, with Joey, the horse, jumping over and through trenches on No Man’s Land, only to be ensnared in barbed wire, or a sunset-backlit ride up a distant hill, and the sheer scale of some scenes, with hundreds of extras running from trenches or preparing for war. John Williams’ sweeping score is good but forgettable, and this is hardly one of Spielberg’s best (it isn’t quite the Saving Private Equine I was hoping for), with perhaps not quite enough time focussed on those fighting the war (it’s a good 45 minutes or so before the horse and boy, played by OK newcomer Jeremy Irvine, are separated), this is still a very entertaining watch. I think it’s better if you don’t really care about horses, as I enjoyed it immensely, but my horse-obsessed girlfriend spent at least a quarter of the two and a half hour run time watching through her fingers, so desperate was she not to see anything bad happen to a horse. It’s also remarkable that they made a film whose central character is a horse, yet at no point did I think it would be better if the horse could talk, or had an internal dialogue, even when he makes friends with another horse.
Choose film 7/10