Released: 26th April 2018
Directed By: Anthony and Joe Russo
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Elizabeth Olsen, Mark Ruffalo, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland
Reviewed By: Van Connor
After ten years, eighteen movies, eleven TV shows, and a half dozen shorts (or One-Shots), it’s unfathomable at this point that there could really be such a thing as a newcomer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and, frankly, that’s just as well – for, while Infinity War is easily the biggest boldest superhero smash-up to date, it’s frankly impenetrable if you can’t tell your Star-Lords from your Heimdalls. But, y’know what? Who cares.
What stands out most of all about the film, luckily, is the sublime balancing act by writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely – legacy scribes within the MCU. It’s not flawless – Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, and Anthony Mackie get noticeably short shrift, while a pair of regulars are sidelined off-screen with a single line of dialogue – but the manner in which Infinity War tackles the might of the numerous egos and personalities on display is outright spectacular. The weirdest character pairings you’ve ever seen really do come to life, and, for some – for instance, Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen’s previously rather thinly sketched Vision and Scarlet Witch – there’s the opportunity to sparkle like never before. It’s bombastic, unapologetic, and it’s got the grit and gristle to put on the mother of all star-studded shows. It’s the superhero genre’s Woodstock, with Josh Brolin’s Thanos its Hendrix.
For spoiler reasons (#ThanosDemandsYourSilence – take goddamn note), the safest way to synopsise Infinity War’s plot is to simply detail its exploits as being the venture of intergalactic despot Thanos across the cosmos in search of the six Infinity Stones – the MacGuffins behind the entire MCU mythology to date – with the combination of all set to gift him sheer omnipotence and the ability to reshape the universe how he sees fit. Brolin’s a revelation in the part, still recognisable behind the CG facade and delivering a startlingly soulful performance that draws his mad titan in an impressively sympathetic manner. He’s no Killmonger, sure, but Thanos absolutely exceeds the previously rather phoned-in element of dread afforded him, his hulking physicality and admirably thought-out sense of philosophical devastation ranking him easily among the franchise’s best villains to date.
There are key notes on which Infinity War could so easily hang its hat and call it a day, yet it continues in an unrelenting manner not dissimilar to Thanos himself – running the gamut from sadism to desperation to such far flung extremes as a considered mediation on the frivolity of population control and natural resources. It’s bonkers through and through, but it works on the page and absolutely flies on the screen – with directors Joe and Anthony Russo throwing all their cards on the table and going for broke with nary a shake in their rock-solid confidence to be found.
It helps to have a cast as polished and well-honed as they do, and, after umpteen Thor, Cap, etc adventures, it’d be more shocking if they weren’t. There’s great chemistry on offer – Tony Stark and Doctor Strange make for an amusing pairing – even if the script drops the ball slightly as regards certain character dynamics (Stark’s explanation of what Cap’s been up to smacks of desperation to keep the characters apart). The buzzword, however, is “epic”, and it’s one Infinity War embraces every chance it gets. In her book, Superheroes! Capes and Crusaders in Comics and Films (which is a must read, as regards a pre-MCU landscape), Roz Kaveney frequently acknowledges a connection between both comic book lore and Greek mythology – a connection the Russos, Markus and McFeely clearly seek to indulge here. As haphazardly fun as Infinity War can be, it’s at its best when this is the case, with the MCU’s grand “third season finale” playing largely like an OTT mythological epic that just happens to belong to a universe that includes both Robert Redford and Jake Busey. Seriously. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. smuggled a Busey into the MCU. Look it up and enjoy that.
It’s not without its quibbles – it’s borderline exhausting, for instance, to sit through as much content as there is to be found here, and the decision to break the story into four or five smaller simultaneous sub-adventures does, periodically, short-change some in favour of others (*cough* Thor *cough*), but it’s excusable considering they’re both unavoidable in a structural sense and build to what could easily be the most jaw-droppingly unbelievable third act the MCU canon has ever delivered. Undercut faintly by a post-credits sequence that’ll raise both eyebrows and questions about the nature of its already-filmed sequel, Infinity War hits the ground running, offers some bonafide shocks as it goes, and concludes with a solid ten minutes that will have its audience staring at the screen in utter disbelief.
What’s great is that the Russo’s know just how to keep it engaging under the overly-ambitious weight being thrust upon it – action sequences remain as exciting and coherent as they were the first time they took the directorial reigns with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and it’s a damn fine looking movie, courtesy of Winter Soldier and Civil War cinematographer Trent Opaloch. At times, Opaloch dangles the prospect of the Cannon Films-esque colour scheme gimmick of the Netflix Defenders team-up (by the way: no, they haven’t secretly included them – sorry) but instead crafts something suitably alien-feeling but familiar with what we’ve experienced of this universe to date.
Infinity War also sees the return of Avengers composer Alan Silvestri to the House of M, his gift for balancing individual themes amidst a wholly unique and captivating score as rock solid as it’s ever been, and standing in sharp contrast to Danny Elfman and Brian Tyler’s strangely forgettable efforts in Age of Ultron (be honest, you remember the closing credits theme and nothing else). Elsewhere, the frankly gargantuan level of CGI and digital effects feels light years above the oft-lamented counterpoint of the recent Black Panther (otherwise, still probably the MCU’s strongest entry to date) and there’s genuine thought put into just what piece fits where in the visual landscape, as with the narrative.
If there’s a sour note to be found in Infinity War, though, its in its most glaring and obvious weakness to begin with – those eighteen movies, eleven TV shows, and half dozen shorts have essentially become outright required reading in order to properly ingest just what’s going on. One single exchange of dialogue between Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy, for example, references events in no less than seven movies in under sixty seconds – with nearly all punctuated by the MCU’s signature sense of bathos. It’s an issue you can’t escape at any point in the film, which romps along merrily, but would baffle any poor unfortunate hipster (“I’ve never seen a Marvel movie” has quickly become this century’s “I don’t even own a TV”, after all) with no pre-existing knowledge to begin with. That’s the rub, though – Infinity War is, after all, a season finale, and were that level of knowledge not the case, it’d likely draw umbrage for that too.
But you’ll love it, you’ll love every minute of it. There are things in here you thought you’d literally never see in a feature film, let alone a feature film with heft of The Return of the King, ten years of its own cinematic mythos, and the potential disaster before it that is sharing screen time between literally dozens of known commodities and fan favourites. Make no mistake, Infinity War ain’t f**king around, it establishes that from literally its opening second, before launching into the darkest, most bloodthirsty and unrelentingly grim comic book adventure (a word it never forgets is part of its remit) it could possibly be. It’s fortunate then that it has as much humour as it does to offset what could otherwise be one hell of an ordeal, resulting in a movie unlike any other you’ve ever seen.
Avengers: Infinity War delivers. And then some. It takes you to places you never thought you’d go, shows you sights you never imagined, and forces you to face up to the horrifying notion not only of what might happen should the forces of evil prevail, but also, what if those forces have a point? There’s a moment for nearly every contingent of its fanbase to bask in and enjoy, enough game-changing material to leave you truly breathless about just where in the hell we’re headed next (Ant-Man and the Wasp arrives in mere months), and Cap has a beard now, so the internet’s happy. Just as Kaveney’s book remains the sterling monument to a superhero landscape before the arrival of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Infinity War marks a new point in the evolution of this once-maligned (and still is by an elitist sub-set of cinemagoers whose furniture presumably points at nothing) genre that has allowed the Apple to its rival’s Microsoft to offer up a Zune to its iPod and changed the game entirely.
Here’s to ten more years. Wakanda Forever.
Climax is electrifyingly abstract and a true champion of 2018.
Released: 21st September 2018 (UK)
Directed By: Gaspar Noé
Starring: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, Claude Gajan Maull and Giselle Palmer
Reviewed By: Dion Wyn
Birth and death are extraordinary experiences. Life is a fleeting pleasure.
Master provocateur Gaspar Noé has been warping our fragile little minds for over 20 years. After the vast disappointment of Love 3D in 2015, he finally returned to Cannes this year. Where he won best picture at Director’s Fortnight; with his latest feature Climax. The win truly has reinvigorated interest and buzz of Noe’s work. The big question is does it actually live to the hype? Climax is set in the mid 1990’s, 20 French urban dancers join together for a three-day rehearsal in a closed-down boarding school located at the heart of a forest to share one last dance. They then make one last party around a large sangria bowl. Quickly, the atmosphere becomes charged and a strange madness will seize them the whole night. If it seems obvious to them that they have been drugged, they neither know by who nor why. And it’s soon impossible for them to resist to their neuroses and psychoses, numbed by the hypnotic and the increasing electric rhythm of the music. While some feel in paradise, most of them plunge into hell.
Climax grabs you and doesn’t let you go. Gaspar Noé’s fine form has returned with his sangria-soaked neon nightmare. Climax opens very subtly with interviews from the dance troop. We get a candid view into their lives and what drives their passion for dance. Noé shows the naivety of his cast before we enter the pressure cooker of the dance hall. Once the usual closing credits happen at the beginning, the true story starts to unfold. The opening dance sequence is electrifying and full of raw kinetic energy. You have succumbed to the euphoria of Noé, the camera becomes another dancer in the troop. We are witnessing the synchronicity and passion for the art of dance. You suffer from a slight come-down after the initial performance, but the depravity and relaxed inhibitions of the dancers start to flow out. There is no real script to Climax it is largely improvised, we delve into the sexual depravity of the dancers. These conversations are not for the faint of heart. You start to see where Noé is going with Climax or do we?
Once the LSD soaked sangria kicks in Noé begins his wizardry behind the lens. Distortion and blurriness are subtly put into frame. You can feel the sweat pouring through the walls. The music intensifies and the dance becomes a lot more aggressive. We have now entered the hellish nightmare we were expecting from the get go. It isn’t the drug trip we witnessed in Enter The Void either. Once the LSD has kicked in, you only see the reactions to their hallucinations. Gaspar Noé challenges you to think what is actually going on? The usual camera trickery now ensues, a classic Noé move. The journey warps your senses and you don’t always know what is going on. The crucial element in sustaining the tension is the killer soundtrack. It really is the beating heart of Climax (Vinyl has been pre-ordered all ready). After the explosion of this pressure cooker of a situation, the story goes no holds barred with scenarios of extreme violence, incest and self harm. Noé doesn’t create an in your face scenario in this instants, it is rather out of character for him.
Sofia Boutella has shed away the action star. Her raw and un-tameable energy is addictive. She flows so powerfully through Climax and you can feel her passion for dance. The casting of the dancers is a master stroke. They all bring a different element to the piece and the diversity of characters gives it great balance. Our inner darkest ideas and nightmares flow through Climax like a virus. You are tested from the get go and Climax is a true cinematic challenge. It is a true testament of youth and the ever flowing challenge of perfecting your artistry. Gaspar Noé’s Climax is electrifyingly abstract and a true champion of 2018.
The Little Stranger ★★★★
Adapted from the Booker prize nominated novel by Sarah Waters, the cinematic incarnation of The Little Stranger has much to live up to.
Released: 21st September 2018
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Charlotte Rampling, Will Poulter, Liv Hill
Reviewed By: Sinead Beverland
Adapted from the Booker prize nominated novel by Sarah Waters, the cinematic incarnation of The Little Stranger has much to live up to. At the helm is Room Director Lenny Abrahamson, with an impressive cast including Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson and Charlotte Rampling.
Set shortly after the second world war, Doctor Faraday (Gleeson) introduces us to the faded grandeur of Hundreds Hall, a place he envied feverishly as a child. Having belonged to the Ayres family for several generations, the house is now inhabited by just Mrs Ayres (Rampling) and her two adult children, Roderick (Will Poulter) and Caroline (Wilson). When Faraday is called to the house to visit the unwell young housemaid Betty, he recollects his childhood adulation of the place. Remembering the presence of a young girl, he is told that this was Mrs Ayres first daughter, Susan, who had died as a child. It seems the spectre of Susan (affectionately known as Suki) still lays heavily over the house, as housemaid Betty tells Faraday she fears something ‘isn’t right’. As he becomes more entwined with the family and their home, strange events begin to raise concerns and individually threaten members of the family.
From the very outset, the film breeds an unsettling feeling, the house is imposing with long shots conveying the sense that the characters are being observed. The audience follows Faraday in to this fading world of status and money, sensing his childhood desire and starched formality. The family are equally intriguing and unnerving. Roderick, badly injured during the war, is now an invalid struggling to cope and disturbed by the sense that something in the house does not want him there. Matriarch Mrs Ayres seems to be doing her best to keep the past alive and daughter Caroline (the best of the bunch as attested to by a fellow doctor) seems strong yet vulnerable. When Faraday begins an intriguing friendship with Caroline, their relationship evolves to hinge the entire ethereal story together. With fantastic performances all round, the characters all emerge fully formed, conveying depth without the need for swathes of expository back story.
The terror of the film gradually reveals itself, impacting in set scenes that are truly disturbing and realistic. Director Abrahamson has a subtle touch (as seen in the Oscar Nominated Room) and these climactic scenes engulf you, whilst revealing the fate of certain characters. Abrahamson knows how to accentuate the fear for the audience and uses restraint to devastating effect. As the house leaks secrets and the memory of the deceased Susan comes to the forefront, the story is told with an intensity that uses strikingly rich music and extreme close ups to create a claustrophobic atmosphere. However, to reveal too much of the story here, would spoil the experience of discovering for yourself what is happening at Hundreds Hall.
The Little Stranger is a mature and nuanced film, layered in such a way that it address status and class alongside desire and emotion. The period setting is detailed and worn, bridging the gap between transitioning eras in Britain. This is no straightforward horror or ghost story and the film certainly feels to have done justice to its excellent source material. Rich in theme, characters and style, I would gladly take The Little Stranger home.
Released: 19th October 2018
Directed By: Matteo Garrone
Starring: Marcello Fonte
Reviewed By: Rhys Handley
Dogman is the anti-Paddington. Antithetical to the marmalade-loving bear’s enduring mantra – “if we are kind and polite, the world will be right” – dog groomer Marcello (Marcello Fonte) carves out a life in the dilapidated outskirts of Rome modestly tending to his estate’s canine residents and enjoying the respect of his neighbours.
But Marcello’s submissive, accommodating kindness is pushed closer and closer to its limit by the hulking Simone (a terrifying Edoardo Pesce, surely masked in near-mutant prosthetic), a brutish ex-boxer who stalks the estate terrorising the residents. Unable to say no to a friend, Marcello facilitates Simone’s egregious coke habit to little recompense.
When Simone’s scheme to rob a nearby jeweller’s implicates Marcello and he is apprehended by the police, the Dogman takes the fall himself and goes inside for a year for the sake of the bully who pretends to be his friend. When he comes out, something has changed.
Marcello, diminutive and always sporting a toothy grin, strikes an unimpressive, but likeable figure. He is perfectly happy with his lot as the film opens – a divorced father who takes pride in his work and loves trips to the beach with his daughter. While director Matteo Garrone makes a meal of the grim, filthy aesthetic of the film’s setting, he peppers in moments of levity and blissful tranquility to reinforce the humble satisfaction of Marcello’s daily life.
To see him repeatedly indulge the cruel, selfish whims of Simone quickly becomes a source of frustration, as the brute encourages vices in Marcello that seems entirely at odds with his persona. Marcello is swept away on break-ins and hedonistic strip club nights in jarring scenes more in keeping with Garrone’s work in the gangster canon such as 2008’s Gomorrah.
In these scenes, the toxicity fuelling Marcello reveals itself. Fonte delicately skews the kindly facade when Marcello enters Simone’s world. Behind his courteous smile is a sickening glimmer of delight – Marcello loves the thrill and decadence of life of crime. His latent desires mix with his better nature, to create something more insidious than Simone’s overt depravity.
Dogman stumbles in its closing chapter as Marcello is released from prison, returning to a community who despises him for violating their trust and chasing Simone’s false offers of brotherhood and fortune. Marcello reemerges not exactly changed, but more honest to himself about what he is. Garrone and his co-writers steer this portion of the story with a steady hand, but it is hard to shake comparisons to other established squares-gone-rogue like Walter White.
Marcello’s resolve and vengefulness is convincing thanks to Fonte, but its emergence is sudden and teeters dangerously close to cliche. His push and pull with Simone is rote, which makes its languid pace a little irritating – this has suddenly become a very different film, and it can’t carry the slower moments of contemplation as well as it could before Marcello was locked up.
An inevitable confrontation takes place, bursting with brutality and gore. But rather than a release of tension, it feels like a betrayal of the thoughtful, measured character piece Garrone set up. The violence overreaches for shock value where Garrone had before been satisfied with something more pensive and empathetic.
Luckily, he pulls back in the final moments of the film and dovetails elegantly by concluding what is essentially his thesis on ‘little guy’ psychology. He frames Marcello not as a good man pushed too far, but as someone whose better and worse natures are intrinsically tangled to create a monster very different to the bully who ultimately leads him to snap.
No matter how kind and polite the Dogman might try to be, he cannot deny the malice that festers in his heart – and Garrone artfully distills Marcello’s melancholic final moment of self-realisation in a resonant closing shot that gracefully irons out the kinks in this curious, inconsistent little film.
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