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Avengers: Infinity War

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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.

Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Colette

Colette can feel a tad velvety at times but is lifted by Keira Knightley’s sensual performance and liberating battle that painfully resonates today.

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Director: Wash Westmoreland

Stars: Keira Knightley, Dominic West

Released: London Film Festival 2018

Born in 19th century France, Sidonie Gabrielle Colette wrote more than 80 volumes depicting her childhood, her life, her pains and pleasures. Her writings were sensual, vivid and all published under her husband name, “Willy”.

No stranger to female-centric stories, Wash Westmoreland follows up on “Still Alice” and “Echo Park, L.A.” with this dazzling period biopic starring Keira Knightley and Dominic West.

The film starts, the young country girl, Colette (Knightley), marries writer and critic Henri Gauthier-Villars (“Willy”) who introduces her to Parisian salons. Willy soon finds himself in debts and is desperate enough to seek his wife’s help. She will write. Colette writes what she knows and her first novella, “Claudine à l’école” (Claudine at school) is a success. Willy forces her to write the next ones, locked in a golden cage, to ensure his fame and success.

The settings are sumptuous and we gladly follow the camera through the stunning but confined Parisian apartments where the outside light only comes through when she feels inspired. Costumes evolve, as Colette, from heavy and restricted dresses to wild and daring clothing as if Mademoiselle Chanel had designed them herself.

Colette finally loosens from her husband and experiments with woman, society and dancing, feeding her inspiration. Forced and uncredited, Colette cannot enjoy writing and runs off to perform in the music-hall in her own name. In like most biopics, we go from one key event to another, regrettably quickly and often without knowing how we got there. Willy’s sudden appointment of his wife is left as unexplained as the abrupt ending that could have potentially seen Colette, a happy writer.

In the second part of the film Westmoreland seems more interested in looking at the awakening of a young woman rather than at the birth of an author whereas Keira Knightley shines in the lead role. Often known for playing the innocent and rebellious youth, Knightley still pulls off the young Colette in the first part of the film but is at her best when she evolves into a mature woman, aware of own desires. The best scenes of the film come when Colette is free and herself, usually in the company of other woman, particularly the terribly charming Missy (Denise Gough). Westmoreland multiplies two shots and close ups and creates impactful intimate scenes but regrettably gives up on them too fast.

It is a change to see a character such as “Willy” that is both ridiculous and loving. This duality creates, perhaps, a more truthful relationship between the two. No one is born an artist and behind every writer there is an intuitive editor (and in 20th century France, who else could it be than a man?). For Westmoreland if there is no Claudine without Colette, there would have been no Colette without Willy.

With its lavish setting and jumping plot, Colette can feel a tad velvety at times but is lifted by Keira Knightley’s sensual performance and liberating battle that painfully resonates today.

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Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – If Beale Street Could Talk

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Beale Street Movie Marker

Released: 8th February 2019

Directed By: Barry Jenkins

Starring: Kiki Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Brian Tyree Henry

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

In his entrancing and eventual Best Picture Oscar winner ‘Moonlight’, it was the longing to be authentic. To be accepted in an often volatile environment that powered its narrative.

Clearly in this pitch-perfect adaptation of the James Baldwin novel, director Barry Jenkins is consumed with longing of a different kind that is just as potent. Justice. An eradication of the infuriating systemic abuse of law and power against black people in America, that sees this luminous love story in 1970’s Harlem, strike modern-day parallels with our own divided, morally skewed society.

An incandescent portrayal of young romance. The tenderness, respect and sheer revolve that underpins the relationship between Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) will leave you spellbound from the outset, as their lives are soon mired in despair. The rapturous joy of new life as Tish falls pregnant, backed up by the triple threat of mom Sharon (Regina King), dad Joseph (Colman Domingo) and sister Ernestine (Teyonah Parris). Quickly cancelled out by the malice of Fonny’s staunchly religious family and a false yet potentially devastating rape allegation made against him, as they scramble to prove his innocence.

Punctuated by Kiki Layne’s wholesome narration and an overwhelmingly beautiful Nicholas Brittell score that i would be content listening to for days on end. Jenkins exchanges the melancholic blues of his previous effort for a broader but no less lush visual palette, with its exquisite interiors and classy costume design almost serving as a rainbow for the tears that have streamed down their faces through such hardship, but their spirit and love continues to illuminate their gritty surroundings. Whether it be lingering close-ups of sweet embrace or deep sorrow. Its director doesn’t flinch for a second in conveying the simmering emotions on display and in doing so, leaves you completely transfixed by his tactful approach to the source material.

There is a raw resilient energy that permeates throughout its central romance. Kiki Layne’s Tish serves as the remarkably understated, calming influence to Stephan James’ broken-hearted prisoner, a slave to a corrupt system with a searing monologue by Fonny’s dear friend Daniel (Brian Tyree Henry) reinforcing the pain inflicted. Through it all, their hopeful adoring looks and stifling intimacy simply captivate. In Regina King’s marvellous mother figure, she peppers the film with considerable candour, armed with dialogue that pierces your soul. Whilst Jenkins leaves enough room for inspired cameos that are best left a secret, which gorgeously represent a sense of community and a progression in attitude, that defies the period.

A steady panning shot as Fonny smokes may seem throwaway. In this case, it is awfully fitting to articulate the finesse of its director. Lose yourself in the mesmeric haze of ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’.

A lyrical experience that reminds you of the poetic power cinema can truly possess. His love for the art form brought him here. On this form. Trust Barry Jenkins to go all the way.

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Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Stan & Ollie

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Stan and Ollie Rating Movie Marker

Released: 11th January 2019

Directed By: Jon S Baird

Starring: Steve Coogan, John C.Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Nina Arianda

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

Products of classic Hollywood whose superior slapstick routines triggered endless laughter from their legion of fans, propelling them to legendary status. The sheer physicality and comedic prowess displayed by the English/American duo of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, still puts many modern-day efforts to shame.

But like so many comedians, there is a tragic element to their careers that contradicts their profession. Through this solid biopic by Filth director Jon S. Baird, it looks to give us a poignant insight into the duo’s grueling twilight years.

Their popularity slowly dwindling. Their bones creaking. Whether on the big screen or the stage, Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Hardy (John C.Reilly) are suddenly not the hottest ticket in town in the early 1950’s. Lumbered with Rufus Jones’ Bernard Delfont, a wisecracking promoter who seems more invested in the likes of Norman Wisdom, they look to reignite interest with a lengthy theatre tour and a long-gestating film project. Yet with audiences middling, contract negotiations stalling and the workload far beyond what was expected, it puts a significant strain on the health and friendship of these two towering talents.

Inevitably with its story, you would expect ‘Stan & Ollie’ to be assured in its abilities to make you laugh. However much of the first half feels surprisingly stilted as Coogan and C.Reilly throw themselves into the pair’s much-beloved routines, with regular cutbacks to their adoring audiences. For the uninitiated, it may initially make you wonder what the fuss was about. Thankfully as the film’s supporting players are introduced to spar with our central characters, it finds a more consistent comedic rhythm, neatly intertwining with the film’s simmering emotion.

Whilst it’s undoubtedly a few visual flourishes away from being a formulaic BBC Christmas special. The admiration of S.Baird for Laurel & Hardy certainly shines through in its refined production, beginning with an exquisite tracking shot on a studio lot as he works his way through the duo’s masterful mischief with fondness.

The rapport between John C.Reilly and Steve Coogan anchors proceedings wonderfully, skilfully capturing the mannerisms and effectively articulating how dependent they are of each other, despite their ongoing disputes. In C.Reilly’s Ollie, his fully-fleshed turn pierces through the fat suit he wears, whose willingness to perform despite failing health is soul-stirring. Whilst the relentless nature of Coogan’s Stan, as he looks to churn out the material strong enough to breathe new life into their double act, makes for compelling viewing. The real danger posed however, is that the film’s main attraction are nearly upstaged by their witty wives, with Shirley Henderson’s Lucille and Nina Arianda’s Ida threatening to steal every scene they grace.

Entertaining enough to gently applaud. Yet perhaps not an act that quite raises the roof. ‘Stan and Ollie’ coasts by on its endearing nostalgic charm and committed performances.

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