Archive for April, 2019

The Princess Diarist

Posted: April 30, 2019 in Book reviews
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indexBy Carrie Fisher

Published not long before her death this is a memoir centred in the main around the filming of A New Hope (i.e. Star Wars Episode IV, or just plain Star Wars). In it Carrie talks about her early life as the child of celebrities, and her initial desire not to follow her mother and father into showbusiness, a desire she failed at the first hurdle by  auditioning for and getting a role in Warren Beatty’s Shampoo, from here Star Wars was her second job, and there’s fascinating info around her casting, and interesting titbits around the decision to go with that iconic hairdo!

The bulk of the book, however, is taken up with recollections of her affair with Harrison Ford during the filming of Star Wars, something both kept a secret for decades. The decision to make this public now was, apparently, connected to her finding her old journals from that time, and these pages are replicated in the middle of the book. I’ve seen some people make the argument that Carrie was cashing in on her return to fame with the release of The Force Awakens, throwing Harrison under the bus, as it were, to turn a quick buck. Maybe this is true, maybe not. I’m not going to begrudge her making some money, or in revealing secrets 40 odd years after the fact.

What’s interesting, or maybe not, is how uninteresting this revelation is. As a kiss and tell goes, she doesn’t really tell us that much, yet spends a long time doing it, and the abiding thought it left me with was a slight uncomfortableness with a 34 year old guy conducting an affair with a 19 year old woman, albeit one who probably gave the impression of being far more worldly and less innocent than she actually was at that time.

The early sections are very interesting, and the bits relating to Ford diverting at least. The replicated journal entries are everything you might expect of a lovestruck 19 year old with a way with words, for me it was a trudge to get through this bit, but others might feel differently.

The final part of the book concentrates on more recent events, and Carrie talks a lot about fans and signing autographs, and about the fact that to many people she’s indistinguishable from Leia. This section’s quite melancholic, and it’s painful to read her recounting the tale of a fan telling another fan who’d balked at how much she charged for an autograph, that at least it’d be worth more once she was dead.

Carrie always had a way with words, and was a best-selling author and a noted scriptwriter, so this reads well, and there is interesting stuff in here. It all just feels a little lightweight and thrown together, with the journal entries and the revelation around her and Harrison being the major selling point, with the other bits little more than padding. Odd then that these extra bits turned out to be the parts I enjoyed the most.

At the end of the day it’s worth reading if you’re a fan, but maybe not worth paying full price for. It hasn’t made me admire Carrie any less, and maybe even made me like her more.

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Avengers: Endgame

Posted: April 29, 2019 in Film reviews
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Directed by:  Anthony Russo and Joe Russo. Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth and Scarlett Johansson.

Okay, let’s be very clear here, it’s my intention to make the following review as spoiler free as possible but obviously I may reveal snippets (nothing major) that you didn’t know, and I will talk about Infinity War, so if you want to remain completely spoiler free why not check back after seeing it.

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So here we are. More than ten years since Robert Downey Jr. first donned the mantle of Iron Man, with 21 films leading up to this one. That’s a heck of a lead in to a finale. Forget Return of the Jedi, you can even forget 007 given Marvel have given us almost as many films in 11 years as the Bond franchise has in 57. There was a heck of a lot riding on this, not least after last year’s Infinity War saw Earth’s* greatest heroes (* not all from Earth) battle Thanos and lose, allowing him to snap his fingers and eliminate half the population of the Universe.

It was one hell of a cliff-hanger, and people have spent the last year speculating how Thanos’ act will be undone, I mean it has to be undone, right? Spider-Man’s got a film coming out soon, so he has to come back, doesn’t he?

In the aftermath of Thanos’ snap, Earth is a very different place, a sombre planet where millions struggle to put their lives back together. Some of the Avengers had retired (Iron Man, Thor) whilst others struggle to keep things together (Black Widow, War Machine). Steve Rogers (Captain America) meanwhile is running support groups to help those affected by the loss of loved ones.

When one of the heroes thought lost makes a miraculous reappearance however, it seems there might be a way to save almost everyone after all, but it won’t be easy, and it won’t be without cost…

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Let’s get this out of the way early. I loved Endgame. Don’t get me wrong, I worried that the obvious reset that was coming might annoy me, but it didn’t, and yes the opening thirty minutes or so are slower than you might expect, but this is important to show us where our heroes are, and to show them grieving, because they lost people too. Once the film slips into high gear however, it barely lets up. Yes it’s three hours long (but it didn’t feel like it) and yes the Russo brothers have to juggle a huge cast, and keep multiple plates spinning at all times (which they do) and yes the mechanics of the plot might prompt a few “but what about?”s (and I think it will) but I can’t imagine anyone who’s a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) won’t love this. Sure, there might be minor annoyances over how certain characters are treated, but on the whole Endgame is a wonderful resolution to a story over ten years in the making.

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I’ll get onto the spectacle, but first I want to talk about the actors, because each and every one of them has made these characters their own, and it’s in no small part down to each of them that we care so much about Cap, or Iron Man, or Hulk, or Black Widow, and what Endgame does do, perhaps surprisingly, is give some of these actors some actual acting to undertake, and there’s some lovely stuff, especially from Evans, Downy Jr. and Johansson, and from some characters you might not expect (Karen Gillan’s Nebula gets quite a lot to do here, hurrah!) and I’d like to offer a big shout out to the ever infuriating (in a good way) Chris Hemsworth whose comic timing and ability to send himself up are second to none. Thor alone makes this film watchable.

And despite the sombre tone there is a lot of humour here, as there’s always been in the MCU, but it doesn’t feel out of place, and Hemsworth is ably assisted by Bradley Cooper’s Rocket, Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man and Gillan’s dry straight woman/cyborg act, plus a whole heap of others, and it really is amazing to consider just how big the cast of this film in, and there are all manner of cameos of people who’ve made a small or large contribution to the franchise. Some I was probably expecting but some were (very pleasant) surprises.

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I don’t want to talk about the plot too much, but have to say that the payoffs in this film work, both in the homages to the films that led up to this point and its resolution. Several character arcs reach very logical conclusions here (although there’s one plot point I sincerely hope is undone!) and I’m not necessarily talking about character’s dying. This is a film that makes you laugh and cry, a film that hit me hard once, then twice and then, just when I thought it was done, hit me a third time with the most beautiful of bittersweet endings. It will be very interesting to see where Marvel go from here, but they obviously still have a very strong roster. I do hope we haven’t seen the last of Thanos because yet again Brolin gives us a villain with more depth than most. He is clearly the villain, but yet again he’s also clearly the hero of his own story. The film is a trifle confusing at times, and I think it’ll take a couple of viewings to work out exactly what happens in every plot strand, but if there are plot holes the rest of the film’s so damn enjoyable, I think they can be forgiven!

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Anyway, that spectacle stuff. For me it’s the characters that really makes this film shine, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy all the bangy crashy stuff, and there’s a heck of a lot of that here, scuffles, fights, skirmishes and god almighty battles, and they’re all exciting and none of them go on too long.

The sheer logistics of putting a film like this together are impressive enough, that it manages to also be wonderful into the bargain is nothing short of miraculous. Exciting, funny, touching, this film has everything and manages to be a very heartfelt love letter to the fans.

It’s a Marvel!

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Fisherman’s Friends

Posted: April 18, 2019 in Film reviews
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Directed by Chris Foggin. Starring Daniel Mays, James Purefoy and Tuppence Middleton.

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When jaded music exec Danny (Mays) accompanies his friends on a stag weekend Cornwall, the group chance upon an acapella male singing group composed of fisherman living in the scenic village of Port Isaac. The group sing sea shanties and May’s boss, Troy (Noel Clarke sporting a slightly odd accent) convinces Danny that the group could be a hit, and leaves him behind in Port Isaac to sign them up.

Little realising that Troy is playing a prank, Danny begins to try and woo the group, called the Fisherman’s Friends, but this doesn’t prove easy, especially when one of their number, Jim (Purefoy) is a cantankerous sort who distrusts outsiders. Danny perseveres and takes up residence in the bed and breakfast run by Jim’s daughter Alwyn (Middleton).

Initially disdainful of village life, Danny grows fond of Port Isaac and Alwyn, but can he get the girl and make Fisherman’s Friends a hit against all the odds?

Well, what do you think?

At the beginning the film happily informs you that this is based on a true story, and it is, up to a point, although quite a bit of artistic licence has been taken because as far as I can tell there were no burned out record execs involved, but hey it said based on, right.

Fisherman’s Friends can be viewed as a heart-warming tale of adversity and unlikely success, or as a cynical and cheesy attempt to cash in on a heart-warming tale of adversity and unlikely success, and how you react to the film might depend on which side of the fence you fall. For me I think the film, at times, manages to be both. It’s machine tooled to tug your heartstrings, and successful city boy learns to appreciate a simpler life is hardly an original story, nor is band of ordinary blokes become a success (just replace the sea shanties with brass bands or male stripping) and yet somehow Fisherman’s Friends enchanted me more than it annoyed me.

Maybe it’s a good cast, solid direction, a decent script and great locations, or maybe it just caught me on the right day, but I liked it.

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Mays makes for a slightly unlikely romantic lead, but he does dodgy wide-boy and befuddled man child equally well, and his romance with Alwyn feels natural. Middleton sells the stubborn single mum to a tee, even if you sort of wish she’d been given a bit more to do, but she has nice interplay with both Mays and Purefoy, and really in many ways Purefoy is the star of the show as the grizzled and grumpy alpha male of the Fisherman’s Friends. The rest of the cast are good and the actual Fisherman’s Friends all cameo which lends authenticity to the musical numbers.

Yes it’s predictable, yes it jettisons realism in favour of noble Cornish stereotypes, and yes it’s probably a touch too long—it does drag a little which given the running time is a little worrying—with a few scenes that could have easily been trimmed, but it’s heart’s in the right place, its cast are engaging and it made me laugh far more than I expected it to.

I just have one question…

What should we do with the drunken sailor?

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Shazam!

Posted: April 17, 2019 in Film reviews
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Directed by David F. Sandberg. Starring Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel and Jack Dylan Grazer.

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When he was a small child, 14 year old Billy Batson (Angel) got separated from his mother at the fair and he’s been searching for her ever since, running away from countless foster homes and using all manner of dubious methods to try and track his mom down.

After a run in with the police he’s placed in a group foster home run by former foster kids Victor and Rosa (The Walking Dead’s Cooper Adams and Marta Milans). He initially balks at the family atmosphere, but does make friends with Freddy (Grazer) a disabled boy who’s the same age as him.

After a run in with some bullies at school, Billy escapes on the subway, but finds himself yanked into another world where an aged magician named Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) on the verge of dying confers magical powers on Billy. He’s been searching for a worthy champion for many years, but he has no more time to search.

After saying the wizard’s name Billy is transformed into an adult superhero version of himself (Levi) complete with hokey costume. Back in the real world Billy learns he can switch between forms simply by uttering the word “Shazam!” and once he confides in Freddy the two begin to have fun with the fact that not only does Billy have super powers now, but he’s also an adult which might be even more useful to a couple of teenage boys.

The trouble is, Billy isn’t the only super powered guy in town, Doctor Thaddeus Sivana (Strong) failed Shazam’s tests when he was a boy and has coveted the wizard’s power ever since. Now, imbued with the power of the seven deadly sins in demonic form, he want’s Billy’s power, and he’ll do anything to get it. Can Billy justify Shazam’s faith in him?

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It feels like DC have been playing catchup with Marvel in the film stakes for years, and whilst Man of Steel was ok, and Wonder Woman genuinely good, they’ve produced some absolute stinkers (I’m looking at you Suicide Squad)  and some overly pretentious, bloated “epics” featuring Batman and Superman. So when it was announced that their latest superhero film was going to be Shazam!, there was a slight suspicion the powers that be at DC might have gone nuts.

Or maybe they’ve come to their senses, because Shazam! Is a joyous hoot from start to finish, with a smart script, great performances and genuine heart. I probably haven’t had this much sheer fun at the cinema since Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle came out.

In so many ways this film is a throwback to a bygone era. It might not be set in the 1980s, but be under no illusions, this is a film that could have quite easily been made in that decade. There’s flashes of The Goonies, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future and, most obviously, Big (watch out for a lovely little homage to that film) plus the Philadelphia setting lends itself to some Rocky homages too.

In some respects it’s amazing it works, the premise is as hokey as the titular hero’s costume (I say titular but he’s never actually referred to as Shazam, and fun fact, back in ye olden days he was actually Captain Marvel) and this could have gone off the rails in so many ways. Make the kids younger and it would have been even sillier, make them older and too much teen angst would have got in the way, but in targeting that 14/15 year old not quite on the cusp of adulthood sweet spot, director Sandberg and screenwriter Henry Gayden have created a story that appeals to all ages.

As Billy’s adult alter ego Levi is of course the star of the show, channelling his inner man  child to accurately portray how a teenage boy might well act upon finding himself in a super ripped adult body that comes complete with a suite of super powers, but he never overdoes things—again you can see how certain actors might have ruined the part.

As his foil, Strong is smart enough to know just how much scenery to chew whilst still allowing Dr Sivana to be a larger than life nemesis.

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Really though, it’s the child actors who make this. As Billy, Angel shows true pathos as a boy damaged by his abandonment, desperate to belong but too proud to let himself become part of any new family when he’s still searching for his birth mother. The real standout though is Grazer as the smart and sassy kid who could effortlessly step into a film like Goonies and look right at home. A comic book nerd who’s living with a disability he’s enraptured with his new super powered buddy, but this also means he begins to become disillusioned with him. Grazer’s greatest strength however is that he seamlessly partners up with both Angel and Levi, selling the illusion that they’re the same person.

The script is sharp and smart without ever feeling the need to be too adult, in many ways this film is closer in tone to Deadpool than anything else, if you extracted most of the swearing and violence of course. Which isn’t to say Shazam! never ventures into darker places, it just doesn’t hang around too long when it does.

I’ve heard some complaints that the film is too long, but I didn’t find it so. Maybe the final showdown goes on a tad too long, and threatens to get a little too preposterous, but I’m clutching at straws to find fault with this film. Laugh out loud funny, with a great cast and excitement aplenty this may not give us anything startlingly new, it may not be deep and meaningful, it isn’t the best film of the year, and it may play a little like it was written in 1987, but for sheer unapologetic enjoyment this is 10 out of 10.

Role on Shazam!2…

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Goldfinger (1964)

Posted: April 5, 2019 in James Bond
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And so we’re onto the third Bond film. Worth noting that back then they made three of them in less time than there’s currently been between Spectre and Bond #25…

But I digress. Time for 007 to take on a simple smuggling case that turns out to involve plans for the worlds greatest bank robbery, well, maybe not a robbery…

Ask a cross section of Bond fans, be they rabid or occasional, to name their top three Bond films and chances are Goldfinger will probably feature in a large number of rankings. To this day it’s an iconic film, the epitome of the franchise, but is it actually any good?

To be honest it’d been a few years since I’d seen it in its entirety, and I’d got it into my head that it was a film that wasn’t nearly as good as its reputation suggested.

How wrong can a guy be?

Sure it has a few creaky moments, and one altogether distasteful element, but I’ll get onto that. For now let’s just say that it is iconic, a film that laid the groundwork of much that was to follow, and however good Dr No and From Russia With Love were, this is the film that cemented Bond as a powerhouse, and it introduced elements that resonate to this day.

In many ways it’s the very antithesis of FRWL, sure we’re not in the realms of hollowed out volcanos just yet, but Goldfinger isn’t remotely the gritty spy thriller FRWL was, it’s more fantastical then what came before, but a tad more grounded than what might follow.

Goldfinger’s pre-title sequence is a doozy, and it set the bar really high in terms of a miniature movie in its own right. Bond infiltrates a secret base, blows it up, gets the girl, gets betrayed by the girl, kills an assassin and even has time for a pithy one liner, all in less time that it took Daniel Craig to walk to a hotel in the pre title sequence of Spectre. That Connery plays it with effortless cool is the icing on the cake. Frankly there are possibly whole Bond films less exciting than Goldfinger’s pre-title sequence is.

Not that what follows is dull, although you might be forgiven for remembering the film being more action packed than it is, and pacing wise there’s nothing formulaic about this Bond film, for starters 007 spends pretty much half the film as Goldfinger’s prisoner, which I’m pretty sure isn’t something we’ve seen since (though rumours suggest Bond #25 may try and emulate this.)

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“Make Gold Great Again!”

Ah, Auric Goldfinger, the titular villain is larger than life in every sense of the word. In many ways  something of a buffoon, a cheating blowhard in love with the sound of his own voice, and once you throw the love of gold and golf into the equation it’s disturbing how reminiscent he is of a certain American President. And yet, despite this, he’s also quite clearly very dangerous, and not a fool either, and whilst you can credit Michael Collin’s dubbing for part of the appeal, it’s  Gert Fröbe’s physicality and mannerisms that really sell the character. He also has a natty line in bestowing imaginative ends on his enemies. See poor Mr Solo (nice little Bond-Fleming-Man from U.N.C.L.E in-joke there) crushed in the scrapyard, or one of the most iconic deaths meted out in the entire franchise, when Shirley Eaton’s poor Jill Masterson pays the price for betraying Goldfinger by winding up suffocated under a coat of gold paint. Whether that would actually kill you hardly matters, the image was seared into history, to such an extend that the producers tried, with far less success, to emulate it in 2008 by covering Gemma Arterton in oil. And of course, Jill’s sister, Tilly meets a grisly end courtesy of Odd Job’s steel rimmed hat (sad that Tania Mallet died just a few days ago).

And whilst Goldfinger doesn’t actually kill James, he comes pretty close, and his method has a delicious irony to it. Let’s be honest, Connery strapped to a metal bed as a laser beam creeps ever closer to his family jewels is almost as memorable as poor Jill’s golden death. Much like when he was facing certain death in FRWL Connery sweats fear, again he’s desperate, trying anything he can to escape. Goldfinger isn’t interested, and as exchanges go there’s few better in the franchise than “Do you expect me to talk?” “No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die.”

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But then Bond wriggles his way out of ending up a Damien Hirst sculpture by mentioning Operation Grand Slam. Goldfinger, correctly, intuits that Bond merely overheard the phrase and has no idea what it means, but can he afford to take the chance? The Chinese agent working with Goldfinger (and yes that is Burt Kwouk) clearly feels they need to keep him alive. Yes, it might seem ridiculous that Goldfinger chooses not to kill Bond, but watching the film again it’s clearly a shrewd move. With Bond still very much alive, 008 won’t be despatched to investigate, especially with Felix Leiter (three films in and onto our second Felix) foolishly believing Bond has everything under control, in reality it’s Goldfinger who has the situation firmly under control, or at least he thinks he does.

He hasn’t counted on 007’s sheer animal magnetism however…oh dear.

Let’s talk about Pussy.

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In so many ways Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore is the best Bond girl to date, and unless memory really doesn’t serve me well, will remain so until another star of the Avengers arrives on the scene in 1969 (but I’m getting ahead of myself).

You could argue she isn’t as drop dead beautiful as Andress or Bianchi, but she’s still gorgeous and, more importantly, she has presence, she can act, and the character has agency, well, up to a point. Pussy is Goldfinger’s trusted ally, a woman who’s formed her own flying circus composed entirely of sexy women pilots (you don’t think she might prefer women to blokes do you?) she’s also got no time for 007’s bullshit.

Until she does.

Whilst it isn’t as explicit as it may be in the book that Pussy is a lesbian, it’s clearly inferred. Even if she isn’t gay, Bond effectively forcing himself on her is distasteful enough, that his seduction “straightens” her out just makes things so much worse, and it’s a shame that this has to serve as the reason she betrays Goldfinger, rather than Bond appealing to her better nature. There’s a certain amount of misogyny I can tolerate in the franchise, this moment crosses the line.

For whatever reason, Pussy betrays Goldfinger (cats are notoriously fickle) and his plan to irradiate all the gold in Fort Knox comes unglued.

It’s interesting to note how uninvolved Bond is in all of this, he isn’t even able to defuse the atomic bomb in the end, he has to rely on one of Felix’s men. He does get revenge for both Jill and Tilly however, by killing Oddjob.

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I take my hat off you you, sir

Ah, Oddjob, another high flyer in the pantheon of henchmen. Weightlifter come wrestler Harold Sakata might be near mute, but he’s a powerful presence, with an unmistakable silhouette—in fact the first time we see him it’s only his shadow—and whether he’s throwing his deadly hat, or crushing golf balls with his bare hands, he’s a dangerous foe, at least until 007 electrocutes him; not so fun fact, Sakata burned his hand during that scene, yet refused to let go, what a pro.

We’re in less exotic climes this time, with much of the film taking place in England and Kentucky, with a stop off in scenic Switzerland, and at times there’s a leisurely pace to the film, and not in a bad way. Can you imagine a modern Bond film spending so long on a game of golf? Can you imagine a modern Bond even playing golf?

Ken Adams outdoes himself yet again with the set design, be it Goldfinger’s Kentuckian lair, or Fort Knox itself, and whilst the franchise dallied with gadgets in the last film, here we get a clear sign of what’s to come with the tricked out Aston Martin DB5; machine guns, oil slicks, scythes, rotating number plates, oh and it also comes with an ejector seat. “You must be joking,” says Bond in Q’s lab.

Hah this is nothing, wait till we give you an invisible car…

One final fun fact before I hit my conclusion, the devious dancer in the pre-title sequence was also Kerim Bey’s mistress!

Goldfinger isn’t perfect, Bond is a little inert at times, and a few things don’t quite hang together (why would Goldfinger explain his plan to rob Fort Knox in so much detail to the Mafia guys when he’s about to murder them?) And of course, there’s the scene in the barn.

But despite its flaws it’s a rightfully iconic film that embodies pretty much everything about the franchise. A great pre-title sequence, a wonderful villain with an equally memorable henchman, a diabolical, and slightly left field, plot, the first Bond girl who’s more than two dimensional, a gadget laden Aston Martin, Sean Connery at the top of his game ( and he really is great in this) and I nearly forgot, one of the best damn title songs of them all sung by my dad’s favourite singer, Miss Shirley Bassey!

I know I’ve thrown the ‘I’ word around a lot, but damn it’s well earned here. A top-notch Bond film.

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