Unordered List

Thursday 24 October 2013

Captain America vs. Agents of SHIELD.

I love the new trailer for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but I get the distinct impression that it's going to kick Agents of SHIELD in the balls. Without going into too much detail, AoS is suffering from a bizarre problem of portraying SHIELD agents as "the good guys" while having them do objectively terrible stuff like wiretapping, kidnapping and shooting civilians, and dumping American prisoners overseas with no money or ID. In most episodes so far, the antagonists have seemed more sympathetic (from a real-world standpoint) than the ostensibly likeable heroes, which is actually more confusing than the way SHIELD was depicted in The Avengers: ie, as an ethically ambiguous government agency, run by a decidedly shady individual. CA:TWS seems to be going the Avengers route with regards to SHIELD and Nick Fury, which is seriously going to screw with AoS's weirdly happy-go-lucky attitude towards acting like assholes in the name of homeland security.
This trailer is really promising on so many levels. Captain America has one of the few origin stories that I actually enjoy on its own merits, unlike Batman, Superman and Spider-Man, whose origin stories are all very overplayed. Cap appeals to me as a hero for the oppressed and downtrodden, in a way that I don't think is really covered by the other classic superheroes. A lot of his power is tied up in marketing and patriotism, which has the potential to be very subversive because he looks like this all-American cheerleader dude but Steve Rogers' own principles are a lot more liberal/socialist/anti-establishment than you might expect. There's a reason why there's a whole subgenre of fanfic dedicated to Steve Rogers in the 21st century, making public media statements in favour of LGBT rights and feminism, you know? So I'm really psyched to any possible hints of this in the trailer, including Cap walking past a giant banner of his own face. WHAT WAS THE PUBLIC REACTION TO AN AMERICAN ICON RETURNING FROM THE DEAD?

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Only Lovers Left Alive: The one movie you MUST see next year.

Note: There are no plot spoilers in this post! I was going to hold off until the movie was on general release, but apparently that's not until Spring 2014 and I just couldn't wait.

I can't overemphasise how much I loved this movie. For sheer entertainment value it's tied with Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing for my favourite film of 2013, but it wins out in terms of sheer oddness and originality. The premise is already brilliant (Tilda Swinton! And Tom Hiddleston! As a pair of immortal vampire lovers!) but the plethora of promotional clips and images can't prepare you for what the film is actually like. Most notably, the fact that OLLA is genuinely -- and intentionally -- hilarious. I was lucky enough to see it at the BFI Festival in London this weekend, and the entire audience was laughing all the way through, often loud enough to drown out some of the dialogue. It's a delightful, sly kind of humour. Not remotely based on the kind of horror movie homage jokes you might expect from a movie that falls into the genre of "vampire romance".
Eve (Tilda Swinton) and Adam (Tom Hiddleston) in Tangier.
OLLA avoids almost all cinema tropes associated with vampires, which is pretty impressive when you consider that people have been making vampire movies since the birth of cinema. Obviously the film retains some essential aspects -- blood-drinking, avoidance of sunlight -- but they're treated quite casually. There's also a noticeable absence of the kind of sexual/romantic vampirism tropes we're used to seeing, with the main vampire characters acting less like voracious, eternally youthful predators, and more like lethargic intellectual shut-ins. The focus is on Adam and Eve's relationship, and how their lives are shaped by immortality.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Agents of SHIELD: Eye Spy.

Previously on Agents of SHIELD: The Asset.

This week's episode didn't really have enough... content... to deserve a full review. So! Have some bullet points.
  • Clark Gregg really was performing at maximum Cute Dad status in this one, wasn't he?
  • I can't tell if Skye's incredibly awkward ~emotional bonding~ dialogue is just bad writing, or if she's purposefully trying to get on Coulson's good side in order to better infiltrate SHIELD. Either way, this show still appears to think that it's OK for characters to literally narrate their character development directly to the audience??
  • If Skye is trying to infiltrate SHIELD by getting all friendly with Coulson, I assume that Coulson will see through it. Then, in the finale, there'll be a revelation scene where he's all, "I'm disappointed in you, Skye," and then she'll decide to side with SHIELD after all. Coulson always plays the long game.
  • Agent Ward was marginally less dull than usual. Partly because the glasses gave him a distinguishing feature so he could avoid looking like a walking mannequin.

  • I read some interview with the actor who plays Ward, where he said he'd been given advice by Nathan Fillion on how to navigate being a central actor in a Whedonverse TV show. As in, how to tackle being passionately loved by thousands of superfans. But seriously: this guy is NOT Nathan Fillion, and AoS is only barely a Whedonverse show. It's Whedon-adjacent, at best. And Agent Ward is the kind of square-jawed personality vaccuum that would only show up in shows like Buffy or Firefly so the main characters could make fun of them.

Saturday 12 October 2013

The Fifth Estate: Don't. Just, don't.

It often feels kinda cheap to ~review a movie just to tear it apart, but OH MY GOD The Fifth Estate was so terrible that I need to do this for catharsis purposes. And also to warn you that unless you're a die-hard Cumberbatch fan, you need to avoid this movie like the plague. Even the graphics over the intro credits were bizarrely cheesy -- ironically enough, since there's actually a scene in the movie where Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Bruhl, doing his best with some bad material) makes fun of Julian Assange for using shitty graphics during an early Wikileaks presentation. The overall tone was that of an early-2000s TV movie with an inexplicably high budget for casting world-famous actors in meaningless supporting roles.
To give you an idea of what you're in for if you do masochistically decide to watch this movie: it includes an actual scene where ~hacker code~ is projected across Benedict Cumberbatch's face while he types. JUST LIKE A CYBERPUNK MOVIE FROM 15 YEARS AGO. For real. If you were to ask me, What's the worst possible cliche you could include in a supposedly-serious movie about hackers? I'd answer immediately: code being projected across someone's face while they type. For those of you who have managed to miss out on this classic ~cyber~ movie detail, it was used during the hacking scene in Jurassic Park. Which came out in 1993. Not only this, but there's also at least one scene where Assange and Daniel Berg communicate via chat, while on opposite sides of the same table, and you see the chat scrolling across the screen and spoken in a voiceover at the same time. Needless to say, the chat is full of perfect grammar and punctuation, which as we all know is exactly how people communicate on the internet.

Friday 11 October 2013

Costume design TED Talk: From Clothing to Character. (Plus some notes on Sleepy Hollow.)

I thought some of you guys might be into this: A TED Talk about costume design! Kristin Burke is a pro costume designer and has a lot to say about the way costumes influence our perceptions of characters onscreen. Which, as you probably know, is my #1 favourite topic. It's an interesting talk, and the YouTube comments are still at the stage where no one is having a flamewar about Hitler, and someone has actually asked a pretty sensible question, ie: "HOW DID SHE GET OUT OF THE TRUCK?" (... Now you have to watch the video to find out how she got into the truck.)

I actually found out about this video because I follow Kristin Burke on Twitter (@frocktalk), so I've also noticed that she designs the costumes for the Sleepy Hollow TV series. A job which seems to involve being very patient with the hundreds of people who are obsessed with whether or not Ichabod Crane (an 18th century time traveler, more or less) is ever going to change his clothes.
So many Sleepy Hollow fans are fixating on this detail that I've even had a few messages about it myself, despite the fact that I haven't even watched past the pilot episode. I'm afraid I'm not gonna start recapping Sleepy Hollow, but I will repost my thoughts on Ichabod Crane's costume:

Wednesday 9 October 2013

Agents of SHIELD: The Asset.

PREVIOUSLY: Agents of SHIELD, 0-8-4.

This episode was super important because it guest-starred our first Harry Potter crossover actor, future supervillain Professor Quirrell. Definitely a step up from last week, because the science maguffin was way more central to the overall plot. Last week's gamma bomb was kind of embarrassing because they made it out to be this catastrophically big deal, but in the end Fitz just used it to blow a six-foot hole in the side of the plane. Sure, "Gravitonium" is a silly name, but the whole Big Whirring Gadget/evil Tony Stark-alike idea is a classic sci-fi plot, and this show works best when it's playing around with familiar genre cliches. "The Asset" managed a decent balance between sci-fi ridiculousness, heist shenanigans, and character development. Way better than last week's decidedly transparent excuse to get the team to bond during their first mission.
The only problem with the underground bunker/pseudoscience schtick is that I end up comparing Agents of SHIELD to The Middleman... and AoS does not measure up. Which is kind of a bummer, because Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen are good writers, and AoS has the whole weight of Marvel behind it. Meanwhile, The Middleman had about a fraction of the audience, no well-known actors in the main cast, and was still snappier, funnier, and more consciously genre-savvy -- while still being goofy and child-friendly. I'm still enjoying AoS, but the backstory development and worldbuilding is disappointingly slow-paced and lacking in detail. Plus, they need to dial back Ward's screentime by about 90% and replace him with more Melinda May, for real.

Thursday 3 October 2013

Agents of SHIELD: 0-8-4.

Previously: Marvel's Agents of O.M.G.

Ah, the second episode. The one where the shine begins to wear off the frenetic energy of the pilot’s introductory scenes, and we must get down to the dirty work of establishing a believable character dynamic. The one where they spent all their budget on Samuel L. Jackson, so 90% of the story has to take place inside the plane. The one where Clark Gregg wears a really nice suit.
I already suspect that Coulson's superpower is removing skeeviness from situations that I'd ordinarily find stupid or gross. In this episode it was the old ~seductive latina~ thing, merged with the ever-popular "evil ex-girlfriend" trope. The only reason they got away with this is because it made sense within the narrative, and the Camilla Reyes/Agent Coulson interactions were just... really good, basically. The hot ex-girlfriend is a staple of episodic TV, because it's an easy way to introduce a single-use love interest without the hassle of building up a new relationship. If she's attacked to a manly hero dude, then she's usually there to reinforce his hetero cred and inject some romance into his character arc. If she's the ex-girlfriend of an unappealing or socially maladjusted male character, then she's a hilarious punchline.

The only show that springs to mind as being good at this is Starsky & Hutch, because it was the 1970s and everyone was dating like five people at once. Bizarrely, I get way fewer douchebag vibes from Starsky & Hutch than most mainstream cop/adventure shows airing in the 21st century.