Captain America: Civil War

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This is more of a discussion than a review. I have tried to omit any major spoilers, but you may wish not to read on if you are not up to date with the MCU movies.

A Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) adaptation of the Civil Wars story arc was never going to translate directly. They couldn’t just take the plot from the comics. The comics included an entire universe (mostly in America) of supers at ends, leading to showdowns featuring hundreds of powered figures around the country. Whereas in the MCU there are roughly a dozen supers currently known of. Hulk and Thor are off doing who knows what, and most the Avengers don’t even have powers, so how much of a battle are we likely to see?

With Civil War, when you boil it down, the issue causing the rift was the question of accountability. Do the heroes answer to governments to remain accountable and reduce collateral damage, but throw away their own personal freedoms with the same action? The comics also explored more issues, such as the consequences of heroes revealing their true identity.

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There’s a lot of source material to use, and this isn’t even half of it.

In one camp we have Team Stark. Iron Man is wracked by guilt, and is trying to redeem himself anyway he can. He decides that answering to a governing body will relieve him of responsibility for his actions. On the other side of the fence we find Team Cap. Steve Rodgers knows that doing what is right does not always equate to following the law, and fights against registering to work for a body that will likely restrict his actions. Our supers all pick their side and make a stand.

I have to side with Cap on this one. I’m pretty sure the moral of his previous title, The Winter Soldier, was that you can’t trust anyone unless they’re Nick Fury. In that film SHIELD (the good guys that our heroes worked for/with) were secretly being run by HYDRA (essentially new wave Nazis). And if that’s the case, then it’s highly likely that the UN body are being run by some dodgy individuals as well.

Not that I can’t see the arguments for pro-registration. The film explores how lives lost as “collateral damage” are still lives that mattered to the families of those who dies. Sure, the Avengers may have saved the world a few times, but the people who lost loved ones when a building fell during a battle don’t always see it that way.

And members of Team Stark don’t really sell the virtues of accountability when two members, Iron Man and Black Panther, are both motivated by personal issues and driven by revenge. In fact, I was especially upset by the treatment of Black Panther. In this film, a usually noble and advanced character was depicted as a royal brat throwing his toys. Sure, his actions made sense, based on the plot, but it isn’t fair to gloss over such a great character just for the sake of including him in the film in order to set up a sequel.

Captain America: Civil War also opens questions about the futures of key Marvel figures. Marvel sold off the film rights for many of their characters back in the late 1900’s. This is why it was unlikely you would never see Wolverine fighting the Hulk, or The Fantastic 4 teaming up with Daredevil, on the big screen. The characters were owned by different studios, and that’s the way it was set to stay.

This can create confusion around some mutually usable characters. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are technically mutants, so although we saw them introduced in Avengers: Age of Ultron,  we also see them in completely unrelated settings in the Xmen franchise, as different studios use the characters with the same names and powers in separate stories.

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Spiderman, played by Tom Holland. Notice his new classic look costume.

Likewise, Spiderman was a key character in the Civil War comics, but Marvel fans never thought that Sony would relinquish their grip on the rights to his use in cinema. So the fact that Spiderman is appearing in Civil War, opens questions about the future of his character on the big screen. Does this set the precedent for more collaborations and cross-overs to come?

For the record, Spiderman is portrayed quite accurately in Civil War. Parker is an dorky teen unsure about how to make the most of his new-found powers. He comes across as awkward, wise cracking with annoying jokes to compensate for his lack of confidence. Small details, like living in Queens with his Aunt May, having his own homemade webshooters, and Stark providing him with a new suit, means that Spidey fans should be pleased with how true-to-the-source he is.

As for the rest of the film? I enjoyed it. They did well to take the essence of the comics and turn it into something that worked onscreen. There are plenty of decent fight scenes, and despite the clear power imbalance between the sides, it seems to work. It is a Captain America film, but the two sides of the conflict are show in a balanced way. There are laughs and emotional scenes, and at the end of the film you feel like you’ve got your money’s worth. I was upset about Black Panther, but hopefully this is redeemed by his own title, and I felt that the Spiderman inclusion was done well enough to make up for it.

Hot tip: hang around after the credits. We all know that MCU films always have a scene after the credits, but Civil War also has a mid-credit piece as well.

Joseph James

2015 In Review: Films at Will Not Fade

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I go to the movies probably more than I can afford to, but I seldom review them because nobody wants to read a review written about a movie after it has already been out for a week. I’ll try to sum up my opinion of some of the movies that I’ve watched this year.


Top 5

Deathgasm was by far the best film of thedeathgasm-poster_1444064580
year. A perfect blend of action, horror and comedy with soundtrack that referenced metal from local and international bands. I also saw Turbo Kid (also produced by Ant Timpson) during the film festival  and it was similar in many ways. Hilarious, gratuitous, and with a kickass 80’s sounding soundtrack. It makes me proud that despite the increasing influence of Hollywood over our local industry, New Zealand can still churn out some brilliant films.

Mad Max: Fury Road is the obvious runner up for film of the year. Full on action the whole way through, without most of the annoying clichés and tropes that you’d associate with a gasoline fueled blockbuster like this.

mad-max-fury-road-poster2And it may be because I only saw it a few days ago, butStar Wars: The Force Awakens gets my vote for third place. I can’t deny being a Star Wars nerd, and I’m glad the new entry does justice to the series. Just as the prequel trilogy mirrored the originals, the new episode mirrors earlier films in a way that feels familiar, whilst still introducing new characters and possibilities. JJ Abrams was a smart choice for director, having revived the Star Trek franchise in recent years.

My other faves were The Martian and Everest. I was worried that The Martian would be a drawn out snoozefest like Interstellar (both films stared Matt Damon and were set in space), but The Martian held up as an entertaining and clever sci-fi. I was also pleased to see that Everest lived up to my expectations. I had met Jan Arnold, the wife of lead character Rob Hall, in highschool. Their tragic story was brought to life tastefully, while still retaining essential elements of good cinema.

Children’s films

As a teacher, keeping up with the latest children’s filmsis part of my job. Surprisingly though, I can only think of two that came out this year. Inside Out was a great exploration into human emotion, but was perhaps too mature for its child audience (not that this prevented the children who saw it enjoying themselves). Minions was annoying, and it is a shame that Despicable Me has stooped to such levels. Children loved it though, so it doesn’t matter what I think of it.

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I don’t watch as many horrors as I used to, but I still enjoy them. Deathgasm was the best I saw this year, as I stated above. It Follows was a horror that garnered universal critical acclaim. I have mixed feelings about it. I do feel that it was over-rated, but the weird premise did have me thinking about it for days afterwards. I won’t ruin the plot, you’ll just have to find out for yourself if it lived up to the hype.

Cooties was a deliciously fun low-grade horror boasting big name actors (Elijah Wood, Alison Pill, Rainn Wilson). Contaminated chicken nuggets turn children at a primary school into prepubescent zombies, with the teachers resorting to whatever extreme measures they deem necessary for survival.

Music

I was pretty excited when I first heard about Straight Outta Compton, the NWA biopic. I enjoyed watching it, but it was so long that it started to lose impact as it progressed. There has been lots of litigation and controversy surrounding the film, with certain parties claiming that their role has been downplayed (MC Ren), or depicted in defamatory light (Suge Knight – Death Row Records co-founder, and Jerry Heller – former NWA manager). It will be interesting to see how follow up films pan out – a biopic focusing on the following wave of rappers like Snoop Dogg and Tupac is currently in the works.

One heartwarming documartian-gallery3-gallery-imagementary I saw was called Landfill Harmonic, about a village in Paraguay where children form an orchestra in which they play instruments made from rubbish found in the landfill that many of them live on. It’s one of those underdog tales that show how people can rise from poverty to achieve something great.

The big films.

Star Wars is looking to break all kinds of box office records at the moment, but
it seems that the same could have been said by every major blockbuster that came out this year. Many films were guaranteed to sell just because they were part of a successful series. It helps that Star Wars is actually worth seeing, but let’s be honest, we were all going to go see it regardless. Take the following examples:

Spectre, the latest James Bond film (with the same plot as Mission Impossible: Rouge Nation), was ok, but not great. But you have to see it, simply because it’s Jame Bond. Same goes with any Marvel film. People watch them, regardless of how good they are. I thought that the second Avengers film was better than the first, but it was still forgettable. Jurassic World was an uninspired modern rehash of the original. Some up-to-date CGI wasn’t enough to disguise unlikable actors presenting thEverest-filme same plot as the earlier films, but despite this, dinosaurs still had pulling power to make Jurassic World millions of dollars.

Furious 7 , Terminator: Genysis and Hunger Games: Mockingjay pt 2 were some of the few major blockbusters from established series that I’d consider recommending (other than Star Wars and Mad Max, that I’ve already mentioned).

There were other films that I saw that aren’t worth mentioning, and likely many that I missed that are. What were your top movies of 2015? What ones did I miss that I really need to see? Or which ones do you think I need to reevaluate?

Joseph James

Film Review: Everest

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Everest is a true story centred around Kiwi mountaineer Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) who guided a group to summit Mt Everest alongside other groups in 1996. It is based on the autobiographical book Left for Dead: My Journey Home from Everest, by Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), one of the characters in the film.

Hall’s wife Jan Arnold (played by Kiera Knightly in the film) lives in my home town of Nelson. She came and gave a talk to my year group when I was in high school, so I had a fair idea about what the plot would involve. This didn’t spoil anything though, because I was still kept on the edge of my seat throughout.

Willing climbers have paid Hall and his company Adventure Consultants to guide them to the summit of Everest and back, based on his reputation for success and safety. There are also two other groups who are attempting the same during the two week window: a selfish South African group, and Mountain Madness, led by Scott Fisher (Jake Gyllenhaal). The overcrowding at base camp causes some complications, but as Fischer points out, it’s not a matter of the three groups competing against each other, but rather a matter of every person competing against the mountain.

We get to know the key characters, their motivations, their weaknesses. Hall has a pregnant wife back in New Zealand. Weathers is a rich American who pursues mountaineering to avoid depression. Doug Hansen (John Hawkes) wants to prove that an Average Joe is capable of extraordinary things. Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori) has climbed six of the Seven Summits (the highest peak of each continent), and seeks to complete the set. We watch with abated breath as the climbers all seek to accomplish a common goal: to summit Everest and survive to tell the tale.

I applaud whoever did the casting for this film. The collective acting talent is strong enough that I was able hear to attempts at the New Zealand accent without feeling compelled to cringe. It sounds petty, but it really is an achievement. The only other example of an actor capable of pulling this off (that I can think of) is Anthony Hopkins, who played Kiwi motorcycling legend Burt Munro in The World’s Fastest Indian.

And it’s not just acceptable accents that got noticed. The cast take us on an emotive ride that having us vicariously cheering one minute, and choking back tears the next.

This is certainly a film that shines in a cinema setting, doing justice to the vast scenery shots displayed across a big screen. The scale of the cluttered Nepalese cities and majestic icy peaks are breathtaking. It is nice to see some authenticity, with some of the filming having taken place in Nepal, with the rest being shot in the Italian alps and the UK.

Both triumphant and tragic, Everest tells a gripping tale that reels you in and displays the destructive power of both nature; and the power of the human spirit and will to survive.

Joseph James

Film Review: Deathgasm

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One of the more prominent scenes in Deathgasm involves a fight scene between the protagonists and a couple who are possessed by demons. Loud metal music (Beastwars and 8 Foot Sativa) plays in the background and our heroes need to resort to using sex toys as weapons to defend themselves against their attackers.

This is probably enough information for you to decide whether Deathgasm will suit your taste or not.

The film begins with lead character Brodie moving to a small backwater town to after his mum was institutionalised due to a wild meth-fueled bender. His relatives don’t approve of his bogan music tastes, and he and his friends are ruthlessly picked on by his cousin, the school bully.

After a run in with an infamous long-lost frontman of a metal band he adores, Brodie acquires sheet music that summons a demon when it is played – think the musical equivalent of Evil Dead’s Book of the Dead. And of course, once this happens Brodie and his bogan buddies need to figure out a way to fight what they’ve unleashed.

Black Sabbath, the original metal pioneers, invented their new sound after inspiration from watching horror movies, so it’s only natural that the horror and metal genres marry so perfectly. And New Zealand is such a bogan nation that it’s impossible not to relate to the humour of it all. Tenacious D’s The Pick of Destiny, or the Bill and Ted movies are similar in some ways, but Deathgasm manages to do funny without being as lame. Ridiculous, sure, but not desperate.

It’s the realism that is key here. Lei Howden admits that most of the characters – awkward, violent, heavy metal loving youths – are based on himself in some way or another. They’re crass, but they’re also believable.

Mind you, this is only the characters. The guy who loves his Holden more than his friends is believable. The nerds who play role-playing games during lunch are believable. They’re funny, too. But it’s the insanely unbelievable splatter and gore that pushes the humour to the next level, like in Peter Jackson’s early films Braindead and Bad Taste.

Blood and guts and chainsaws and axes all feature by the bucketful. Lei Howden’s background is in visual effects so expect plenty of gratuitous fluids onscreen. The combination of horror and comedy can be pretty risky, but producer Ant Timpson was at the helm, and the end result works brilliantly, like other films he’s worked on such as Housebound and another current NZIFF film Turbo Kid.

Your mum will probably hate this film. But then again, she probably hates heavy metal too. And isn’t that half the point of listening to it?

Deathgasm is an extremely inappropriate assault on the senses. But if you enjoy over-the-top horror films and identify as a metal head then I doubt you’ll mind.

 

Joseph James

 

Film Review: Terminator Genisys

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The original Terminator – along with the 1991 sequel – has a special place in the hearts of sci-fi fans. The successive third and fourth movies were worth forgetting, but The Sarah Connor Chronicles television series proved that the Terminator universe could still be added to, when done properly..

Fifth installment, Genisys, is both a sequel and a reboot of the franchise. Like in the latest Xmen film, time travel is used to create a new story arc whilst still paying respect to the original.

There are still nods to the past, with lines like “I’ll be back”, and “Come with me if you want to live” inevitably included. It’s still the same story even – the machines try to kill off the Connor family, while the Connors try to prevent Skynet from being created – but there are enough twists and turns to keep the story fresh.

Interestingly enough, none of the key cast are American.

Emilia Clarke replaces her Game of Thrones co-star Lana Headey as Sarah Connor. And we already know that Clarke  can handle the tough-girl role, playing the mother of John Connor, because we’ve seen her play the Mother of Dragons. She’s fiery and confused, feeling victimised because she has little choice but to play her destined role, and wondering if there is a way to escape her dictated fate.

Arnie, The Governator, reprises possibly his most iconic role as an old – but not yet obsolete – terminator. Arnie is getting old now, but the writers have factored this in. Terminators can age because they are made out of living tissue encasing a robot body, giving explanation to the clear wrinkles and grey hair. His robotic nature and inability to empathise with the humans often provides comic relief, but he’s still the same gun-toting badass that we’re used to.

I don’t love Jai Courtney, who plays Kyle Reese. Maybe it’s because I associate him with his jerk character from Divergentor maybe he just isn’t that likable. I’m not sure, but he does OK. And John Connor is played by Jason Clarke, the wildcard who keeps everyone on their toes.

Genisys has managed to update the franchise while still remaining true to the series. The characters are the same, yet different due to the time travel. There are more terminators this time, but we don’t know which one can be trusted, or even which people are terminators in disguise. The film is brought forward into the 21st century, and not just in the apocalyptic post-Judgement Day wasteland way, but in a touch screens are inescapable kind of way. We need to flip some established preconceptions on their head, like in T2, when viewers had to challenge the ideas that all terminators are bad.

James Cameron has voiced his support of this fifth film, and I agree with him. With Genisys we have more terminators, more time travel, more action. There are car chases on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge that remind me of the recent Planet of the Apes films, and helicopter pursuits through the skies. There are shoot outs in alleyways and fight scenes in factories. A few plot holes go unexplained, but none are glaringly major enough annoy. Most importantly, Genisys does justice to the franchise, and wipes clean the blight of the third and fourth films.

Joseph James

Film Review – Mad Max: Fury Road

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My friend was trying to describe this film to his girlfriend over the phone just after we’d left the cinema. I think he did a good job of summing it up: “A guy get’s captured. Then he escapes. Uh…. It’s just mindless destruction really!” It’s safe to say that Mad Max is a bit more intense than the last movie that revolved around Tom Hardy driving a long way.

Mad Max: Fury Road is the fourth installment in the series, with Tom Hardy replacing Mel Gibson as the lead. It’s a high-octane, intense ride the entire way.

This is not to say that the movie only comprises of explosions. There is more to it than that. But not a great deal more.

According to some, Mad Max a feminist triumph. It’s a post-apocalyptic depiction of the frailty of humanity. A story of struggle and of survival. And did I mention that there’s plenty of action and explosions? And though the plot isn’t a masterpiece, it is well paced(from throttling, to break-neck, to overdrive).

The acting is great. The characters are tough and gritty, all with a differing degree of madness. The corrupt warlords are hellbent on retaining their power, no matter the cost. Their minions, the brainwashed War Boys, help the kings with their atrocities, believing that dying in the line of duty will earn them glory in the afterlife of Valhalla. The War Boys outlandishly twisted and cartoonish nature, along with their love for ultra-violence, reminds me of the droogs from Clockwork Orange. Our two protagonists, Max (Hardy) and Furiosa (Charlize Threron), are both hardened anti-heroes, trying to seek redemption from past sins in their own way.

The viewer gets fully immersed in this new hellish world. The details are stunning, from the vast deserts that the action takes place in, to the almost steampunk vehicles of war. This is a world where you need to be mobile and violent in order to survive. I’m surprised that the rock band Kiss didn’t make a cameo appearance, with all the pyrotechnics and heavy music.

This is what a blockbuster should be. When I pay good money to see a movie such as this, it’s fair to want to leave afterwards feeling blown away. And I was.

If you like your movies action-packed and filled with adrenaline, then do yourself a favour and go watch Mad Max.

Joseph James