AVENGERS : INFINITY WAR REVIEW AVAILABLE AT BUZZ MAGAZINE

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I am very lucky to have had my review for Avengers: Infinity War published at Buzz Magazine. I am fortunate enough to have a lot of reviews of big blockbusters published over at Buzz and they don’t come bigger than this. Please feel free to click here http://buzzmagazine.com.au/avengers-infinity-war/ to read my thoughts and offer any of your own. I hope you enjoy.

Based out of Victoria, Buzz Magazine was one the longest running street press magazines in Australia being published in print from 1993 to 2010. Some fine writers have worked for Buzz over the years and gone onto successful careers in media since and there is simply no way to measure the contribution the mag made to local music over its print run. With such words and minimal advertising on the website the impression could be taken that Buzz is now semi-retired. Yet the site is quite prolific with new write-ups on a daily basis, the ongoing interest of fans old and new and contributions from some very talented people indeed.

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I’m very excited to say that I’ve reached a new milestone with this review at Buzz. This is my tenth review published with them following on from Black Panther, Star Wars: The Last JediBlade Runner 2049, Five Came Back, Atomic Blonde, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Wonder Woman, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Let me know if you had particular favourite.

-Lloyd Marken

 

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THOR: RAGNAROCKS BUT PLEASE NO THOR 4

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Taika Waititi did the impossible and got us excited about a Thor Movie. How he did it is pretty simple, he got us excited about Taika Waititi movies and just happened to be directing a Thor movie as well. The trailer promised a rocking soundtrack, gaudy colours that evoked memories of Flash Gordon and a comic tone that would lampoon previous entries. The film delivers on all the marketing in that regard, Thor: Ragnarok has laughs and spectacle as promised but it is missing one key ingredient that previous Waititi films has possessed and where the similarly styled Guardians of the Galaxy films have also shared and that is one of emotion.

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There are massive stakes in this film for Thor regarding his family, his homelands and his friends. You won’t see him shed a tear which is fair enough, maybe that’s not true to his character (by the way what is his character? a smart arse Prince who has matured? after five films I’m honestly not sure) but while throughout he continually references having to get back to Asgard to save his people we honestly don’t feel his connection to them. We don’t really know who they are. It feels almost like two films are running at once, Thor on another planet trying to get back and playing out a fun movie with characters for the most part unrelated to Asgard. Idris Elba as Heimdall on the other hand is engaged in helping the Asgardians and what is happening back home. The film never makes an attempt even a heavy handed one to draw that connection. Adding to that is a cut away to a joke at various times when the impact of a moment could be felt instead. In Hunt For The Wilderpeople we felt loss more keenly there of loved ones and the displacement of home. These themes are present in Thor: Ragnarok but are not nearly as well covered. In that film too things were not glossed over either, if a man had been homeless all his life he could learn to love again but not necessarily be a responsible guardian.

 

So what does the movie get right? First off the opening scene sets the tone with a big battle, some unexpected humour and the use of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song which featured in the teaser trailer. Brushing over some plot elements not shown in marketing  Thor finds himself on a planet named Sakaar trying to get back to Asgard. He is imprisoned and forced to fight in gladiatorial contests. It might have been great to leave somebody he fights as a surprise but we all know what kind of world we’re living in. Keeping that secret would have been impossible and just dumb given how much of an impact it could play in marketing but in a different world that is definitely how you would ideally play it. Speaking of The Hulk, having not reverted back to Banner for some time he is a newly developed character capable of doing good but behaving at times like a sulky toddler. One scene with him and Thor is one of the stronger character beats for both. Other characters include Jeff Goldblum being Jeff Goldblum (that’s not a bad thing), Tessa Thompson as former warrior Valkyrie now a mercenary and Cate Blanchett as new big bad Hela. Blanchett is having the time of her life strutting around confidently as a demi-God with serious betrayal issues and looking damn fine in her skin tight costume. She’s the most powerful character in the film surrounded by men trying to take her down a peg or too constantly. Subtext abounds not least of which when she delights in bossing around macho Karl Urban. Related imageThe pain of Valkyrie and Hela are not undermined by immediately following with a joke and I wish we could have seen some of that given to Thor’s trials and resolving of his relationship with Loki. Still if it is laughs you want this film has them and Waititi himself plays rock monster Korg who gets some of the best laughs. Having this special brand of New Zealand humour present on such a massively global blockbuster must be a real thrill for Kiwis and as an Aussie I certainly enjoyed it.

Maybe I’m getting old but like a lot of blockbusters of late I didn’t care for the ramped up CGI-athon third act finale. The spectacle didn’t engage in the same way say the ending of The Avengers did. Some critics believe the meta-humour and need for a laugh undermines the drama of the Guardians of the Galaxy films but I cried during the sequel as well as laughed. I regret to inform you in Thor: Ragnarok I just laughed. Yet its good to see Marvel taking chances and this is an enjoyably light diversion in this ongoing cinematic universe.

-Lloyd Marken

 

P.S. There was a Museum Exhibition in my hometown a little while back which I hope to do a post of soon. For now here’s a sneak peak of some items you may recognise from the film Thor: Ragnarok.

ALIEN CONVENANT SURE WON’T BE MISTAKEN FOR ALIEN: COVETED

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Alien: Convenant has opened to mixed reviews and solid if not exciting box office. Such a reaction may spell the end of Ridley Scott’s plan to close out a new trilogy of Alien films for this decade but will this film grow in prestige with time. Setting out to serve two audiences it may fail to completely satisfy either but there’s no denying there’s good stuff here. Is it enough?

GenXers growing up in the shadow of the first two films were always keen for more go arounds when rumours would arise of James Cameron or Ridley Scott returning to the franchise. At one point long before Avatar took up his time there were even rumours Scott would direct a film written and produced by Cameron but alas that was not to be.

in 2012 though Scott returned to science fiction for the first time since 1982 with Blade Runner to make a Prometheus that would deal with origins of the Aliens and answer finally who was that infamous space jockey. The infamous space jockey turned out to be a giant, bald grey humanoid who took a shot of tequila and made human kind. Or at least one of his ilk did a million years ago. Beyond that we didn’t learn much about them but the ending of Prometheus promised us we would find out in the next film. We don’t.

Prometheus saw the Hollywood debut of Noomi Rapace who did a solid turn as Elizabeth Shaw and before heading off on a new adventure at the end setting up a compulsory sequel. Don’t expect to see much of her in this sequel.

Prometheus sported some incredible visuals but its weak point were fucking moronic characters who played cute with space cobras and took off space helmets for no good reason so they could propel the narrative forward, felt ill and possibly contaminated but still had sex with their girlfriends and in a panic ran in straight lines ahead of rolling giant objects bearing down on them.

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Thankfully there were bright spots and not just some neat sexual tension between naked push-ups champ Charlize Theron and handsome Idris Elba. There was Michael Fassbender as peroxided android David. A character you definitely couldn’t trust but was endlessly fascinating whom with a mix of intelligence and naivety engaged me.

I had time for some of the human characters in Prometheus, but I wanted to find out what happened next to David. To this end Alien: Convenant is more of the same. Michael Fassbender returning as David and also starring as Walter a newer model android is easily the most engaging performance/s of the film. Nothing against Katherine Waterston or Danny McBride who acquit themselves well but they’re types and also lambs for the slaughter. Nobody is still wearing a space helmet again but at least the word quarantine comes up in conversation and it just seems like the momentum is always against the human characters here that you understand why mistakes are made even if they are still clearly mistakes.

I guess you want to hear the plot right? Okay people on a ship in cyrosleep going to a planet. Fire on ship, people wake up. Get signal from other planet. Decide to go there because it is habitable and just had people die on fire on ship. Get there and….aliens. Sort of.

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There-done. I can’t state this enough Fassbender and Guy Pearce having a conversation in a white room at the beginning of the film was far more thrilling for me than an Alien tearing down spaceship corridors in the third act. Everything with David and Walter was far more fascinating to me than the alien scares and I suspect the same for Ridley Scott. Despite this though I do think the venerable director has had a red hot go at making the xenomorph scary again and giving us fantastically gross deaths to try and top the chest-bursting scene of the original. Creatures in long grass leaping out at dusk illuminated by nearby burning wreckage. Bursting open backs rather than stomachs. Neomorphs braying quietly an inch from you like a horse. The classic cliché of a shower sex coupling interrupted by other appendages moving in are memorable images as are pathogens moving through ear canals. If there is any complaint it is that it would have been nice to up the creep factor a bit with some of these sequences. Sadly the creatures themselves often move too fast and with little weight obviously rendered by computer their movements are now too sleek compared to the haunting creature in the earlier films. However the scene much touted in the marketing where a belayed Waterston does battle with the classic xenomorph on top of a careening space vehicle while packing a modified Steyr assault rifle is the kind of sequence that couldn’t have been done 20 years ago the same way and makes great use of modern technology.

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The film itself is less pretty than Prometheus sporting harsher colours, the planet in this film replaces the bare black volcanic rock with forests and medieval like structures but the sky is darker, the colours even more muted adding up to convey a nightmarish quality of a ruined world. Positively gothic. Which is kind of the point and maybe why this may struggle to find a huge audience. This is a dour film offering no real easy answers. There’s plenty of horror and action in it but its more interested in bigger themes. Yet saying that big themes and moodiness is why this film won’t click with some is just an excuse. Plenty of dour films can still entertain you with their effectiveness. There are interesting ideas in Alien: Convenant, some neat deaths and two compelling performances from Michael Fassbender. I was angry about the idea of having already waited five years for answers when Convenant was only going to leave me hanging for more but I am now intrigued to see where Scott takes this. Yet that does not a satisfying film make and Alien: Convenant is far from satisfying. Wait for it to come out on Disc or streaming. While Alien: Convenant seeks to address some of the criticisms of Prometheus I would argue the latter is still the better film. I’m also putting it out there in this corner of the internet, Sir Ridley I’d like to see Alien 5 with Ripley, Newt and Hicks more than I ever wanted to see this.

-Lloyd Marken

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RANKINGS OF 24 BONDS and COUNTING PART ONE: 24 to 18

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Inspired by the upcoming release of Spectre and far better lists done by others I’ve decided to rank the Bond movies according to me in terms of quality. Please note there is a lot of short hand and spoilers below, the list assumes that everyone has watched the films in the series.

24. A View to a Kill

I’ve got no issues with Roger Moore playing Bond at 58 even if it makes the age gap between co-stars is a little ridiculous but you’re setting a pattern already when you remark about the youth and inexperience of a 36 year old Daniel Craig and cast him with a 26 year old Eva Green. Moore is as fit and healthy here as he ever was and even a decade earlier he left most stunts to the stuntmen so why should it matter now? This was one of the last Bond films from before my time that I got around to seeing. 80s car stunts, Paris, a climax on the Golden Gate Bridge, Grace Jones and Christopher Walken…it’s fair to say I was looking forward to it but the film never really delivers. All the components are here, Patrick MacNee shows up and causes some emotional heartbreak with his death but that’s mostly due sentimentality for his portrayal of John Steed. Thirty years later Grace Jones remains an original force of nature, she’s physically formidable, 1 of only 3 possible black lovers the series has had and the ONLY! henchwoman ever who ,also rare, turns good and she also boasts impressive fashion sense. Christopher Walken one of the most distinctive charismatic personas of cinema has a great little death scene too. And yet…neither is terribly memorable here, Jones essentially playing the persona she had established for herself and Walken having not quite developed the freedom to go all out like he would in just a few short years. The idea of them being both being genetically engineered is not made much use of unfortunately either. Tanya Roberts as Stacey Sutton is way too weak as the main love interest to make for compelling storytelling even if she brings out a nicely protective side in Bond.  Notable for being Lois Maxwell’s last film, she played Moneypenny from 1962 to 1985. The stunts remain good but I can’t recall any killer lines or kick ass Bondian moments. It’s sad to see Moore and Maxwell go out this way but at least we’ve got a killer tune in the title track and this awesome little Youtube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXixbmHSpE8

23. The Man with the Golden Gun

This was the last Bond co-produced by Harry Saltzman and was Moore’s second outing in the role. It’s dated badly to our politically correct times. Moore roughs up Maud Adams (a villain but still) and cuckqueans Britt Ekland’s fellow agent Mary Goodnight. The kind of stuff that makes us awkward at liking Sean Connery’s films is still present in Moore’s era. For some actually this is Moore’s best. It’s got a terrific car stunt (undiminished by that slide whistle), gorgeous Thailand, Britt Ekland walking around in a bikini throughout the third act and the great Sir Christopher Lee as the villain of the piece. For many it’s Lee who makes it and the idea of the ultimate assassin against the ultimate spy is a neat idea. The best scene has to be Scaramanga telling Bond in no uncertain times he could have killed him at any point but wants a contest. Sadly that is the highlight of such a tantalising premise. For me the film fails to fire for most of its run time.

22. Octopussy

Surely Sir Christopher Lee has this 1983 entry beat and maybe he should but as a child of the 80s Octopussy has the stunts – cars taking to railway tracks, planes flying through hangars, roof top fights on steam trains and airborne airplanes!. There is also Bond avenging a fellow agent, 009’s flight to the British embassy is both surreal and haunting with his clown make-up but obvious distress played well by stunt man Andy Bradford. Maud Adams returns to the franchise as the strongly layered female villain and love interest Octopussy although an awkward love scene exists here too – this girl can’t catch a break. Everybody loves Q and he gets a neat moment in the field here. Plus I like that Faberge egg, can I have one? Moore appears to not be doing the running like he did two years earlier in For Your Eyes Only and they actually screen tested James Brolin. Connery was doing Never Say Never Again though and so producer Albert R. ‘Cubby’ Brocolli doubled down on his reigning Bond star. No idea what led to Moore returning for A View to a Kill. This has the wit lacking in Moore’s final film. A personal favourite is when henchman Gobinda played by Kabir Bedi is told to climb out on to the roof of a flying plane to get Bond off the roof. “Out there?” he checks incredulously.

21. Thunderball

How could I? It’s Sean Connery for fuck’s sake. Bahamas, a Tom Jones title track, a fascinating love triangle and a great looking Vulcan bomber. This is the big money earner that gave the filmmakers so much money and good will that they’ve turned it into a 50 years and counting franchise. No doubt if I watch it tomorrow it might shoot up the list, it is actually incredible to realise how consistent the quality of these films are and how tough it is to rank them definitively but in my memory the damn thing is…it’s just too boring. Note this could be an early example of a box office hit running off the prestige off its immediate predecessor. In this case Goldfinger.

20. The World Is Not Enough

This is a film I wanted to love so much. I couldn’t wait to see Begbie face off against Bond and the premise was strong with a villain who can’t feel any pain. Bond gets played here by a woman, Elektra King, and that’s a great idea for a Bond film especially since she manipulates his protective instincts and Brosnan was already the warmer passionate Bond. He never smacks bitches around like the other actors or yells at them for no real reason. All the more devastating then, that final scene where he shoots her without hesitation and then displays a great deal of remorse. Sophie Marceau is great too in her performance as Elektra; I love how her eyes flash when she says “My father was nothing. His kingdom he stole from my mother, the kingdom I will rightly take back.” For me this is a terribly frustrating film for what it could have been and what it gets right. The death of Elektra is fantastic, one of the best in the series. The kidnapping of M is brilliant too which makes it a little disappointing that she doesn’t get to do more in her escape. The fight at the end should pay off the novelty of a villain who can’t feel physical pain and be emotionally cathartic for both men who have lost much with Elektra’s death and would blame the other. See the fight in GoldenEye for a hint of what could have been. Still Brosnan delivers with the concluding line “She’s waiting for you.” Robbie Coltrane returning as Valentin Zukovsky from GoldenEye makes a nice return and permanent exit. People like to pick on Denise Richards as Dr. Christmas Jones, but she has to sell that line “But the world’s greatest terrorist running around with 6 kilos of weapons-grade plutonium can’t be good. I have to get it back. Or somebody’s gonna have my ass.” Otherwise Pierce’s wonderful punch line doesn’t work. She’s eye candy I grant you and I don’t know how many nuclear physicists wear that outfield but she’s not a weak link here. This is Desmond Llewellyn’s last go as Q and as always he delivers. The filmmakers took time to write a nice exit scene for him. I’ve only realised with age that the line “Never let them see you bleed.” is as good as admitting your heart is breaking. Wonderfully English and restrained yet heartfelt. Desmond Llewelyn served with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in France during World War II where he was captured and spent five years as a POW – a genuine hero. The opening ski boat chase on the Thames is one of the best of a series that has always prided itself on great openings and the first time that London took centre stage in a Bond film. I was pumped after watching it but sadly the action scenes that follow are rather average and the plot itself moves rather sluggishly. This really could have been great but it’s not. Still some stellar ideas. Whenever I’ve seen Bond in a theatre there is always a chortle of disbelief and approval from a middle aged man in the audience. His moment here was when Bond dives the ski boat underneath the water and straightens his tie. These are the moments that make Bond.

19. Live and Let Die

Roger Moore in his first Bond at 43 looks practically like a baby, good genes Sir Moore, so it’s no surprise they got a long run out of him. Interestingly the very English Moore’s debut is a film influenced by Blaxploitation but obviously not a Blaxploitation film. How cool would that be? Maybe a black Bond who would take out some oppressive white motherfuckers in Whitehall after uncovering a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top. Instead Moore’s Bond kills a black gangster and his voodoo thugs while bedding a white girl slave that one of them was keeping and hoping to deflower in good time. It’s the reverse of certain dated cliché white man fears. The majority of African-Americans in the film are villains but they’re competent complex individuals played by strong actors led by the great Yaphet Kotto. What’s fascinating about Live and Let Die in our modern times is not so much how things have changed but how things have remained. How many black villains have we had in the franchise since Live and Let Die? 1 or 2 black henchmen? 1 or 2 black love interests? The movie is 42 years old. 42 fucking years old! I’m supportive of different voices being heard and celebrated in media even if sometimes I find it discomforting to think about it in terms of quotas. For example I like Naomie Harris as Moneypenny and Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter. I am happy they were cast because of how good they are as actors but I also believe if a by-product of that is more black faces are on screen in the Bond franchise then that is a good thing. Just putting it out there. I think Idris Elba would be great as Bond but I would like Daniel Craig to stay on too for at least one more. Decisions. I got off on a tangent here. The novelty of running motor boats over ground is still neat today the double decker bus makes a nice change from a supercar. Jane Seymour is one of the most insanely beautiful women in the world but lines such as “Now I feel like a complete woman.” After losing her virginity to Bond just make me snigger. It’s not a great Bond film but it’s not a bad one either. The crocodile stunt is suitably bad ass and best song of the series has to be either Live and Let Die or Goldfinger although I really enjoy Chris Cornell’s You Know My Name.

18. For Your Eyes Only

You’ve got to hand it to Eon Productions. You’ve just made more money at the box office than any previous Bond film with Moonraker. Critics might have sniggered you just re-made The Spy Who Loved Me and put it in space to cash in on Star Wars but you know what? It worked. So what do you do? You go back to basics. That takes wisdom and that takes courage. It’s such a shame then that the film is at times boring. As a kid it was really boring. I couldn’t stand the film, as an adult I’ve come to appreciate it a lot more. The opening is a great source of contention as Moore’s Bond references Tracey Bond by visiting her gravesite and then encountering Blofeld who is summarily dispatched. The scene has in its favour great helicopter stunts and Bond putting to rest Tracey’s killer without the ambivalence of his fate in Diamonds Are Forever. Against it, Moore being funny again and showing no grim satisfaction when dispatching his long time nemesis and due to legal reasons Blofeld is neither named nor really shown. An iconic villain is dispatched quite quickly and easily with no real payoff reflecting the producers’ intention to make a point of saying they didn’t need him anymore but disrespecting the history of the character with the audience. I’m not as pissed as some but I can certainly see the missed opportunity here. The rest of the film plays better. We go to snowy Alps, Mediterranean ports and cliff top monasteries. Cassandra Harris as Countess Lisl is playful and beautiful in her scenes as a love interest. Later she is run down by henchman Loque played by Michael Gothard. Bond shoots at his car but misses failing to save her from death. In a later scene when he faces Loque down on foot while the bad guy drives a vehicle at him he doesn’t miss and there is a great satisfaction in that. I love that they made Bond miss in the earlier scene! The scene concludes with Bond kicking Loque’s precariously perched car off a cliff. Moore ever the gentleman did not want to do that scene noting that it was a Bond thing to do but not his Bond. When you think about the Countess though it makes you glad Moore eventually agreed. In our harder harsher times this is the moment that modern audiences embrace Moore for. He’s been vindictively cruel, impressively unbowed before Mr. Big and Scaramanga, tensely focused in Moonraker’s closer but here in this scene he’s just plain old bad ass. Moore really could act you know? With more than those impressively talented eyebrows. Carolina Bouquet as the main love interest was 24 while Roger Moore was 54 creating the largest age difference between Moore and any of his Bond girls. Thankfully Moore looks good and tanned and plays it more paternal than lecherous. It doesn’t hurt that Bouquet is a strong character played by an actress who already had a great deal of presence and maturity. Right before the keelhauling scene Bond says “We’re not dead yet.” to comfort Melina, a throw away moment that I love. Moore is at the height of his powers here playing Bond older and calm-confident and relaxed in the role he now owned. Julian Glover with that great dinner scene as an ally, turns villain and becomes far less enthralling but he’s good just not great. You know who’s great? Fuckin Fiddler on the Roof himself Topol as Milos Columbo with his pistachio nuts and gregarious nature. There’s a lot to love here including the great mountain fall stunt by Rick Sylvester but once you’ve seen it there’s not enough to propel you through the slow bits again for a while.