SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING AND ATOMIC BLONDE REVIEWS AVAILABLE AT BUZZ MAGAZINE

BuzzBoth.jpg

Recently I went and saw the new Spider-Man movie and my wife took me to a preview screening of the new Charlize Theron actioner Atomic Blonde. I’ve also watched Baby Driver, a film that has been carrying a lot of buzz. Alas I may not share the same enthusiasm for it that many do but there are things I appreciated about it. Maybe I’ll get to a review in time. I also hope to write about the return of the Brisbane International Film Festival which trust me is a cause for celebration. In the meantime I’ve been lucky to have Buzz Magazine publish my reviews for Spider-Man: Homecoming and Atomic Blonde. Links can be found here http://buzzmagazine.com.au/spiderman-homecoming/ and here http://buzzmagazine.com.au/atomic-blonde/ and I hope you enjoy.

Buzz4.jpg

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.

Buzz5.jpg

I count myself very fortunate to have been able to submit 5 reviews there for the blockbusters Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Wonder Woman and now Spider-Man: Homecoming and Atomic Blonde.

Hope you’re all well.

-Lloyd Marken

 

 

 

 

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR IS MORE OF THE SAME WHICH IS AWESOMENESS

Marvel Studios can do no wrong or at least have not so far. Their slow world building towards their team up movie The Avengers has changed the landscape of blockbuster entertainment. Studios no longer want a trilogy they want a franchise. Why lock yourself into one star with one character when you can have various ones all part of the same franchise allowing you to release not one hit film every two years but at the bare minimum two films every year. As comic book adaptations continue to reign supreme they have a sizeable chunk of the market with their line-up of characters. Cynicism aside like Pixar before them part of the success comes down to the reliability of their brand. The studio is run by comic book people who love comic books and their characters. Whatever changes they’ve made in adapting to the big screen they’ve always strived to service what was likeable about a character or storyline. If you think about it, the spin offs before Avengers didn’t make as much money as their sequels, it’s easy to forget how much of a gamble this all was way back in 2008 but if you’re worst film is Thor: The Dark World you’re batting average is likely to be game winning. So the question becomes how long can this success last? If Avengers: Age of Ultron didn’t quite deliver on high expectations Captain America: Civil War suffers no shortage of anticipation. Last November when trailers for this summer’s blockbusters debuted Civil War stood out for its more polished editing. The closing shot Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) looking emotionally pained as he slammed his shield down on Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) stood out to me. That close up communicated instantly what is at the heart of this story and also the success of the Marvel brand. They bring it back to the characters and what they are feeling rather than just straight spectacle.

Captain America: Civil War delivers on every front we’ve come to expect; there is a spectacular joyful smack down in an airport that has already become an instant classic. civil war trailer captain america civil warThere are multiple characters with their own motivations, story and stand out moments juggled effortlessly. Amidst all the special effects are some effective practical stunts, witty dialogue and heart. Heart first and foremost always in the telling of the story. If any of these films have flaws it is not for lack of heart which is an even grander achievement when you consider the assembly line production of them. There are pay offs here that are built on history that has been developed over 8 years and 12 films.

The film opens with the latest line-up of Avengers Africa to take down Cross Bones (Frank Grillo) but in the ensuing melee there is collateral damage and this raises the possibility of whether the Avengers do more harm than good. Enter the Sokovia Accords which would effectively mean only the governments of the world could approve the use of the Avengers unilaterally and could effectively lead to the misuse of the Avengers for those countries own ends. Captain America does not trust oversight given Hydra’s recent infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Iron Man can no longer stomach not taking some responsibility for their actions in a similar vein to when he ceased arms productions at Stark Industries. The rest of the team for various reasons fall down along these lines, neither is particularly wrong or right but as a fellow blogger pointed out there are more fascinating avenues this line of thought could have been developed beyond just collateral damage. In the end the film while being a powerful parable about the cost and cycle of violence is ultimately an elaborate excuse to see various heroes fight each other. Which is fine because the film is not really about the Sokovia Accords, it is about Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and what lengths Steve Rogers will go to protect his friend and fellow veteran while at the same time Tony Stark is trying to protect the Avengers as best he can. Stark and Rogers have always been at odds with their contrasting personalities and world view points. There is an extra layer there in the sense that Rogers is partially a creation of Howard Stark’s and a friend of Tony’s Dad. He’s perversely both father figure and rival son for Stark Senior’s approval. The ground work for this had been laid previously and in this film finally gets paid off.

With that in mind it is remarkable how two major new characters are introduced and immediately feel right at home in this universe and have their own storyline. Spider-Man is introduced with hot Aunt May Maries Tomei and features only in two scenes. One his introduction is a remarkable feat of economic storytelling in setting up his character and the second an unadulterated celebration of what we love best about that character in the airport scene. We know everything we need to know about this Peter Parker (Tom Holland) from those two scenes and we’re hungry for more. Featured more prominently is Black Panther who has his back story partially told and is set on a path for vengeance against The Winter Soldier which brings him into direct conflict with Captain America. He is not the only one and it says something about this franchise in where they are prepared to go with their lead characters. Certain characters may not get much to do, Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) have certain moments that hark back to the comic books, Falcon gets a lot to do but is still mostly defined by his friendship to Rogers, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) looks great and is cool but doesn’t have a lot going on and the same goes for Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). Black Widow though is this solid link throughout the story. Rogers and she have been through a lot, she may not be on his side but she looks out for him as best she can. Performances are all uniformly excellent.

If the film has a flaw it maybe that it kinda lacks a strong ending, the villain has been cited as weak even by Marvel standards but to me it fits given that in this film the enemy is within. Daniel Bruhl’s performance is effective at showing that character’s pain and it is an interesting idea for a villain.

Production values are great across the board; the directors Anthony and Joe Russo continue their impressive staging of action even if an early chase does employ some disconcerting shaky cam. While most scenes seem to be set in technology parks or airport hangars perhaps reflecting the need to maybe switch up the locations more in these films these really only are nit-picks. This studio has delivered for us again and again, that at this point a superior production in every way to their rivals is not enough for some fans. There is a hint of franchise fatigue with this entry, a little bit too much familiarity even if the quality remains high-people inevitably seek out something new and fresh. Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man delivered on those fronts and even Iron Man 3 because it remained steadfastly a Marvel and Shane Black film. Getting more strong auteurs in there may not be a bad idea but for now the future looks bright with a focus on new characters with Dr. Strange and Black Panther coming next. For now this is arguably as good as anything Marvel has done, check it out.

-Lloyd Marken

BLUE BALL TELEVISION SERIES FINALES!

I was inspired by the recent X-Files revival to muse on a long held lament of mine.

That of the disappointing television series finale. Warning spoilers ahead for any TV show being discussed.

Television is long form story telling affording the opportunity to make characters part of our lives with weekly catch-ups. It rewards staying power making you feel like a confidant who really lives with these people and understands them.

Yet most TV shows never have a plan for the arc of the show, are cancelled prematurely due to low ratings, lose actors to personal volatility, creative differences, ambition, etc. When a show is successful it often runs too many years and show runners and/or stars can leave before it closes. If not then often without a plan for a finale the show will suck. Lately the greatest way to cop out of a prestige series is simply leave an ambivalent ending ala The Sopranos. While in my opinion it works well in that series I can understand how some fans of David Chase’s series felt cheated. The X-Files was the longest running science fiction series of its time ending after 9 years. Part of its appeal had been a long convoluted conspiracy mythology that had already started to contradict itself long before the series ended. After 9 years all we got was our heroes on the run and an alien invasion set date of 2012 which seemed a million years away in 2003. What a fucking cop out. I was never a regular viewer and true fans have told me that the mythology is not such a sticking point for them since most of the show’s best episodes were about stand-alone plots. Still five years later a movie came tying up no loose ends and doing a standalone plot. Eight years after that we got six episodes which varied in quality but overall made the series viable ongoing for continuing adventures. Now there’s talk maybe another series and a third film to wrap up the stories. This is for a show that started in 1993 and peaked around about 1998. I was in high school, now I am middle aged so please to all involved…

What is served by delaying for another series or two of six episodes? Tales unless they are The Canterbury ones should be finished, even those should have been finished!

This brings me to Buffy the Vampire Slayer that I did watch regularly. I was 18 when Buffy and Angel got it on and he lost his soul in a cliff-hanger halfway through Season 2. Every episode after whether filler or not had us fans wondering when and if Angel would get his soul back. Every episode was taped on the VCR and played again during the week with my siblings as we quoted Whedon’s witty one liners and mused on how it would all play out. In that moment I loved that show possibly a way I will never love another show because anything from when you are a teenager becomes sacred. I was after all finding out about love at the same time Buffy was. Angel did get his soul back and get sent to hell before returning in season 3. At the end of that season Buffy graduated high school and Angel left for L.A. Their love story having begun to repeat itself would now be put on hold as David Boreanz got his own spin off. Season 3 was a great year for the show with the introduction of rogue slayer Faith and the Mayor being a superb villain. My little brother noted to me that the season finale felt more like a series finale and sadly his words would prove prophetic.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was never the same show for us after that, the writing became inconsistently funny and new storylines were far less enjoyable then the high school set ones. Which is not to say I regret the following four years Spike and Anya became fantastic main cast additions and there were some serious stellar episodes like Hush, Restless and Once More with Feeling.

Chosen brought Angel back for a cameo and but also acknowledged how much Spike had become just as interesting and popular a love interest. More importantly it had a stunning set piece finale, changed the status quo for the hero (giving every potential Slayer their powers automatically)and gave each character a chance to shine.

 

Angel which was probably a more consistent quality show over its five year run ended with our heroes in an alley about to go out fighting a horde of demons. It too had been a satisfactory finale but after eight years Buffy and Angel had not rode off into the sunset to live happily ever after. I know that shouldn’t be what I expect or want but after falling in love with these characters and their relationship despite how both shows had evolved over the years I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. In 2007 a Season 8 Buffy Comic followed and then a Season 6 Angel comic. I got to the end of both with not many answers and very disappointed how they had turned out despite the TV show writers being involved. Hence my central lament.

If there is a show that I feel more frustrated with it is Ally McBeal which I really discovered in 2011 but still carries a nostalgic factor due to watching some Season 2 episodes with my younger sister. If you’re a fan, you know Season 2 is really the best one. That show about a single female lawyer trying to find love in the modern era had its ups and downs but season 4 saw Robert Downey Jr. come on board and give the show new life. But his drug abuse eventually got him written off just as the two characters were to be married in the season finale. Season 5 attempted a reboot before I think the term was coined with a set of new characters for the firm as the most likeable character John Cage made fewer appearances. Typical of a David E. Kelley show interesting characters were left hanging with no plotlines and new characters were introduced randomly and then magically disappeared. A late add of Jon Bon Jovi and a daughter for Ally went nowhere and the show feeling a million miles from its fresh, oddball and original first season bowed out. Did Ally get back with her true love? No she left town with her daughter. John Cage alas was friend zoned after having made more interesting pairings with Portia De Rossi’s Nelle and Anne Heche’s Melanie. All these years later I still wish for a telemovie to show Ally reunited with Larry but Robert Downey Jr’s career success has made that a pipe dream.

Interestingly enough Boston Legal which perhaps was a better Ally McBeal 2.0 with boys did end right. Remaining characters were paired off, the firm survived, everybody got to stay together and do their jobs and Denny and Alan got married so Alan could be Denny’s power of attorney.

Well those are the season finales that I feel most passionately upset about. Let’s consider some that maybe stuck the landing. Feel free to disagree.

BattleStar Galactica

The best thing to come out of the Writer’s Strike of 2008 may be the reduced run of the BattleStar Galactica reboot series. Season 3 had felt a little bit like buying time but season 4 continually raised the stakes as the ship literally started to fall apart. Some fans don’t like the Series Finale where the fleet is flown into the sun after Earth is finally found, the Cylons are allowed to leave to find their own world, President Rosselin dies and Lee Adama decides to go walk about while Starbucks is revealed to be a Spirit and vanishes. What I adore about this finale is if you don’t agree with a character’s decision the story is left open for you to reverse it. Lee Adama is a born leader, I know he’s going to go exploring but soon he will return and he will lead people because that’s what an Adama does. How many shows develop their characters and their worlds so well that after all that time you can feel the freedom and confidence to do that following a finale.

The Wonder Years

Possibly my favourite series from my childhood, the finale after years of obsessing over Winnie Cooper had Kevin and Winnie lose their virginity in a barn. A voice over prologue at the end declares that Kevin’s father died, Winnie went to Paris and remained friends with Kevin who married somebody else and had a kid. Wait…WTF! Somehow though even at 13, I somehow understand after talking to my own Dad that life can turn out like that. The finale may be contentious for some but for me the show was always honest about life’s realistic turns and the wistful nostalgia Daniel Stern’s voice over carries for those days becomes so much more poignant when you realise that Kevin only has memories of his father from that time really.

 

Cheers

Sitcoms notoriously run too long and lose talent and stop being funny. This maybe the gold standard though for how to do it right. If you cast back to the mid-80s and Sam and Diane getting engaged and moving in together you might have been very excited to hear that Shelley Long would return for the finale. Last time she was walking up the steps away from the bar declaring she would be back in a year. Old slugger Sam knew better and watched her departing figure go repeating “Have a nice life.” The writers knew something about those characters and about life in that exchange that went beyond Shelley Long leaving a popular show to pursue a film career. All those years later when they wrapped the show they displayed that wisdom again. Sam and Diane did not ride off into the sunset however much some fans may have wanted them to. No instead Diane went on with her career and Sam returned to his bar and its regulars. As each character got a send-off in a late night smoking session to welcome Sam back, Norm was left to declare that Sam all along had stayed with his one true love. Friends saw Ross and Rachel get together, Monica and Chandler have a baby and the friend stay friends while dramatically moving out of the apartments but Cheers has the greatest sitcom finale of all time.

 

The Late Show with David Letterman

Essentially a glorified clips show David Letterman’s sojourn still has big ticket guests doing an excellent Top Ten and the man himself holding centre stage in an honest speech saying goodbye. The montage of images played while the Foo Fighters close with Evergreen though is the kicker. So many memories and then Letterman steps up onto the stage waving to the crowd. Perpetually beginning for posterity’s sake as the show ends for good.

Mad Men

Repeating a feature of several later episodes the finale chews up valuable time with Don going to a retreat isolated from the rest of the characters back in New York. Where will the story end we wonder and then he quite possibly makes a breakthrough emotionally. We follow a montage of characters Peggy finally happy in a relationship and at work,  Pete reunited with his family and hitting his peak like Don before him before his inevitable decline, Roger Sterling happily seguing into retirement and travel with a likeminded companion, Joan finally the boss, Betty in control of her life but sadly at the end of it and the wise rebellious Sally accepting responsibility in the family. When Don opens his eyes is he about to return to advertising with the famous Coke campaign that closes the series or is it just a gentle mocking of Don’s industry and our subsequent consumerist culture? These ambivalent endings can feel like cheats but when it comes to The Sopranos and Mad Men I am fairly happy with the results.

So what are some of favourites or least favourites? How do you rate the finales of Airwolf, Alf, Alias, The A-Team, Breaking Bad, Boston Legal, The Cosby Show, CSI, ER, Family Ties, Frasier, The Golden GirlsHill Street Blues, Knight Rider, Lost, Magnum P.I., M.A.S.H., N.Y.P.D. Blues, Seinfeld, The Shield, The Sopranos, The West Wing?

-Lloyd Marken