Career Spotlight: Bruce Campbell

It is always interesting to me when watching films to pay attention to the supporting actors, the people in the background who can often give a much better performance than the leads. On the other hand, it’s also fun to watch actors who mostly star in cult movies and who may not be the most famous movie stars, but are often infinitely more entertaining. Bruce Campbell is such an actor. I have been a huge fan of Campbell as an actor for years, ever since I first watched the Evil Dead trilogy. He is a huge personality, and while he has not yet become a mainstream name, he has dedicated fan-base and is a nerd culture icon. I’m going to look at a selection of his best movies and explore what makes him, and them so damn entertaining.

The Evil Dead trilogy

Looking at the start of Campbell’s career, it is worth exploring the films that made him a name in cult cinema. The Evil Dead has a production history legendary to most film buffs. The film spent years in production, with shoots forced to halt several times as the director Sam Raimi tried to rustle up enough money to continue. Actor’s scenes were finished by stand ins, and even the most hardcore fan will admit that the effects were cheap. But the cheapness doesn’t detract from the visceral feeling those effects conjure. To this day the gooey, all too tangible makeup of the deadites is enough to make me squirm. And as many cult fans will tell you, cheap practical effects often add to the charm of a film if done correctly. There’s a fine line between crap and camp.

Bruce Campbell plays Ash, a young member of a group of friends who all get trapped within a cabin after accidentally reading from a strange book. It turns out to be a Necronomicon, a book of the dead, and summons evil creatures that take over the bodies of dead humans and wreak havoc on the living. As the movies progress, Ash grows from a scared young man in over his head into a hardened warrior, with enough ego and hilarious lines to please even a die-hard cynic. His character really comes into his own in Evil Dead 2. During the film, everything is thrown at him, as he first loses his girlfriend and then his hand to the forces of evil. Everything he experiences toughens him up, but it also turns him into an egomaniac, capable of making huge mistakes that only lend the growing comedy of the films. Evil Dead 2 is in my opinion, even better than the first film because it leans into the strengths of the star and director. Campbell is best when he is blending extreme physical comedy and action, and throwing out deadpan jokes that never fail to crack a smile on me. Ash has so many good lines, a mix of bad-ass and hilarious that feels like a natural response to the growing horror. Ash as a character feels like someone who has been forced to adapt fast and harden as a person. Oh, and did I mention the chainsaw hand? There’s a chainsaw hand.

 

Xena Warrior Princess (and Hercules)

Xena is a show that should collapse under the sheer weight of its own cheese. Being a swords and sandals adventure series set in the mythical days of ancient Greece, it somehow manages to manage its campiness and somehow deliver an engaging story. It has a lot of good fun action, and some awesome performances, especially from the wonderful Lucy Lawless. She gives off an effortless aura of bad-ass-ery (I know that isn’t a word) that makes her character really appealing. She has her share of great one-liners and dry wit, but the king of that style is of course, Mr Campbell.

Campbell plays the self-proclaimed King of Thieves, Autolycus. A character well suited to the actor’s style. In any other hands, this kind of character could be nothing more than a stereotype, the quippy master thief with a heart of gold. However, Campbell has spent a lot of his career honing that kind of character, and putting new spins on it. For Autolycus, he focuses on showing the heart behind the thief. He has a lot of arrogance and bluster, but plays it so that we can tell it is an act, a persona to keep up in order to keep people at a distance. Autolycus does have a massive ego mind you, one that gets him into bigger and bigger scrapes as he fails to recognise when he is in over his own head. But underneath it all we can see how he ultimately means well. It also helps that the writers give Campbell some fantastic one-liners, and a slew of great slapstick set-pieces. Autolycus shows up in both Xena and its sister show Hercules the Legendary Journeys, but I think he works best as a foil to the more stoic Xena. Campbell is clearly having a lot of fun with the role and it comes across onscreen. The character is a riot to watch, and has some surprisingly emotional moments to enjoy as well.  I thoroughly recommend checking Xena out.

 

Burn Notice

So we’ve seen Campbell in fantasy and cult horror, what about a crime procedural? Luckily, I have just the show for you. Burn Notice is a TV series about Michael Western, an ex-CIA agent played by Jeffrey Donovan. He has been “burned”, unjustly blacklisted from the CIA following mysterious circumstances. Now stuck in Miami, he must do small-time surveillance and spy work for cash in hand while trying to find out who burned him and why.

The first couple of seasons have some very dated editing and pacing that is slightly annoying, but it is more than made up for by the other strengths of the series. The best thing about this show to me is the scale of it. Western doesn’t take on the entire CIA or perform huge world saving spy missions. Instead he helps out local people caught up in legal matters they can’t deal with themselves. He frequently uses the only resources available to him, a small team of people with unique skills and connections. He also makes surveillance equipment out of random tech he buys in shops. On top of this rather unique concept, the acting is stellar across the board, and all the cast have great chemistry together.

The cast is rounded out by some great side characters, and of course, the one played by Bruce Campbell. Sam Axe, an ex-Navy Seal who gets by in Miami doing freelance work and helping out Michael. He is an over the hill veteran who takes every opportunity to booze it up, steal Michael’s yoghurt and casually deliver some of the show’s best lines. I love how Campbell tones his performance in the show. It being a fast paced traditional procedural, it wouldn’t make sense to go as over-the-top as Campbell is capable of, so he tones it down and keeps Axe very mellow. Axe tends to provide comedy most of all, but he is still very useful in the missions, helping get contacts that Western no longer has access to, along with using alter egos in order to gain information, which is always extremely entertaining. Despite the humour, this could be considered one of Campbell’s more serious characters and it shows that despite mainly starring in tongue in cheek cult films, Bruce is more than capable of doing some smashing acting when required.

(Apologies for the loud music)

 

My Name is Bruce

Campbell has directed and starred in many films that refuse to be defined. He directed a film called the Man with the Screaming Brain and starred in a film called Buba Hotep, which is about a secretly alive Elvis living in a retirement home until he must fight an undead mummy. The latter is considered some of his best work. But one of the strangest and yet most charming films he has made is one called My Name is Bruce. This is a film starring cult actor Bruce Campbell, playing cult actor Bruce Campbell. The entire film is something of a commentary on the actor’s career and it is equal parts bizarre and bonkers fun.

In the film, Campbell (the character) is brought to the town of Gold Lick by a fan of his movies, who wants him to fight an ancient evil that has terrorised the town. If this is sounding incredibly meta-textual, that’s because it is. The character Campbell is disappointed with his career, as he stars in B-movies with cheap effects, which isn’t too far away from the truth. Through the character of Jeff, we get to see the interesting relationship that Campbell has with his fans and how that can lead to unrealistic expectations. It also gives Bruce a chance to play a hilariously cartoon version of his own public persona, with even more cheesy one-liners, acting like a total coward, and somehow still kicking all kinds of arse. It isn’t a particularly nuanced or high budget film, but given the main character, that works just fine. This type of film is an acquired taste, as to enjoy it you need to know the actor’s career well and also enjoy campy B-movie comedies. Fortunately, I love all those things, and if you do to, I cannot recommend it enough.

 

Bruce Campbell is a unique performer. He has spent his career cultivating a certain persona, a blend of arrogance, quips and self-deprecation that makes him endlessly entertaining. He may not have mainstream success, but he has a loyal fan-base and a definitive niche that no-one else can touch. His movies may not all be high-art, but who cares? He makes fun films. I think he has an interesting legacy in cult film and his willingness to embrace this side of film-making is what has made him such a success in it. If you have been interested by any of the TV shows or films I’ve explored, then give them a watch and see what all the fuss is about.

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Game of Thrones – Season eight review

Spoilers for eight seasons of television.

A lot of people didn’t like season seven of Game of Thrones. I was not one of them. For many the sped-up pace and seemingly too fast travel made everything feel less realistic, and because quite a few plot-lines were streamlined and wrapped up it felt to many like the show was rushing. I however defended this choice. To me it was simply the ramping up of pace that the penultimate season needed. I could forgive cutting out journeys and other unnecessary scenes in order to focus on the important stuff. In retrospect, I should probably have spotted the warning signs; the willingness to rush to plot points. But season seven was giving me so many moments I had longed for: Daenerys meeting Jon Snow, Dragons in battle for the first time, the Dothraki fighting in an open field, Jon Snow as king in the north. Having so many brilliant scenes completely won over my inner fanboy.

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Don’t mistake me, I still think that season seven was a good series of television. It has flaws, but they are outweighed, at least to me by the fantastic production. However, if I had looked a little harder I might have seen a bad trend in the writing. A tendency towards sacrificing logic and set up in order to surprise the audience, or make sure characters headed a certain way. I was more than happy not to notice when the writers were making great scenes that pleased me as a fan, but now that those flaws have come home to roost, I’m forced to admit that the problems with the final season of Game of Thrones come from the last few seasons just as much.

Season eight has been baffling to watch. I was looking forward to it, honestly more than Avengers Endgame, as I am a much bigger fan of fantasy than comic books. I was confident that the writers would have some brilliant last-minute plot to throw at us before the conclusion. And as creators David Benioff & Dan Weiss had met with G.R.R Martin to discuss the ending, I was sure it would at least be broadly satisfying, even if there might be differences. Things started off very well. The first two episodes Winterfell and A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms were fantastic pieces of television, artfully reintroducing us to the predicament of all these characters after the long hiatus. They gave each character a lot of good interactions with one another that developed many of them in interesting ways. There were some really good moments in the build up to the assault from the White Walkers, romances coming together after years, reunions and emotional conclusions to long time characters arcs. There was also some great set up for Jon Snow in particular, finally revealing to him his true parentage, something fans have been waiting for ever since it was little more than a theory.

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And then, The Long Night happened. When I first saw it, I couldn’t help but feel a little cheated. It was a very exciting battle, but with a sudden and overly simple ending. The fact that Arya came out of nowhere to stab the Night King should have felt amazing, but the show simply hadn’t earned it. The fact that they introduced the idea that the entire army of the dead could be killed by destroying the leader was something I worried about last season when it was brought up. They found this out by killing a white walker general, which killed the wights around him. At the time I hoped this was a red herring because writing in a fail-safe where all the enemy forces are destroyed by killing the leader is a tired cliché at this point. It felt really anticlimactic after so many seasons of build-up, not to mention that this happens halfway through the season. It also robbed Jon Snow of anything to do for the entire season. He mostly just stood around while other people drove the plot on.

So, I ended the third episode slightly nervous about what could be in the finale, if the main antagonist had been destroyed three episodes early. It turns out, not much happened. Cersei barely put up a fight, and many of the characters we know and love are given lame endings. Daenerys turns evil, which was always set up as a possibility, but struck me as a poor move, especially as it basically just repeats what happened with her father. Jon doesn’t become king, but kills Dany and re-joins the Nights Watch, essentially meaning that his whole story ends up nowhere. It also renders the big twist of his parentage basically meaningless, not to mention the slightly sexist trope of a women going mad with power and a man being forced to kill her. Bran becomes king, which is even cheaper when you consider that he did nothing for the last two seasons of the show. Some of the characters end the show in a positive way, Sansa becomes queen in the north, Arya goes west to explore, and Tyrion becomes Hand of the King yet again. But for me, after the battle at Winterfell, everything that happened next felt like a let-down. Nothing felt momentous or important, I felt like I was just wading through the rest of the show to get some closure that never came.

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The finale was not the worst piece of TV I have ever watched. There are shows that jump the shark far worse than Game of Thrones. Dexter is almost unrecognisable after season four. But for a show which has received such acclaim to finish with such a lacklustre finale is a shame. There was so much potential in the show, much more potential plot to use and yet it felt like the writers were rushing all the way through the final season. They tried to subvert everyone’s expectations at every turn, but didn’t stop to think if that would make a compelling story. Not everything has to be unpredictable. Sometimes people want to see a show end how they expect, as long as it is satisfying. Game of Thrones managed neither. There were so many elements set up and foreshadowed in earlier seasons that don’t pay off now, and it makes me wonder what the point of them all was. Not all foreshadowing needs to turn out true, but if none of it does, why was it even there?

At the end of the day, this show was still an amazing ride, and one that I’m glad I followed from start to finish. But I won’t be able to summon the same level of enthusiasm for it again, sadly. The final season of Game of Thrones is like watching a chef cook a fantastic smelling meal, adding vibrant ingredients one by one while you look on with anticipation, only to realise once you finally eat it that a lot of them don’t go together, it tastes quite bland and the chef wasn’t actually following a recipe at all.

Endgame – Review

A broad strokes finale that achieves a satisfactory ending, but no way near the experience of Infinity War.

Vague Spoilers ahead.

I was nervous about Endgame. Endings are very hard to do in a satisfactory way, especially when concluding multiple stories in the same film. I was very worried about how all of the plot threads dangling in the MCU after Antman and the Wasp and Infinity War would be tied up. After having seen it I can happily say that Endgame manages to wrap things up nicely, and I would say that overall I very much enjoyed my experience. However, this film did not measure up to Infinity War, which is quite a shame.

I’ll start with the things I enjoyed most. The acting was top notch from everyone in the film, with Robert Downey Jr getting a few moments that were downright haunting. For example, once he arrives back on earth, broken from his fight with Thanos and losing Peter Parker, Tony launches into a tirade at Steve Rodgers, lashing out in his pain. It’s a hard moment to watch as this character we all love loses himself to despair. The acting across the board is well done and suitably dramatic. My only caveat would be that at a certain funeral, none of the characters appear to be nearly as sad as they should be considering.

The action is decent and the battle near the end has enough great moments to make it memorable, including the four-way fight between the original Avengers and Thanos. The costume design is varied and strikes a good balance between campy and functional. And on a more personal and subjective note, I appreciated all the moments that catered directly to fans, such as when Captain America finally wielded Thor’s hammer. Yes, these moments were pandering and obvious, but after over a decade of films, I think that it was inevitable. You can’t conclude that much plot without crafting call-backs and winks to the fans. I am also a bit of a sucker for those moments.

Now we come to the stuff that frustrated me. None of these things were enough to make me hate the film or think it wasn’t fun, but they did temper my enthusiasm a little and left me a bit less interested in the MCU going forward. First of all, the pacing is wonky. One of the best things about Infinity War was just how tight it was as a film. No scene felt unnecessary to me, and all the important moments of the story felt weighty, but not too long or bloated. Group battle scenes didn’t drag on; they were all paced just right. The story went along at a decent speed, but nothing was rushed. The problem with Endgame is that the five-year time jump and time heist take way too much of the film up. Did we really need to travel to four different parts of history? Who honestly wanted a lengthy flashback to Thor the Dark World, arguably the worst marvel film? And these scenes can be entertaining but since we all can guess the outcome, that they will get the gems back to their time for the climax, then it begins to feel bloated. There are one or two great scenes, such as when Tony meets his father and finally gets closure at his death, but they come at the expense of other moments later on. The film didn’t need to be three hours. It could have been two and a half, and still included most of the important parts. Many scenes carry on minutes more than they need to and this just all adds up.

Speaking of the time jump at the beginning, it cheapened the character development for me. It’s always tricky jumping forward in time for a story. Normally I think it works best when starting a new story in the same universe, rather than halfway through an ongoing one. It leaves us wondering how the following films will work, now that they are all set in the future, and it skips important character growth. For Tony, it means that he goes from a complete breakdown to having a young child and living happily in a few minutes. it is tonally jarring and undermines what has come before. Not to mention that in between the jump he appears to have completely forgiven Steve Rodgers for lying to him about Bucky, something that absolutely should have been included. It robs the audience of potential catharsis as they make up off screen.

This also affects Thor and Hulk. Before the time skip, Banner is struggling to balance his Hulk persona and himself. He had just spent two years as the Hulk, before suddenly Hulk refused to come out during Infinity War. This was very interesting and could have led to a lot of fun interactions between the two personalities as they struggle to live together. All of that is gone. Now Banner is the only personality and he lives in the Hulk form. This comes out of nowhere and just doesn’t feel earned or set up. It feels cheap. Thor gains weight and becomes depressed, although his transformation feels less cheap, as his story is not quite finished yet.

The story suffers from the introduction of time travel. The problem is that time travel never makes sense, even in the best films, and so it’s injection into the story opens up a ton of plot holes. How does Captain America return to his own timeline, then come back without using the suit to jump? In general, the conclusion of the characters arcs feels satisfying as it wraps stuff up, but doesn’t excel. Tony gets a great send off, but Black Widow’s departure feels a little arbitrary and not very well executed, especially considering that she is one of the first Avengers.

The music and direction are fine. It is a visually appealing film though not to the same degree as Infinity War. A couple of moments in the final battle come close but again, the pacing means that the shots become very similar as we spend too much time in one place. The MCU has a lot of good musical leitmotifs that I feel they do not use nearly enough. The whole film feels just slightly like an obligation to be honest. Many of the scenes feel less meaningful than what has come before. But none of this is a deal breaker. I have watched far worse films and as hard as it is to conclude a story like the avengers, I think the Russo brothers gave it a fair shot. It would have been impossible to deliver the same subversive ending as Infinity War, although I think with better pacing this would be much closer in quality to that film. In the end, this is a film that I was happy to see, and I may see it again someday. It is a fitting conclusion, however clumsy it might be in places.

Captain Marvel – Review

Captain Marvel is pretty good. I could probably leave the review with that statement. It sums up mostly how I feel about the film. It has a good cast, a serviceable plot and some great action scenes. Brie Larson is playful and fun, yet serious when needed. Sam Jackson is a riot. playing a very different Nick Fury to the one we are familiar with. The colour and style are great fun, and there is even a cute cat.

The best part of the film by far is the part where Fury and Carol Danvers team up to hunt down the Skrulls together and find out parts of Danvers backstory. The two have good chemistry as a duo and Jackson has a lot of fun playing a younger and less battle worn fury, with more jokes and a much more relaxed attitude. The CGI used to make Jackson look 20 years younger is superb, and in fact, it might be the first time I have seen that effect look convincing rather than uncanny. The film starts a little slowly as most of the parts in the Kree home world are a little dull, but as soon as the film gets to Earth, the story picks up and maintains a decent pace until the end. The main weakness of the film is its surprise villain, (spoilers) Jude Law’s character Yon-Rogg.

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He is set up as Danvers’ mentor but turns out to have been behind her capture. His character felt very lacking to me. He spends much of the film telling Danvers to control her emotions which felt incredibly on the nose and lacking in subtlety. The most redeeming part of him as a villain is the way he is dealt with at the end. After beating her in hand to hand fights during their training together, he challenges Danvers to face him without her photon powers and see which one of them could win. Carol pulls an Indiana Jones and simply shoots him with a photon blast, because why the hell wouldn’t you? This was great character moment, and probably my favourite in the entire film, however it is a little anticlimactic after all we’ve been through. But this is really a nit-pick. While it has its weaknesses and I would still consider something like Wonderwoman a much better film, I had a lot of fun watching it, and that’s all I generally expect from Marvel films. Why am I reviewing it then? Truth be told I have an ulterior motive.

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When I went to see this with a friend, we missed the regular 2D screening and so I had to see it in 4DX. That involves sitting in a cinema with movable vibrating seats and air spraying into your face. It has smells and flashing lights, and of course, 3D. I avoided 4DX for a long time. Mostly this was because I don’t really value 3D, it always feels like a gimmick and adds little to a movie experience for me. But I was still curious as to whether or not 4DX improves immersion. It could be like VR, and I could have felt transported to the world of the film. Maybe moving in your seat during action and feeling the explosion blasted through air would add to the experience?

So, I caved, and paid a few extra quid to see it in 4DX with my friend. My hidden motive in this review is to comment on the 4DX experience I had, and how it impacted on the film. To start with, I don’t recommend paying extra for it. While it didn’t completely ruin the film for me, I think I certainly would’ve had more fun without all the distractions the effects caused. Far from immersion, the feeling of being thrust around in your seat during action makes it almost impossible to pay attention to what is going on, which meant that parts of the action passed me by. The seat vibrated at odd moments, not just when someone was hit or fell. Often when the music used bass notes it would vibrate as well, which felt very strange. The air spray just annoyed me, it made me feel cold and it seemed to go off just too late to actually feel as though it was part of the film.

There were upsides of course. The few moments when Captain Marvel or other characters fly were vastly more fun as the seat moved to simulate us flying alongside them, which was something you can only get at 4DX. The 3D wasn’t too intrusive, although I did still get a small headache from it. And the smells of the sea were very nice, and I was very grateful they didn’t use any less pleasant scents. But those few positives weren’t nearly enough to justify the extra cost to me. The whole experience was very interesting but it was one I don’t think I’d want to go through again. For me 4DX was not worth it, and I think I’ll need to watch Captain Marvel one more time to really enjoy all those action sequences I missed the first time. In summary, Captain Marvel was good fun, but see it in regular 2D.

Alita: Battle Angel – Review

I have to be honest, I wasn’t excited to see Alita: Battle Angel. My apathy to this film started from the moment I saw the first trailer. It looked like a very interesting idea, with a lot of potential, but I couldn’t help but notice that none of the dialogue grabbed me. Not one of the characters stood out as memorable. I finally saw it this week, and unfortunately, it seems on this occasion that first impressions were pretty much spot on. I am not saying that this film isn’t good, it’s no way near bad, but it isn’t fantastic either. It is just fine. And that’s part of my problem with it.

One of the things that can make or break a film is character and dialogue. Sometimes I forgive films with minimal budget and/or lacklustre visuals simply because it has engaging characters and a good script. For example, I love the show Buffy the Vampire slayer in spite of frequent budget constraints making the effects look dated and cheesy. Why? Because of the characters. Joss Whedon is brilliant at creating scripts with very relatable, frustratingly human characters. I grow to love almost every character he has written and as such, I love the show despite its flaws. However, a film can have incredible visuals and top-notch action, but if the characters don’t feel fleshed out to me, I’m just not going to care what happens to them. Sadly, this is the case for Alita.

Alita is brought to life with a lot of vulnerability and innocence by Rosa Salazar, but she is given little to work with. The weird big eyes she is given in post make it hard to empathise with her, especially because no other characters have them. I realise this was adapted from a traditional Japanese anime, in which all the characters have huge eyes, but then why don’t all the characters have this? The eyes are distracting, but beyond that we know nothing about Alita as a character. We see her do a lot of stuff, and we know she’s impulsive and good at fighting. But what else? Other than a generic sense of justice she doesn’t particularly stand out. But then none of the others do. Christoph Waltz seems fatherly one moment and sinister the next, but at least he has a little personality. Keean Johnson doesn’t even manage to make Hugo, Alita’s love interest, seem like a real person at all. The extent of his character is that he wants to improve his station in life, and he likes Alita, for no obvious reason. Even the villains, played by great actors like Mahershala Ali and Jennifer Connolly, barely get enough screen time, and have no depth to them.

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The problem is that the script seems to have had so many potentially humanising moments cut down or left out altogether. The dialogue is so matter of fact and blatant that it becomes funny at the wrong moments. Alita calls people evil and declares that she must fight evil, with a straight face. Potentially interesting conversations last a few seconds at most, like when Alita asks Doctor Ido if humans can love Cyborgs, to which he simply says “Yes”. Most of the dialogue just feels very generic and I struggle to remember any of it, even though I watched the film yesterday at time of writing. This lack of compelling conversations and too fast pacing means that I never feel I have enough time to get know or even particularly like any of the characters, so when any of them die, the moment feels empty. I don’t care what happens to any of them, because the film won’t let me.

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I think the film suffers from trying to create broad appeal. Anime typically has a very specific style, and watering that down with so much generic dialogue makes for a weak experience overall. Robert Rodriquez is great at creating stylistic films, and the Spy Kids films have shown that he can make very distinct characters, but I just felt a little disappointed this time. Don’t get me wrong, he remains great at memorable action, Alita’s fighting style is certainly unique, and there is a lot of fun in watching a small cute looking cyborg destroy a bunch of big and tough ones, but it just isn’t enough for me to care about what’s going on, and I want to care.

The visuals are incredibly impressive, although like Ready Player One, it’s over-reliance on CGI to create background and characters gets a little annoying. Computer generated imagery can be breath-taking, but using it for both background art and most of the characters smacks of complacency. It would’ve felt more impactful if the characters were only partly animated, and used actual physical costumes. But like I say, the visuals are good. The action is also fun. It was surprisingly visceral and gory, considering that this is a PG-13 film, but it was a welcome surprise. Personally, I think they could have gone further and made this R-rated, or at least a 15, then it could have really taken advantage of the brutal setting. But that’s really just a nit-pick.

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Despite all I have said, I don’t mean to imply that this film is worthless. It is entertaining and visually fun, and not too long. It had a lot of good production design, and the world it creates is interesting. But for me, it was kept from being truly engaging by the mediocre dialogue and lacklustre characterisation. I realise a lot of these complaints come from the script, and that really is what drags the film down for me. There is a lot to enjoy here, and if you can look past the script’s failings, you’ll have fun, but sadly for me, I couldn’t. I’m not sorry I saw it, but I’ll probably forget it very quickly.

Why I don’t watch the Oscars…

Well, the nominations have been officially released, and now begins the long build up to Oscar season. The Academy Awards are a curious thing. People are frequently very surprised when I mention that I don’t really keep up with them anymore. Some of them say that as a film graduate, I should care a lot more about the films that win or are at least nominated for awards, especially ones so prestigious as the Academy, and I can see their point. Certainly, when a film that I like wins an award, I’m very pleased and proud of the filmmakers. And I do keep an eye on popular films, I love expanding my taste so it pays to look out for films people recommend. But I just don’t value the Academy awards as a way of rating films anymore.

The Oscars is a very old and celebrated yearly event. If a film or individual wins an award, they can expect a huge amount of respect and a significant career boost. Marketing campaigns for films cannot shy away from displaying their Oscar pedigree on all the posters and trailers, but to me, it doesn’t really mean as much. Obviously, a lot of the films that win the awards are really good. But the system is so skewed that this almost feels more like a coincidence than careful selection. To even be considered for nomination, film producers must sink money into “for your consideration” campaigns. These are designed to essentially bribe voters into picking the film for nomination. This is covered in more detail on the show Adam Ruins Everything, and I highly recommend watching it to find out just how broken the voting system really is.

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On top of this, in spite of improvement, the Oscars is still predominantly white, and not very representative. Sure, Moonlight won last year which was great, but the majority of the attendants are still white. The majority of Voters are still rich old white men. Not that I hate that sort of person, but how can they accurately decide the best actor or film of the year? Their tastes are not going to reflect what film say, a young Hispanic woman would enjoy most.

The ceremony is hard to watch. Whenever I tried, I couldn’t get away from the incredibly vain atmosphere the show gives off. This is a televised award show, all about the upper crust, the elite of Hollywood all slapping each other on the back and feeling very pleased with themselves. That just fails to appeal to me.

But that wasn’t the worst part. The show is just tedious. It’s a dry dull drawn out slog of going through categories. You can get the same enjoyment hearing the results the next day. When I went to my graduation ceremony, there was at least the anticipation of receiving my degree at the end to keep me going through the boring parts. Why are we even watching strangers win awards? Or, if we are going to, it would be nice to have a few indie award shows, to give people lower on the rung some much needed exposure. Let’s face it, Bradley Cooper doesn’t need exposure, or a career boost.

The worst part of the whole night though, is the animation. The voters are not particularly interested in animated films, and that comes across in the extreme. Look back on previous years lists; they’re short on variety or genuinely artistic films. Most of the nominations can be predicted ahead of time. Pixar will always be nominated, because everyone watches Pixar. Studio Ghibli or another well known artsy anime film will be on the list, although very rarely actually win. There might be one actually worthwhile creative animated movie, and then a mediocre but popular CG film that the voters probably saw with their kids.

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Admittedly, I’m probably sounding snobby, but isn’t that the point of the Academy? To be a little discerning? The Boss Baby doesn’t need or deserve an award. Wreck-it-Ralph 2 certainly doesn’t, and if the voters just put a little effort into picking a genuine variety of unique animated films, I might pay more attention when they declare who wins. As it is though I look elsewhere for the years’ top animated features.

So, I don’t watch the Oscars. This isn’t a protest or some sort of statement. I’m not trying to prove a point, I simply have very little interest in them, and my taste in films isn’t impacted much by which films win. I like what I find most entertaining and artistic, and I trust my friends’ recommendations more than what some group of middle-aged rich men from another country decide is the best. I’m fine picking my own best films of the year thanks.

Senlac Hill

Hi everyone, this is a reminder that Senlac Hill, a historical novelette I wrote last year is available on Amazon in both digital and paperback versions. If you would like to pick up a copy, but forgot to buy it, this is your chance! I also appreciate all constructive feedback, so if you would like to review the book, either on the amazon page or on your own blog, please feel free to do so!

It is a historical fiction set during the day before the Battle of Hastings, from the point of view of one of William the Conqueror’s soldiers. It’s a period of history I’ve always been very keen on, and it was a great experience getting to write about it. If you’re curious about what my fiction is like, please consider downloading the book or ordering a physical copy. Thank you all.

Ebook version.

Paperback version.

Aquaman: The Most Fun DC Film

Aquaman is actually pretty good…

I wasn’t excited to see Aquaman. Having avoided DC films outside of Wonderwoman since I was burned by Batman VS Superman, I was worried that they would never do away with the bad decisions hanging over from Zack Snyder’s films. However, I was incredibly surprised to find that Aquaman is actually an extremely fun film. It won’t win any Oscars of course, and it isn’t going to change the way you think about film, but it’s a damn entertaining romp. Directed by James Wan and starring Jason Momoa and Amber Heard, this is a film I could just sit back and relax in.

For the record, I am not saying this is a mindless film, although there are certain people making that argument. I don’t think this is a particular dumb or shallow experience, although of course, it is primarily here to entertain. But for me, this film represents another step in the right direction for DC. One of the things I loved about Wonderwoman was that it played to the strengths of the DC brand. One of the key things I love about DC comics is that it is about beings of immense power, god-like figures dealing with human problems. DC is at it’s best when the character’s have to deal with their immense power and responsibility and rise to the occasion. Wonderwoman tries to save people and defeat the god of war throughout her film. Meanwhile in Man of Steel Superman is unthinking enough to move a fight out of a populated area to prevent civilian deaths. In the same way, Aquaman is not about Arthur Curry the human dealing with the human world, and James Wan isn’t interested in trying to copy the dark knight tone that has been hanging off the DCU since it started. Instead he took inspiration from the comics and made an epic adventure about a prince struggling against his cruel brother to become the rightful king. As a fantasy nerd, that appeals to me a lot.

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Anyway, looking at the acting, one can argue that it lacks subtlety. Most of the performances are hammy, though earnest. Patrick Wilson is having the time of his life as the younger brother with a chip on his shoulder. His version of Ocean Master has a lot of insecurities that get the better of him. But I enjoy the style. Something all of these actors do is make the scenes feel fun. The acting for me suits the tone of the film. It wouldn’t make sense to make the drama incredibly intense, and the acting all subdued and grounded. That’s how you get tonally inconsistent films like Man of Steel. It wouldn’t work in a story with sentient fish and giant sea monsters. To make this story, I think you need your tongue firmly in your cheek. They cast Dolph Lundgren for goodness sake, they know what they were going for.

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Jason Momoa is great to watch. His version of Arthur Curry is a reluctant hero, but one that enjoys the adventure. He isn’t dour, even as he holds resentment against the Atlanteans for supposedly killing his mother. His angst comes out as a rebellious playful attitude and Momoa has enough charisma to pull it off. He has enough gravitas, and knows which moments to play as serious, but also portrays this character as a fun-lover, which is something DC has been sorely missing. Amber Heard is also great as Mera. She plays a strong willed and dangerous character that puts her duty to her people above her own. She and Momoa have decent chemistry and she injects a level of steadfast determination that helps Arthur to start to strive more in his own journey.

 

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But the acting isn’t the highlight for me, it is the visuals. The story and acting on their own would have made a slightly above average film. The pacing is fine and the writers managed to deftly juggle two different villains, which makes for a first in superhero films. But the visuals were smashing. Obviously, there is a lot of CGI, after all, you can’t film underwater the whole time. But the effect is pulled off very well, and the colour and costuming are vibrant and just the right level of silly. The shots are often very beautiful and there are so many moments in the film that I would have been happy to print and put on my wall as posters. Some seemed to come straight out of the comics.

James Wan knows how to direct a fun film and he focuses on giving us many cool action scenes that are a lot more creative than the standard punching that makes up so much of other superhero films. Characters fight with water, characters fight using tridents; they even manage to make the fish telepathy cool, such as when Aquaman literally controls a giant sea monster from deep in the earth. We have an epic underwater battle, and final duel between the protagonist and antagonist. Yes, I know that is a cliche, but it’s such an enjoyable one, that I don’t mind. We have fights in the rooftops of an Italian town, and a gladiatorial battle in an ancient underwater arena. The variety of action goes a long way to prevent it getting boring. There are so many things in this film to keep you entertained.

Coming back to what I said earlier. This film isn’t perfect. It has problems, such as a tendency to phone in some of the dramatic moments, like Arthur’s parents being separated, and while I do like Heard and Momoa’s chemistry, their romance feels rushed. At the end of the day you could say that this film is a bit of a mess. But if it is, it’s a fun, gloriously silly mess. It’s simultaneously epic, campy, fun, light-hearted and visually stunning. It might not be an Oscar worthy film, but I had a great time watching it, and for DC, that is an achievement all on its own.

Update

Happy New Year!

Long time no posts! I’m sorry for the inactivity over the last few months, this time in my life has been a little unstable, and so it’s been easy to leave things like maintaining a blog by the wayside. However, I have seen plenty of new films and have many ideas for new things to write on here, so do not despair, content is on it’s way. I will be trying to update regularly once again, and although I can’t promise I’ll be able to write every single week, I will at least try to make it every other week. I hope you all had a great Christmas, and I hope to be able to entertain and grow this blog in the coming year.

Bye for now!

Killer Queen

Apologies for the temporary hiatus. I haven’t been able to see any new films in a while, but I finally got around to watching Bohemian Rhapsody last night, and I have quite a bit to say about it.

I heard a while ago that they were planning a Freddie Mercury biopic and thought it would make an interesting story. At the time Sacha Baron Cohen of Borat fame was slated to play the legend himself, but I think that wouldn’t have been as good. Rami Malek does a terrific job capturing the depth and flamboyance of Mercury in equal parts. Besides, Cohen is a comedian, and might not have had the acting chops to deal with the more serious moments.

This film is very good. As simple as that sounds, I think it sums things up perfectly. It isn’t a masterpiece, it has flaws, yet it certainly isn’t mediocre. For me it was overall a very fun time. The direction from Bryan Singer was fast paced and energetic, never letting moments get too long or slow. There are several montages in the film which use superb editing to convey the passage of time, although sometimes the transitions used felt almost too silly, like one of the over the top dance transitions from Austin Powers.

Otherwise, the direction was tight and well-paced, and most of the time Singer seems content to allow the story of Queen and Mercury to drive the film. This is probably the best approach to making a biopic, letting the style be dictated by the people the film is based on, rather than trying to stamp your own vision onto it and misrepresenting the people involved.

The acting is really special. Rami Malek manages to play Mercury with all his witty bravado and campy swagger, yet also conveys vulnerability and insecurity all through his eyes. After a while, it doesn’t matter that he isn’t very similar looking to Mercury; he becomes him. As for the rest of the band, they all do a smashing job too. Ben Hardy as a slightly brash Roger Taylor is funny and charismatic, even if he does look a little too young for the second half of the film set ten years later. Gwilym Lee is a dead ringer for Brian May, in fact he fits the role so well, I’m not sure they didn’t actually just clone May and use him instead. His voice, cadence and mannerisms match the guitarist to the tee. Finally, Joseph Mazzello plays John Deacon, a more subdued and down to earth personality. He portrays him as very much the groups voice of reason and the first to try and defuse the many arguments the band inevitably have, although he gets some very funny lines as well.

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So, all four of the actors playing the members of the band absolutely nail their performances. For me, that was already all I could have asked for, but the rest of the cast deliver top notch acting as well. Lucy Boyton played Mercury’s fiancé turned close friend Mary with much heart and a good deal of sadness that was very moving. Allen Leech did a fantastic job making Paul Prenter, a somewhat maligned figure in the bands history, seem a more three dimensional and nuanced character, even with some of the terrible things he did. Mike Myers has a pretty funny cameo as a music producer. In summary, none of the cast let the film down.

Story wise, I’m admittedly not an expert on the history of Queen. I’ve seen a documentary on the life of Freddie Mercury, but that’s about it. As far as I can tell, the film takes a few liberties with the timeline of when certain things happened, and some events that took longer are condensed into single scenes in order to fit the run-time. For the most part though, it feels faithful to the events that happened and with two of the original band members, Brian May and Roger Taylor, producing the film it can’t have gone too wrong. It is a very engaging story, covering Mercury joining the band when they were only playing at pubs, all the way to their famous performance at Live Aid. It would have been hard to make the story of Queen boring even if they tried, but the script could’ve still failed if they focused too much on certain parts to the exclusion of others.

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I feel that writers Anthony McCarten and Peter Morgan have managed to give a broad stroke cover of most of the important aspects of Freddie Mercury, although I would’ve liked a little more screen time for the other band members. I have heard criticism that this film glosses over Mercury’s homosexual relationships and focuses too much on his relationship with Mary. However, as I hadn’t even known that Mary existed before watching it, I felt it was important to include her. She was an integral part of his life, and I personally didn’t feel that they glossed over anything in Mercury’s life. Indeed, some of the more gripping scenes in the film are about him coming to terms with his sexuality and his identity. If I had any criticism of my own it would be that I could’ve done with a scene or two covering at least part of his childhood, to get a fuller picture of his life.

I would review the music, but to be fair, it is all Queen’s songs, and so they are pretty much all fantastic. The placement of the songs over the top of key moments was mostly appropriate, although it would’ve been good for a few more scenes with silence to let the characters breathe. The recreation of Live Aid does go on a little too long as well in my opinion, going through full versions of several of Queen’s line-up, which drags, especially when they keep cutting back to people watching it on TV. But other than the that the music choice is excellent, and the only complaints I have are really just glorified nit-picks. This film is a really good watch, especially for those with a keen interest in rock history. It gives a very unfiltered and honest portrayal of the life of Queen and especially Mercury, and it is funny, exciting, and at times, heart wrenching. It’s a film I came away feeling very affected by, and if you see it, you might just feel the same way.