Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-Vol-2-Mantis-Drax

The greatest friendships are built on a foundation of laughing at others’ misfortune.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been likened more to a mega-budget serialised TV show than a bona fide film series. Each installment juggles the task of telling a story of its own, while both relying upon and providing story elements from the movies before and after. This has the advantage of being able to tell longer stories with characters already familiar to dedicated audiences, in a fairly consistent world sprinkled with references and in-jokes. However, there is a significant weakness in this narrative lattice insofar as it can make the films inaccessible to casual viewers. This is an issue largely avoided by the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, easily the most remote films in the MCU. Because of their extraterrestrial setting, the original and the newly-minted Vol. 2 have the space to tell their own outlandish tales, and feel complete and self-contained. Under the direction of a filmmaker like James Gunn, they have a distinctive and irreverent style, and stand-out as satisfyingly original with a cinematic universe that can sometimes feel increasingly homogenous. Spoilers ahead. Continue reading “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)”

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Dundead 2017 Day Four

Dundead 2017

Given the dramatically divergent reactions elicited by The Shining, that film will be discussed at a later date in two posts, a case for the defence, and a likely scathing case for the prosecution. 

It’s strange to imagine that arguably the very best movies based on Stephen King’s work do not strictly fit into the horror genre at all, especially given his reputation as an author. The Shawshank Redemption is still the highest user-rated film on IMDb’s Top 100, and while it certainly isn’t the best film ever made, it’s not an immediately absurd choice for the accolade. (Incidentally, The Green Mile is ranked at no. 36, far above the first King-horror The Shining at no. 60, which debatably has more to do with Stanley Kubrick than King himself.) A little further down the list at a respectable no. 192 is Stand By Me, based on King’s 1982 novella The Body. Set in 1959, four friends make a pilgrimage to see a real dead body, and discover some important things about themselves and each other. While not at all a horror movie – being a major outlier at Dundead by featuring only one corpse – there are heavy and frightening aspects to the story beyond its mouldering cadaver. There fears here are of a more mundane sort, whether they are personal, existential or physical.  Continue reading “Dundead 2017 Day Four”

Sequence Day Three – Supergirl (1984) & Hardware (1990)

Over the weekend of 7-9 April, 2017, in collaboration with the Comic Studies department at the University of Dundee, overseen by the world’s only Professor of Comics Dr. Chris Murray, and the city’s very own festival of geekdom Dee Con, Dundee Contemporary Arts is running Sequence, a series of films inspired by comic books and animation. 

Supergirl holds the distinction of being the first American superhero feature to star a female protagonist, an achievement that becomes all the more important given the fact that movies about female superheroes can easily be counted on less than two hands. After the mediocre-to-awful Superman III, the intent was to spin off from the franchise, elevating the largely unknown Helen Slater, in the same way as Christopher Reeve was, in the role of an iconic DC character. Given the obvious lack of a Supergirl II, this was ultimately unsuccessful, and the quality of the movie must take its share of the blame for this. Feeling as though several scripts were thrown together without regard for consistency, pacing or basic coherence, Supergirl shows only moments of greatness in a broadly dull and oddly small story.

Continue reading “Sequence Day Three – Supergirl (1984) & Hardware (1990)”

Sequence Day Two – Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993) & Watchmen (2009)

Over the weekend of 7-9 April, 2017, in collaboration with the Comic Studies department at the University of Dundee, overseen by the world’s only Professor of Comics Dr. Chris Murray, and the city’s very own festival of geekdom Dee Con, Dundee Contemporary Arts is running Sequence, a series of films inspired by comic books and animation. 

If Heavy Metal‘s view of “mature” content is that of a hormone-addled teenager, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm takes a more genuinely adult perspective, despite being aimed at a younger audience. Based on the celebrated Batman: The Animated SeriesMask of the Phantasm utilises its longer running time and higher rating certificate to tell a story of revenge that delves into the psychology behind loss, and what separates vengeance from justice.

Continue reading “Sequence Day Two – Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993) & Watchmen (2009)”

Sequence Day One – Heavy Metal (1981)

Over the weekend of 7-9 April, 2017, in collaboration with the Comic Studies department at the University of Dundee, overseen by the world’s only Professor of Comics Dr. Chris Murray, and the city’s very own festival of geekdom Dee Con, Dundee Contemporary Arts is running Sequence, a series of films inspired by comic books and animation. 

The first film of the mini-festival was Heavy Metal, the cult 1981 adaptation based upon the magazine of the same name, which was itself based on a French-language publication called Métal hurlant. The movie is an anthology of various versions of stories which appeared in the comic book, written by various science fiction and fantasy authors, most notably Dan O’Bannon, screenwriter of AlienDark StarLifeforce and Total Recall. It covers a broad and ecletic mix of tones, styles and settings, blending grimy sci-fi, Howard-esque fantasy, and gratuitous sex and violence. All of this is set to a fantastic soundtrack of (unsurprisingly) heavy metal tracks and a dramatic orchestral score.

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We Need to Talk About Motoko

Confession time: I am a huge fan of Ghost in the Shell. The 1995 anime classic is a tightly-paced, visually-stunning, beautifully-scored masterpiece that blends big ideas with kickass action. No Ghost in the Shell, no Matrix, and to me that’s unthinkable. Major Motoko Kusanagi is a great protagonist, struggling to understand her own humanity as an artificial person with an organic brain. Her situation foreshadows issues we will all have to face before too long, as the technology that is already encroaching upon our lives becomes more integrated into our very beings. The announcement of a live-action Ghost in the Shell ought to have been cause for tentative celebration, an opportunity to see this story brought to a new generation. Instead, the whole enterprise has been overshadowed by a piece of highly questionable casting: Scarlett Johansson will play the Major.

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Kong: Skull Island (2017)

King Kong deserves respect as one of the great fables to come from cinema, as well as for its pioneering special effects. The story of man’s hubris in bringing an incredible force of nature into the heart of the human world and suffering the terrible consequences for their lack of respect is a great parable, simple enough to explain to a child and yet layered with nuance. The story is one of personal arrogance, of racism, of colonialism, even of a kind of early environmentalism. Kong: Skull Island is the latest in nearly a century of re-releases, remakes and rip-offs, and is notable at least for its departure from the original. While it is not the most revolutionary version – which remains Kong’s Japanese excursion, during which he gets caught up in an illicit mining scheme and battles a robot doppelganger in downtown Tokyo – it shifts the focus in an interesting direction. And for left bereft of giant monsters causing ridiculous mayhem, this change is most welcome.

Continue reading “Kong: Skull Island (2017)”