Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Probably one of the best Marvel films ever made.

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Let’s get one thing absolutely clear: The Winter Soldier is a great film.

Yes, it’s Captain America film in title, but it’s more of a mini Avengers to be honest. Avengers 1.5, if you will. The most Avengers-like film you’ll see between 2012’s Avengers Assemble and next year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. With, Nick Fury, Black Widow, Maria Hill, Falcon (team newbie), and of course, the Cap himself, Steve Rogers, they give you quite a line up. This is very much an ensemble piece.

A lot of what I had read leading up to seeing TWS had many saying that what happens in this particular Marvel adventure has (or will have) a lasting effect on the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and they’re not wrong. Big changes are afoot. And SHIELD is at the heart of it all.

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First thing you notice about TWS however, is that Captain America is a more of a badass than ever before. The opening sequence, a rescue mission aboard a pirated ship somewhere in the Indian Ocean, felt like something straight out of a James Bond pre credits mission (and is something I’d like to see more of in the future).

You know that Cap has been on these kinds of missions before and, when he hits the ground running, you know that this is not his first rodeo. And of course, Chris Evans owns this role now and even though he’ll be hanging up the shield (no pun intended) by the end of Phase 3, in this, his third outing in the blue uniform, has got Rogers down. Seriously, he’s perfect.

Which is handy really, because the rest of the cast are pretty darn fantastic too, Scarlett Johansson leaves you wanting a Black Widow film more than an ever before (or maybe even a two-hander with Hawkeye), Samuel L Jackson is Nick Fury, and Antony Mackie, joining the team as Falcon, shows what it really means to be a valuable sidekick.

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Hurrah for team players.

If I could make one criticism it would be to have more of the heavily-billed baddie himself, the Winter Soldier. That said, I don’t want to go into it, or him, too much in fear of giving away any spoilers (some people know about him and who he is, some people don’t – so I’ll leave it there).

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The thing that makes Cap 2 really sing though is that, while there obviously huge links to the rest of the MCU throughout, it works really well as a standalone film. It’s confident, smart, and grounded in a realism that has seemed missing from both Iron Man 3 and Thor 2. Yes, I know we’re dealing with superheroes here, but see the film and you’ll get my point.

That said, there’s no harm in, ahem, re-capping with The First Avenger and The Avengers before you go see it though; you’ll be rewarded for it. On a related note, there are a gazillion bunch of hidden nods in the film (and I’m half tempted to do another post later to cover them all off, but we’ll see on that one), so marvel fans will be pleased too.

Like I said at the start, The Winter Soldier really is a great film. I didn’t bother seeing it in 3D as I didn’t think it’d be worth it – I stand by that. However I do think it’s worth seeing in the cinema.

In closing, The last time we (officially) saw Cap he was a bit part player in Avengers Assemble, this time round he gets to show us what he’s really made of.

It’s simple –

  • Cap 1: intro story.
  • Avengers: bit part player.
  • Cap 2: BAMF.

And so you know, there are TWO post credits sequences. The first is a teaser for Avengers: Age of Ultron. And the second, I’d guess is a nod of things to come in the already announced Captain America 3.

Go see it.

Review: Nokia Lumia 1520

Can you guess how this turns out?

About a month ago, those kind ladies and gents at Nokia Connects sent yours truly a loaner Nokia Lumia 1520 to review. I quite like that they did as, thanks to a ridiculous SIM card issue, I’d previously implied that didn’t really want one [to review].

I can count on one hand the amount of devices that require the uber-tiny and utterly ridiculous nano SIM (why one of the biggest phones known to man needs to have a smaller SIM card than say, I don’t know, the Galaxy S4 Mini, I’ve no idea but still) and I don’t own one of them.

I’m not about to go chopping up my existing SIM card (micro, like most people) and then have to use an adaptor for the rest of my mobile life either. The net result was that I had Lumia 1520 to review that I couldn’t actually use as a phone.

Perhaps sending me the device was an attempt at winning me over. On first impressions, this humongous phone very nearly did.

There is no denying it: the Lumia 1520 is gorgeous. The matte black colour that my device came in only further exaggerates the smooth contours of the design and it is a delight to hold. Throughout the three week trial period, I actually caught myself either just staring at it or on occasion, just stroking its smooth soft finish.

Read into that what you will but as soon as you have a 1520 in your hand, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Something else you’ll notice when you have a 1520 in your hand: you might need more than one hand: this phone is massive.

That’s a full-size 3rd gen iPad on the right, by the way. Not an iPad mini.

I’m not a huge fan of the half phone/half tablet, or ‘Phablet’ (blergh), form factor. My podcast colleague, Stefan Constantinescu, swears by them but I remain unconvinced.

What I will say is however is that, after a particularly long afternoon where all I used the 1520 for was gaming (the 6″ screen is fantastic and Temple Run 2 was a particular highlight), going back to my not-exactly-small HTC One seemed weird.

Sticking with the hardware aspects of the device it almost goes without saying with flagship Nokia devices: the camera on the 1520 is excellent.

I’ve used it to take myriad photos. Several of which made it into my Empty Underground project – having a kick-ass camera for this made me very happy indeed. Also, the feature set of the camera is pretty darn good too.

Very. Cool. Feature. Indeed.

And then we come to Windows Phone…

I’ve tried with Windows Phone. Really I have. From the first time I played with Windows Phone 7 all the way through to the latest Lumia devices such as the staggeringly impressive [camera on the] 1020 (WP8 with the very latest update).

The OS has come a long way since the early days and the 1520 benefits from that. Windows Phone 8 is a little more malleable and the options presented to the user are better than ever before (and 8.1 isn’t far away either, bringing things like customisable wallpaper, for example), they’re still not great though.

The best thing I can report is that nearly all of the major apps that have been missing in the past are present and correct (albeit only ‘beta’ in some iterations) and some of the more unique-to-windows-phone apps are quite fun too.

If you didn’t have to navigate the clunky windows UI (beautiful to look at, difficult to use when you actually want to get things done) and if Google apps were to make an appearance, the 1520 would be close to perfect, and a clear leader in the phablet market.

But they aren’t, so it isn’t.

Saying that, I know some people who actually quite like Windows Phone. If you’re one of those people (if you are, you’re 1 in 10 of UK smartphone owners) and you’re looking for a bigger-screened upgrade, the 1520 is absolutely for you.

But if you’re like the rest of the smartphone-buying-nation, this review (and many others like it) can be summed up in a single tweet:


So say we all.

Review: GRAVITY

You know the rules: no spoilers.

Gravity

How can I describe GRAVITY to you?

Gravity is 91mins of the tensest cinema you’ve ever seen.

Gravity is just about on the cusp of believability.

Gravity is a must-see in IMAX 3D (both, if not either).

Gravity is Sandra Bullock’s best film in years.

Gravity is beautiful.

Gravity is stunning.

Gravity brings you closer to space.

Gravity had me literally on the edge of my seat for nearly the entire length of the film.

Gravity is achingly painful.

Gravity is non-stop.

Gravity pulls no punches.

Gravity makes you hold your breath, bite your nails, and cling on for dear life.

Gravity is unflinching.

Gravity is incredible.

Gravity is mesmerising.

Gravity is not the best film you’ll see this year.

But Gravity is the next film you should see this year.

“Hold on. Listen to my voice. Hold on to something. Hold on.”

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Review: Ender’s Game

Filed under: Things that make me go ‘Meh’

Ender's Game

This past weekend I had a couple of free tickets to go and see Ender’s Game (EG). I love a bit of sci-fi and, given that I’d booked Gravity (review imminent) for Sunday, I figured I’d make it a space-based double bill and see EG on the Saturday.

First: here’s a pretty good reason why you shouldn’t see this film.


The number one reason why you should not see this film is because if you see this film, the studio, Lionsgate, may go ahead and make sequels. If that happens, then more money goes to the author of Ender’s Game, and extreme homophobe, Orson Scott Card. It is a sad state of affairs when the beliefs of an author get in the way of enjoying and/or recommending a film. But it is what it is, and I can’t change what I believe – or the way I feel.

For what it’s worth, Lionsgate gate have said that it is ‘undecided‘ on whether they’ll move ahead with any sequels. So let’s keep it that way and hope that Ender’s Game disappears (like the proposed follow ups to The Golden Compass and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe).

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Second: here’s another pretty good reason you shouldn’t see this film.

It’s terrible.

Yes, there are some decent strategy moments, and yes the character of Ender is enjoyably smart. But plot hole after plot hole after plot hole – combined with some of the most diabolical acting I’ve seen on screen, ever – makes EG an absolute waste of time and money. I sat there wishing I’d read the books instead.

When I was in Edinburgh earlier this year, my friend would often say (after seeing particularly bad theatre): ‘Why did they bother?’ – not to be facetious or mean, but a genuine question: Why bother? Why did you bother doing it? Surely you must see that there isn’t much substance to this? What on Earth made you do this?

That’s how I felt about Ender’s Game.

I don’t know why they bothered.

 

Review: Thor: The Dark World

No spoilers here… ‘No, thank you.’  

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I saw Thor: The Dark World (TTDW) recently, in 3D, at London’s BFI IMAX and, aside from a few inconsistencies, its looking like the house of M has yet another hit on its hands. As part of the more mythical part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Thor has a bit more freedom when it comes to realising the world(s) that Asgardians both live in and visit and, in this reviewer’s opinion, is a better franchise for it.

But there’s more to it than that.

In a post-Avengers world, it’s obviously prudent to have a good idea of where this story picks up from. With Loki, chief villain from both the first Thor film and last summer’s monster smash, Avengers Assemble, again front and centre in this norse god outing, I would strongly recommend seeing the aforementioned films first.

Oh yeah, that and the fact Loki pretty much snatches the film from right under Thor’s nose and completely makes it his own any and every time he’s on screen. Tom Hiddleston is having so much fun here and, somewhat surprisingly, brings an emotional depth to Loki that we’ve only seen glimpses of before. Damn, he’s good.

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He’s not the only character who shines in TTDW either. Almost everyone we met the first time around gets to grow in their own way. From Sif’s subtle intentions (and subsequent jealously, equally subtle – nicely done, Jaimie Alexander) around being Thor’s one and only, to Idris Elba getting his badass on as the all-seeing guardian of the Rainbow Road Bridge, Heimdall. Both of Thor’s parents get their own respective arcs too, with Rene Russo flexing both her emotional (and literal) muscles as Queen Frigga, and Sir Anthony Hopkins by her side, as Odin, bringing the gravitas that only the All Father of the nine realms should have.

And the new faces, what of them?

Well, both Christopher Eccleston and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, are barely recognisable as the leaders (first and second in command respectively) of TTDW’s main antagonists, The Dark Elves.

The Dark Elves

The latter even more so when he’s transformed into the nigh-indestructible beast known as Kurse. Easily beaten, these Elves are not – and Kurse is one formidable opponent for the eponymous man/god/alien. Moving back to Eccleston, I had read a fair bit about his character, Malekith, not being fully developed or not being explored enough but I have to disagree. Not all bad guys need to be made human, not all bad guys need to be given the bit of colour that almost gives them justification for their belief system, and ultimately their actions. Some bad guys just want stuff to be DARK AND NASTY. That’s what Malekith wants and that, combined with the way he chases that goal endlessly, makes him a pretty awesome evil doer, in my book anyway.

Where there’s evil, there must be good, and good is in good shape indeed with Chris Hemsworth stepping up to play Thor for the third time. The petulance has gone and we see a wiser, more thoughtful Thor who no longer falls for Loki’s tricks so easily and oft-leads with the upper hand, as opposed to rushing in and fighting from a disadvantage. It’s a healthy change, and Good Character Development is always nice to see. Seeing him finally lock eyes with Jane Foster (a hardly-stretched Natalie Portman) is great, and you can tell that they’re meant to be. Aww.

If I had to draw negatives it would be only in two ways. First, with Portman finally making it to Asgard, being dressed like the locals, and getting to spend time with Thor – it all feels a little bit a Padme/Star Wars Episode II. And I’m not kidding when I say that is a very bad thing. It only happened a couple of times, but it grated.

The other thing would be tonality.

Let’s get one thing absolutely clear: TTDW is funny. Laugh out loud hilarious even, at some points. But the juxtaposition of that against the backdrop of some truly darker moments sometimes can be quite jarring. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a tough gig trying to maintain lightness amongst the dark – and the original Thor had its fair share of good laughs – but sometimes it felt like TTDW couldn’t make its mind up. Like I said, if I had to draw negatives. Those would be the two that I would choose.

Is it worth seeing in 3D? I don’t think so. But do try and see it an IMAX because honestly, there’s no better cinematic experience than seeing a film like Thor ON THE BIGGEST SCREEN POSSIBLE.

Overall, Thor: The Dark World is an enjoyable ride, and definitely worth seeing at the cinema. So go and do that at your earliest opportunity. 

Thor The Dark World

PS. There are TWO post-credits sequences. One midway through, and one right at the end. One of them is a now-typical Marvel teaser sign post, the other is just for laughs… You’ll love them both.  

PPS. TTDW has the best post-avengers cameo, ever. I’ve not seen it leaked anywhere so when you see the film, be a good geek and don’t ruin it for anyone by yabbing about it afterwards. Skills.

 

Review: RUSH

VROOM!

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I saw RUSH on a whim. On a last minute ‘I’m stood next to the cinema and I’ve got two hours to kill and I’ve got a free ticket to use and the doors opened five minutes ago’ decision. Before I knew it, it was the 1970s, and I had a front row seat* on the rivalry that help make Formula 1 the global phenomenon we know it as today.

Ron Howard is a dab hand at his historical recreations (see Apollo 13 and Frost/Nixon) and I should’ve seen that much coming. But I didn’t. Instead I sat back and enjoyed a tale that I kind of half knew, but half didn’t (this all happened before I was born and I didn’t get into Formula 1 until my late teens), and what a tale it is.

For those of you that don’t know –

…the film is based on the true story of the great sporting rivalry between handsome English playboy James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth), and his methodical, brilliant opponent, Austrian driver Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl). The story follows their distinctly different personal styles on and off the track, their loves and the astonishing 1976 season in which both drivers were willing to risk everything to become world champion in a sport with no margin for error: if you make a mistake, you die.

Thank you, IMDb.

But what of the film? Three main performances stood out for me.

First, Chris Hemsworth does very well as the (over-)confident and care-free James Hunt. Wild enough to be worrying, and yet intense enough on the track to be inspiring. The man is out to prove something, and he won’t stop until he does it. Having got used to Hemsworth as the lightning-wielding god of thunder, THOR, it’s quite nice to see him flex his dramatic muscles in something other than the Marvel cinematic universe. Good job.

Next, Daniel Brühl is amazing. Admittedly, his is the character that arguably goes through the most dramatic of arc however, having since seen a documentary about the very same story (just a day after catching RUSH, great timing) it is unbelievable how much he completely nails it as Niki Lauda. Everything from the look, the voice, the mannerisms – all of it is just brilliant. While RUSH is billed as a two-hander (and Hemsworth does hold his own) this is very much Brühl’s film. I’m on the look out for more of his stuff as I type…

RUSH

Third and finally, Olivia Wilde, as Hunt’s main love interest, brings surprising depth to what could’ve easily been a one-note, blink and you’ll miss it character. I haven’t seen Wilde in much (I know her mainly from House and Tron: Legacy) however I’m looking forward to seeing more of her as I really thought, for someone who had very limited screen time, Olivia Wilde does very well indeed.

As I said before, Ron Howard excels at this kind of thing and RUSH is no exception. Everything is meticulously recreated and original footage/audio is used where it isn’t. Combined, this creates an atmosphere of just being there which, funnily enough, is exactly what you want in film. No, really.

In short: RUSH is really bloody great. I made a snap decision to see it and in the world where every decision you make matters, I’m glad I chose so well.

It’s still on general release and if you haven’t already, you should go.

Whatley out.

 

*Not literally. I haven’t done that since Django, and that was just mental.

 

Review: RIDDICK

This has been a long time coming… (No spoilers)

Review: RIDDICK

It’s been 13 years since we were first introduced to the murderous anti-hero, Richard P. Riddick and since 2000’s Pitch Black first hit our screens, we’ve had one animated short, in the shape of the oft-overlooked Dark Fury, and the universe expanding [proper] sequel The Chronicles of Riddick.

Pitch Black is just great (seek it out if you’re new to the Riddick franchise). A proper B-movie alien film, with morally questionable characters throughout (including Vin Diesel as aforementioned wanted convict) – it was sci-fi fun, with a solid cast to boot.

For 2004’s criminally underrated Chronicles, writer/director David Twohy courageously attempted to create a whole universes, (along with multiple races and religions, around our lead character and, with a couple of character nods to its predecessor, it arguably succeeded (with the Director’s Cut DVD proving vastly superior to the cinematic release, with more emphasis on the mythology and spirituality of what it means to be Furyan. Again, seek it out). If you’ve come this far, then you’re probably aware of the the events that close Chronicles – our man Richard found himself in a very interesting place indeed.

Which leads us to the third live action film in the series, the succinctly titled ‘RIDDICK’.

Riddick

A film of three acts, RIDDICK opens with its eponymous protagonist alone, injured, and in danger – deserted on a planet inhabited only by blood-thirsty killers creatures that live in the water, on the ground, and in the air. A walk in the park this will not be. But (and this is no spoiler) Riddick heals, Riddick gets bad ass, and Riddick gets a pet dog… This last part clearly a nod to the fans who wanted more of Riddick getting on with this kind of animal, if you remember the scaly felines from Crematoria in Chronicles, you’ll know what I mean.

Act two: two sets of bounty hunters arrive. One set wants his head (literally). And another wants him for something else.

Act three: Pitch Black: Redux.

There’s a quote that I’m going to lift from iO9 and it’s spot on:

There’s a standard sort of scene in these movies, which goes like: 1) Everybody underestimates Riddick. They think they’ve outsmarted or outnumbered him. 2) Riddick says something cryptic, like “don’t forget the anchovies,” and everybody laughs at him. 3) Something dramatic happens, the tables are turned, one or two mooks die. 4) Riddick says, “I told you not to forget the anchovies,” and suddenly everybody realizes that Riddick knew what was going to happen all along.

However, I’m willing to forgive it for this because Riddick is Furyan and – as far as we know – he’s the only one left. They might have this weird crazy super vision thing, or something. I don’t know.

Anyway – what of the actual film?

Well y’know what? I really liked it. I’m a fan of the Riddick films and think we need more interesting sci-fi like it. Vin Diesel is a compelling leading man (shh there at the back) and its actually a real treat to catch up with one of his more popular characters after all this time. Also, this is a very different flavoured film to those that have gone before. The opening 30mins is enough to tell you that. Twohy has taken revised his adventurous Chronicles thinking, stripped it back to Pitch Black bare bones, but has gone one step further than that and stripped its leading man back too.

A move that can only be applauded.

The supporting characters are a mix of good and forgetful. Katee Sackhoff is basically Starbuck from an alternative universe, but still manages to stand tall. And the rest are meat, with a few surprises.

Like I said, it’s very much a three act film. Act one almost gets a little too much, act two is amusing, the bounty-hunter team banter combined with the Riddick-is-just-messing-with-them to-and-fro proving to be genuinely funny in places. And when act three turns up the tension with the introduction of other, more murderous planetary inhabitants, all hell breaks loose.

I enjoyed it. If you’ve seen Pitch Black and you enjoyed Chronicles too (hell, even if you didn’t), you’ll definitely enjoy RIDDICK. I really like where they’re taking this character and, at the end of the film, you get a rough idea of where exactly that will be.

Riddick has scores to settle, but he also wants to go home.

On the strength of this latest outing, I’ll be first in line for tickets when that time comes around.