The Avengers snobbery

I adore cinema. But one thing I’ve noticed is that many other who film lovers look down on The Avengers. Many dismiss it is as some juvenile and throwaway blockbuster. I once heard someone say “this movie was so predictable. It was like a better-executed Transformers, but still meant for the same immature crowd.”

No. Just. No.

Just because you like ‘arthouse’ films or movies that film lovers respect (and I like many of both) doesn’t mean you should be snobby of The Avengers, or at the very least, compare it to Transformers! I even put it in my Top 5 of last year, alongside Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master

Why? Because it’s a fantastically written and acted movie with exciting action sequences, strong characterization and a refreshingly (and to me, irresistibly) fun tone. I love it.

Foals: Live at the Royal Albert Hall review

(U.K./2013/Dir. Dave Ma/87mins)

 

Oxfordshire quintet Foals have had a great year. They scored their biggest hit yet with single My Number, their third album Holy Fire made it to number two on the U.K. album charts (being held off the top spot by the Les Misérables soundtrack), the album, in turn, was nominated for the Mercury Prize, they won Best Live Act at the Q Awards and their biggest indoor gig to date, in London’s Royal Albert Hall sold out in minutes and went on to garner great reviews. With this Dave Ma directed concert film (the band’s first) it’s easy to see why, as the band put on a show so good you’ll wish you there.

Nick Wheeler’s visuals are often striking and always pop as the lightshow brightens up the expansive dome, while the sound design is impeccable. Dave Ma’s direction is superb, capturing the unbreakable energy of the live performance, as Yannis Philippakis and co. thrive onstage, forming a formidable live unit where each band member is integral. Additionally, we also get a number of insightful glimpses into their behind-the-scenes behaviour, as they muck about backstage, rehearse and discuss their attitude towards making music.

Everyone in the audience looks delighted to be there, with many completely losing themselves in the music and even sitting in front of your TV, there’s a good chance you will too. This is an immersive, explosive and intense concert film that will leave wanting more and a Foals ticket.

Thor: The Dark World review

(U.S./2013/Dir. Alan Taylor/112mins)

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Marvel are everywhere at the moment. In the past two-and-a-half years we’ve had Thor, X-Men: First Class, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, The Amazing Spiderman, Iron Man 3, The Wolverine and now, Thor: The Dark World. There are also four more Marvel movies to follow next year – Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Amazing Spiderman 2, X-Men: Days of Future Past and Guardians of the Galaxy. This could seem like overkill, except all of the aforementioned movies already released have been good and some great. Which now brings us to Thor’s third big screen outing – how does it compare to slew of Marvel movies around today? Very favourably.

Following the chaotic events that rocked New York in The Avengers, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) are back in Asgard, with the latter being imprisoned for his crimes. The Nine Realms appear to be in order, but an ancient race is on a vengeful path – The Dark Elves, led by the villainous Malekith (Christopher Eccleston). Upon discovering a portal between Asgard and Earth, Scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) accidentally reawakens them and they set their sights on Thor’s homeworld.

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In stark contrasts to the recent DC films (except Green Lantern, but let’s forget that ever happened), Marvel Studios’ movies are unadulterated fun. Iron Man 3 and The Avengers set the bar high for the level of sheer fun and Thor’s latest continues along this path. also leaner that every other recent action blockbuster and all the better for it, as e.g. by the time the 30 minute climactic battle in Man of Steel begins, the end credits start rolling on Thor: The Dark World. Additionally, the action sequences are terrific and exhilarating, while the comedy is properly funny and occasionally hilarious. There’s also an unexpected cameo from a Marvel regular that is one of the most joyous things I’ve seen all year. Alan Taylor uses his experience from the brilliant Game of Thrones to great effect when approaching the fantasy worlds. As per usual, Tom Hiddleston is a delight to watch, lighting up the screen whenever he appears, while Hemsworth is efficient and the rest of the cast are solid. There are flaws – one or two plot strands disappear and some roles are underwritten - and this film may not be a profound classic, but it is a gloriously entertaining blast from start to finish and a very worthy addition to the ever-expanding Marvel canon.  

Also, make sure to stay for the entire ends credits, as we got, not one, but two post-credit sequences, which I won’t spoil, but I will say that one of them offers an excitingly weird glimpse into a certain future Marvel movie.

Shut Up and Play the Hits review

(U.S./2012/Dir. Will Lovelace & David Southern/108mins)

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“Hey”, Steve Albini wrote, “breaking up is an idea that occurred to far too few groups”. However, it’s definitely an idea that occurred to LCD Soundsystem, as frontman James Murphy decided to disband the group, not long after their third album was released, despite the fact that they were now at the peak of their fame and acclaim. Nothing bad had happened – there were no bust-ups between members, drug troubles or any other music clichés – Murphy simply wanted to wave goodbye to his dance-punk creation and respect should be given to him for that. He chose to go out with a bang, by staging the group’s largest gig to date on the 2nd April 2011, in New York’s Madison Square Garden to a crowd of nearly 20,000. That gig is chronicled in this excellent Will Lovelace-and-David Southern-directed documentary. The live footage on display here is superb, with an Arcade Fire-featuring rendition of North American Scum and the emotional climactic performance of New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down proving to be highlights.

However, Shut Up and Play the Hits isn’t strictly a concert movie, as it also features some backstage footage, an interview recorded a week before the gig and clips of Murphy rambling around New York, often with his little bulldog in tow. This may sound boring when compared to the palpable energy of the concert footage, but these intercuts are anything but. They’re revealing and engaging as we are given a glimpse of Murphy leading up to the final gig and the day after it. In particular, the interview is the most interesting with Murphy offering an overview of LCD Soundsystem and refreshingly frank responses to the questions he is asked.

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This film isn’t just for LCD Soundsystem aficionados; it’s one for anyone who enjoys music documentaries. And if you are a fan of James Murphy, I struggle to imagine any reason why you wouldn’t like this. Its offstage clips are poignant, while its beautifully shot concert footage is absorbing. If this truly is the end of the group, then this is a terrific way to say farewell.

Bad Grandpa review

(U.S./2013/Dir. Jeff Tremaine/91mins)

 

The ‘Jackass’ crew have been around for a while now, but they’re showing no signs of hanging it up, and are now back on our cinema screens with their latest offering ‘Bad Grandpa’ – Johnny Knoxville’s first solo ‘Jackass’ outing. Following in the ‘Borat’ mould of playing pranks on the unsuspecting public, the movie sees Knoxville disguise himself as the titular grandpa – the lecherous Irving Zisman, who embarks on a road trip with his nine-year-old grandson, Billy, played impressively by Jackson Nicoll, who often out-acts Knoxville when it comes to the comedy. The gags are mildly amusing, as the mischievous pair get up to all sorts of hijinks (one of which owes more than a bit to ‘Little Miss Sunshine’), with the ‘ladies night’ scene and the diner sequence standing out. Additionally, the public’s reactions to the pranks are often funnier than the pranks themselves. Overall, it’s passably funny, but forgettable.

Snowtown review

(Australia/2011/Dir. Justin Kurzel/120mins)

 

Australia has been producing some stellar films in recent years. John Hillcoat’s bleak western ‘The Proposition’, Adam Elliot’s poignant animation ‘Mary and Max’ and David Michôd’s crime drama ‘Animal Kingdom’. Now, ‘Snowtown’ can be added to that list.

Like the aforementioned films, ‘Snowtown’ isn’t exactly a barrel of laughs. It centres on directionless teen Jamie (played superbly by Lucas Pittaway); he lives in an impoverished Adelaide suburb with his mother and three brothers. When his mother breaks up with her boyfriend who disturbingly abused her sons, she comes in contact with the seemingly pleasant John Bunting (Daniel Henshall). However, he is far from a nice guy – he is, in fact, Australia’s most notorious serial killer.

This film doesn’t exactly paint a pretty picture of Australia – instead of the tanned bodies and sunny beaches of ‘Home and Away’, what we get is a grisly and grimy world that you wouldn’t want to spend five minutes in. The violence, though often implied, is visceral and brutal nonetheless, as kangaroos are butchered, in a scene where the casual approach to the brutality makes it all the more unsettling, while in a later moment, a foot is agonisingly mutilated.

Justin Kurzel’s direction is strong, particularly for a debut – he intelligently makes the decision to not spoonfeed the audience, leaving them to figure out what occurs for themselves. The acting is impressive all round, with Pittaway and a gripping Henshall especially good. It’s not for squeamish viewers and nor is it a film for you to ‘enjoy’, but it is an excellent and slow-burning piece of work nonetheless.