Pet projects: Why they go wrong


Pet projects: Why they go wrong

Minority blues: Juan embodies Moonlight(2016)’s impact

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Every so often, a movie comes along that changes my perceptions of cinema and the world. These flicks let us see directly into the characters, their lives, what they like/dislike and how they act in or react to the events of the narrative. For their run-time, they deliver everything cinema should offer on a regular basis. Moonlight is one of those delights. Based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s unpublished play, Moonlight proves every frame can be essential to the overall effect.

Sadly, Moonlight is the movie now synonymous with Academy Awards stuff-ups. This $1.5 million independent feature went up against a musical, docudramas and war epics during this year’s Oscars ceremony. The lead-up was spectacular, with the film gaining industry recognition for its depiction of the gay-black experience, life in lower-class America, and familial conflict. However, thanks to one Price-Waterhouse Coopers’ representative’s folly, this and La La Land are tied together eternally.

rs_1024x683-161212061514-1024.Moonlight-Mahershala-Ali-JR-121216This article is not saying La La Land is not important, exciting, interesting etc. Indeed, the movie is notable for being the exact opposite of moonlight. Its reach-for-the-stars vibe  balances out a melancholic ending with scintillating effect. Moonlight is nothing like this. From the opening sequences, this narrative smacks of realism and heartache. It’s in these opening moments where director Barry Jenkins places his feelings on his sleeve (for the audience to take in). If you’re squeamish, head out of the theatre and head straight towards the nearest blockbuster (you may feel safer there).

We meet drug dealer/kingpin Juan (Mahershala Ali) dealing drugs in Miami’s Liberty City. The opening shot is propulsive. Jenkins never talks down to anyone or simplifies anything for the audience. Juan’s body language and tone proves he rules the roost. The neighbourhood responds to Juan’s presence with glee (in the saddest way possible). Yes, he’s a drug dealer. Aware of his presence, the area loves him because of what he supplies. He is seen as the businessman, the top dog and enviable leading man type all rolled in one.

Is after this initial introduction, we feel his presence throughout the movie. Juan finds the protagonist of this story, Chiron “Little”, hiding from bullies in an abandoned block of flats/crackhouse. Juan first comes off as the hero, a strong man saving a young boy from bullies and the dangerous environment around them. Juan overcomes his stoicism to do what he knows is right. By the five to ten minute mark, one of Moonlight‘s supporting characters has shown a depth and range rarely seen in mainstream lead characters.

Juan wants, in this instance, to make a valuable first impression. He knows Chiron will run away or ignore him if the truth came out. These glimpses add to Jenkins’ and co. arresting vision. Even a sparsely utilised supporting character ties intricately into everything else. It is in this moment we meet his significant other, Teresa (Janelle Monae), before Chiron is taken back to his crack-addicted mother, Paula (Naomie Harris). To become a role model, or at the very least more likeable person, Juan sets Chiron up with a mini-family. The Juan, Teresa and Chiron embody the father-mother-and-child vision of American life. The characters hold onto their time together – envisioning shiny, new lives and aiming to overcome or even step away from their current status’.

ad_234908624-e1487004604539Throughout their time together, Jenkins develops a beaming, ultra-positive father-son dynamic between Juan and Chiron. Juan, despite his life choices (profession), seeks to keep Chiron from the ugly truth and divert him towards a better future. Juan helps Chiron with the ‘basics’ (learning to swim etc.) to increase his intelligence and abilities. Our father figure, thinking of his own regrets, contemplates his role in Chiron’s life. A wordless Chiron listens intently to Juan’s story. Juan recalls of an old lady talking to him, saying black boys turned blue while running around in the moonlight.

It is here Juan gives Chiron the ultimate, coming-of-age ultimatum – “At some point you’ve gotta decide for yourself what you want to be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you”. Juan passes on whatever knowledge of the world he has onto Chiron. Although giving only slivers of information, Juan pushes Chiron to find a new path through the ghetto and adulthood. The mystical-magical-negro type – depicted in many films as providing younger, better looking white characters with inspiration – is now a lower-middle class man filled with regret and sadness on the inside, with only a tough exterior guarding people from knowing the truth.

Juan is the ultimate supporting character – on-screen for short periods and continually making an impact. His frustrations and weaknesses rise to the surface whenever Paula comes into the mix. In their first meeting, Juan explains Chiron’s disappearance overnight. Paula, seemingly threatened by Juan’s fatherly affection to Chiron, rejects Juan’s assistance. Overcompensating for Chiron’s lack of father figures, Paula acts with full-throttled anger. Instead of listening to or thanking Juan, she stares him down and snaps at him until he leaves. The lioness asserts her dominance, to Chiron’s detriment. Her dominance and choices make for an unsettling near future for Chiron.

“At some point you’ve gotta decide for yourself what you want to be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you,” Juan (Mahershala Ali) – Moonlight, 2009.

Juan and Paula’s next encounter shows Ali and Harris to be two of Hollywood’s most esteemed character-actors. Juan confronts Paula after seeing her smoking crack with one of his regular customers. Channelling his deep-seeded fatherly love, Juan stands up for Chiron. His interrogation, in another film, could potentially change Paula’s point of view and make for change. More sugary fare might lead Paula down more redemptive path and, possibly, into Juan’s arms. Here, however, Paula once again establishes her raw, untethered emotion.


She berates Juan for coming into their lives, convinced she is protecting her son’s best interests. Paula, thanks to her issues, is a threatening presence for everyone in her path. Paula shares her true feelings of Chiron, convinced his homosexuality has led to isolation from peer groups at school. She says Chiron, against the norm,is cast aside and punished by the majority. In such a tough area, his skin does not help him blend in. The bullies look beyond anything concerning race; seeing only an outsider and threat to their way of existence.

Juan is overwhelmed by Paula and her attitude to parenthood. He, after discovering Chiron’s mother’s lack of care or consideration, is convinced the truth may in fact scare the boy into going down the right path. Juan, Teresa and Chiron sit together at the table, aping the appearance of the family unit sharing quality time together. Juan attempts to understand Chiron’s plight, discussing Chiron’s sexual orientation as acceptable. Juan here represents the understanding, tolerant parent (like Teresa and less like Paula). Chiron, however, focuses only on Juan’s profession and way of life. Chiron, disappointed in Juan for selling drugs to Paula, leaves the home. The pair never interact again, with Juan hanging his head and crying in his last scene.

Ali and Jenkins deliver a powerful, subdued supporting character. Though starring in only the first third, Ali conveys an entire emotional and psychological arc with just a handful of expressions and scenes. Unlike many supporting actor/actress winners, Ali chooses subtle, quiet performance over loud, brash eccentricities. Instead of drawing eyes towards him, the actor allows us to soak up his role and the frame around him simultaneously.

Juan encapsulates the movie’s undying affection for Chiron. Ali and Jenkins subvert the stereotypical poor, negligent dad type. Whereas Chiron’s biological father appears to be long gone, Juan attempts to get closer. Realising he could be something greater, Juan sees an opportunity and tries to take it. He turns from drug dealer to father figure, with the audience sympathising and empathising with him throughout his and Chiron’s time together.

Belated sequels: Why they go wrong?

The belated sequel is, for all intents and purposes, a sign that Hollywood is close to running out of ideas. The plan is simple: take a famous property, convince everyone it needs to come back, deliver a final product and pray that old and new viewers show up. The basic elements of this system are designed to prey on an audience’s basis desires. The studios, obviously, think audiences and average moviegoers will devour anything with recognisable packaging wrapped around it.

anchorman2The marketing departments rule the roost here. The studios, like with every other movie, TV show etc., tell their marketing departments to coerce audiences to attend. From the get-go, these departments have advantages at their disposal. Due to immense coverage/ speculation/rumours by fans and the media, studios, producers, actors, directors etc. are seemingly coerced into dusting off old projects.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues – out in 2013, nine years after the 2004 cult-hit original – was sold on getting the band back together. Will Ferrell, Steve Carell and Paul Rudd had moved on to leading man roles and engaging movies after the original’s underwhelming release. Their career trajectories, along with Anchorman‘s slowly growing fandom, drew interest for the long-awaited follow-up. These three leading men were hounded for years over the movie’s delayed development.

The industry’s reliance on brand recognition over star power slowly diminished Anchorman 2’s chances of critical and commercial successes. The sequel was released to mixed reviews from audiences and critics. Its cast’s energy was seemingly nowhere near enough to save the finished product. Fortunately, the three have gone on to Marvel Movies, Oscar-calibre material and truckloads of paycheques. Despite their talents and charm, Ferrell and co’s movies have made smaller profits and diminishing returns compared to earlier efforts. Ferrell, in particular, has gone from bad to worse of late. Get Hard and Daddy’s Home swung for the fences and missed spectacularly.


Many belated sequels were not worth the wait. Dumb and Dumber To was the result of Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels being hounded for the better part of 20 years (and we all know how that turned out). Super-flop Zoolander 2 stuck too close to the original, but left the comedy (and actors’ dignity) behind. The stinker was sorely missing the original’s slew of memorable lines and fun performances from once-fresh-faced comedians Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson.

The past two years have seen numerous belated sequels including My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, Independence Day: Resurgence, Bad Santa 2, Finding Dory, Alice Through the Looking Glass and Inferno. A large number of these suffered due to pure laziness. They coast on the originals’ success and didn’t come close to creating something worthwhile. The rare recent exception is Danny Boyle’s T2: Trainspotting. The follow-up to the 1996 cult classic sees its characters come home to roost and accept who they are with entertaining results.

o1XC96sFsE-5Q2Fpp4HQ6g___tmp_11_715_The audience sees the cast (Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller etc.) and filmmaker return to this beloved property. The original was an out-there crime-thriller against the establishment, the ever-expanding United Kingdom and popular culture. Since its release, McGregor and co. have starred in some of Hollywood’s biggest movies and TV shows. Meanwhile, Boyle has picked up a Best Director Oscar and made a slew of hits. They have since become The Man.

T2: Trainspotting pokes fun at everything from new-age drug culture to social media without being overbearing. In this character-based drama, our leads are older, tireder, full of regret and ready to take their anger out on one another. Unpredictably, Renton (McGregor) is far from the fulfilled, reformed man we first think he is. The movie’s big revelation – Renton admitting to his failures, lack of worldly experience etc. – turns him into the loveable loser he was back in the day.

The sequel comments on its own belatedness, with every character questioning themselves and the world around them throughout. Whereas most belated sequels rehash character arcs, story beats and jokes, T2: Trainspotting reflects on the length of time between drinks. The movie is informed by, but not entirely reliant on, our general knowledge of the significant social, political and cultural changes between the mid-1990s and today.

ID4RHEADER-1The majority of belated sequels – comedies especially – rely almost 100% on a copy-and-paste formula for a quick fix. In fact, many feel like little more than hubris and laziness blended together. However, the better examples are aware of their own peculiar existence, commenting on the movie’s world and the real world without nudging us too violently. It is not so much who is involved and what they are doing, by why we should be watching that matters most. With numerous belated sequels scheduled (Wedding Crashers 2), this trend is not slowing down. I wonder which movies out today will get follow-ups 20 years from now. An Emma Stone/Ryan Gosling re-team for La La Land 2: Still Tapping maybe?

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Top of the Tube: The best YouTube movie critics

Since its inception into popular culture in 2005, YouTube has become a pioneering force for worldwide video sharing. The service has since surpassed several key entertainment mediums to become the go-to source of entertainment. The past decade, indeed, was a mixed bag for entertainment mediums and modes of all shapes, sizes, and functions. But YouTube moved with the times.

As print formats continue to descend into the darkness (or online), YouTube is bolstered by comedy, drama, and action videos shared by anyone – many of whom long for their 15 minutes of fame. Even Hollywood has come on board with the phenomenon, with eager filmmakers picked from obscurity after uploading their work onto the behemoth site (see the original Pixels short).

Nowadays, trailers, clips, and behind-the-scenes videos are only a couple of clicks away. The rise of the YouTube film critic has been huge for many Generation X and Y-ers. They provide heads-up examinations of each new movie and TV show. My chosen critics have stepped up to the microphone; hitting well above their weight and higher than the competition.

photoThousands of hits, spiteful comments, and copycats later, they have evolved into becoming some of the most influential critics/citizen journalists working today. The self-employed film buffs including Jeremy Jahns, Chris Stuckmann and Schmoes Know have enough range and charisma to attract the attention of viewers and advertisers. So, how exactly have these critics and filmaholics broken away from the scores of YouTubers currently blogging, vlogging, and flogging?

Jeremy Jahns, pronounced many different ways by many different people, is a one-man machine working from home. His YouTube channel, launching in mid 2009, was a sure-fire, quick-witted response to the CGI-induced nightmare that is Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Since then, Jahns has been uploading his opinions on everything including movies, trailers, video games, and TV shows.

The YouTube sensation’s style can best be described in one word: Laymen. Beyond the cool suits and calm attitude, the man speaks like you and me. He delivers each video like a guy talking to you in a bar. That’s what makes him so approachable and interesting – his ability to analyse each movie, communicate his ideas, provide witty humour and deliver a final blow within each short, concise video. Jahns is a one man 3-D experience (and not just because he stands so close to the camera).

maxresdefault (1)Chris Stuckmann is of a similar breed of heavy-hitting YouTube stars. This other thirty-something has embedded himself in popular film criticism and social media. Popping up on Screen Junkies and across the internet, his friendly face and welcoming personality pull you in. More so, his analyses are memorable and thoughtful enough to keep you around. Like with every YouTube critic, his biggest videos focus on the year’s most anticipated movies. Every Marvel Cinematic Universe movie review connects to the audience whilst informing everyone else. His hilariocity reviews and in-depth spoiler discussions always provide something new. Prometheus and Drive are seen in a different light thanks to Stuckmann’s deft approach.

The best of the best critics break through language divides to create original and entertaining discussions. What the Flick?! is one of the milestone achievements of online and YouTube film criticism. The four leads – Ben Mankiewicz, Christy Lemire, Matt Atchity and Alsonso Duralde – are part of Los Angeles’ broadcast and online film journalism elite. The four star in video reviews with each other and/or a slew of similar guests.

Their reckless energy keeps eyes glued to the screen no matter the subject at hand. It is a unique skill – conveying charisma, charm and immense knowledge in a modest fashion. The crew’s reviews, opinion segments and interviews are worth the subscription. Their reviews of Marvel/Netflix shows Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist explore each episode, character, storyline and underlying element with ease.

Screen Junkies takes the cake for modern online criticism and entertainment. Sprouting from humble beginnings several years ago, the group kicked off with the uber-successful Honest Trailers along with interviews/kooky segments/other hosted by Hal Rudnik. Their sundance-news-sj-universe1entries continually break the mould – providing fun and funky ideas for their audience to bounce off of and have a good time with. Since then, movie fights and honest trailer commentaries have become part of their ongoing campaign for online ratings. Screen Junkies News is the cherry on top of the sundae. The News channel’s array of hosts and topics (movies, TV etc.) appropriately balances expert opinion and laughs.

A lot of people think it is easy to become a YouTube/internet sensation. Video apps are chock-a-block with people pointing cameras at themselves, surrounding themselves with cool backgrounds and spewing their opinions for the masses to devour. However, it is almost impossible to connect with viewers and maintain a high level of interest from them. The aforementioned channels and organisations prove talent in front of and behind the camera – along with blood, sweat, tears and dollars – are needed to make YouTube careers go from dreams to reality.

Deepish Thought: The Line Between ‘Director’s Cut’ and ‘Final Cut’

In 1982, sci-fi-action-thriller Blade Runner polarised critics and audiences. Acclaimed movie critic Roger Ebert tarnished whatever reputation it had, becoming one of the strangest Hollywood projects of its decade. The film tanked, forcing Ridley Scott and Harrison Ford to reconsider their options.

Directors-Cuts-Scott-072015Blade Runner ‘Final Cut’ came out after several re-jigged versions of the 80s smash, removing everything Scott and Ford disliked. The move kicked off the rise of extended/special/director’s cuts in home entertainment. Today, it is considered one of contemporary Hollywood cinema’s most ground-breaking blockbusters. The film shaped an entire generation of filmmakers, convinced the film was the pinnacle of Hollywood potential.

Over cinema’s history, there has been a strong divide between the director’s cut and theatrical version. A film’s producers, refining the run-time and content to fit the rating system and avoid ambiguity, typically decide the theatrical cut. The director’s cut is longer, broader, and more explicit than the theatrical cut, presented as the director’s approved copy.

The director’s cut refers to what is decided on in the editing process. This particular copy comes between the rough and theatrical cuts, leaving in everything the directors they accepted and endorsed. Many of these are released after the original version, with ‘Director’s Cut’ or ‘Extended/Special Edition’ DVDs selling like hotcakes and attracting increased critical attention.

Many theatrical cuts exist to fit in more screenings per day at the cinema complex. However, with most blockbusters stretched to two-and-a-half-hours, the call for more cuts and minimal directorial control may be necessary. There are two key examples of how studio, director, and producer dynamics have transformed some projects into some of the most memorable productions in contemporary cinema.

avengers-age-of-ultron-team-noscaleThe Avengers: Age of Ultron is a packed middle chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Whilst telling its own story – introducing a new villain, protagonists, settings etc. – the 11th franchise instalment forced director Joss Whedon to set up future flicks including Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther, and Thor: Ragnarok. To achieve his vision, Whedon set his sights on a four-hour cut to complete this monumental task. The move would have potentially split the instalment into two parts, fleshing out each element to its full potential.

However, the film was designated as one instalment by MCU/Disney heads – receiving mixed reviews from critics and fans for pushing too much into one production. Here, Whedon and the studio clashed head on. Whilst Whedon’s idea would have provided more bang for your buck, the MCU’s plans for future movies would have been stalled. Age of Ultron left the director and studio butting heads, leaving the debate over Whedon’s vision up in the air.

Whereas Age of Ultron blurred the lines between Whedon and the studio’s visions, Ridley Scott’s features make a clear distinction. Scott, from Blade Runner onwards, has had several projects flipped and switched by the studios. For the 2003 re-release of Alien, Scott agreed to create an alternative cut to satisfy 20th Century Fox directly. However, with films including Gladiator, American Gangster, and Black Hawk Down, Scott and the studio’s vision matched directly. All three were released as extended/special editions for DVD editions.

df04719ef97e67c26eb87ab73301ed5fOf course, the most common version of the director’s cut is adding more scenes to extend its run-time. The theatrical version of Kingdom of Heaven was met with mixed reviews and dim box-office returns upon release in 2005. Despite being considered a failure, Scott stood by the project throughout its production, release, and reception. The underrated crusades-epic was given the green light, with Scott developing a director’s cut for release several months later.

Screened at the Laemmle Fairfax Theatre on December 23rd, 2005, the director’s cut is approximately 45 minutes to one hour longer than the original. As the version Scott wanted for release, the director’s cut – at 194 minutes – includes a more thorough, fleshed-out version with an overture and intermission. The film received a much stronger reaction from critics, praising Scott for sticking to his original vision. The film, thanks to Scott’s version, is considered one of the filmmaker’s best movies.

The debate between theatrical and director’s cuts has pros and cons on both sides. Big-name, visionary directors including Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg have final cut privilege over their films to positive results. On the other hand, producers, taking advice from focus groups and people involved, have good reason to change the edit, understandably protecting their investment to gain commercial success.

Why I’m not on-board the Redmayne Train

It is easy to confuse three of Great Britain’s best actors working today – Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston and Eddie Redmayne. Cumberbatch, thanks to everything from Doctor Strange to 12 Years a Slave, has developed a sterling reputation. His weird and wonderful performances showed off a bright personality. Indeed, over the past few years, the actor has starred in almost everything. Along with his star-making turn on Saturday Night Live last month, the performer has stepped out of his heroes’ shadows and become a solid A-lister.

Hiddleston is a multi-talented performer and all-around jokester. Like Cumberbatch, Hiddleston’s internet fame relies on gifs and memes. His turns as Loki in the Avengers flicks, along with numerous independent flicks and out-there character-dramas, have also assisted the British Thespian. Admirably, Hiddleston and Cumberbatch have extended their talents to London’s West End (whenever they get time off from tinseltown).

Redmayne, on paper, has yielded critical and commercial acclaim. Statistically speaking, very few actors ever have had everlasting success in Hollywood. He deserves praise for achieving what so many try at and fail to accomplish. However, does he deserve it? On the one hand, his earlier performances in My Week With Marilyn and Les Miserables are noteworthy. The performer once turned seemingly indistinguishable characters into charming rogues.

In those performances, his off-screen charm came to the fore. On the Graham Norton/late night show format, Redmayne provides (coasts by on) a fresh smile and cute stories about his career. More often than not, his appearances are worth tuning in to. He also engages with the other guests better than most seasoned A-listers do. His Graham Norton Show appearances alongside the likes of Jennifer lawrence and Bryan Cranston make for series highlights.

So, what is going wrong on screen? For one, he is continually sidelined with woeful material. On paper, Jupiter Ascending, Fantastic Beasts, The Theory of Everything and The Danish Girl are interesting choices. In execution, they all suck. In his defense, even the best actors could not save those particular projects from their woeful direction and messy scripting. Maybe it’s his agent’s fault after all…

The four aforementioned stinkers have turned me away from Redmayne as a performer. Jupiter Ascending is, of course, an inconsequential mess of biblical proportions. The Wachowski siblings have only deliver one worthwhile movie (The Matrix…17 years ago). Since then, their pride and ambition have continually tripped them up. Jupiter Ascending is the worst of the bunch. Redmayne’s tiresome performance sums it up – laughable and over-the-top without purpose. Taking a turn into villainy, Redmayne makes (theoretically) interesting choices. Some lines are whispered, others are screamed in a high-pitched wail. His waspish, wimpy persona makes for a stereotypical Gary Oldman-villain turn without anything going on beneath the surface.

Of course, The Theory of Everything placed him directly in the spotlight. He picked up the Oscar for Best Actor and never looked back, leaving Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) star Michael Keaton without that elusive golden statue. As you could probably guess, I believe Keaton should have won it that year. Keaton poured his soul into that performance – expertly playing a washed-up, over-the-hill performer with one more breath left to give. Despite the mixed reception to the movie, everyone praised Keaton’s magnetic performance and return to A-list status. Of course, typical docudrama/Oscar bait saw Theory of Everything‘s star cross the line first.

The Danish Girl was even more egregious and disastrous than the latter movies. Director Tom Hooper, fresh off overrated misfire The King’s Speech and slightly-better Les Miserables, wanted to grab another golden statues with both hands. He failed spectacularly. In this case, Redmayne is underserved, nay obliterated, by Hooper’s annoying direction and the screenplay’s pure sappiness. Redmayne is thrown into a wholly underwritten role. Playing a transgender, true-life figure, his role and performance should have knocked it out of the park. However, the IT-actor is left to give an array of over-the-top flourishes.

Of course, Redmayne is a rich, acclaimed actor working on his own career and life. Hollywood is certainly a treacherous stretch of terrain for everyone, and he seems to be handling fame well. Future projects may indeed give Redmayne his first 100% beloved performance. However, he is currently walking a tightrope between sensitivity and a sub-par Hugh Grant impression. For now, we’re left to fear what franchise or hot property he will be involved in next.

Article: 88th Academy Awards Winners


Article: 88th Academy Awards Winners

Article: Alicia Vikander – The Woman From S.W.E.D.E.N


Article: Alicia Vikander – The Woman From S.W.E.D.E.N

Article: Over it: Blockbuster Hype Has Outstayed its Welcome


Article: Over it: Blockbuster Hype Has Outstayed its Welcome

Article: 5th AACTA Awards Wrap-up

during the 5th AACTA Awards Presented by Presto at The Star on December 9, 2015 in Sydney, Australia.

Article: 5th AACTA Wrap-up

The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Villain Problem: The Ire Rises (DC Reference LOL)

Marvel-Cinematic-Universe-Phase-1-2-VillainsThe Marvel Cinematic Universe, from its humble origins back in 2008, has transformed into a license to print money. Eclipsing anything Fox or Universal has conjured up, the MCU has delivered a fine selection of big-hitters. Installments including Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Iron Man are seen as some of the genre’s most influential works. They broke the mould, providing enough entertainment value and lasting memories to elevate themselves above most blockbusters. In fact, each MCU flick – good or bad – contains enough chutzpah and enthusiasm to stand out from the Ghost Riders and Fantastic Fours. Even the X-men franchise, despite reboot-sequel Days of Future Past‘s critical and commercial hit-rate, couldn’t possibly compete with the MCU.

However, the MCU has one major flaw that can no longer be ignored. Of course, everyone knows these movies revolve around their protagonists. Indeed, the Avengers movies achieve significant results simply by placing several protagonists in a room and making them bicker. Their heroes, whether they be thawed-out soldiers, super-industrialists, rage-fuelled scientists, or super assassins, would be immensely interesting even while reading the phonebook. Unfortunately, the antagonists have been thrown to the wolves. What do I mean, exactly? Well, by examining their villains intently, anyone can point out just how two, sometimes one, dimensional most of them have been. In chronological order, this post tackles and picks apart each antagonistic force in the MCU.

Let’s start off with Jeff Bridges’ character Obadiah Stane in Iron Man. Admittedly, Bridges’ casting was one of the movie’s many inspired choices. This Oscar-caliber character-actor flips between sympathetic and sinister with a handful of facial expressions. His character, for the first two-thirds, is a charismatic extension of Tony Stark’s universe. Stane, becoming a father figure after Tony’s parents’ death, is a charming-uncle figure. However, the third act turns him into a masochistic, overambitious maniac. The transition, utilising a bigger, badder version of the Iron Man armour (cleverly named Iron Monger), hits without explanation or development. Being an origin story, however, these story and character choices are easily forgivable. This franchise opener is more about building the hero than taking the villain down. Sadly, these issues are replicated in future Iron Man installments thanks to nobodies like Whiplash and Justin Hammer.

4713952-3486795384-JnoBQThe Incredible Hulk, coming a mere month after Iron Man‘s rocket-like ascension atop the box office, is the MCU’s red-headed step-child. Edward Norton, one of the MCU’s most controversial decisions for multiple on and off set reasons, brought a weight and originality to the big, green, mean machine. The Bruce Banner/Hulk’s conflict is, without doubt, the contemporary, upbeat version of Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. Of course, as George R. R. Martin pointed out recently, Hulk movies need a similarly-superpowered villain to go up against their damaged protagonist. Tim Roth’s Emil Blonsky/Abomination is a major step up from Stane and Iron Monger. His character is the far from your typical Marvel scientist-turned-evil archetype. He, a mercenary doing anything to get his youth back, is a worthy thematic adversary. The final-act smackdown is an exhilarating rush compared to the dour first-two-act introspection.

The Captain America villains are certainly a mixed bag, forming a solid, protective barrier for the complex narratives to grow. The Red Skull, played by typical villain-character-actor Hugo Weaving, is, on the outside, your typical, middle-aged, caucasian antagonist. Stuck in Hitler’s shadow, he, like the compelling comic-book counterpart, yearns to lead HYDRA into a march across the globe. Throughout The First Avenger, his presence marks a big improvement over preceding MCU villains. Thanks to a fun second-act twist, his brutal aesthetic is shown off gloriously. Despite a silly exit from the flick, his plan for world domination, based on ever-expanding technological advancement, makes for an enjoyably charming opposing force.

The Winter Soldier sees Cap facing numerous problems – the will to retire, picking who to trust, his agency’s surveillance hunger etc. Though these issues further develop the character, the physical threats push him to the edge. Of course, The Winter Soldier‘s major antagonist also makes for the franchise’s most intriguing aspect (SPOILERS ahead). Cap. and Black Widow, fresh from being hunted down by SHIELD, discover their organisation has been infected by Red Skull’s HYDRA organisation. This move, making for a significant change for the MCU, was elevated by Robert Redford’s charismatic turn. Unlike most MCU villains, his character crosses the line between despicable and sympathetic. The Winter Soldier, though part of several major twists, is one of the film’s least developed characters. However, his physical and psychological prowess will severely impact Civil War next year.

Unfortunately, these are the two best villains in the MCU’s Phase 2. Iron Man 3 is a fun, engaging flick thanks to Shane Black’s restrained writing and direction. Robert Downey, jr’s Tony Stark, the MCU’s heart and soul, proves, once again, to be the franchise’s most interesting protagonist. The balance between big-budget action and laugh-out-loud moments, not to mention the Ben Kingsley/Mandarin twist, help seal over Iron Man 2‘s gaping foibles. However, slimy industrialist Aldrich Killian, despite the performance from Guy Pearce, marks the template for middle-aged, pissed off caucasian antagonist. Thor: The Dark World‘s problems are worse, with Christopher Eccleston forced to trudge through his role as Malekith the Accursed. Stranded in heavy practical effects, the character is given only a handful of scenes. Meanwhile, Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Ronan the Accuser offers character-actor Lee Pace little to work with. In addition, Corey Stoll’s Darren Cross/Yellowjacket comes off like a carbon copy of Iron Man‘s Stane/Iron Monger character.

mcuDespite said troublesome cast of villainous characters, two antagonists stand out from the underwhelming pack. Ultron, the creation of Tony Stark, is enlivened by two of the industry’s most brilliant people. Part of Age of Ultron‘s monstrous lineup, writer/director Joss Whedon and underrated character-actor James Spader are two of the movie’s high points. Stark, having seen a vision of oncoming chaos and despair, builds the Ultron program to permanently protect the globe. However, Ultron, killing Stark’s computer system JARVIS, goes on a tyrannic rampage against humanity. Unlike other MCU villains, Ultron aids the movie’s thematic arc. What would the world come to if a globe-spanning security system existed? How would varying groups react to it? Who would be in charge? Interesting ideas, along with Spader’s witty, light-hearted performance, make him more nuanced than most AI baddies.

Of course, Loki is the only MCU villain with more than one-and-a-half dimensions. In 2011’s Thor, Loki is the film’s most compelling character. His multi-tier plan involves multiple father figures, Thor, his friends, and his new love interest. Shakespearean in tone and nature, his motivations are guided by a lifetime’s worth of lies and deceit by Odin. His fighting skills and tricks come in handy by the third act. In The Avengers, he expands his goals to include the entire universe. Stealing Hawkeye and the Tesseract, his intentional-capture plot sets the super-troop’s teeth on edge. The final battle, despite the battering received from Hulk, unleashes his advantageous master plan. His presence in The Dark World elevates an already troubled action-adventure flick. Switching personalities and mannerisms, Loki, thanks to the final scene, draws us back for more.

The MCU, close to Phase 3, has several problems in desperate need of fixing. Its villains all fit the same template – angry, middle-aged white guys in need of a long, hard look in the mirror and a Nandos. Saved for the third-act battle, each villain is left primarily to the waste side. It’s a formula that’s still working, but may soon need an upgrade. Don’t worry, only 20 more installments to go.

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2013’s Best and Worst Movies

2013 was one tough, frustrating, and eventful slog of a year! We saw corporations, governments and celebrities taking steep dives into oblivion and irrelevance. We saw sporting greats, politicians, and journalists become idiots, and Ben Affleck redeem himself with a hearty Academy Awards speech. 2013 in cinema was also a mixed bag. The Oscar season drew to a close in spectacular fashion whilst Hollywood comedies hit one new low after another (seriously, don’t ever watch Movie 43!). Over the past couple of years, the internet age has soured our way of analysing movies and expressing opinions. The influx of articles (highlighting the exhaustive amount of set pictures, marketing ploys, trailers, and interviews that come with every Hollywood movie) and fiery internet comment sections have distorted our idea of what big-budget movies could and should be. Some movies bombed miraculously (The Lone RangerAfter Earth) while others soared up into the sky in more ways than one (Iron Man 3, Gravity). I looked back on 2013’s crop of movies to give several of them my own kooky form of gratitude. PS. these lists only include movies I saw at the cinemas, and reviewed, this year despite significant release date shifts.

PPS. Judged specifically between January 1st, 2013 – December 31st, 2013.

Best Movies of 2013

10. Stoker

Pulling us into his spooky yet enrapturing style, South Korean director Park Chan-wook (Oldboy) continues his stellar run with Stoker. This scintillating drama-thriller, dripping with punishing character motivations and sexual awakenings, is one of 2013’s surprise hits. Mia Wasikowska delivers a career-defining performance, along the way. It even brought Nicole Kidman’s acting talents back from the grave. Very spooky, indeed.

9. Flight

From take off to landing, Flight is a profound and enthralling character study. Following Denzel Washington’s depraved yet regret-filled anti-hero, director Robert Zemeckis’ latest drama delves into a life worth salvaging. Peppered with hysterical supporting characters, an intense plane crash sequence, and compelling dialogue moments, Flight soars higher than anyone had anticipated.

8. Django Unchained

Pulling its punches at every correct moment, Django Unchained illustrates that acclaimed writer/director Quentin Tarantino still has what it takes. Proudly earning the Best Original Screenplay Oscar, this spaghetti western ably transition into an African-American revenge fantasy. Chilling performances, a kinetic soundtrack, and excessively powerful blood splatters enhance this comedically frantic romp.

7. Side Effects

Turning up the heat on its morally ambiguous characters, Side Effects caps off director Steven Soderberg’s sterling career with style. His entertaining directorial style, trademarking his many thought-provoking efforts, boosts this disturbing drug-addled drama. Brilliant performances (from Rooney Mara and Jude law, in particular), valuable messages, and a startling attention to detail develop an addictive and infectious psychosexual thriller.


6. Captain Phillips

As the sea-fairing version of United 93Captain Phillips is a tightly edited, claustrophobic, and exhilarating hostage-thriller. Tom Hanks’ emphatic performance as the titular hero earns him yet another Oscar nomination. Excruciatingly tense throughout its taut run-time, the movie places a real-world sheen on the hostage-thriller genre. Credit, of course, goes to director Paul Greengrass for delivering yet another fearless and detailed post-9/11 drama. Despite the intensifying material, this is a profound roller-coaster ride.

5.  Prisoners

Touching upon media-powered fear-mongering and suburbia’s darkest secrets, Prisoners is an intense, expansive, and gripping crime-thriller. With an ingenious narrative and remarkable performances, this kidnap-drama explores one man’s actions during a worse case scenario. Switching it from kidnap-drama to torture-thriller, director Dennis Villeneuve keeps us guessing throughout. In addition, Roger Deakins’ pulsating cinematography lends dimensions and malice to this already engaging drama-thriller.

4. American Hustle

With money, hair, boobs, and attitudes sent flying across morose settings, American Hustle develops one enlightening dialogue sequence after another. Director David O. Russell’s style lends itself to this intricate and enigmatic crime-drama. Based on a bizarre true story, this con-man flick breaks the rules and delivers thrills, laughs, and noteworthy performances. Christian Bale and Amy Adams soar above everyone else in this juicy and scintillating puzzle.

3. Rush

Speeding through Rush‘s purposeful run-time, the two lead characters face off in a heated battle for glory and respect. Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl fill out these roles with passion and, ahem, drive. Acclaimed director Ron Howard builds the tempo with the exhilarating and intensifying race sequences. Ultimately, Rush is a visually stimulating and attentive docudrama. Pushing its narrative with brute force, this enjoyable sports-drama moves at the speed of light.

2. Zero Dark Thirty

Longingly delving into the 21st century’s hottest topic, Zero Dark Thirty is a sickening, honest, and visceral sensory assault. Drawing a line between explosive action-war flick and extensive procedural drama, director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal make for a kinetic and exciting duo. In addition, the final action sequence is worth the price of admission. With intensifying set-pieces, cutting dialogue, and an acute attention to detail, this war-drama deserves repeat viewings.

1. Gravity

Reaching for the stars, Gravity is an engaging, thought-provoking, attentive, and intensifying sci-fi action flick. As edge-of-your-seat entertainment, this sci-fi extravaganza holds steady throughout its taut 90-minute run-time. Director Alfonso Cuaron’s heartening style throws the audience into an engaging survival tale. Unlike most blockbusters, every detail serves a specific and profound purpose. With Sandra Bullock and George Clooney delivering charismatic performances, the heartening story stands up to the electrifying and breath-taking technical achievements. This is cinema at its most ambitious and entertaining!

Honourable Mentions:

The Hunger Games: Catching FireHarry Dean Stanton: Partly FictionLincolnSilver Linings PlaybookLife of Pi

Biggest Surprises:

World War Z2 GunsWarm Bodies, Olympus Has FallenPain & Gain20 Feet from StardomThe Last Stand

Great movies I caught later on:

The ConjuringYou’re Next42Mud

Worst movies of 2013

5. The Great Gatsby

Director Baz Luhrmann, once again, chooses style over substance when bringing a renowned story to the big screen. His version of The Great Gatsby, despite its positive elements, tries and fails to capture Hollywood’s true power. Choosing glitter cannons and anachronistic music cues over efficient story-telling intricacies, Luhrmann frustrated audiences everywhere with this overlong, hollow, and vacuous adaptation. From here on out, he should keep his favourite stories to himself.

4. The Bling Ring

bling-ringSpending 90 minutes with these five mean-spirited, inane, and self-indulgent people is a torturous concept. Add director Sofia Coppola’s undercooked style to the mix, and The Bling Ring becomes even worse. Despite the visual flourishes, Coppola mishandles the bizarre and thought-provoking material. This repetitive, vapid, and uninspiring docu-drama wastes the audience and Emma Watson’s precious time. It’s about as scintillating as watching your bestie go shopping for six hours straight.

3. The Hangover Part 3

As painful and time consuming as an actual hangover, this unnecessary, cynical, and brainless third instalment officially wears out the Hangover series’ welcome. Featuring an underdeveloped heist-thriller plot, useless villains, laugh-less stretches, and screechy supporting characters, this instalment is little more than a made-by-focus-group big-budget comedy. Adding to the already disastrous year for Hollywood comedy, The Hangover Part 3 is an unforgivable, bland and stupefying waste of time, money, and resources.

2. A Good Day to Die Hard

Destroying John McCLane’s good name, A Good Day to Die Hard (2013’s worst movie title) is a silly, forgettable, and torturous action flick. Divorced from the 1986 classic, and even its worthwhile sequels, this series hit an embarrassing new low with this instalment. Sleep-walking through another action movie role, Bruce Willis has all but given up on regaining his charismatic and magnetic former self. However, after this instalment, everyone has given up on him.

1. Machete Kills 

Director Robert Rodriguez needs to take a gigantic step back from the director’s chair after this self-indulgent, cheap, and stupefying sequel. Dragging a good cast and intriguing concepts through the Mexican desert, Machete Kills is an unwelcome and uninspired sequel to an already forgettable original feature. Removed from its faux-trailer roots, the Machete franchise contains only 2-3 minutes of engaging and fun material. Sadly, this movie’s marks this A-list director’s fall from grace. Having once made stunning action flicks, Machete Kills strips him of his valour. For shame!

Dishonourable Mentions:

RiddickNow You See MeHansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

Biggest Disappointments: 

Gangster SquadOnly God ForgivesThe Fifth EstateThe ButlerAmourThe Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Atrocious movies I caught later on:

RIPDAfter EarthThe Lone RangerSpring BreakersKick-Ass 2Identity ThiefThe Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Movie 43, Jack the Giant SlayerThe Family

Best Blockbuster Movie Moments of 2013 (So Far)


Best Blockbuster Movie Moments of 2013 (So Far)

Are the Women in Girls (TV series) Commendable?

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Are the Women in Girls (TV Series) Commendable?

2013 Oscars Wrap-up

Hollywood has now spent 85 years celebrating its own astonishing achievements. What happens when you pat yourself on the back for this long? Do you ignore everyone’s screechy protests or, next time around, cater to the lowest common denominator? This year’s Oscars ceremony tried to have its cake and eat it too. There were some tears, laughs and the occasional tumble on the stage. But it still just wasn’t a particularly rousing event.

Seth Macfarlane had a gargantuan amount of expectations piled on top of him. 2012 was his year- giving him a hit film and the name recognition he deserved. His controversial comedic style and charisma had been brought to the stage many times before. So he should’ve been perfect for this particular event. Unfortunately, he only did a ‘meh’ job. Sure, he was a hoot. His charming grin and unique stance can make anyone feel comfortable. His voice is too a strange comfort. Yet his material on Oscar night flew over everyone’s heads. Normally given 7-8 minutes to introduce the ceremony, the host should try to get in and out succinctly. MacFarlane look close to 20 mins just to prove his point. His hit and miss style didn’t suit an already uptight crowd. Calling out Quentin Tarantino for using the ‘N-word’ in Django Unchained was just too brash. Macfarlane then fell back on Star Trek humour, silly voices and songs (as he always does). His sock puppet re-creation of Flight, however, hit the target. His song ‘we saw your Boobs’ was both vigorous and aided by hilarious audience participation (Naomi Watts chimed in in just the right way).

Academy Awards host Seth MacFarlane.

MacFarlane’s opening, however, was nowhere near as bad as some of the other skits. Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy’s sketch bombed miserably. It wasn’t all bad though. Channing Tatum and Jennifer Aniston put their comedic skills to good use. I suspect, however, that Tatum’s ‘waxing’ quip had something to do with his ‘balls-out’ performance in Magic Mike. With the jokes as hit and miss as the speeches, it was up to The Avengers to once again save the day. Robert Downey jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner and Samuel L. Jackson have obviously developed a significant amount of chemistry. Besides, who doesn’t love seeing Samuel L. Jackson yell at people? The star of the night, however, was James Bond. The tribute, celebrating 50 years of Bond, shook and stirred everyone watching. After a rather confused and schizophrenic montage, Shirley Bassey lit up the stage with her rendition of Goldfinger. Adele also stole the show with her huge yet elegant frame. Her song Skyfall is easily one of the greatest Bond theme songs in the series’ history. Adele then picked up Best Original Song shortly after her performance. It was also the year for celebrating movie musicals. Having been 10 years since Chicago’s best picture win, Richard Gere, Renee Zellwegger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah owned the stage at one point to celebrate its success. Zeta-Jones went one further, however, with a show-stopping rendition of All That Jazz.

The awards themselves were what everyone, both at home and in the Dolby Theatre, was looking forward to. Macfarlane’s quip about the ceremony being similar to church was damn accurate. Everyone waited with baited breath for their name to be called out. The winners in every category were gracious and deserving. Christoph Waltz winning for the second time in four years was fun to watch. The Austrian actor gracefully thanked his peers before paraphrasing Tarantino’s stellar dialogue. Also graceful in victory was Anne Hathaway. Controlled, poised and beautiful; she lit up the stage. She scooped up every supporting actress award leading up to the Oscars for her portrayal of Fantine in Les Miserables. She earned all of them. Jennifer Lawrence shocked the crowd with both her bewildering speech and her trip on the stairs. While Daniel Day-Lewis’ victory speech contained the biggest laugh of the night. Who’d have thought the world’s most intensive actor would have a strong comedic side?

Ben Affleck’s Oscar win.

It was a tough race this year. All 9 Best Picture nominees will stand the test of time. They reached new heights both emotionally and technologically. The nominees had many similarities, yet they were able to branch out and find their own voice. Lincoln and Django Unchained both told stories about slavery, but they had the courage to tackle the subject from different directions. Life of Pi explored the depths of both the ocean and the soul. While Beasts of the Southern Wild, last year’s surprise hit, was a touching look at the human spirit. These films grabbed me when I first saw them and will probably never let go. Zero Dark Thirty was, shamefully, this year’s loser. Director Kathryn Bigelow looked on from the sidelines as Argo scooped up some major awards. Argo was my favourite film of 2012. It is a gripping, tense and occasionally hilarious experience. Its electric dialogue and performances stand proudly next to Ben Affleck’s involving direction. 15 years have passed since he won his first Oscar. Argo’s deserving Best Picture win proves that Affleck is a changed man and a true professional.

Best Part of the night: Argo’s Best Picture win

Worst Part: Rudd and McCarthy’s sketch