Silence Please

When going to the cinema these days it is a sad fact that you have to accept a certain level of disturbance as just ‘par for the course’.  From the rustle of bags, to the munching of popcorn, the annoyingly incontinent person who manages three toilet breaks in 90 minutes, and then whispers, “What did I miss?” on their return to their friend.  These things, sadly, are not only the norm, but are the minor inconvenience compared to the unacceptable things such as the person on the row in front who insists on texting her friend or checking Facebook every 10 minutes, the guys who laugh annoyingly at moments that aren’t even funny, the person behind you who has not only had their feet up, but has chosen to remove their shoes, and the person who insists on adding a commentary to the whole film (“Oh,  he’s behind them and going to jump out!  What will they do?” How about watching the film to find out? If I needed audio description I’d ask for a set of headphones at the box office!)

We all know these frustrations, and some of you out there may even be guilty of providing them.  As a worker within the cinema industry, watching for these on a daily basis has had the result of making me hypersensitive to even the most minor of disruptions, which, as you can imagine, makes attempting to watch a public showing of a film nigh on impossible.   I have lost count of the number of times I’ve ended up missing most of a film as I am too busy asking people to put phones away, be quiet, sit down, or stop kicking the chairs.  I have even become obsessed with counting people out the screen as they go to the toilet, then back in again, occasionally catching screen jumpers sneaking in by doing so.  All of this on my days off work, trying to relax with a film.

So, as a result, I tend to watch private showings for staff or screenings for press instead, especially on the films I am anticipating the most.  You would expect staff and press to have some common courtesy and respect for others watching, as we are all lovers of the art, so wouldn’t want to disturb or disrupt it for anyone.  Surely that is the case?

Well, as I discovered today, sadly that is not always true.  Today (as with a few other times over the years) I encountered a few amateur bloggers for a popular site who seemed to be under the impression that chatting and discussing the film whilst it is playing was, in some way, perfectly acceptable.   Their total disrespect for the rest of us trying to watch the film without the usual disturbances was frustrating, and I can only ponder how much of the film  they were actually taking in for review purposes, and how much they were just there to see the film before anyone else.

Now I understand the taking of notes during a press screening, jotting down important points in a pad, slight rustle of paper and maybe one of those pens with a torch built in so what you write is legible.  But discussion during the film only highlights how little attention you are paying to the scenes you are talking over (which tend to be those boring scenes with, you know, dialogue…otherwise known as the plot).  Save the discussion until after the film, have a pint and chat about what you loved or hated, but during the film keep the noise down…its just professional courtesy.


The Sting in the Tail (or credits)

**The original version of this post was made over at World of Superheroes last summer, but with the release of Age of Ultron, it seemed an opportune moment to re – draft it.**

The post credit sting has become something synonymous with comic-book movies over the past decade, and I find myself spending a lot of time explaining them to others. But why do we have these stings, and indeed are they needed at all?

The sting is a reasonably recent phenomenon – and by ‘recent’ I mean’ within my lifetime, which admittedly may not be classed as recent to others. The first noted use of the sting was in 1979’s The Muppet Movie, and from that point onward it became a common occurrence in comedies. Most of the time it was in order to throw out one last throwback gag, such as at the end of Airplane! (1980) with the passenger in the taxi, still sat waiting for Striker to return (this scene also followed some amusing end credits, which was a particular shtick Zucker, Zucker and Abrahams loved). When Ferris Bueller told people to, “Go home,” at the end of his 1986 film, he was merely retreading what Animal had told us back in 1979.

It was in 1980 that the first occurrence in a comic-book movie was used when Flash Gordon finished with a tease that Alex Raymond’s hero would be back to fight Ming again (sadly, he didn’t – disappointing box office put the stop to that). However, it wasn’t until 2001 that the post credit sting made its way to comic book movies again, and it wasn’t a ‘superhero’ film either. The excellent Ghost World, adapted from the Daniel Clownes comic book, rewarded loyal credit watchers with a fourth wall breaking extra, offering an alternate take on an earlier scene. By this point the sting had become prevalent in comedy and horror films, and had begun branching out into other genres (there were 18 general releases with an end credit sting in 2001). Since then we have seen films such as Daredevil (2003), Hellboy (2004), Blade: Trinity (2004), Constantine (2005), X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), Transformers (2007), and more throw tags on the end of their films, to hint at the future of the franchise – and how we smirk at those which never see a continuation.

In 2008, something changed. Iron Man flew in and thrilled audiences as Marvel set the stage for their grand ideas. Their plans were revealed in a post credit sting that had fanboys and geeks around the world fist-pumping the air in excitement, as Col. Nick Fury (played, of course, by Sam Jackson – him having been the inspiration for the Ultimate version of the character) told Tony Stark about something called ‘the Avengers Initiative’. From that point onward, audiences to Marvel films expected something extra on all their films. Iron Man 2 teased out Thor, which led to Captain America, and then tumbled into The Avengers. The small extra scenes sowing the seeds of the arc, and Avengers itself gave a mid-credit scene showcasing a future villain in the form of Thanos.

But how important are these scenes? Well, to the casual audience member, not very. They usually leave those who don’t know the comic books baffled as to why they just sat through 12 minutes of end credits just to see a hammer/glowing cube in a suitcase/etc. Those are the folk who usually end up asking people like me what it means, and then regretting asking ten minutes later as I am around a quarter of the way through explaining the Infinity Gems (and don’t get me started on those who thought Thanos was Hellboy!) But to us fans, these are juicy nuggets of information. A five second glimpse of a hammer told us that Thor was coming, and things were going to be epic. We knew that one would come to take the hammer, and all manner of Asgardian wonder would ensue. Generally I suggest that if you are a fan, stick around, if not then don’t bother – you can catch it on the DVD release later.

But, there is also confusion. So synonymous with Marvel films the end stings have become, that audiences expect them on films which are Marvel, but not ‘Marvel’ – i.e. X-Men, Spider-Man, and other properties owned by Fox, Sony and the like. Some even expect them on DC films, which results in quite accusatory questions being levied at cinema staff when one doesn’t appear (“Why isn’t there a bit at the end?” “Because the film makers didn’t put one there!” “Really? I find that hard to believe!” – seriously, this happens more often than you would think!) Additional confusion came last year with Amazing Spider-Man 2, which shoehorned in a tease for X-Men: Days of Future Past, which had nothing to do with Spider-Man, but left general audiences expecting a crossover between the two franchises (it was a deal in order for Sony to keep Webb directing the second Spidey outing despite still being under obligation to Fox).

But, confusing or pointless, end credit stings are a big thing now. Recent early viewers of Guardians of the Galaxy at worldwide premiere screenings last year were kept from seeing the sting for that film, Disney/Marvel wanting the secret of the sting to be kept for the opening weekend. Was it worth waiting for? As a fan of Howard the Duck, I thought it was (and I mean the comic book, not that dreadful film from the 80s – seriously, if you’ve never read Howard, give it a shot.   Heck there’s a new comic series out now which is hilarious.)  However many people hated it, and I mean really hated it.  Avengers: Age of Ultron has a small mid-season scene (and it isn’t that fake Spider-Man one that’s been going around), which I look forward to having to explain over the coming weeks (thankfully this time the groundwork has already been laid in explanations of past stings).

Like them or hate them, the sting is here to stay.

Review – Avengers: Age of Ultron

**Warning – minor spoilers**

As strange as it may seem to those who know me, I wasn’t overly excited going into this second team-up of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe characters. Yes, despite being a qualified member of Stan’s Merry Marvel Marching Society, and being somewhat obsessive about the Marvel comics and films, I genuinely lost my excitement over the past month. Don’t be mistaken, I expected it to be as thrilling and action packed as previous outings, but there just wasn’t that high level of anticipation anymore. After all, we’ve come to accept that Marvel can do no wrong, so there is nothing left to hope for as we now have complete trust that they will deliver. Add into that the fact that the recent Netflix Daredevil series has shown what Marvel can genuinely achieve without any studio interference, and Avengers just seems another chapter in the ongoing film franchise. Suffice to say, the film delivered exactly as expected and whilst it was yet another great entry into the series, it was nothing more than that. Maybe Marvel have already peaked with the first Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy, and to expect them to deliver more than those films is crazy. Maybe so, but it is safe to say Age of Ultron is a crowd-pleasing, action packed adventure, and nothing more.

The film kicks off right into the thick of action as the team are on a mission to take out a HYDRA base (yes, there are still HYDRA bases around, as anyone keeping up with Agents of SHIELD will already know) and retrieve Loki’s staff. We get to quickly see how the team have learned to use each other’s abilities in unison to function as a whole, and we also get to see how Hulk is tamed by Natasha. Post mission analysis on Loki’s staff reveals that the core of the gem could provide the solution to an AI problem that Stark has – how to activate the Ultron plan for an automated peacekeeping force. However, activation of the AI leads to unfortunate results as Ultron determines that humankind must evolve or die, and thus declares war on the planet. Added to the mix are the twins, Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, one with the power of super-speed, and one with telekinesis and mind control/manipulation powers. Together they will confuse and manipulate the Avengers, turning them against each other.


From the offset, there is a bit of a flaw with this new entry into the Marvel Cinematic timeline, as it appears that all the events of Iron Man 3 have been forgotten, and Tony’s arc in that film (traumatised after seeing an alien fleet, clamouring to build lots of defence drones to combat any menace, but to then realise that none of it matters as the man inside the suit is more important) seems pointless as we start to repeat his paranoia again, thus leading to the creation of Ultron. It does beg the question, why did they not actually introduce the Ultron program in Iron Man 3, and then springboard it to life in this film (much as Loki was introduced in Thor, then made sense as a villain in Avengers). The result is a sudden burst of exposition to pluck the Ultron concept out of thin air, as well as another project that suddenly pops up that came from no-where, and a film that is a series of action set pieces held together by a ropey plot. Now, I’m aware that Marvel films have always been scant on plot (heck, there are articles online that highlight how Guardians of the Galaxy is exactly the same film as Avengers), and what matters most is the action and the wit, but is this right and should we accept it? Surely if the films are just going to progress to be a series of bigger, more spectacular explosions, then it is weakening what is so important about Marvel’s comic stories. Maybe it is more the fact that this current team of Avengers are far too familiar now, and it just seems there isn’t anything new to claw at. Phase 3 will hopefully inject that aura of anticipated excitement again as new characters and histories come to the franchise in Ant-Man, Black Panther, and Doctor Strange. With the next team up (Infinity War) being a two-parter, I only hope that it does take time to grow a story rather than just throw lots of things into the mix and hope the action distracts the audience from the weak exposition.

Reading back through that paragraph I’m aware that it may seem that I didn’t enjoy the film, but far from it, I was caught up in the moment and loved the banter between the team, and there were some excellent sub-elements that worked really well. Clint ‘Hawkeye’ Barton, for example, who was extremely short-changed on the last film, here gets possibly the best role in the film. Close behind is Natasha ‘Black Widow’ Romanoff, whose past we explore a bit more, and her relationship with Banner in and out of Hulk mode too. The Maximoff twins are superb additions, as is Vision (who comes into play in the latter half of the film), and I look forward to seeing more of those characters in future films. But the general story feels like an afterthought, and doesn’t end the second phase in the same manner the first Avengers film did. In fact it feel more like a set-up for Phase 3, with hints and nods toward what is to come, which unfortunately means that Ultron feels short-changed in his villain role. The menace we saw in the trailer seems somewhat subdued in the end product, and whilst the safety of the world is still in jeapordy, it feels like ‘just another day at the office’ for the team. Even the attempt to divide the group and turn them on each other doesn’t really have the impact it promised, although maybe Civil War will work that one better.


All in all, the film just feels like it was made just because the fans wanted another team up, yet it delivers much less than Iron Man 3 or Winter Soldier did, and fails to feel like it is pushing the overall story forward any further. For fans of comics there are a smattering of nods and references to keep a keen eye out for, some subtle (Jocasta), some blatant (Klaw), and there is a mid credit sequence that comic book fans will hate simply because they now have to spend the next year or so explaining it to the non fans (seriously, why do non fans stick around for these sequences? They won’t understand the reference, and will just be confused!)

If I was to score the film, I’d give it a firm 7 or 8 out of 10, with the action, excitement, and characters all working, even if the overall story doesn’t quite make it.

Review: Marvel’s Daredevil (TV Series)

Anticipation for this series, the first of Netflix’s Marvel productions, has been high.  Even staunch defenders of the Ben Affleck starring film from 2003 have been willing to admit that film didn’t quite have the right tone, and the promise by Netflix that the series would be dark, gritty, and more adult toned than other current Marvel films or shows was embraced well by the fan community.  Early news on casting and those first publicity shots confirmed that the show was going to be inspired by Frank Miller’s The Man Without Fear run on the character, which led to confusion from those who only knew the classic red devil costume, but excitement from those wanting a fitting origin tale.  The closer and closer the show got to release, the greater the anticipation, which built to such a level that it was highly possible the show wouldn’t live up to expectations.  The good news is that it not only lives up to the promises, but it actually exceeds them.

For the uninitiated, this series is a part of the core Marvel Cinematic Universe output, which , means it is set within the same timeline as Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Avengers, Agents of SHIELD, and any future films or shows created by the core Marvel brand (films such as X-Men and Fantastic Four are not a part of this universe being currently under creative control of 20th Century Fox). Whilst set within the same world and time as those fantastical films, Daredevil turns it’s eye on the seedy underbelly of criminal society, and aside from subtle references (newspaper clippings about events on the wall of journalist Ben Urich, or throwaway lines about the incident which caused property damage) the series doesn’t venture into the same territory, and thus doesn’t require any prior knowledge of the films in order to watch. In addition, the show is a lot more brutal than Marvel’s other output, and in the UK it warrants a 15 rating due to the graphic nature of the violence, so it is definitely not for kids.

The whole series is set over a short period of time, the thirteen episodes feeling less like a TV series and more like a 13 hour movie.  The origin of the character is explored via occasional flashbacks, and unlike the film we don’t jump in with a fully trained and skilled vigilante, but a rough edged masked man who is still ironing out his skills. As the series progresses we discover more about his abilities, and also meet a plethora of characters who will have importance in defining the hero that he will eventually become (because, after all, we know that he will become Daredevil, crimson mask and all, by the end of it).


The core cast of Daredevil

A good story needs strong characters, and when it comes to film and television a strong character needs good casting. It is a rare occasion when fault cannot be found in even one member of a cast line-up, there is usually at least one person who you feel could have been better selected. However each and every member of the cast for this series, from the lead roles to the support characters, excels at their duty and truly embodies the characters from the comic series. In the lead role as Matt Murdock is Charlie Cox, who has a charm befitting of the lawyer role, and also convinces as the man in the mask. Thankfully the decision was also made not to add a gruff voice when garbed as the costumed vigilant, unlike the Affleck version (and, indeed, other costumed crusaders on screen). Thus we don’t find ourselves chuckling at strained dialogue delivery, instead Cox gets to really project into the role. In addition, the delivery of his whole role as a blind character is well researched and rehearsed. No strange cross-eyed looks or random staring at ceilings (sorry Affleck, but that was a tad amusing), instead it all seems natural staring ahead into space, never distracting or forced. Around him his close support comes from Deborah Woll as Karen Page, a client with a secret past who Matt helps and then hires, and Eldon Henson as Foggy Nelson, Matt’s close friend and law partner. The trio play well on screen together, and the relationship between Matt and Foggy in particular feels genuine and convincing.

However, the true gem in the core roles of the series comes from Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk, a role who could have been played as purely menacing and gruff, but instead is depicted in such a soft spoken and sometimes empathetic manner that you occasionally find yourself rooting for him. Taking this approach works well to help the audience understand how so many people could be taken in by his charm, and how he manages to convince people he is a well intentioned philanthropist and not one of the top men in the criminal underworld. His history is explored in one episode, offering some insight into what drives a man to become such a force, and in addition the burgeoning relationship with an art gallery worker named Vanessa (Ayelet Zurer) helps humanise the character. We are gradually introduced to Fisk by name only until the third episode, but when we meet him we see the charming man he could be, and the brutal machine he is.

The rest of the cast, from Vondie Curtis-Hall as Ben Urich and Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple, to Matt Gerald as Melvyn Potter or Scott Glenn as Stick all help round out the proceedings, and fans of the comics will find no fault in the representations of any of the array of characters brought into the very tightly woven series.

The production as a whole is ominously dark not only in tone but in looks, with lens filters casting shadow on scenes, lending well to ensure the show makes clear that this is the gritty underbelly of Marvel society. But there are light moments, and small moments of wit and relief to break the tension. A quick mention must be made of the opening titles. As some folk know I am a fan of a strong opening title sequence, and in recent years shows such as Game of Thrones, Dexter, Hannibal, and the pilot for Man in the High Castle have been amongst the finest examples of title sequences that, regardless of how many times you have already watched them, you always feel you should sit and watch again. Daredevil, with its crimson liquid moulding out a segment of city, with blind justice and Daredevil bookending the piece is a majestic sequence to watch.

All in all, Daredevil is an example of how strong Marvel shows can be without the restrictions that network TV places on episodes and content. Using the Netflix model allows them to delve into darker areas that commercial stations would struggle with, and as a result the show has laid the groundwork for what should prove to be an excellent future in the ‘Defenders’ project.

Review: John Wick

In this post-Taken landscape many films have tried to emulate what made that film about a guy with a particular set of skill work, and pretty much all of them haven’t come close to it (especially the laboured sequels).  So, when a film is announced which will see a retired hitman seeking revenge against those who stole his car and killed his puppy, you would be forgiven if you initially laughed and then dismissed the whole idea as ridiculous.  With first time director who was previously a stunt-man things got worse.  Then the casting of Keanu Reeves in the lead role was the perfect finishing touch to confirm the film would be a disaster.  However, against such odds, John Wick instead defied all expectations to be one of the best revenge thriller films since Old Boy (the original adaptation, not the reasonably good remake).

John Wick, played by Reeves in cold and calculated mode, retired from his profession as a hitman for the underworld in order to settle down with the woman he loved.  Five years on, his wife passes away and part of her will gifts him a puppy for him to care for and help with his grief.  Unfortunately the son of a Russian mob boss, Iosef (Alfie Allen, who most will recognise from his role as Theon Greyjoy in Game of Thrones) takes a liking to John’s car (a 69 Mustang, so you can understand the desire) and decides to steal it, not knowing who the owner is.  During the theft Wick is beaten and left lying next to the corpse of his puppy, and thus begins his return to his former self as he sets about tracking down those who stole from him and killed his dog.


What works so well in this film is that at the start we, the audience, have no idea of the reputation Wick has.  Much like Iosef, we dismiss him as a quiet, unassuming guy who poses no threat.  It is as the revenge plays out and we see the reactions of those who he worked with and for that we start to understand why taking anything from him was a bad idea.  Over the course of the film, Wick goes from reluctantly seeking retribution, to fully embracing his old lifestyle, and seemingly enjoying the hunt and the kill.  Reeves, who can rarely be called anything other than an average actor, is perfect in the role as his cold, blank, emotionless expression matches the dark nature of John Wick.  In addition, the action (and there is plenty of it) benefits from Reeves’ years of training since he worked on The Matrix, and the director Chad Stahelski worked as a stunt coordinator on those films along with David Leitch who is uncredited  as a co-director on this film.  Well choreographed action that doesn’t resort to fast cuts and close up shots is refreshing to see these days, and the swift and brutal violence is sometimes poetic to watch.

The support cast lend well to the proceedings, with Michael Nyqvist as Viggo,  the head of the Russian mob, particularly standing out.  His previous knowledge and admiration for Wick makes it almost seem like the character is choosing between two sons when he has to decide whether to allow Wick to complete his revenge.  Throw in the likes of Willem Dafoe as a sniper who worked closely with Wick in the past, Adrianne Palicki as a hired assassin, and Ian McShane as Winston, the owner of the Continental hotel (a safe zone for all agents and assassins where business is conducted without threat), and a script that knows when to drop some subtle humour to break the tension, and the result is a tightly plotted and well woven revenge piece in the style of Hong Kong action films such as A Better Tomorrow, or The Killer.

John Wick is a fine example of why Reeves shouldn’t be dismissed because of flops of recent years, and also shows that there is still life in the revenge thriller despite how dull other franchises have made it out to be.  The only disappointment is that in the UK we had to wait 6 months after the US release to finally get to see it.

Review: The Voices

Ryan Reynolds gets a fair bit of flak from the online community, which much of it is undeserved.  Yes, it is fair to say his turn in X-Men Origins: Wolverine was less than stellar, and Green Lantern missed the mark, but let’s not forget his intense performance in Buried, or indie films such as The Nines.   Whilst it seems that blockbuster roles don’t quite work out for the actor (with the exception of rom – com outings), you can’t deny that he has quite a range when it comes to the smaller roles.  So, when you hear that he is going to play a mentally unstable serial killer in a charmingly twisted black comedy, it is quite easy to get excited.


The Voices starts off quite pleasantly as we are introduced to Reynolds’ Jerry, a socially awkward but loveable worker at a bathtub company in a small backwater town.  Living in a flat over a bowling alley with his two pets, a cat named Mr Whiskers and a dog named Bosco, he pines over one of his co-workers (Gemma Arterton as Fiona).  However Jerry also hears voices, generally from his pets.  Mr Whiskers is found mouthed and abusive, belittling him and encouraging Jerry to do bad things whilst Bosco is the calming influence telling him how great he is and how much he matters to the world.  You see Jerry has a history of mental health issues, as did his mother before him, and he’s recently stopped taking his medication which has led to the voices and hallucinations taking over.  The results of the actions prove to be deadly.

Reynolds is immensely likeable throughout the film, even when at his most deranged moments, and despite his actions you can’t help but sympathise with him.  Also providing the voices for the animals who speak to him (including a deer which runs into his truck), the result is a genuine impression that Jerry is arguing with various aspects of his own personality, and drastically trying to make sense of everything.  All of this is aided by some marvellous visual choices and direction.  Jerry’s flat looks like the all American dream, until we get glimpses of what it looks like in reality rather that through Jerry’s eyes.

Support casting from the likes of Anna Kendrick as Lisa, another co-worker who has a crush on Jerry, help round out the proceedings, as does a well chosen soundtrack which includes a turn by an Elvis impersonator, and a song and dance number over the end credits.  The end result is a film that treads the line carefully to retain just the right balance of humour, drama, and dread to work, and shows once more how Reynolds is much more than ‘that Van Wilder guy’.