Film Review: X-Men: Apocalypse

The X-Men series has always been a mixed bag, with the movies getting some things right (the casting of two generations of Xavier and Magneto, the Deadpool movie, Hugh Jackman as Wolverine) and some things rather wrong (pretty much everything in X-Men: Origins: Wolverine, Emma Frost). This continues to be the case here, with the movie succeeding but in a frustrating manner.

image

Picking up a few years after Days of Future Past in the early 80s, it finds a world where human and mutant relations are still tense but improving. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) continues to run with his school, isolated from the world and helping his students master their powers.

Former friend turned enemy Erik Lehnsherr aka Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is in hiding in Poland, where he lives a quiet life with his wife and daughter. But when he uses his powers to save a co-worker’s life he is exposed and tragedy follows.

The tragedy makes him vulnerable to the influence of a new threat. Having lain dormant since Ancient Egypt, the world’s first mutant En Subah Nur (Oscar Isaac), has returned. He plans to cleanse the weak from the Earth and rule, and to aid him he gathers four followers, mutants whose powers he enhances. This earns him the nickname Apocalypse.

image

Apocalypse

He recruits Magneto along with a winged cage fighter Angel (Ben Hardy), Psylocke (Olivia Munn) a violent psychic who can create weapons from psychic energy and a young thief with powers over the weather, Storm (Alexandra Shipp).

Apocalypse’s return is felt around the world, including by Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) a powerful telepath at the school, who has nightmarish dreams of what he plans.

Fearing for Erik, shape changer Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) returns to the school along with the teleporting Nightcrawler (Jodi Smit-McPhee) who she rescued from a mutant fighting ring. She wants Xavier’s help, and is reunited with Hank McCoy aka Beast (Nicholas Hoult), her former lover with whom things remain tense.

Charles’ power draws the attention of Apocalypse who kidnaps him, and the mansion is destroyed in the process. The US military then captures Mystique, Beast and Quicksilver (Evan Peters).

Nightcrawler joins Jean and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and they attempt to rescue their friends and work out how they can stop Apocalypse, if they can. What are his plans for Xavier? Can the inexperienced heroes save the day? And is Charles’ faith in Erik’s goodness misplaced?

Quite complicated stuff, right? And that’s one of the movie’s strengths and weaknesses. The plot is quite involving and there are quite a few interesting subplots and character arcs, but because of this a few are a little undercooked, even with the movie clocking in at over two hours (it doesn’t feel that long to be fair), it’s hard for all the aspects to get a fair crack.

This means that while some parts work perfectly, others are frustratingly underdeveloped and some just flat out fail. I’ll focus on what works first.

The casting is solid across the board and the returning players like Lawrence, Hoult, Peters, McAvoy and Fassbender all know what they’re doing and have a good feel for their roles, with Lawrence in particular impressing as a conflicted, lost Mystique who struggles with being regarded as a mutant hero.

It’s a strong performance, with Lawrence managing to capture the character’s fears and inner turmoil well without lurching into moping and she also shows the character developing into a badass leader, her own experiences helping her rally the younger mutants she finds herself in charge of.

The character of Quicksilver is vastly different from his comic book counterpart, but works well with Evan Peters making him a likeable slacker who gets one of the film’s best action sequences and who exudes an easy charm.

Hoult is good in the role of Hank McCoy, even though as a fan of the comics I hate that they’ve made the Beast a bit of a wet blanket and moper. If they reboot the series, could we please have the chatty, happy beast from the comics?

Several of the newcomers do well, particularly Tye Sheridan who gets to play a relaxed, impulsive Cyclops although the movie shows him starting on the road to being the serious leader he becomes. He shares decent chemistry with Sophie Turner, who is very good as the confident Jean Grey.

While his performance as Magneto is great, capturing the rage and power of the character, Michael Fassbender is let down by the storyline he gets. While his anger and decision to join Apocalypse is understandable, it doesn’t feel completely convincing especially as the plan unfolds. Apocalypse’s plan is so awful it’s hard to imagine that Magneto would sign up so easily.

Similarly dealt a poor hand is the character of Storm who has been criminally misused in all the X-films. While Alexandra Shipp looks the part more and carries herself with more badass flair than Halle Berry ever managed her storyline is woefully executed. A neat trick is used to have Apocalypse use their language barrier to trick her as to her intentions, but it takes her far too long to realise that he’s a wrong ‘un. And her decision to come good is late in coming and inspired by one minor act rather than the mass destruction that proceeds it.

image

Shipp looks the part at least

The character is horribly underwriiten, and while an improvement, it’s annoying to see a strong, leading lady of the team relegated to the sidelines once more.

Storm becoming a good guy isn’t a spoiler is it?

Now the villain, Apocalypse has serious powers and his “strong survive” attitude is a good motivation but he feels like a watered down version of the books character and the look doesn’t quite work for me. His posturing and view of himself as a godlike figure makes him a good villain, as does his callous streak. But it felt like something was missing, particularly how quickly he wins over his horsemen.

All in all it’s a frustrating watch, with some massively entertaining sequences and a crowd pleasing cameo (which only confuses the timeline more) and some good performances, but the missteps jar you out of it and the timeline of the films is now so muddled none really work, although they seem to have decided to pretty much erase X-Men: Origins: Wolverine from the continuity, which is a good thing.

The formation of a new team is bound to make fanboys happy and it just about works, but after the excellent Days of Future Past this is a step backwards. Entertaining, but it feels rushed and underdeveloped. It might actually have been worth making this a two partner, to fully explore the characters and maybe have the changes have more weight and reason behind them.

It keeps you hooked, and there are great fights, a few laughs and some nice moments, but those problems gnaw at you and stop you fully going with it.

image

Verdict: Hit and miss heroics. Some nice touches and solid performances carry it through, but there are quite a few flaws and the characters are underdeveloped. On the whole it just about wins out. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Ex-Purgatory by Peter Clines

Peter Clines’ superheroes vs zombies series goes from strength to strength, with this, the fourth installment seeing him go in an interesting and clever new direction.

image

George Bailey is a janitor at a university who leads a dull life. At night he is plagued by dreams of a different world, a world filled with the undead, where he fights as a flying hero. When a mysterious girl approaches him warning that something is wrong and things are not what they seem he attempts to brush it off, but soon he begins seeing visions of the dead, ruined world intruding on his life.

And there are people who seem oddly familiar to him appearing in real life.

Is George cracking up or is more going on? If this isn’t the real world how does he remember what’s true? How does he get back to his real life? And how was he expelled in the first place?

I really dug this book. As the premise is a big change in tone and his creation of the alternate reality is inspired, with clever little nods and hints of the real world bleeding through. These are drip fed throughout and there’s also a clever angle of them having blocks in place. They blank on the name “zombie” in the dream world, and George’s subconscious keeps trying to give him hints towards the truth.

Of course, we know he’s really a superhero, but Clines does a great job I’m capturing the unease as doubt of the character. It’s a bar more complicated look inside the head of George than in the earlier books and shows that Clines’ series is developing.

The revelation of what’s really happening is handled deftly and there’s some cracking action sequences. All in all this is a clever, fun and gripping read and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Verdict: Full of invention and fun the series keeps getting better and this is hugely entertaining geeky gem. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

This is a fantastic and fascinating read from Ronson, a writer I’ve admired for a while (in the past he’s covered conspiracy theories and the business of mental health) and it sees him tackle a serious problem of the social media age, public shaming and Twitter mobs.

image

Ronson begins with the story of a spam bot on Twitter under his name, he talks to the inventors who refuse to budge and then backtrack when the story is public and Twitter trashes them. He admits to enjoying this, seeing it as a form of social justice, the community calling out wrongdoing. As bigoted columnists get taken down too, all seems well, and Ronson wonders if this shaming could be a new force for good.

And so he digs, interviewing those who have been shamed- a writer exposed of faking quotes, a man making a lame joke at a conference who was photographed and shared online and a woman who tweeted a poorly worded joke, boarded a flight and landed to a storm that claimed her job and shook her life.

Over the course of the book Ronson examines how shame works, investigates how it’s best to ride out a scandal and questions what motivates the public to pile on somebody’s error. He starts to realise this isn’t the community rallying, but an online lynch mob, out for blood.

It’s a great read, witty and well observed, with Ronson exhibiting genuine warmth and compassion as he interviews the various players. He delves into his own feelings about the shaming and investigates the fall out for the victims.

Like his other books he starts with a simple concept and branches out, coming at it from different angles and examining different aspects. It’s interesting to hear from both sides and to realise just how savage the online world can be.

I blazed through it in days and it does make you think about social media and how quick it is to condemn, and how quickly it can escalate. Some of the stories are sad, some frustrating but there are moments of humanity and warmth and it’s well worth reading, if only because it might help you pause before you hit “send” when the next social media boogeyman appears.

Verdict: A clever and well written look at public shaming and it’s impact. Ronson looks at it from various angles and confronts his own role in the cycle, and it’s the kind of book that provides you with considerable food for thought. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Gunthar and the Devil From Beyond by Steve Dilks

This is the third of Gunthar’s adventures I’ve read and while it’s still got flaws, Dilks appears to be developing as a writer. Here the sword wielding hero finds himself in a foreign kingdom where the King has fallen under the influence of a mysterious astronomer and a dancing girl at court is tormented by visions of a demon.

image

Gunthar helps a fleeing girl and winds up in trouble with the guards. It also brings him to the attention of a sorcerer who fears an outlander will ruin his plans. Gunthar is attacked by a demon,narrowly escaping thanks to the actions of a mysterious new ally and they decide that they must act to stop the forces of darkness taking control.

What I liked about this book was that the action is handled rather well, with the fight scenes having real energy and Dilks including just the right amount of detail. Not too bloody, but not utterly neutered.

There are also some nice touches in having Gunthar out of his depth, but the character is still underwritten and some of the dialogue a tad stilted, but as a quick, easy read it works, unfolding at a good piece and keeping the action coming. The plot, basic as it is, works well and is engaging enough.

Verdict: The series continues to improve, and while this is far from perfect it’s still a fun enough read. The characters could be better but as a quick, brief book it works. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Zootropolis

The latest Disney animated movie Zootropolis (AKA Zootopia in the States) is an utter gem which continues a fine run of form for the studio in recent years. It works as a hugely entertaining family film packed with adventure and laughs, set in a gorgeous, inventive world and manages to touch on some more serious issues. It’s a film that works for the whole family and I loved it.

image

Set in a world of anthropomorphic mammals who have set aside their former predator and prey instincts to live in harmony much of the action takes place in the eponymous city, which is designed to cater for all the different animals. With old instincts pushed aside the message is that anyone can be anything.

A strong believer in this is Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) a small town bunny who realises her dream of being a police officer, the first rabbit officer in the force. Idealistic and eager she is disappointed when her superior officer Bogo (Idris Elba) puts her on parking duty, while there are several unsolved missing mammal cases she could help with.

image

Idealist- Judy Hopps

Judy’s first day goes well until she helps Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) a fox. She helps him out but discovers later that he is a hustler who played her, and his cynical attitude dampens her spirits and leaves her questioning her decision to move to the city.

On parking duty again she chases a thief who has stolen flower bulbs from a florist and gives chase, apprehending the suspect but receiving a reprimand from Bogo. When the wife of a missing otter talks to Bogo, Judy interrupts and offers to find him. Bogo gives her 48 hours after which she has to resign if unsuccessful.

There is very little to go on, but a clue links the missing otter to Nick, so Judy tracks him down and using a recording and the threat of prison, blackmails him into helping her. They begin to investigate, finding a trail which leads them to the mob, and then onwards to a secret facility where the missing animals are imprisoned, all having gone savage. This is being kept hidden by Mayor Lionheart (J.K. Simmons).

Why are the animals regressing to their beastly roots? Is someone responsible, and why? And what does it mean for Zootropolis’ peaceful way of life?

I loved this movie because it manages to mix elements of a buddy movie with a film noir style plot of corruption and conspiracy, and keeps the jokes flowing throughout. The plot is smart, and while one big reveal is easy to spot for the grownups, it’s still an involving story, and it unfolds at a decent pace with the trail being built by our heroes.

The characters are great, especially the central duo of Judy and Nick. Judy’s optimism at the start could grate, but it’s to the credit of the writers and Goodwin’s performance that it doesn’t. She’s an idealist and has a moment of doubt, but she’s shown early on to be nobody’s fool and her drive and smarts make her a likeable and engaging heroine.

It helps that she has Bateman’s roguish Nick to bounce off, and the verbal sparring between the two is fantastic. That this develops into friendship and affection isn’t surprising, but the scenes between the two fizz and crackle with energy and humour.

image

The roguish Nick.

They spark off each other well and as the movie progresses they both start to change each other, and develop into a decent crime fighting duo.

The rest of the characters work well too, with Elba doing well as the traditional grumpy police chief.

image

Bogo, grouch

Some are a little one note but they all work, especially Tommy Chong’s hippie yak, the mob boss Mr. Big and Flash (Raymond S. Persi) a comically slow sloth.

There are also some cute sight gags from the cityscape of different animals and it drew repeated “aww” sounds from MWF.

The story moves along at pace and the characters are fun and entertaining, but it’s the film’s themes which were a pleasant surprise. Stereotyping, prejudice and mob mentality are all issues that arise and it’s good to see a kid’s film that addresses these. At the start Judy is the victim of stereotyping, dismissed as a dumb, cute bunny, but despite questioning her parents for their narrow minded views she unwittingly shows the same later, in regards to Nick and others. The difference is that when she realises her mistake, she tries to change and this is an important thing.

The plot hinges on making a section of the population the enemy, demonised so that the majority have a force to work against, even if it means that innocent animals are victims along the way. As Donald Trump and the media demonise Muslims, it’s good to see a kid’s film that shows you can’t judge an entire group on a few bad eggs and that the poor treatment of the innocent is always wrong. It’s a good message for kids, and the movie does it without hammering it home too heavily.

In summary, this is a cracking family film which will entertain all ages and which combines character, humour and adventure to great effect. Disney are on a roll, and long may it continue.

Verdict: Fun, smart and gorgeous, this is a great family film with a simple, involving plot a great heroic duo and which touches on some important issues without losing sight of the fun. Wonderful. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Big Bliss, Mixed Feelings

I’ve written before about the fact that MWF and I watch a lot of wedding shows on TV (here and here) and while we took a break after getting a bit of a wedding overdose we still stick on Say Yes To The Dress from time to time.

They’ve added another spin-off recently (joining Atlanta, Bridesmaids and Canada, with a UK based version on the horizon too) and we caught our first episode today. The show is called Say Yes To The Dress: Big Bliss.

The difference with the latest offering is that it exclusively features plus sized brides. This is kinda cool as it shows that a perfect wedding isn’t just the preserve of thinner women and it’s probably inspiring and reassuring for the curvier ladies out there.

image

Also the staff featured are lovely, and treat their customers with kindness and sensitivity.

These are all good things, and I’m glad to see that body diversity is being addressed and celebrated. Both here and on the other TLC show Curvy Brides.

image

While I applaud this there is something that nags at me about these shows.

Why do the plus size brides have to be exiled to their own little boxes? Why couldn’t Say Yes just feature more body types on their original shows?

It feels like while it’s a step forward in acceptance of body diversity it’s not a massive one, and it still sets curvier women on the outside, as being “different” and not letting them join the party properly.

I’m glad the new show exists, but it’s kinda sad that the “mainstream” show doesn’t include different body types. Still, a small step forward is still progress.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Votey McVotefarce (see what I did, there?)

Yesterday was election day here in the UK, with the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and English councils being decided. There were also mayoral elections in London and other cities.

As a lecturing do-gooder I urged my “friends” on social media to get down to the polls and vote, but at least I didn’t write a whole blog about it this time.

Election day is full of frustration as people whine about how pointless the whole thing is. If I hear that “if voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal” quote one more time I will explode. It’s almost as bad as the “all are bad as each other” argument. Really? You’re putting the Greens, who want us to look after nature, at the same level as Britain First, a bunch of moronic racists?

image

There are clearly parties that are worse than others, and that you disagree with less, so you have a preference. State it! At the very least your vote will diminish the numbers for the part you like least, and they may loose their deposit.

So, your vote does matter, and you should use it!

Although it is hard making this argument as after a day devoted to democracy the government then torpedoed a vote.

You probably heard that earlier this it was decided that the UK needed a new Arctic research boat. No big deal, but then it caught fire, because of the arrival of a well intentioned idiot, who decides that the population would get to suggest and vote for the name of the ship.

This is the British public who love a laugh and chance to take the mickey. This was a free vote, and the British public have illustrated that they will pay for this opportunity. Don’t believe me? Jedward, Irish talent voids made it to 6th place on the X Factor!

image

So, after a few suggestions of questionable names, one took on a life of it’s own.

Boaty McBoatface.

You can see why it took off. It was silly without being offensive, and it does make you smile. The first time.

It gained steam and stormed to an impressive lead, prompting some to complain that it was an insult to arctic researchers, demeaning and awkward to use on the radio.

So, democracy wins, launch Boaty McBoatface!

Ummm, no.

They decided it was silly and named it Sir David Attenborough.

Now, I have nothing but affection and respect for Sir David. Don’t all Brits? But it seems unfair to ignore the will of the people, even if it is a name we don’t object to.

image

No disrespect, sir.

If you ask for a vote you have to honour it. It’s your fault that you didn’t put in some kind of selection process or filter, you left the door open and the jokers stormed in. Deal with it.

Anyway, rant over. Despite my ire can we stop the Boaty McBoatface gags now? It’s all played out.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Votey McVotefarce (see what I did there?)

Yesterday was election day here in the UK, with the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and English councils being decided. There were also mayoral elections in London and other cities.

As a lecturing do-gooder I urged my “friends” on social media to get down to the polls and vote, but at least I didn’t write a whole blog about it this time.

Election day is full of frustration as people whine about how pointless the whole thing is. If I hear that “if voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal” quote one more time I will explode. It’s almost as bad as the “all are bad as each other” argument. Really? You’re putting the Greens, who want us to look after nature, at the same level as Britain First, a bunch of moronic racists?

image

There are clearly parties that are worse than others, and that you disagree with less, so you have a preference. State it! At the very least your vote will diminish the numbers for the part you like least, and they may loose their deposit.

So, your vote does matter, and you should use it!

Although it is hard making this argument as after a day devoted to democracy the government then torpedoed a vote.

You probably heard that earlier this it was decided that the UK needed a new Arctic research boat. No big deal, but then it caught fire, because of the arrival of a well intentioned idiot, who decides that the population would get to suggest and vote for the name of the ship.

This is the British public who love a laugh and chance to take the mickey. This was a free vote, and the British public have illustrated that they will pay for this opportunity. Don’t believe me? Jedward, Irish talent voids made it to 6th place on the X Factor!

image

So, after a few suggestions of questionable names, one took on a life of it’s own.

Boaty McBoatface.

You can see why it took off. It was silly without being offensive, and it does make you smile. The first time.

It gained steam and stormed to an impressive lead, prompting some to complain that it was an insult to arctic researchers, demeaning and awkward to use on the radio.

So, democracy wins, launch Boaty McBoatface!

Ummm, no.

They decided it was silly and named it Sir David Attenborough.

Now, I have nothing but affection and respect for Sir David. Don’t all Brits? But it seems unfair to ignore the will of the people, even if it is a name we don’t object to.

image

No disrespect, sir.

If you ask for a vote you have to honour it. It’s your fault that you didn’t put in some kind of selection process or filter, you left the door open and the jokers stormed in. Deal with it.

Anyway, rant over. Despite my ire can we stop the Boaty McBoatface gags now? It’s all played out.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Captain America: Civil War

WARNING! A few spoilers ahead.

First things first, not sure this should be classed as a Captain America movie as it feels more like an Avengers thing, and MWF agrees with me on this. But as the MCU continues to grow they knock this one out of the park with an epic movie which will have lasting impact on the characters.

image

The plot deals with a rift forming between the Avengers. After Captain America (Chris Evans) leads a mission in Nigeria that results in the death of several civilians the Avengers have to deal with the question of accountability. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), struggling with guilt and the responsibility of being Iron Man, agrees to a UN charter which would see the Avengers being under stricter rules.

The deal is proposed to the team by Secretary of State Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt), last seen in The Incredible Hulk. And the rift forms, with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Vision (Paul Bettany) and War Machine (Don Cheadle) agreeing to sign while Cap expresses concerns and doubts, echoed by Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Wanda Maximoff AKA the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen).

image

Tony and Steve debate.

During a signing of the accord attended by Black Widow, a bomb is detonated killing the King of Wakanda, the African nation where Vibranium is produced (what Cap’s shield and Ultron were made of). The bomb is believed to be the work of the Winter Soldier AKA Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Cap’s old friend who was frozen and brainwashed as an assassin.

Cap and Falcon go after Bucky, to safely bring him in and work out what’s going on. But they encounter resistance from the new Wakandan king T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), who is the current untry’s protector under the name Black Panther. After a fight and chase all four are arrested by local forces and War Machine.

image

The Black Panther arrives

Meanwhile, a shady figure known as Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) has been looking into the details of the Winter Soldier and arrives at the facility holding Bucky and conducts an interview as a psychologist. He then triggers Bucky and stages an escape, which sees Bucky fight Tony, Black Widow and the Panther.

Bucky reveals some of his memories of other, more volatile subjects of the Winter Soldier programme and that he was framed for the bombing. Captain America plans to investigate these and clear Bucky’s name, but expecting problems from Tony and the others, calls for back up.

Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) comes out of retirement to rescue Wanda who has been under house arrest and who defeats Vision in their escape. They also recruit Ant Man (Paul Rudd) to join them against Stark’s team, which now includes the Panther. Stark returns to the US to recruit Peter Parker (Tom Holland), a teenager who has gained superpowers and become a vigilante in New York.

After a tense stand off between Stark, Widow and Captain America the two teams fight. Cap and Bucky manage to escape but their allies are captured and War Machine is severely injured.

Following this Stark begins to wonder if there is something to Cap’s story about Bucky being framed and he follows the duo who are on Zemo’s trail. Zemo arrives at the Winter Soldier facility but what is his endgame? And can the heroes overcome their differences or are the Avengers done for?

Long synopsis, right? Thankfully the film never feels overlong or drawn out and it moves along at a great pace. It also benefits from being one of the best Marvel movies thus far and having a good sense of the characters at play and their relationships. New characters are introduced and done so in a decent manner, but the real strength is the time taken by Marvel to build the world over several films.

At the heart of the movie is the clash between Captain America and Iron Man and it’s to the film’s credit that at the beginning both sides make sense and it is a genuine debate. Neither side is judged and as a viewer you feel torn by the decision they face.

Both Evans and RDJ are now comfortable in their roles and despite their differences their characters are shown to have some affection and respect for the other. It’s important as it means the rift that follows means more and is tougher on the characters and the audience.

RDJ has really done great work as Tony Stark, developing the character immensely from the slick playboy of the first Iron Man movie and yet keeping the essence of the character intact. Tony is driven by ego, he is sarky and smug at times, but he’s grown into a more world weary figure, and one more driven by doing what is right.

image

RDJ as Tony Stark, one of the MCU's major strengths

Captain America has similarly developed, but maintains the core nobility that makes the character the leader he is. However, there are a few shades of grey thrown in. How much of Cap’s actions are down to his almost blind loyalty to Bucky, the last remaining connection to his past?

While Cap’s reservations about the accord are understandable, as the film progresses I found myself leaning more towards Team Iron Man, as Cap repeatedly makes decisions driven by his need to protect Bucky. The conclusion, where Zemo’s plan is revealed and the Tony-Steve relationship utterly fractures is a real gut punch and the aftermath is genuinely moving, but includes one revelation which upsets the Captain’s position on the moral high ground.

image

Cap and Bucky

While this clash is at the centre there’s plenty else on offer here, with the new characters being interesting. The Black Panther is a badass and Boseman gives the character liability and dignity.

Really making his mark is Tom Holland as Spider-man. He manages to perfectly capture the enthusiastic geek side of Peter Parker and his constant chatter during the major fight sequence is entertaining and in keeping with the character from the books.

image

Spidey!!!!

In returning roles Mackie, Stan, Olsen, Renner and Bettany all do their jobs well enough, and I particularly liked the quiet moments between Vision and Wanda, with the synthetic Avenger showing faltering attempts at kindness and friendship. Hopefully this will be developed in further movies.

Scarlett Johansson is strong as Black Widow, who is probably the most conflicted of the Avengers. Closer to Cap she nonetheless sees the logic in Tony’s arguments, and her loyalties are tested throughout. It’s be nice for Widow to get a solo adventure, as Johansson is consistently impressive yet too often a secondary character.

The movie succeeds because it follows the Marvel formula, but it also tests new ground- fresh characters and a more complicated narrative with the major clash being between two sets of good guys. The action sequences are well done and the variety of heroes on show means there are plenty of quality moments, and it’s a marked improvement in the repetitive robot smashing of Age of Ultron.

It manages to pack an emotional punch while retaining it’s sense of humour and the script is full of great lines and moments. The film works as a continuation of the MCU and as a stand alone and the consequences which will follow in the forthcoming adventures should make for entertaining viewing. The Marvel Universe goes from strength to strength and this is one of the best entries, a blockbuster with spectacle, great characters and genuine emotion.

Verdict: Another belter from Marvel which hinges on the solid performances of Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr, who capture the disintegrating relationship at the heart. The movie cleverly avoids choosing a side and allowing both sides decent arguments, and it has some big moments which should have long reaching consequences for the MCU. The supporting cast are great across the board and this is a hugely entertaining movie. 8.5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Kids on Strike

It sounds like a dream. It sounds like something my ten year old self would have lost his mind over. A strike from school, all of us deciding to not go in, and our parents actually backing us up. It never would have happened.

But it has.

It’s all in protest against the SATs which are exams kids have to take at different key stages. I know the SATs well. In 1996 my class was the first to take them in our primary.

Parents argue that the exams are additional, unnecessary stress and that it stops kids from developing a love of education, putting them on the treadmill of exams. I agree totally, but I have mixed feelings about whether all of those reasons justify scrapping it.

image

Fight the power!

Our SATs arrived with little fanfare and our teacher, Mrs. G, played down the importance, she explained how it would work and how the tests would help them divide us up for comprehensive. Until now we were divided by age (I was the second half of the year) but in comp there were going to be about 200 kids and we’d be divided on ability. The SATs, along with our school reports would decide which class we were in.

This was kind of important and fairer than letting our teachers alone decide. Mrs. G was sound, but had it been left up to another of my primary teachers Mrs. B I’d have been in the bottom set. Hell, she’d probably have lobbied for me to go to borstal.

So the exams made sense. And as from the next year on we’d have exams every year, it was good practice. I mean, they could have dodged it but in secondary there were end of year exams so the shock of the first exam would just have been temporarily delayed.

One thing that did come into effect was stress. I remember despite the best efforts of Mrs. G it did get out that they were kind of important. It also didn’t help that some parents were a bit pushier and competitive than others and this bled through to the kids.

Thankfully, I avoided a lot of this stress by being pretty confident that I wasn’t thick and because of my natural laziness. My Dad in the coming years would despair of my “that’ll do” attitude where I did just enough to pass and move on with average grades.

image

He told me after my A Levels that I was just as smart as my sisters, but that they applied themselves better. They would work hard, pushing themselves and strive for greatness and reaped the rewards- straight As for the lot of them. I however, was more than happy with the B and C grades I collected and not that bothered by the E I got for Religious Studies at A Level (I’d missed a lot of lectures and was actually happy that I’d got more than a fail).

This attitude may have kept me on a track of mediocrity but at least I was happy and relaxed. I have two clear memories of the SATs, and one is related to stress.

S, a girl who lived on my street and who was not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer, worked herself into a right state over the stress. She was oddly quiet on the bus stop, she wasn’t sleeping and several times she just burst into tears. It seemed unfair to heap that much stress onto a girl who had almost been broken by the Take That split.

Here my Dad actually showed a delicate, tactful touch that is utterly out if character for him. The day of the first exam saw the invention of “the magic sweets”. My Dad handed out Cadbury Eclairs and insisted that they were lucky. Perhaps his standing as a doctor, or our childish love of sweets was responsible, but it calmed everyone at the bus stop. S, would, however, be reduced to tears after every exam.

image

Magic sweets

My Dad also then found himself having to buy Eclairs every academic year to see my sisters and I through our education.

S did alright but was shuffled into a lower set. My best friend Dai and I were split up, both taking places in the middle of the pack classes, and we found ourselves latching on to whichever familiar face was in our class.

I think the SATs served a purpose, at least at 11, younger than that is just a waste of time, but did stress out some of my classmates and could have been done in a less formal manner. But on the other hand, it meant I was ready for my first end of year exams in comprehensive.

At least they were better than the 11 Plus exams my parents endured, which pretty much decided your life’s path at eleven. That seems grossly unfair.

Should kids do exams? Probably not, but you have to work out how well everyone is doing so they can be divided up in secondary school, and exams are the best way we have so far, even with their flaws.

I can see why parents aren’t happy, and I think the setting up of education as an old fashioned game where you just go level to level is a mistake, but will the strike help? And do the kids really care, or are they just happy for another day off? They just had a three day weekend! Now they’re stretching it to four? Kids today.

No matter. In the long run the SATs had no lasting effect on me, they cemented my suspicion that I was in the top half academically and that I could handle exams. And they meant that I require a sweet before any test I take, but that’s it really.

The only memory I have of the exams themselves was a science question about milk bottles. It was a series of bottles, each filled to a different level. The question was something like “If Johnny blows across the top of bottle it makes a noise. The noise is different depending on how full the bottle is. Mark which bottle would make the deepest noise.”

I remember looking at that question for at least a minute. Our science education was pretty basic, in fact I think we did two sessions when Mrs. G realised there was an exam coming. None of them had been about milk bottles.

I tried to work it out and then thought, to hell with it, and guessed. It’s twenty years later and I still have no clue how the fullness of the bottle effects the sound produced. But, shockingly, it hasn’t really come up since. Although maybe it has stopped me from being a bluegrass star.

image

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 854 other followers