From Strength To Strength: A State Of The MCU Address.

As some of you may remember, earlier this year I wrote a similar post regarding the DC cinematic universe, it only seemed right to examine their closest rivals with the same scrutiny. It can be argued, and is, a lot, that the MCU is much better than the DCCU, better conceived, better realised, a generally better output and success quota if you will. On an artistic level, I can’t possibly comment to that effect because I just don’t think it’s strictly true personally, however, on a gradient of continued commercial AND critical success, Marvel Studios continues to lead in leaps and bounds. To comment on the MCU’s continued success it would only be right to go back into it’s recent history to examine why this is the case, to do that, we should probably go back to 2008.

Marvel has had its own movie studio since 1993, then known as Marvel films, not that it would have been massively noticeable prior to the late noughtees, after many years of licensing it’s best content out to other studios, Marvel took the plunge of reinvigorating their own ailing film studio by announcing the production of an Iron Man movie, this would be the first of many Marvel Studios productions and the beginning of their pre-planned phase release schedule. A year later, Marvel was purchased by The Walt Disney Company which heralded a big turning point for the future of the MCU. In Marvels ‘Phase 1’ portfolio we were given film outings of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America and tied it all up with the formation of The Avengers. Using phase 1 for origin stories afforded Marvel the luxury of allowing a new audience to become familiar with these characters and end it all with a big event movie featuring all of them. With the odd blip, the phasing plan was a resounding success. As we know, this is a model that DC have used in dribs and drabs for at least 3 of their flagship characters in the lead up to Justice League but it has been nowhere near as concentrated or focused as when utilised by Marvel Studios, it has been a massive part in their success.

Since then Marvel have actively reacquired much of their licensed out I.P and taken their phasing approach to new and increasingly successful highs, the current phase 3 output seemingly placing a full stop to the MCU as we currently know it and very little announced past that other than a new Guardians Of The Galaxy. With a trend of assessing, augmenting and evolving their output as they go, it wouldn’t be remiss to assume at least some thematic changes for the MCU in the upcoming years. 

When we try to look for other reasons as to the secret of the MCU’s continued success, one prime reason is undoubtedly their partnership with Disney. It has afforded them the best writers, directors, creative minds, technological magic and support the industry can offer, the same can be said of the Star Wars franchise. For all the fanboy booing at the time of its announcement, it can not be denied that this union as has been fruitful and massively rewarding for studio bigwigs & fans alike.

The MCU output continues to go from strength to strength and if they continue along the same evolving path they have been treading this past 9 years, i don’t see that changing any time soon. Sure, actors will come and go from roles as contracts expire or creative divergences are given license (female Thor is on the way, mark my words), new or lesser known onscreen characters will be allowed to take flight to see if they can soar to the heights of Guardians Of The Galaxy or Ant-man but as long as writing, direction & flight of fantasy remain paramount, it will remain to be the same MCU that we love for many years to come.


Thor Ragnarocks!: A Thor: Ragnarok review.

Directed by: Taika Waititi.

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hiddleston, Tessa Thompson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeff Goldblum, Idris Elba, Karl Urban, Anthony Hopkins

Plot: When a sequence of events unleash the all powerful Hela, Godess Of Death and Asgard is plunged into turmoil. Thor finds himself captive on the other side of the universe and must attempt to somehow save his home.

Another year, another addition to the Marvel cinematic stockpile. This time Kiwi director Taika Waititi, previously known for the excellent What We Do In The Shadows & last years incredible Hunt For The Wilderpeople takes directorial duties for this third cinema outing for our favourite Asgardian. Thor hasn’t had an easy time in his own standalone outings, a solid yet flawed debut and a decidedly lacklustre and joyless sequel kinda started to make Thor look like the red-headed stepchild of the MCU, can Thor: Ragnarok readdress that balance?

Thor: Ragnarok is without doubt up there with the strongest films in the MCU, it’s up there with Iron Man, with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and dare I say, gives Guardians Of The Galaxy a run for its money. This is no mean feat and it is all thanks to the wonders of Taika Waititi’s direction. Waititi steers Thor: Ragnarok with a sure hand, deftly weaving characters & elements from classic Marvel story ‘Planet Hulk’ into the narrative, expertly handling action sequences alongside his trademark flair for delivering brilliantly funny, irreverent humour. Thor: Ragnarok is without doubt the funniest Marvel film to date, and I’m not talking lame, stifle a giggle funny, I’m talking gut laughs, on more than one occasion spread across the length of the film, it really makes Ragnarok an absolute joy to watch. The laughs are just the delicious filling however, they are held up by some brilliant action sequences and great performances all round. 

Chris Hemsworth has consistently carried the character of Thor and made it his own, he looks to be having an absolute blast in Ragnarok, flexing his comedic muscles as well as his ample real ones. Cate Blanchett hams things up admirably as Hela and Tom Hiddleston & Mark Ruffalo add their dependable support as always. Jeff Goldblum is on hand to Jeff Goldblum the shit out of his role as The Grandmaster to predictably charming & wonderful results. Waititi threatens to runaway with his own film with a scene stealing turn as ‘Planet Hulk’ favourite Korg who is consistently one of the funniest things in the whole film. There are some genuinely surprising and brilliantly delivered cameos thrown into the mix also but the less said about them the better so as to preserve the moments.

Thor: Ragnarok is an absolute triumph, not only does it make up for prior Thor standalones, it also cements itself as one of the best instalments in the MCU to date, Marvel fans will know that is a pretty bold statement but it’s true, 17 films in and Thor: Ragnarok sits near the top of the pile as a thrilling, colourful, boldly delivered and achingly funny slice of superhero cinema. 

Sweets To The Sweet: A look back at Candyman.

“Dare you say his name 5 times?” read the tag line to the 1992 horror Candyman, giving the world a new cinematic bogeyman and an interesting spin on the then moderately untapped horror concept of urban legends. At a point where Freddy, Jason & Michael Myers were getting very old indeed with increasingly diminished returns in respect to quality, it felt like the perfect time for some new blood, enter Clive Barker.

Candyman is actually adapted from a short story by Barker originally called The Forbidden, a tale of a university students hunt for an urban legend know as Candyman to base her thesis on only leading her face to face with a supposed myth. The short story was part of one of the authors lengthy Books Of Blood compilations and was clearly a concept fit for adaptation. The setting of the original story, as with his novella Hellbound Heart which later became Hellraiser, was Liverpool, Barker’s hometown. As is usually the case when Hollywood becomes involved changes were made. The story was swiftly appropriated with a U.S setting instead of succumbing to the inconvenience of shooting in the U.K. Along with a change in the characters ethnicity & being gifted with a credible backstory, the story was given a new setting, being that of the Cabrini-Green housing projects of Chicago, a fearful, crime-ridden concrete slab in the Near North Side of the Windy City. A bleak, desolate and utterly perfect surrounding for a horror movie.

Candyman gave the world something that it hadn’t really seen before in it’s adaptation, something that hadn’t really existed outside blaxploitation flicks like Blacula, a black movie monster to rival that of Freddy or Jason. Candyman however i feel is a much more sympathetic antagonist, a man done wrong seeking revenge against his oppressors, robbed of a life with the one he loved and so forced to exact his terrible revenge in the afterlife, it’s actually quite Shakespearean. It was a decision that was met with some concern on the part of the films producers that the premise was inherently racist in nature which was also presented to the NAACP for their opinion. The NAACP were non-plused as to what the issue was, why can’t a black man be a horror villain? This is a man who was horrifically tortured & killed and now seeks bloody revenge, he’s not some lazy, evil ethnic stereotype, he is a fully realised character with begrudgingly sympathetic motives even though his retribution is terrible, that’s more than Kruger ever got, some humanity.

Candyman always to me felt of a higher tier than most disposable horror films of the time, it felt of a different class. Was it the writing? Hats have to be tipped to Clive Barker for conceiving of such an idea. Was it the quality of actor they got to play such a role? Tony Todd is mesmeric as Candyman and his deep baritone voice sounds simply hypnotic in this film. Was it the wonderfully baroque score by minimalist composer Philip Glass? I love a good film score and the score for Candyman is pretty high on my list of top all time horror scores. As is always the case with great cinema, Candyman is the sum of its parts, take one away and the overall effect would diminish, that is was as well realised as it was is a testament to all involved in creating one of the more original and classy horrors of the early nineties.

Dread & Breakfast: A The Innkeepers review.

Directed by: Ti West.

Starring: Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Kelly McGillis.

Plot: The Yankee Pedlar Inn is closing its doors for the final time and desk clerks Claire & Luke are waiting out their final shifts with minimal guests. With boredom setting in, amateur ghost hunter Luke suggests looking into the Yankee Pedlars past.

Who doesn’t love a good ghost story? Those who are regular readers of my blog know that I myself am an absolute sucker for a good ghost story. If a film has the capacity to chill whilst telling me a worthwhile & entertaining story, I’m generally onboard, so with that in mind, The Innkeepers was right up my street from the off.

The Innkeepers is the follow up effort from The House Of The Devil director Ti West who with that prior film made somewhat of a name for himself as “one to watch” in the world of independent horror cinema. With The Innkeepers, West most certainly keeps the quality up in my opinion though not in the opinion of a lot of reviewers when the film was released, criticising it for an incredibly slow pace in the first half much to the films detriment, this is a criticism I do not share. Yes the pace is slow to begin with, deliberately so, the hotels ghost story is told, the suspense is built expertly in my opinion with paranormal events occurring sparsely, slowly escalating rather than just throwing out jump scares at you willy-nilly. When the scares do come they are effective, at times ethereal and other times downright creepy, particularly towards the end of the film. 

The secret to the effectiveness of the scares in The Innkeepers is the sense of banal normality that bookends them. The two leads, Sara Paxton & Pat Healy gel together so well, their conversations so naturalistic, a proper work husband & wife who’s likeable demeanours and often funny yet affectionate barbs at one another remind us all of our own work place partner in crime who makes the working day that little easier to stomach. Because we have been presented with two affable, relatively normal lead characters, the sparse moments of supernatural peril become more palpable, their payoffs much greater. We don’t want harm to come to these guys because they are essentially us, That is where The Innkeepers truly works its magic in my opinion. Factor in some memorable and I feel, truly creepy ghosts and you are on to a winner.

In closing, The Innkeepers Is a funny, creepy, slow build ghost story with a great payoff for those that persevere. Don’t be put off by any bad press that this film may have received upon release, it is most certainly worthy of your time this Halloween, or anytime for that matter.

Top 5 zombie movies.

Horror is a broad blanket term in relation to film, there being many subgenres with varying degrees of fandom, one of the most popular arguably being zombie horror. Usually set in a world not too dissimilar to our own other than the shambling, moaning hordes of the undead baying for human flesh that is. Now certainly there are divergences in formula between director, be it Romero’s use of social commentary, Danny Boyle’s introduction of a running variant and the likes of Edgar Wright & Peter Jackson injecting some humour into the usually overly serious proceedings, at their core the theme is usually the same, the dead walk and have inherited the earth. This is quite a tricky Top 5 for me to put together because I am a huge fan of the genre, some of my choices may be surprising, some of my omissions may be shocking but it is a Top 5 I am happy with. Without further ado, here are my Top 5 Zombie films.

Honourable Mention: Train To Busan.

This South Korean zombie flick was a welcome shot in the arm for the zombie film as it put some much needed originality back into the genre. The premise of zombies on a train may sound silly but Train To Busan is thrilling, brutal and brilliant.

5: 28 Days Later.

This 2002 British offering from director Danny Boyle also boasted in being the first feature film to be shot particularly on digital camera allowing quick setups of deserted London streets & landmarks to add to the films desolate feel, it was remarkably effective. Spawning an equally impressive sequel 28 Weeks Later in 2007, it flew the British horror flag admirably.

4: Braindead.

I had to include a comedy on this list and it was very close between this and the equally brilliant Edgar Wright film Shaun Of The Dead, Braindead for me pips it to the post narrowly for it shear OTT excess. Soooo much blood! Also some bonkers invention and impressive physical effects work delivered with a tongue firm in cheek. Class.

3: Zombie Flesh Eaters.

Perhaps one of the most notorious films on this list for its ‘that one where a zombie fights a shark and that woman’s eye get stabbed’ moments, it also features some of the most impressive zombies and zombie effects to ever grace a screen even if the films dubbing is dodgy as hell.

2: Dawn Of The Dead.

Probably a film that would be at the top of anyone else’s list and I do have a lot of love for DOTD. A truly impressive horror sequel that easily betters its original even being released a full decade later. As with Night Of The Living Dead, Dawn is steeped in social commentary namely that of out of control consumerism and our ingrained need for material possessions. Rightly regarded as a classic, Dawn is regarded as one of the greatest horror movies ever but not my personal favourite.

1: Day Of The Dead.

My top spot goes to the black sheep of the original Dead trilogy, an unfairly judged, flawed modern horror masterpiece that takes the themes of it predecessors and pushes it to greater extremes. Day Of The Dead is the most grim and utterly nihilistic of the 3 original Dead films and give us a glimpse into a word where communication with ourselves has almost completely broken down rendering people just as dangerous as the dead. There is too much I can say about this film and I shall in my next written piece.

Let it in!: A Babadook review.

Directed by: Jennifer Kent.

Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Hayley McElhinnery

When this film was released in 2014, it came as an unexpected breath of fresh air in a rapidly stagnating genre, an original and boldly delivered creeper with an old school visual flair to match its considerable horror chops and made a modest $7.5 million off a $2 million budget, not bad for a self penned independent film from a new director.

The Babadook was one of a series of films in recent years that signalled a seismic shift in horror movies, too often in the genre in recent years has writing been thrown out of the window for the sake of a quick turnover and easy returns, not with The Babadook. The Babadook was written & directed by Australian director Jennifer Kent in her directorial debut, a remarkably confident and assured debut at that I may add, she handles The Babadook like a seasoned professional. A widely allegorical tale in a number of ways, be it the fear of losing ones mind or the worries that go hand in hand with single parenthood and the Babadook itself almost being the physical manifestation of Amelia’s unresolved grief of her husbands death, always there, always growing and seemingly not dwindling in its presence, The Babadook is certainly a more thoughtful affair than most horror movies. The Babadook is also a film that wears its influences on its sleeve, be it nods toward films such as The Shining with respects to the lead characters mental deterioration, in respect to The Babadook itself there are parallels with German expressionist cinema of the early 20th Century such as The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari and even Lon Chaney’s sinister antagonist in London After Midnight for the look of the beast, Kent certainly knows her cinematic onions so to speak.

There are wonderful turns from the cast, in particular leads Essie Davis & Noah Wiseman who’s mother/son relationship is completely believable, Davis’ slow decent into mania is palpable and sympathetically delivered, the struggles of single parenthood and unresolved grief making for a powerful performance. Wiseman makes for a decidedly troubled and at times downright creepy acting partner to Davis as her traumatised son who’s understandably not too fond of bedtime stories as the film progresses.

The Babadook is a fantastic modern horror, well written, conceived and shot by debut director Kent and full of the prerequisite chills one would expect and testament to changing attitudes to horror in recent years of becoming much more thoughtful and considered affairs. If you are a lover of horror cinema and haven’t checked it out, for god sake, LET. IT. IN!

Love Never Dies: A Bram Stoker’s Dracula review.

Directed By: Francis Ford Coppola.

Starring: Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, Richard. E Grant, Keanu Reeves, Cary Elwes, Bill Campbell, Tom Waits

Plot: A forsaken Romanian knight finds a way to cheat death by drinking the blood of the living all the while longing to be reunited with his long dead love. When a London Solicitor arrives at his castle he sees the face of his departed love in a photo in the solicitors possession and leaves to pursue her.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is one of the first horror films I recall being utterly transfixed by as a child, a child far too young to be watching such a film I might add, some 12 years old watching on a VHS I had rented from my local video shop. This isn’t to say it was my first dalliance with the genre, I had only prior been awakened by the allure of the Alien movies, The Thing and The Fly, It is fairly safe to say I had already come into contact with much more graphic and much more terrifying films prior to this but it was the first that utterly hypnotised me with its presentation.

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, Bram’s Stokers Dracula is a masterclass in the art of direction and the history of the craft. Coppola was massively reticent to employ any computer aided trickery and instead wished to employ every traditional camera trick he could to achieve the films visual effects, employing his own son, Roman Coppola, to oversee that part of filming. Rear-projection, forced perspective, multiple exposures, miniatures, matte paintings, all were employed at some point during the movies duration to startlingly good effect. Coppola on the whole achieves excellent performances from his cast (with two notable exceptions I’ll get to in a moment) a feat he achieved by utilising team building exercises, table reads and theatre technique to get them to gel, on the whole it worked splendidly. His direction on this film on the whole is excellent, coaxing some memorable performances from his cast & evocative imagery from his crew.

The ensemble cast of Bram Stoker’s Dracula is really quite remarkable, as are some of the performances given. Gary Oldman steals the entire film as the Count in all his guises, be it caked in prosthetics as the older Count or one of his demonic forms or as the youthful prince. Oldman’ performance is commanding and utterly mesmeric, from heartfelt pathos to venomous menace on a dime and delivering possibly one of my favourite performances of his, he took a role that had previously been quite camp and silly and gave it true heart & soul. Some strong gravitas is offered by Anthony Hopkins as vampire hunter Van Helsing, a schizophrenic mix of grave seriousness one minute and dark, even childlike humour employed the next, it’s a fascinating turn. Some reliably strong support is given by the likes of Richard. E Grant, Cary Elwes and a wonderfully nuanced take on the deranged Renfield by musician Tom Waits. But it’s not all good, two of the principle cast REALLY let the side down on this production. First up, Winona Ryder. Ryder isn’t the worst thing about this film, her performance doesn’t make me want to eat my own face like the next culprit, she is however miscast I feel. Ryder feels completely out of sorts In this type of role and it is not suiting of her talents, her take on Mina is forgettable when it should be anything but. Getting to the real criminal of the piece, Keanu Reeves’ Jonathan Harker has to be up there as one of the worst movie miscasts of all time, he is excruciating to watch. Woefully out of his depth alongside the likes of Oldman, Hopkins & Grant who if anything magnify Reeves complete ineptitude in the role. His take on the English accent is something that is indelibly etched in the annals of film history, it is truly appalling, ranging from the poshest English accent you’ve ever heard and almost slipping into his Californian Ted drawl on a number of occasions, it’s like a great deal of his concentration is being taken over by trying not to go “Woah” after every shocking development, just awful.

Another star of this film that simply has to be applauded has to be the spine-chilling score from Polish composer Wojciech Kilar which is in my opinion one of the finest horror scores of the latter 20th century. Powerful, compelling, full of lust & longing like the old Count himself, it burns itself into the memory to become utterly unforgettable, well to me it did anyway. I am a record collector and managed to bag myself a very hard to come by copy of this on vinyl and it is outstanding in its power & presence, hair-raising in all the right places as any truly great horror score should be, a score fit for one of the greatest movie monsters of all time. The inclusion of Annie Lennox’s Love Song For A Vampire is also a welcome touch, complementing the classical score wonderfully, being a very touching and beautifully written piece of work in of itself.

I will always have a soft spot reserved in my heart for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it may not be perfect but it is bold, brave and beautifully realised with an artfully minded approach to the source material that gave the world a truly unforgettable version of the Count that we’re all the richer for experiencing in my humble opinion.