I find myself increasingly disinclined to bother discussing my opinions of Marvel Studios’ movies online. Like Doctor Who, these films are about characters and concepts so embedded into my psyche that conventional criticism, and certainly trying to argue the toss with people who don’t like them, seems a waste of time.
The chidish glee with which I responded to The Avengers, for instance, the absolute delight of watching those superheroes interact on screen, simultaneously defies both justification or refutation, and to be honest I tend to want to protect that simple feeling from the usual internet slanging matches.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier also holds further sentimental attachment by being based on one of my favourite superhero comic runs of the last decade or so, Ed Brubaker’s (along with Steve Epting and a lot of other artists) run on Cap.
Nevertheless I’m doing these warm up reviews so I’ll have a go, with only a couple of minutes to spare:
I’m not sure whether this is one of the best Marvel Studios movies – I think Iron Man 3 might edge it, and The Avengers itself remains top of the pile – but, at least partially for the reasons above, it’s one of my favourites. While crafting it’s own spin on the material it stays true to the feel of Brubaker’s comics, adding a twist of Jonathan Hickman’s sprawling conspiracies and transferring it to the screen as a superheroic take on the military conspiracy thriller.
The Russo Brothers bring a clean, sharp look to proceedings and aren’t afraid to draw in influences from the last few decades of this kind of film – a car chase through Washington DC has a pleasingly old school feel, and the presence of Robert Redford adds weight. Captain America stories often work best with a sense of history, and The Winter Soldier does that, making the film feel more substantial than an action movie rooted entirely in the now.
It’s also really, really entertaining, and The Winter Soldier himself is still very cool in terms of both concept and execution.
There may be better films this year, but it’s hard to imagine that one will come out that provides such utter, simple pleasure as The Grand Budapest Hotel. It’s a hot chocolate in a hot bath, a cocktail in a quiet bar with good company. Every aspect of the film, from visuals to performances to the soundtrack, is fine tuned to be a joy to take in. It creates a whole Alpine world you just want to sink into and spend time in, a world that could never exist.
This is what I go to see Wes Anderson films for. There are doubtless directors who make greater films, more serious films, deeper and more nuanced films. But Anderson delivers a whole experience in his films, highly stylised worlds full of charming, eccentric characters that are just, just close enough to some exotic part of reality that your brain is tricked into thinking you might be able to visit them.
Which is not to say The Grand Budapest Hotel is a purely aesthetic appearance, a charming series of flippant comic turns in a visually stunning world set to nice music. It’s 1930s setting is not chosen for pure retro, and an underlying sense of characters orphaned and traumatised by one world war surviving as the next one looms, a resilience that lies between the desire to preserve the hotel of the title as an oasis against barbarism to come. In it’s light, heavily fictionalised way it manages to evoke something of the real past in a way that a more straightforward, historically accurate film might not.
I love Wes Anderson’s movies, and I love the way that his attention to detail expands out of the films, and into the merchandise. I picked up the Fantastic Mr Fox soundtrack CD today, and the cover is straightforward enough:
Open it up though, and the CD itself is imprinted with one of Mr Fox’s newspaper columns:
Take the CD out, and underneath you get this, which is a laugh out loud reminder of one of the film’s running gags.
Beautifully done. Anderson and co are very, very precise in the music for these films (the sleeve notes discuss the genres they went through before they hit the mix of songs for the film), and the packaging echoes that same care and love.
PS: Oh yeah, and here’s a review of the film.
Glad we’ve got that sorted out.
For the latest of my own reviewing efforts, sadly not containing any such epic juxtaposition as the one above, go here.
Over at postmodernbarney, the ever-thoughtful Dorian Wright has been wondering about the horror genre in the run up to Halloween.
(From a British perspective of course, Halloween is a very minor deal, so the idea that you’d be thinking about it a month in advance rather than hastily buying some sweets on the day is pretty alien to us.)
I originally started writing the following in his comments section, then decided to transplant it here when I realised I was droning on, boring for Britain and yaahhhing out my own opinions rather than actually responding to Dorian’s piece.
So here it is. ‘Enjoy’:
Genre definitions are a pain in the arse. It’s not an argument that nerds particularly favour, as it’s a tacit acknowledgement that ‘their’ stuff is usually not good enough to play in the mainstream, but I’d say that the only really workable argument over what genre a work drops into is this: which itch does it scratch? We know a horror story, whether in print or on film or in a game, because it’s trying to unnerve or scare us (even when it fails), regardless of whether it’s realistic/supernatural/scientific.
Equally a thriller will be about hitting the adrenalin, a romance will be about a character (or characters) love lives, science fiction will be about the science… etc etc.
What drives nerds crazy is the way that, when any work moves beyond scratching just one itch, and goes on to actually say something about life or the world, it’s considered by critics to have transcended genre – it just becomes ‘literature’ or ‘drama’. Which of course chaffs nerds’ collective tits because of the inherent presumption that anything that stays in genre is somehow ‘lesser’.
I can see both sides of that argument, and think that the critics are generally right about works with wider scope, and that nerds should just grow up and enjoy the niche they enjoy, rather than mewling that the mainstream don’t wuv Farscape/Jack Kirby/Greg Bear/Saw XVI/their elderly grandparents the way they do. Enjoy what you enjoy, kids, whether big daddy High Culture blesses it or not.
Going back to the horror genre as I defined it above, my recent favourites have been the Hideo Nakata adaptations of Koji Suzuki’s Ring and Dark Water, films which strip out a lot of Suzuki’s well-worked out background logic in favour of creepy imagery, isolated from any comforting context. That’s pure horror to me, and while it may not have a wider meaning or relevance in the way that the best literary ghost stories do, it hits the scare button harder than virtually anything else.
After fifteen years in London I’m finally leaving, for the rather sensible reason that having got married, I should probably live with my wife. I gave notice to work this week, so now it’s coming together and feels real.
Tonight I went out to see the surprisingly good GI Joe, and we emerged to find it absolutely chucking down. We ran for it straight for the nearest bar, the Leicester Square All Bar One. Neither a spectacular palace of luxury or a homely local, it was nonetheless serving booze and food and was pleasant enough.
Sitting in a touristy bar in one of London’s busiest squares was reminiscent of holidays to Brussels and the like, where not knowing the backstreets you pick somewhere open and harmless looking. It gave me an insight into what it’s going to be like coming back as a visitor rather than a resident – not an alienating feeling at all, actually a warm novelty. It was still raining as I walked home, taking a leisurely pace, drifting like a tourist rather than a frantic full-time Londoner, looking in the odd shop window.
I think I can get used to this.
As in any traditional marriage, my wife spent the evening blogging our wedding here and here, so I could devote time to more sensible manly pursuits, like playing Gears of War 2 and watching Highlander: The Source.
Updated 8 March 2009 – too lazy to write a new post, so I’m editing this one, here’s a review of ‘Jersey Gods’ as well.
Some small Shiny Shelf updates: over the weekend I’ve knocked out an almost entirely pointless ramble about the editorial tone of ‘2000AD’ and the ‘Judge Dredd Megazine’ (well, quite), and rather more pertinently a review of ‘Midnight Meat Train’, which comes out on DVD in the UK tomorrow.
Elsewhere on the site, keep an eye on Fifth, our miscellany section, for a weekly countdown to the release of the new ‘Star Trek’ movie.
And finally, apologies for the fact that archive searches aren’t currently working, making access to old features impossible without a direct link. We’re aware of the issue, but fixing this has been rolled into a more comprehensive site revision in future, so we may not be able to get around to it for a while.
… some genius will find a clever way to be funny with it, like with this google map tracking the events of Cloverfield across New York (with spoilers, if you haven’t seen the film):
The stoner commentary is particularly special, I think.
… but the celebrity karaoke soundtrack is great:
Thanks to Iain Hepburn for the reminder of this.