Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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It’s fitting that this film has done away with the usual numbering that we see in sequel titles since calling this ‘Captain America 2’ would be an oversimplification of the complex route its characters have taken to get here; its the third, fourth and fifth appearance for most of them, recurring as they have throughout the Marvel universe. It would also have been a mistake to imply that this is a direct sequel to the film that first spawned Cap into the MU since their relationship is more that that of Alien and Aliens: there are some deep-cut references and ties to the formers lore, but the tone, tempo and arguably the genre has changed over the break.

Which makes perfect sense given how much the character has changed since his first cinematic foray. Johnston’s film was a WWII-set homage to the adventure movies of the era that embraced the cheese and machismo of such things, but as the Captain is now a contemporary his films had to have a more modern feel to them. What doesn’t make as much sense is the fact that the filmmakers went to the well of the Cold War and the cold conspiracy films of the seventies to achieve this, merging them with the staple comic action of Marvel studios. Much has been made of the movies inclusion of drones and other such contemporary commentaries, but to call this a modern movie ( or Marvel’s Dark Knight) would be short-sighted; in its own way it’s just as dated and daggy as the original but that’s exactly why it works as well as it does.

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The 86th Academy Awards

So, after a longer period of press predictions than even the elections of late we’re finally here, getting the Oscars over and done so we can start shortlisting the twenty-fifteen selections. For now though we’ll say our final words on the films we’ve all spent the last year talking too much about. I’ll be updating as we go.

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Those Who Kill – Pilot

Glen and Darin Morgan are to this day best known for the episodes that they wrote for the paranormal procedural  The X-Files; they took the show’s formula – which was essentially Monster of the Week and had started to strain by the time they joined the team- and stretched it into strange and unusual shapes the likes of which would still stand out today. So the news that Glen would be heading up his own series was somewhat exciting, that he had netted Chloe Sevigny as the star only exaggerated that; known as she is for her idiosyncratic career choices. That the show was to air on A&E should have been a warning sign, but I went in with my expectations raised, expecting something wacky and one of a kind.

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True Detective – Haunted Houses

Given its rather straightforward title True Detective has strangely never shied away from using obtuse to nigh-unintelligible names for its episodes; ‘Haunted Houses’ is another example of this. The phrase conjures certain images and expectations that the episode itself never even attempts to deliver on; this is one of the series’ simplest and least haunting episodes to date, one almost entirely grounded in reality, which is in of itself something of a revelation. The two men behind the show – who may or may not share a similar relationship with the two men fronting it – have stated that the first six episodes of the show contain everything that we need to know in order to decipher the mystery and I daresay that episode six may well hold the brunt of that promise. The answer is likely something far more familiar and far more frightening than any of the theorists had predicted.

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Winter’s Tale

winterstale3 The Dissolve recently featured an article (Found HERE) about the effect of sincerity on the viewing of recent overly-saccharine releases such as Labour Day; in it the author proposed that the success of these films relies heavily on the audience’s willingness to have an authentically heartfelt reaction to what is occurring on the screen, that in this age of spoof, subversion, meta-winking and general cynicism the only way that a film which takes itself seriously can function is if the audience puts down their guard and allows it to. As a conflicted cynic myself I am want to agree almost as much as I want to have such a heartfelt reaction to a movie whenever possible; I’d always prefer to exit a cinema effected but it’s not always easy.

Winter’s Tale is without a doubt a film that takes itself quite seriously: the bleached-bright shots of its stars staring into one another eyes and holding one another on horseback that hang beneath the closing credits cast the film in the mold of a grand romantic epic, while the wonky and overbearing narration suggests that the story is a thing of profound depth and beauty. The truth though is that, regardless of your approach the film is neither of those things, it’s nowhere near as good as it thinks it is, but nor, I feel, is it as bad as many would have you believe; it simply requires that you do believe.

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She-Hulk #1

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I’ve said it before and i’ll say it again: I don’t like Hawkeye, or at least I didn’t until I saw what Matt Fraction was able to do with him. A few pages in to that series and he became my favourite Marvel character. The tone, scale and style of Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye is so brilliant, so unlike another superhero book out there and has, thankfully, made the book a bit of a hit commercially. So it makes sense that Marvel would try to replicate the conditions that created such a comic here in the newly relaunched She-Hulk.

She-Hulk is another character that I’ve never really cared for, not enough to ever attempt even trying her solo stories – and Jennifer Walters didn’t even exist in my mind as anything other than a misremembering of the Arrested Development actresses name – but i’ve sought out and supported both Charles Soule and Javier Pulido when they’ve worked on other properties, which I think puts me in the perfect position to enjoy this extraordinary new book, just as it did that other one.

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Punisher #1

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As they’ve relaunched nearly all their titles over the past twelve months, outfitting them with new creative teams and new continuities, Marvel have had to look outside their usual stable for talent; putting a lot of previously independent writers and artists on work-for-hire IP’s. While its always great to see these guys get a paying gig it rarely results in their best work; superhero serials simply require a different skillset to that of an Image series and their styles don’t always translate. So it’s a sheer delight to see a match as perfect as the one Marvel editors made for the new Punisher series.

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A Single Shot

I took a somewhat strange path towards seeing this picture: when pre-production first began rumors began to circulate online around the all-star cast that was being assembled for the adaptation of an heretofore unknown crime novel that had some similarities to the stories of Cormac McCarthy and the Coen brothers that I have loved so strongly in the past. A man who lives alone in the mountains mistakes a young girl for a deer during a hunt, steals a stash of money from the site of the shooting and in doing so sets off a series of violent events as telling as they are tragic. It was summertime and I felt like a suspenseful, pulpy thriller so i picked up the book in preparation for a film that I felt sure I would like; it was disconcertingly different to what I had imagined from that synopsis, though far stronger for it.

The novel, by Matthew F. Jones (who adapted the screenplay used here himself), ticked all the boxes that one expects from accidental criminal stories such as these but intermittently it would work in other ways, effecting a much less conventional guise. There was something strange and ethereal about the way in which Jones tells the tale, his book is as much gothic horror as it is Noir. So the story stayed with me, haunted me you might say, ever since, as did my anticipation for the film which shed its cast and shifted its expected release date many times. I had become accustomed to this being one of those films that I would always be waiting around for and then, like a shot out of nowhere, it was released on VOD. So here we are.

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Drinking Buddies

Joe Swanberg’s was not a name I was familiar with prior to this picture (despite having just seen him in You’re Next) so I was somewhat surprised to read that this film, Drinking Buddies, is his fourteenth feature and not a debut. There is something about Buddies that causes it to exude both the energy and inefficiency of a filmmaker fresh on the scene, it has a youthfulness ill-befitting its age and this seemingly comes from Swanberg’s semi-improvisational style. The actors at the films core – whose names I am highly aware of, their being what initially caught my eye in the MIFF guide – were apparently given near free reign in which to inhabit and develop their characters and this looseness from Swanberg seems largely responsible for the film’s feel, its amazing performances and its one potent flaw.
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Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

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I’m a lover of the crime spree sub-genre, particularly those of the sixties and seventies. It’s one of those topics perfectly suited for the storytelling of its time because of how many social rules the films must inherently break and how many bonds there were back then that needed breaking. So I was quite excited to see that the style was being revived for Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, though I was also worried about whether or not it might actually sallow the strike-rate of this particular subsection of stories; I mean what were the chances of it being another Bonnie and Clyde? Another Badlands? To his credit writer / director David Lowery doesn’t attempt to ape those great seventies stories, instead he does something much bolder and far more interesting: he shapes for them, for all of them, a loose sequel of sorts. Another in the Badlands series, not a sibling but a son.
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