Slow West – I’m With Geek Review

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by Dave House

Slow West is a brilliant and provocative Western. It begins as a love story and becomes a fable about America, exploring the dreams and ideology behind the mythic Wild West. The first feature film by Writer-Director John Maclean, it won the Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival this year and deservedly so.  Tense, beautifully shot and intelligent, it follows in the footsteps of great modern Westerns like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,The Proposition and the Coen Brothers’ modern day western masterpiece, No Country for Old Men.


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In Slow West, Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a young and naïve boy of 16, has travelled from Scotland to Colorado in search of the woman he loves, Rose (Caren Pistorius).  While roaming the woods of the untamed American Frontier, Jay is discovered by an outlaw named Silas (Michael Fassbender) who offers him protection in return for the youth’s money. Jay accepts, unaware that Silas has his own hidden agenda. It’s a typical Western narrative but Maclean’s unique approach has created a film that feels fresh and contemporary in a genre that can often feel tired and stale.  That’s largely because of the film’s visual flare and its deeper meanings.

This is a stunning movie. Filmed in New Zealand as a stand-in for the Colorado of the Wild West. It’s enriched with a palette of vivid colours which gives the film a mythical dreamlike quality. Yellows, purples and blues fill the screen with majestic landscapes, beautifully framed by cinematographer Robbie Ryan. In one scene a Native American runs through a rich green forest fleeing for his life. The vibrant colours of his war paint, captured beautifully by the rays of sunlight blasting through the trees. One of the last of his kind, he’s chased down and killed by opportunists, his blood adding to the canvas of colours. It’s an impressionist painting of the fleeting final days of the American frontier; the savage acts involved in creating the new world juxtaposed against the beautiful natural backdrops of the old. It’s almost appropriate that it’s not filmed in America. It’s as if to say that the old America was another world, well and truly gone.

Slow West explores the final days of the old frontier as a ruthlessly Darwinian Empire, where different migrant groups are crawling over one another for survival. If they’re smart and good hunters, they can even become rich by eliminating their competition. Fassbender’s Silas is a product of that world. He’s an immigrant outlaw who’s survived by claiming bounties, tricking people and taking advantage whenever he can. He’s a complete contrast to the young and naive Jay, who opens the film looking up at the stars, recounting the constellations and imagining each star shining for him as he pretends to shoot them.  A dreamer and a romantic idealist, Jay embodies the sentiments of the American Dream, the hopefulness of the immigrant, in pursuit of happiness in the west. Silas, on the other hand is a product of greed and the bounty economy that has made the frontier a hunting ground for the opportunistic. He knows what life in the Wild West is like and has adapted to it to survive. But he also admires Jay’s dreamlike vision, which offers a glimpse into what the West could become if people were driven by love and care, instead of greed.


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Fassbender and McPhee play their roles brilliantly. The former emanating a young Eastwood whilst making the role entirely his own, maintaining the brooding intensity and likable suaveness we’ve come to expect of Fassbender. Whilst McPhee emits a tenderness and naivety to his performance that both contrasts and compliments his partner. The relationship between the two characters is a strong dynamic in a movie full of great contrasts.

There’s a mischievous dark humour to Slow West that often comes out in stylistic visual flashes. At one point, Jay and Silas amusingly carry their damp clothes on an improvised washing line between their horses that ends up laughingly saving their lives from a violent native. In another moment, salt falls into a wound at the most appropriate or perhaps most inappropriate time, creating a menacingly amusing moment. It can almost be jarring, pulling you out of the action, to laugh at the irony of the situation with a visual gag. But then another gunshot fires and the film’s brilliant sound mixing pulls you right back into the action with reverberating and deafening gunshots and its ponderous folk tunes.

This is a highly enjoyable film and one that avoids the dust of its aging genre.  It’s a postmodern Western that’s as current as it is historical. Poetic and stunning, with a dry humour and a haunting quality, Slow West ranks among the best in contemporary Westerns.

Slow West is out now

The Calling Review

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The Calling is an average murder mystery that explores faith, fanaticism and mortality. There are some poignant moments, thanks to Jason Stone’s considered direction, and a solid performance from Susan Sarandon. But many will find this a rather sleepy and outdated thriller.

Susan Sarandon plays grouchy and depressed small town detective Hazel Micallef. Living with her mum and addicted to painkillers and booze due to emotional and physical torment, she’s fed up with life. When two murders happen in her otherwise quiet town, Sarandon suspects there might be a serial killer on the loose and springs (or rather, hobbles) into action.


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It’s an old story with all the classic tropes – Aged and bitter small time cop tracks down serial killer. Check. No one will listen. Check. New kid (Topher Grace on surprisingly good form) comes in and proves his worth. Check. Christian fanaticism linked to murders. Check, check and check. It’s a “been there done that” formula that could be an average episode in any detective TV show.

Still, it manages to tweak a few things to deliver an occasionally poignant and almost fresh detective drama.  The film has its moments. It’s refreshing to see a female lead in what tends to be a male centric genre. Sarandon carries the film well, providing a delightfully grumpy and pained performance. Her backstory is typical, but it’s delivered with subtlety and maturity and the emotional depth of Sarandon’s performance permeates the entire film.

Topher Grace is also likable in the film as the young new cop from another town. It’s still the typical new kid done good role he often plays but he does it well, adding nuances and skill that allow him to shine. The villain is similarly interesting if again, all too typical.  Christopher Heyerdahl plays him with a mysterious sense of a higher calling, but comes dangerously close to veering into bad guy ham, thanks largely to the script. Donald Sutherland suffers in a similar way in his supporting role. He acts well but struggles against some ropey scripting and clichés.


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A strength of the film is its mature and thoughtful tone. The music and cinematography play a big part in this, complimenting Sarandon’s powerful performance and channelling the film’s ponderings on mortality. What’s more Stone delivers some solid direction and despite the many weaknesses of the script, the performances in the film are mostly solid and the tone remains emotionally poignant, if somewhat lacklustre. But the film is let down too many times by clumsy plotting and scripting. Witnesses happen to say all the right things from the most minimal of questioning and the killer’s ‘message’ is cracked in the most unlikely of ways in an altogether ridiculous section of the film.

The Calling sometimes feels more like a television drama than a big studio film, somewhat akin to one of the better and more grounded episodes of the X Files. This is actually more of a strength than a weakness. It’s good to see a film like this remaining so grounded. The core metier of the film is in its human characters, and thankfully, they’re never forgotten or pushed aside for spectacle. But it also provides few actual thrills and you might find it more somnolent than thrilling.

The film treads old ground with some slightly newer shoes but doesn’t do enough to truly shine. It’s worth a watch for Sarandon’s performance. If you enjoy cops and murder dramas, it’s for you but there’s little else to entice viewers.

Original article on I’m With Geek at: http://www.imwithgeek.com/film/the-calling-review

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Movie Review

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has been unanimously slammed by the critics, but its been a box office hit. Here’s what I thought of it:

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a fun reboot that mostly feels authentic. The Turtles look great and there are some excellent action scenes. Unfortunately Michael Bay’s blueprint is present and will likely upset as much as please fans of TMNT.

There’s a new crime syndicate in New York, the swat team samurai group, the Foot Clan, led by the evil Shredder. Eager to prove herself as a serious journalist, April O’Neil is determined to get the scoop on the elusive group. Her antics get her into trouble with the clan but she gets rescued by four giant Ninja turtles giving her news pitch a level of crazy and zero credibility as no one has ever seen the Turtles.  But as the clan’s evil activities grow, the Turtles are forced to come out of hiding to take down the evil Shredder. We get to see the turtles grow up, learn how they came to be giant turtle men things, see them train under the tutelage of Splinter the Rat and watch them kick Foot Clan and Shredder butt. It’s directed by Jonathan Liebesman and Patricio Farrell and produced by Michael Bay. The turtles have got steroided up, looking gigantic and they all annoy as much as they entertain, but for the most part, when you remember how awful each live action TMNT movie was, this isn’t so bad except for a few things.

TMNT is updated to the 21st century with gadgetry and pop culture references such as ‘Oh look, he’s doing his Batman voice’. It also boasts some excellent CGI, but it remains locked in the decade it came from with an ugly level of Bay style outdated and offensive misogyny. Megan Fox must get pretty frustrated as she’s expressed that she was keen to avoid this kind of thing. Before the film’s release Megan Fox had an in interview with Entertainment Weekly about the O’Neil character. She said:

“She’s more of a leader when she explores her relationship with the turtles instead of just the human companion that gets dragged along on the adventure. It’s more representative of a modern woman […] I’m completely clothed for the entire movie, there’s no gratuitous skin or sexual anything. Jonathan was really insistent on not wanting her to be sexualised or to take that sort of typical role we’ve seen women take in movies thus far, and that I’ve taken in particular.”

Well sadly, it still happens here. There may not be ‘gratuitous skin or sexual anything”, but there’s plenty of other things that reinforce this crap instead. In the course of the film she gets called a ‘complicated chick’, labelled as  ‘my girlfriend’ by the unfortunately very creepy and pervy Michelangelo who says when he first sees April, ‘She’s so hot, I can feel my shell tightening.’ She also constantly gets perved on by Will Arnett’s lame camera man and the movie’s cameras too, clothed or not. She gets called ‘a little girl’ by Shredder and told she has ‘daddy issues’. How many demeaning things does Megan Fox have to go through if she accepts a film that Michael Bay is involved in?

It’s a big shame, as the rest of the film is enjoyable, and could probably generate an increase in TMNT popularity. But its backward schoolboy attitude offensively and clumsily asserts this as an utterly stupid boy’s film for boys and manchilds only, who are awkward around women. That’s not to say girls can’t or shouldn’t enjoy the film, it’s just not made the most pleasant of viewings when there is a level of objectification in the film. It’s particularly frustrating as this should be and is a kid’s film. So why is there this unpleasant creepy humour intruding into the picture?  It’s also annoying as Megan Fox isn’t bad as April O’Neil. In fact the actor shares the character’s plight in many ways, trying to maintain integrity while she constantly has to do demeaning things.  She suffered equally in the first two Transformers films and did not return for the third. It’s clear then, that while Michael Bay may not have been in the director’s chair, his smutty OMG women have boobs attitude is smeared all over the film he’s produced.

If this doesn’t make you mouth vom, or you love TMNT enough to bypass the intruding shitstorm of Bayhem that does sadly permeate through the entire picture, then there is fun to be had here. There’s certainly a thrill factor in seeing the Turtles reinvented in this way. They feel alive and their design is top notch. Raph is in full grumpy loner mode, and Leonardo is the tough leader he should be. Donatello, also charms with a nerdy genius presence. But Michelangelo . . . Oh Michelangelo, my favourite of the Turtles when I was a kid . . . . is just tragic. He’s reduced to just being dumb and horny and the amount he hits on and pervs on April O’Neil gets uncomfortable. It’s as if Michael Bay was set loose on Michelangelo and just turned him into his teenage self. I’m sure Bay finds this ‘reinvention’ of the character hilarious. Everybody else will likely be cringing. It might be fair to say that a lot of teenage boys are like that, but it irks in the film and just feels awkward. Splinter’s characterisation and art design is great though and the relationship between him and his turtle ‘sons’ is fantastically pitched.

The core relationships and story arc works well and the action scenes really impress. I particularly enjoyed the backstory to the turtles and the scenes of them growing up. Seeing baby and kid turtles is pretty awesome. And don’t worry, there’s no naff stuff about them being aliens. So what about Shredder and the Foot Clan? Well, sadly this may well be another point of contention for fans. Personally I enjoyed the clan and Shredder. But they’re different from the traditional TMNT, particularly in style. The clan are very militarised and Shredder is bling’d out in knives and mechanics. I know he’s called Shredder but he seems to have been slightly Transformered.

If you can get past the Bay blueprint that farts its way through the film, then there is lot of fun to be had here. It’s nowhere near as bad as it looked like it was going to be. But it also could have been much better. You’ll likely enjoy the action and the kids will really enjoy it too, it’s just a shame there’s the creepy moments. Let’s hope that if sequels follow, Michael Bay is appropriately kept at bay from the production.

Original article on I’m With Geek at: http://www.imwithgeek.com/film/teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles-review

Movie Appreciation: A little look at The Box Trolls and its links to Charles Dickens and Roald Dahl

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I took my nephew to watch Box Trolls yesterday, not really knowing anything about it. I was delighted to see that it was a film in the style of classic children’s stories like Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol and Roald Dahl’s Matilda and James and the Giant Peach. So I thought I’d write a little blog on how it seems to relate to these classics. It’s also a wonderful film for its appreciation for old school stop motion animation.

Box Trolls is a charming old school stop motion family film with a Steampunk aesthetic and a Roald Dahl and Dickensian mind-set. Based on Alan Snow’s novel, There Be Monsters, The Box Trolls is a tale about little creatures who take people’s rubbish to make things and live off of in their underground homes. When a very young boy is in terrible danger the Box Trolls rescue him and bring him up as one of their own, and affectionately call him Egg. In the meantime a ruthless campaign is enacted to capture the Box Trolls who are labelled as terrible thieves and monsters. As Egg grows, his box troll companions are continually captured by the troll exterminators. When his troll father is taken he goes above ground to look among the humans to try and find him.

The Box Trolls is a beautiful film with a smart allegorical tale. Maybe its just me, but I found there to be quite a few aspects about The Box Trolls that made it feel like a Dickensian morality tale. There is the care and consideration for the young and destitute and themes of greed, corruption and waste. Egg and the Box Trolls are not unlike the characters of Dickens’ Oliver Twist – homeless children, street urchins regarded as pests and treated appallingly and villainously by the authorities.

It may not seem an obvious inspiration but Dickens is there in Box Trolls. In fact there’s quite a lot to this intelligent and beautiful childrens’ film. There are also excellent meta considerations provided by Richard Ayoade’s character. And there are elements of Roald Dahl too with the vulgar selfishness of grownups and the goodness of children, like we see in Matilda and James and the Giant Peach. The visual style of the The Box Trolls is also similar to the movie version of James and the Giant Peach, which is another fantastic family film.

The obvious theme of The Box Trolls is of waste and recycling. The Box Trolls are a bit like The Wombles, making use of our rubbish and making use of it for their homes. Then there are the story’s elements of greed and obsession with wealth and consumerism. The rich despise the Trolls, but the main Troll snatcher, Archibald Snatcher, is a poor man himself desperate to own a shiny white hat and eat cheese like the rich, even though he is severely allergic to it. Each time he eats any or even gets near cheese he suffers from terrible bloating, and I mean terrible, disgusting Roald Dahl style bloating. But he consumes it nevertheless. Cheese is the prime consumer item in The Box Trolls. The rich are obsessed with it. The Duke comments that they thought about using their saved money to buy a children’s hospital but instead spent it all on making a giant wheel of cheese. This could almost be a line from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Eventually greed is Archibald Snatcher’s undoing. The true victors are those with charitable hearts and who are caring and environmentally conscious.

Box Trolls then is a beautifully self-aware Dickensian style tale of environmentally friendly trolls. With elements that also make it like a Roald Dahl story, The Box Trolls is a fantastic morality tale that follows in the footsteps of some of the best of children’s literature.

Pride: An inspiring film that everyone, Everyone should see.

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Set in British Cinema’s favourite decade – the 80’s – beneath the iron grip of Thatcher and amidst the miners strike, a group of headstrong gay and lesbian young activists decide to try and help the miners’ cause by raising money for them in an attempt to rally together against a common foe. With the group title Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners or L.G.S.M, no one wants to have anything to do with them in 1984 But then a phone call to a Welsh mining town sets up an unlikely alliance and ultimately, friendship between two groups of sidelined people. it’s all based on a true story and is told exceptionally well with some astounding performances particularly from Andrew Scott and Bill Nighy who demonstrates a subtlety you rarely get to see from him.

Pride is an inspiring film that is heartfelt and uplifting. Occasionally it becomes almost too sentimental and slightly cheesy, but always manages to pull it back with very assured performances and an overall well crafted script from Stephen Beresford. It’s also different and refreshing to see an L.G.B.T. film that is so overwhelmingly positive and does not end all in tears like other films of the genre. Brokeback Mountain for example is an excellent film, but certainly not an easy watch. One of the main strengths of Pride is that it feels honest and consistent in its portrayal of hardships, prejudice and loss. Appropriately H.I.V. comes into the film as an integral part of L.G.B.T. history but does not become a focus. The focus is solidarity and celebration. The film has clearly been designed for mass appeal – it follows in the footsteps of well loved and heartwarming Brit flicks such as The Full Monty and Made In Dagenham with its up heartwarming proud Brit style. This may provoke fair criticisms but is also one of the film’s strengths. The point is that this is a film and subject matter everyone should be able to embrace and feel happy and proud to.

I urge you to see Pride. Particularly if this strikes you as a film that is not for you. Believe me it is.

Hercules: Another massive misfire or a step in the right direction? A look at the new Hercules film and how it responds to different incarnations of the hero, classical and modern

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Popular entertainment has not been kind to the Hercules myth. Ancient Greek’s most beloved Demi-God has long been the lovable, brainless, joke buffoon of popular entertainment. From the juggling strong man Hercules of the circus to television’s Hercules: The Legendary journeys, and cinema’s animated Hercules from Disney. The sell of Hercules has long been that he’s big, dumb and fun. But in Ancient Greece and Rome, he was a dichotic character comprised of hero worship and unbearable tragedy. Whilst he was the heroic figure of the twelve labours and champion and inventor of the Olympic Games he was also a vicious barbarian and child killer, who slaughtered his own family in a God-driven blind frenzy. He was also originally called Heracles. Hercules is the adapted Roman name.

But the Hercules that most people know today is the cheesy Hercules portrayed in popular entertainment: The Kevin Sorbet hunk-a-Hercules, the Disney ‘zero to hero Herc’ and even Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ‘Nice chariot, but vhere’s yor horses?’ ancient demi-god stuck in the big apple, Hercules in New York. How then, do you present a version of Hercules that is closer to the myths but will also please fans of Hercules’ pop culture history? Of all the possible people, Brett Ratner and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson seem to have provided somewhat of an answer: You compromise.

The result is still a dumb swords and sandals cheese fest, but it’s the closest Hercules has ever been, in modern popular entertainment, to his beginnings. Could this be the start of the popular image and understanding of this figure changing?

For fans of the Hercules myth, informed through pop culture or even historically and academically, Ratner and Johnson’s Hercules should prove rather enjoyable and possibly surprising viewing. As this Hercules is not just a poppy swords and sandals romp. It is largely that, for sure, but it also provides a study of the Hercules myth as a whole, incorporating a good selection of chapters from his illustrious career and exploring the possibilities of the man behind the myth. Where did the myth come from? Was there a real man who was famous for killing a dangerous lion, killing a big boar and doing various other fantastic things? Were his actions exaggerated and did he become the Demi-God myth that we know him as now? That’s what this new incarnation of Hercules tries to explore. And the mere fact it’s been attempted is refreshing.

The movie is an adaptation of Steve Moore’s and Admira Wijaya’s Hercules: The Thracian Wars; a series of comics published by Radical in 2008. It’s in a similar vein to that of Neil Gaimon’s revisionist Beowulf graphic novel and Frank Miller’s 300; Pop culture successes that are, to some degree, historically informed and revisionist.

In fact, Steve Moore’s Hercules: The Thracian Wars, is very well informed. The writer has clearly studied and understood the Hercules myth and tried to create a faithful adaptation of the character in his story. In an interview with Mike Conroy, Steve Moore, explains that ‘the whole story is set, as far as possible, in an authentic Bronze Age setting, c.1200BC.’ Setting it at this time, which is when the original myth stems from and when the classical Greeks set their stories and plays about him, allows us to understand that this man, wearing his lion skin and fighting huge animals, is essentially a barbaric caveman. Throughout history, the Heracles/Hercules character has been adapted and civilised, even by the Ancient Greeks. But what Moore has attempted in his comics is to explore this original barbaric character and present him faithfully, creating something fresh, by looking back to the original stories the character came from and the historical context that surrounded them. Moore’s story is not about a hero, it’s about the barbaric man the Hercules character originated as. Moore comments, ‘I’m not trying to turn Hercules into “a comic book hero” . . . in fact most of the time he’s far from heroic . . . I’m telling a Hercules story that happens to be in comic book format, but even so I’ve thrown out some of the conventions . . . and I’ve tried very hard to avoid intrusively 21st century dialogue or contemporary references’. What then must Moore think of Brett Ratner and The Rock’s poppy crowd pleasing Hollywood Studios movie version?

Moore adds in the interview, before a film was on the cards, ‘. . . if you look at the ancient stories, Hercules was a murderer, a rapist, a womaniser, subject to catastrophic rages and plainly bisexual, and I’ve tried to accommodate all those aspects in my characterization. So if there ever was a human being behind the Hercules stories, I’d like to think he was something like the character portrayed here, rather than the cleaned up “hero” of other comics and TV. Mind you, I wouldn’t have wanted to spend much time in his company.’

It’s unlikely that Steve Moore is overly thrilled with Ratner’s movie interpretation: Ratner’s and Johnson’s Hercules is precisely ‘the cleaned up hero’ Moore had avoided in his story. Ratner’s adaptation is a cop-out really, designed to please the masses. It’s a shame the project wasn’t taken up by the team behind the HBO Game of Thrones’ series, whose characters, like their original book counterparts, are anything but ‘cleaned up’ heroes. Instead Ratner’s is a disappointingly safe interpretation of the hero. The film has a 12A rating and the protagonist is, through it all, an out-and-out good guy.

But then so was Euripides’ protagonist in his tragedy of Heracles; the play from 400BC, where much of our understanding of the Hercules myth, comes from. His Heracles was good. He just had terrible things happen to him. In Euripides’ Heracles, or Heracles Gone Mad, as it is sometimes called, Heracles returns home after completing his final labour to retrieve the three headed dog Cerberus, from the Underworld. But when the hero reaches home, he finds his kingdom has been taken over by a tyrant and his wife and children are about to be murdered. Heracles saves his family and kills the tyrant in his own family home. But just as he is about to perform the cleansing ritual, he loses his mind; thinks his wife and children are his enemies and brutally murders them. He then falls unconscious and when he awakes, is completely unaware of what he has done. That is until he finds what remains of his family. The context surrounding Heracles’ actions is that the Goddess Hera, has put a spell on Heracles and driven him mad. That being the only way she can see to successfully harm him. (Hera hates Heracles as he is the bastard son of her cheating husband, the king of the Gods, Zeus. The Hero’s name, Heracles, means in honour to Hera; a clumsy decision from Zeus in the hope it would appease Hera. It didn’t, and she spends all of Heracles’ life, trying to destroy him) But in modern readings of the play, we can associate post-traumatic stress disorder to Heracles’ actions. And indeed this is the context that surrounds most new adaptations of the Heracles play. At the end of the play, Heracles understandably wants to kill himself, but his friend Theseus, stops him and convinces him to come to Athens, where he will care for him. Theseus is indebted to the hero as Heracles had saved his life, retrieving him from the Underworld when he stole Cerberus.

Euripides’ Heracles was a moralistic figure loyal to family and to his people, and whose suffering and ability to live through it was a symbol of strength aided by friendship and support of the Athenian people. That is one of the earliest incarnations of the character we have. Ratner’s Hercules rings relatively true to that incarnation. As Ratner’s Rockules, is a moralistic hero, who has had terrible things happen to him. Of course, ultimately, Ratner’s movie finds a cheap loophole out of Hercules’ uglier moments. But then there’s room for that when the whole idea of this Hercules is revisionist, questioning what might have been true and fabricated about a possible real man behind the myth. It’s just a shame post traumatic Stress disorder isn’t a more prominent them in the movie. But then, that might not sell as many tickets as the Rock’s new Schwarzenegger wrestler turned actor persona evidently does.

The Hercules from ancient myth has still not been faithfully presented in mainstream entertainment and it’s rare that his tragedies are performed on the stage. Though the plays based on him are fantastic; Euripides’ Heracles was a masterwork of tragedy. Seneca’s Roman version, Hercules Furens, portrays a fascinating analysis of possible post traumatic madness and in a 21st century version of the play from Simon Armitage, called Mister Heracles, our protagonist is a government owned soldier programmed to lose his mind should he desert. But each interpretation is difficult, ugly and rarely performed. Oedipus, Antigone, Medea and Electra are the tragedies of choice in popular theatre. But now Hercules is once again in the foreground of the public consciousness. He’s back in pop culture and for once he is there in a depiction that at least glimpses at the hero’s darker connotations, and is aesthetically closer to the original caveman-like figure of ancient Greece, wearing his lion skin and fighting with a giant club.
What Ratner’s Hercules does do well is bridge the gap between the cheesy Hercules of pop culture and the ambiguous figure from Ancient Greece. Perhaps now the way has been paved for the popular representation of Hercules to be changed from 2 dimensional pop culture icon to the intriguing myth from which he originated. For now though, he’s just The Rock . . . in a Brett Ratner film . . . but still, it’s a step, all be it a big, clunking, clumsy one, but still a step, in the right direction.

Guardians of the Galaxy Review

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Guardians of the Galaxy is great, it’s really great. It’s funny, self-aware, and has a lot of heart. It knows its audience and also its inspirations, taking a huge leaf from the original Star Wars, A New Hope. It seems like it may well be part of Disney’s preparations for its upcoming Star Wars films, reminding audiences how much they loved the original and showcasing that Disney understands what made Star Wars so special; excellent world building, great space battles but above all humour and heart. But Guardians of the Galaxy also manages to be its own unique film, aware of its similarities to and tropes from the sci-fi fantasy genre but winning us over with nods and jokes and above all a solid story of its own.

A human man finds himself in an alien universe and must fight and steal to survive. His exploits land him in the company of a strange rogues gallery of characters including Drax the Destroyer, a talking Raccoon called Rocket, a giant, walking tree called Groot and an alien assassin woman called Gamora.

The characters are great. Who knew that wrestler turned actor David Bautista would have such a great presence and actually have some of the funniest moments in the film as Drax the Destroyer? And the rest? A walking tree that can only say one line? A talking, gun toting Raccoon? Yeah they’re great, really great. They have some of the strongest moments in the film, and not just the funniest. Groot, the tree character, is a beautiful creation, bringing moments of pro-earth and Mother Nature imagery to a movie that is mostly in space and on spaceships. In these moments it gets a little like Wall-e. And Rocket the Raccoon is essentially a majorly grumpy Han Solo, angry because he’s a Raccoon, but doesn’t even know what a Raccoon is. Groot is his Chewbacca, and the pair are just as likable.

Chris Prat as Peter, or Star-Lord as he insists on being called, is also great. He’s a man-child, partly Tony Stark playboy, but with the moral compass of Captain America in his pocket. He’s also very James T. Kirk. He’s our window into this strange and wacky universe and a representation of 70’s and 80’s nostalgia, still listening to the songs of his (and our) world and past he cannot let go of. It’s that nostalgia that roots this film and makes it so enjoyable. Zoe Saldana is a cracking Gamora and the chemistry between her and Chris Prat’s Star-Lord is another one of the film’s strengths. The villains are menacing, although as is often the case with Marvel, not a patch on the heroes. The supporting cast are also plenty of fun particularly John C. Reilly and Glenn Close.

This is a great Blockbuster and proves there is life in the Blockbuster when it is created with wit, fun and passion. So much stuff happens, and indeed so many things are constantly thrown at you. Stuff constantly blows up, half of the film is CGI. But it never becomes the CGI attack fest that other blockbusters like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and of course the Star Wars prequels were. It entertains with a similar charisma to that of the self-aware and brilliant Lego Movie. It also has a fair amount of practical effects too as well as CGI.

The visuals are great, the gags work and the chemistry of this ensemble is fantastic. This film feels a lot like The Avengers due to its comedic band of misfits strung together, but it arguably surpasses that movie by being so much fresher with a rich cast of completely new characters and a completely new,, beautifully realised, universe. With Disney, it’s safe to say that Star Wars is in the best hands it’s been in since Lucas’ started to shake.

Guardians of the Galaxy may well be the best Marvel movie yet. Straight off the heels of the also very impressive Captain America: The Winter Soldier, phase two of Disney’s Marvel movies continues to move from strength to strength.