Tagged: 2017

Marvel Cinematic Universe: movie reviews Assembled

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I had a bit of a strange experience when on holiday in Spain earlier this year. In the town I was staying there was an advert for an open air screening of “Captain America”. Nice. It did not say which Captain America film, but a QR code took you to a YouTube trailer for The Winter Soldier (Captain America 2). I hadn’t seen it, so I went along.

In the end, I missed the first 30 minutes of the film, so I assumed it was The Winter Soldier.

When I got back to the UK, I watched The Winter Soldier, in English this time. It was not the film I saw in Spain. I then watched Civil War (Captain America 3) and it was awfully familiar.

I really enjoyed both films, so I decided to prolong my stay in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and watch a few more.

A few things to add:

1) I’m certainly no expert and I couldn’t explain all the intricacies of the plots.

2) Never stop watching before the end of the credits – there are twists and links to the next film(s) that you should not miss…

3) It’s best to watch these films in order. Where I have become confused, it is typically because something has happened in a previous film that I hadn’t seen.

4) There are still a number of films to see that have already come out…

– Thor: The Dark World (I’d prefer not to, but this should sit between Iron Man 3 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
– Ant-Man
– Doctor Strange

… and several more still to be released.

So here we go, in the order that the films feature in the Marvel Cinematic Universe:

Iron Man: here

Iron Man 2: here

Thor: Crap

Captain America: The First Avenger:

Pretty good, not as good as the following Captain America films. Benefits from a re-watch after seeing the two sequels.

Avengers Assemble: here

Iron Man 3: here

Captain America: The Winter Soldier:

Up there with Iron Man as the best of the films in the MCU, we discover that S.H.I.E.L.D has been infiltrated by the enemy and that Captain America’s best friend has been turned into a brainwashed killer. It’s effectively part 1 of a story that concludes with the third film in the series, Civil War.

Guardians of the Galaxy:

A move away from straight superhero fare, this is an enjoyable sci-fi flick. You find out more about the Infinity Stones – these have appeared in some of the earlier films too. I look forward to seeing the sequel.

Avengers: Age of Ultron:

This was a disappointment, especially as I had really enjoyed the first Avengers movie. The film looks like a video game, especially during the action at the beginning. The Hulk has to be included but there is little character there to develop and the idea of a romantic relationship building between Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow) and Bruce Banner (Hulk) seems far-fetched, is unconvincing, lacks any spark and leaves me a bit queasy.

The idea of sowing discontent between the Avengers is a good idea and leads nicely into the events of Captain America: Civil War. It is also essential to see this before Civil War, as there are a couple of characters that appear here for the first time.

Captain America: Civil War:

This may as well be another Avengers ensemble movie given the huge cast that appear from elsewhere in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Some of the characters that appear in this film appear for the first time in other films and if you haven’t seen them you will be somewhat lost. I had no idea who some of the characters were because I originally saw this straight after Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Not having watched Avengers: Age of Ultron first meant that people such as Wanda Maximoff (the Scarlet Witch) and Vision featured heavily but were not introduced in any way.

Still, very good.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2:

Lots of fun but I got the impression that they needed to do a sequel pretty quickly and came up with this. This deals with the main character Peter Quill discovering who his dad is, only to find out that he is a) a god and b) an arsehole. It’s hard to see at this point how this integrates into the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe – maybe the next Avengers film?

Spider-Man: Homecoming

This was better than I was expecting and was a lot of fun.  Spider-Man first made an appearance in the MCU in Captain America: Civil War and here the adolescent Peter Parker gets some help from Tony Stark, in particular a new outfit that has some rather impressive features.  New York looks great.  You can’t go wrong with this – it’s light-hearted, has a decent enough plot and serves as a good introduction of Spider-man into the Marvel Universe.  I’m looking forward to seeing how they use him in the next Avengers film.

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Mini review: The End of Money (New Scientist Instant Expert series)

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This is an excellent introduction to bitcoin, cryptocurrencies and the blockchain, intelligently covering the subject in 200 pages.

My favourite sections examine the blockchain, delving into subjects such as public key cryptography, proof of work and its relation to bitcoin. It doesn’t get overly technical but explains step-by-step how things work. Despite bitcoin being better known, it is clear that the blockchain – the foundational technology behind the currency – is more likely to revolutionise the economy. The problems facing bitcoin are not widely covered but are mentioned here.

Apart from breaking up the text, the pictures in the book serve absolutely no purpose and most add nothing to the narrative whatsoever. I’m impressed – it must take some effort to be so bad. Conversely the graphs and timelines are well done, clearly showing trends and imparting a lot of information in a concise way.

The glossary is handy and the last section called “fifty ideas” is an excellent resource if you want to read further.

One thing that perplexes me is the title of the book. Cryptocurrencies will not be “the end of money” – this is the conclusion the book itself comes to in the section called “Is bitcoin really money?”. So maybe the tile should have been “The End of Money?”. Not a big deal but it struck me as strange.

Still, if the other books in the Instant Expert series are as good as this, I will be reading more.

Film: Hamlet (BBC adaptation with David Tennant and Patrick Stewart)

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This is the first time that I’ve seen or read Hamlet and I only had the faintest idea of the plot. This film is a good way to experience it. I definitely find it easier watching Shakespeare than trying to read it and having now seen a few of his plays I am less intimidated by the language and can focus on the story more.

It is a great cast but I was surprised how much the role of Hamlet was played for what came across to me to a large degree as comic effect – well suited to David Tennant – when I was expecting a lot more tragedy. I suppose that is why Shakespeare’s plays can be interpreted in many different ways and I expect that I would need to study the play more to see what aspects of the character I’ve not picked up on.

My only other comment would be that this comes across very much as a filmed version of a play rather than a fully fledged film in it’s own right.

• Spare Cycles: Much Ado About Nothing (The Globe Theatre, London)

• Spare Cycles: King Lear: Live cinema broadcast from the Globe Theatre, London

Four great new jazz albums (October 2017)

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I’m not a big jazz fan, so this has come as a nice surprise.

A couple of nights ago I was flicking through the jazz section of Apple Music and I discovered the new album by Kamasi Washington, who I was lucky enough to see play live last year at the Royal Albert Hall in London as part of the Late Night Proms series.

Venturing further I came across Cécile McLorin Salvan’s new live album. She has a wonderful voice, total control and a delicious sense of humour.

That’s typically as far as my interest in jazz has taken me for a long time.

Then I took a punt on a couple of cool-looking albums – by Keyon Harrold and the Blue Note All Stars – and loved them both.

I’ve still got a lot of listening to do to appreciate them all fully but I highly recommend you check them out:

Kamasi Washington – Harmony of Difference
Cécile McLorin Salvant – Dreams and Daggers
Keyon Harrold – The Mugician
Blue Note All Stars – Our Point of View

Much Ado About Nothing (The Globe Theatre, London)

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I’ve never had a particular interest in Shakespeare but earlier this year we did a family tour of the Globe Theatre, situated on London’s Southbank. We had an engaging guide and this led to taking my daughter to see a rather unconventional version of Romeo and Juliet. I had a rough idea of the plot, but in that moment the play came alive.

The one problem we had was that – despite paying for pretty expensive seats – we had an obscured view. A wooden pillar a couple of rows in front meant that I spent most of the time leaning to the right a bit to make sure I had a good view of the stage.  The person next to me was very obliging.

Still, in the afterglow of the performance I booked to see Much Ado About Nothing.  This time I wanted to be in the midst of things, in with the crowd, exposed to the elements, up close.  This meant a couple of things:

  • I got a ticket for £5 (!)
  • I went on my own as my daughter refused to stand for 3 hours

Anyway, I got my clear viewpoint:

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Being that close is a fantastic experience, a visceral connection.  You get a face full of smoke.  The gunshots ring in your ears.  At times I had to shuffle forward as the cast passed through behind me to get to another stage in the crowd.

The performance was stunning, vibrant, poignant, funny.  The play is set in Mexico, 1914, and was performed with such energy I completely forgot that it was in Shakespearean English and just enjoyed the spectacle:

At the end you feel elated and with the sense that you must have just seen the best show in London.

At the time of writing (mid September 2017) there is still time to see the production.  If you can get tickets, I urge you to go even if you think that Shakespeare isn’t your thing.  After seeing this, it will be.

Next year I will be back, regardless of what is showing.

Mini review: “Dodgers” by Bill Beverly

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I came across this by chance and just could not resist given the reviews and the awards it won last year.

It is the story of a group of young black guys from a rough part of Los Angeles who are sent on a road trip across America to kill a judge when their narcotics operation is busted by the police.

Its pared-back tone belies the book’s emotional impact. This is more than a journey in a van for the main character – it is a rite of passage. I read through the second half of the book in one sitting one evening and found myself thinking about it all the next morning.

Somehow I managed to miss the fact that there was an audiobook version (it sounds good too…), so I went with the paper version.

Given that the book clocks in at only 300 pages there is a lot of story and character development built in.  A number of twists happen out of the blue and without fanfare that mess with the boys’ mission.

I wondered about the plausibility of such young characters being able to do what the plot asks of them but it becomes clear as the story progresses that it wouldn’t be difficult for people to disappear through the cracks of society and never be found. If anybody actually cares enough to look for them in the first place.

Take care if you are sensitive to sometimes harsh language. These are young guys gassing amongst themselves in a confined space. Reflect on this and decide accordingly.

I’m very pleased that I chose to hitch a ride on this particular literary adventure and would highly recommend it.

Wouldn’t fancy doing it for real though.

Spare Cycles turns ten…

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This lovingly crafted blog is celebrating its tenth birthday. A beer (or ten) is cooling in the fridge to toast the reaching of a milestone. Happy birthday!

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns nine…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns eight…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns seven…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns six…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns five…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns four…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns three…