Cornermen Review Basement Bar, City Screen York 06/02/17

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Boxing has always been a great platform for telling stories of the underdog and Oli Forsyth’s bracing play proves to be no exception as it follows a tale of three trainers in search of long-term meal ticket. This new production packs a powerful punch thanks to confident direction by Andy Love and potent performances from all involved.

 
Despite never showing a moment of action from within the actual boxing ring, the show capably captures the energy of being ringside and all the work that goes into getting there. It begins simply enough with three down-on-their-luck trainers with little ambition other than to find a boxer who can keep them in the business, a ‘journeyman’. They get a lot more than they bargained for when they stumble across Sid Sparks, a fast hitter in need of direction. Before they know it, the team are rising up the ranks and their simple dreams of making a career of losing shifts to something much grander, and with much higher stakes.

 
Whilst most boxing tales tend to focus on the unquenchable need to become the champion, Cornermen has its gaze more centred on the cost of stumbling into that race by accident. Sid shows little ambition initially and is confident enough in his abilities to get by, but when the victories start to mount up and the prospect of a career-ending loss to the current champion becomes very real, he struggles with the expectations being thrust upon him. Joe Sample is excellent in the role, entirely convincing as a young man trapped by the one thing that makes him special. It is thanks in great part to his brooding body language and urgent, physically dynamic spikes of training that the fights, when described by his trainers via intense monologue, are so convincing.

 
He is aided immeasurably by his tight trio of trainers, led by Alexander King as Mickey, who could easily be considered the villain of the piece due to his selfish nature, but upends this by being disarmingly honest about his motives. There is a great bristle of rivalry between him and Sid that is mostly unsaid, but is nevertheless well communicated via overly vigorous training and contemptuous glances. It is perhaps one of the few disappointments that more sparks don’t fly between these two over the course of the story.

 
The remaining cornermen, Joey and Drew, portrayed by Claire Morley and Martyn Hunter respectively, provide the back bone of the team as they try to keep Sid and Mickey on the right track. Both are entirely convincing with Morley providing some much needed levity as a former boxer who was never good enough, whilst Hunter hits all the right world-weary beats as the old war dog trainer who’s seen it all. Over the course of the play both go to great lengths to keep the team together and this is a huge part of what makes the final act so engaging. Despite all the doubt and underhanded methods, it is hard not to get caught up in the final match up, which manages to thrill despite not a single punch being seen.

 
The finale is not the only standout scene, with a celebratory night out being amusingly energetic and a tension filled one-on-one between Sid and Drew being a genuine dramatic knockout.

 
The unassuming location of the Basement Bar at City Screen York works remarkably well, with the small town social club origins of the story being well suited to it. Once the narrative leaves these places behind, it serves as a strong reminder of where the players came from and where they may well return. As Mickey notes at the opening, boxing is a cyclical beast, and only a rare few get to go back around.

 
You’d be wise to check out this fighter while he’s in his prime.

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Directed by Andy Love

6 – 8 Feb – City Screen Basement Bar, York
Tickets available now from: https://goo.gl/4HY8Gr
*Seats very limited, book early to avoid disappointment.*

10 Feb – Seven Arts, Leeds
Tickets available now from: https://goo.gl/zqMEd9

Please note – This play contains strong language. Suggested age: 14+

Run time: 90 mins

 

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Well-fangled Theatre, Friargate Theatre, York

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Claire Morley, left, Amy Fincham, Patricia Jones, Jamie McKeller and Hattie Patten-Chatfield in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Picture: Michael J Oakes

Confession time.
1. Until last night I’d never seen, studied or read Midsummer Night’s Dream.
2. After last night it is now comfortably nestled amongst my favourite tales from Shakespeare (For the curious, Othello will forever claim the top spot for me)

Midsummer is well known for its magically romantic narrative of quarreling lovers and tricksy fairies, so expectations were high for something unique. Well-fangled Theatre, led by director Mark France, have more than delivered on this hope with a triumphantly fleet footed adaptation.

The first thing that is immediately striking is the wonderfully inventive costume design by Simon Jarvis. Wrought from nothing but cardboard and sculpted slivers of metal, the effect is enchanting and goes a tremendous distance in transporting the audience to a world where human and fairies meet. The set design ingeniously continues this. Rather than feature a more traditional backdrop, the costumes are hung against the back of the theatre in separate, named sections for each actor. This works brilliantly in keeping track of the characters, and is effectively used for stage exits and entrances as the actors move in and out of their respective stations, their backs turned to the audience like defiant action figures amongst their props.

This design is well met by considered lighting design by Sean Byrne and sprightly musical accompaniment from Alexander King.

The cast is a winning band who mix their roles with ease as the story jumps between lovers, fairies and a haphazard acting troupe with glee. The four lovers are played with immense charm by Claire Morley, Hattie Patten-Chatfield, Amy Fincham and Jamie Mckeller. The quartet are so natural and likeable in the roles, upon ending it was difficult to imagine the characters being gendered in a more traditional manner.

Morley is a standout, keenly flitting from the confident, fist flinging Lysandra to the stage fright ridden Flute. Her competitor in affections, McKeller, brings an infectious doltishness to Demetrius and amusing directorial impatience to Quince whilst Chatfield and Fincham do hearty work as they wrestle with their magically addled lovers.

Outside of the central quartet Bill Laughey brings a warm, avuncular presence to his Thesius when he’s not presenting a gentle Titania whilst Josie Campbell provides an imperious Oberon and Hippolyta.

Anna Rose James capably lands the tricky role of Puck, bouncing, coiling and wandering about the stage as nimbly as her character skips across the three narratives.

Patricia Jones has perhaps the most impact however, with a brilliantly unhinged portrayal of Bottom.

 

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Jamie McKeller, left, Claire Morley, Anna Rose James, Patricia Jones, Amy Fincham, and Hattie Patten-Chatfield in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Picture: Michael J Oakes

There is such an infectious camaraderie amongst the cast that by the time the final act was reached and the hilarious show within a show is performed, the audience were in stitches. For any that feel Shakespeare is too serious a world to tread, I dare any to make it through the Rude Mechanicals inept rendition of “The most lamentable comedy and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisbe” without a single chortle.

If there is any criticism to be made, it is that there is some sporadic confusion for the uninitiated with regard the exact intended gender of some of the characters. Whilst some, such as the renamed Lysandra or Nicki Bottom are clearly flipped, some remain the same and are simply played by members of the opposite sex. This is a minor quibble however and overall gives the play an added frisson, particularly in Egeus’s disapproval of the relationship between Lysandra and Hermia.

Whether you’ve seen the play before or have come to it with fresh eyes, Well-fangled Theatre have produced an uproarious, inventively designed and beautifully performed delight. Go see.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Well-fangled Theatre, Friargate Theatre, York, tomorrow at 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 613000 or at ridinglights.org/midsummer-nights-dream/

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review

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Captain America, like Superman, has a problem. He’s a do-gooder. And do-gooders are incredibly hard to write for, especially in these gritty reboot days. After a successful Indiana Jones styled opening adventure and solid execution in The Avengers, all eyes were on Cap’s first stand alone modern day outing to see if he could walk tall in a world dominated by conflicted heroes. Would Cap have his values shaken? Would his loyalties and preconceptions be tested? Was he in danger of feeling irrelevant? The answer to all these questions was a surprisingly refreshing no. Marvel stuck to their guns and yet again pulled it off as the fundamental strength of character that makes Steve Rogers more human than patriotic propaganda shone through. In a world of shadows and deceit, an honest man can still make a difference and not lose his soul in the process.

The film opens confidently but quietly as we find Rogers on his morning run where he encounters future ally Falcon. They swap stories of adjusting to life outside of combat before Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow shows up to whisk Cap off on another mission for Nick Fury, for whom he has hung his hat (or shield, natch) since the end of The Avengers. What follows is a crisp, well executed hostage rescue that makes several things clear right off the bat; Cap is a force to be reckoned with, with or without his trusty shield, and SHIELD itself, the organisation he is working for, is not to be trusted. Not even Fury or Widow. The lack of trust in this modern age is a great backdrop to drape around Rogers as he continues to adapt to this world. He is a man out of time and refuses to abandon his ideals to fit in. Many characters chastise him for being naive but if anything Cap is far too aware of what is going on around him. He makes several surprisingly salient comments throughout the film about the nature of freedom and fear and wars being over, not won. These are big ideas for a family friendly super-hero film. The story as a whole is one about paranoia and perceptions being upended and producer Kevin Feige has stated many times they were aiming for a vibe of political thrillers from the 70s. This is no more clear than with the presence of Robert Redford in proceedings. His role as the true head of SHIELD is a juicy one and allows him to play off much of the familiarity and comfortability he has built up with audiences over decades of screen time.

The story looks set to bring a very Cold War styled story to fruition and is at its most successful in this regard early on as Fury is targeted by the Winter Soldier, a mysterious and formidable assassin, after he learns too much about the rot that has taken hold in SHIELD. The chase sequence that introduces the titular soldier is a breathless highlight that nails the tension the narrative is gunning for. While the story manages to hit several similar beats as Cap is blamed for the attack on Fury, forcing him to go on the run, it ultimately falls back to a more traditional action milieu for the rest of the run time. This is a shame considering the tantalisingly tense set-up but is agreeably made up for with the action being some of the best seen in a Hollywood blockbuster for years. The film is replete with swift, well thought out set pieces and stunt work, including an excellently staged stand-off in an elevator. The one-on-one fights as whole are a consistently exhilarating stand-out.

None of this action would matter however if the characters were not engaging and Evans again turns in an absolutely wining performance as Captain America. He somehow manages to embody all of the best elements of the character while never succumbing to the expected anachronistic elements one might expect. The quiet dignity and integrity with which he tackles every scenario is a breath of fresh air in a world of angst ridden super-heroes. Cap has no doubts about what is right or wrong, and pushes those around him to follow his example.

This could potentially make for an emotionally flat tale, but this is taken care of via Cap’s conflict with the Winter Soldier, who in a nice twist is tied to his own past. The pair have a pleasing duality as reluctant weapons of war from the past still being used by the faceless powers-that-be of today. The Winter Soldier provides a fearsome opponent throughout and his true identity thankfully also allows for some emotional complexity during the otherwise bombastic finale.

Along for much of the ride is Black Widow who Johansson continues to struggle with somewhat. She is better than her ham fisted entry in Iron Man 2 but the intelligence she displayed under Whedon’s wing is absent here. She voices dismay at the state of affairs but remains something of a cipher that perhaps only a stand alone film will finally solve. Anthony Mackie as new team mate Falcon fares better. A brash and grounded fighter (despite his mode of transport), he provides lively support and makes up for the absence of characters such as Hawkeye who vexingly doesn’t even get a mention. Like the rest of the standalone Phase 2 Marvel films this is unsurprising though, as back-up in the form of the Avengers remains unsaid.

Samuel L. Jackson as Fury continues to embody the role and does much with little screen time, though Cobie Smoulders’ returning role as Maria Hill is little more than an afterthought. One character who benefits immensely from the conspiracy angle of the story however, is Agent Stilwell whose previously bumbling background player takes on an entirely new dimension here. Final mention should go to Frank Grillo who manages to bring reality and a burning undercurrent of competitiveness with Cap to a role that could have been written off as little more than a heavy.

The highly capable cast is anchored by a tight, focused script by Christopher Markus and Steven McFeely, with spry direction from former Arrested Development and Community directors, Anthony and Joe Russo, who walk away from this as a pair to watch. Their involvement in the next instalment is an enticing one as Winter Solider is as confident as Marvel has ever been.

Penny Dreadful Series 1 Review

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Penny Dreadful, like the rags that inspired it, is a guilty pleasure of the highest order. The series, surprisingly produced by the Sam Mendes, is the brain child of John Logan, writer of such tales as Gladiator, Skyfall and the next generation Star Trek film with Tom Hardy in it. Dreadful seems to be aiming for a high class affair and has a cast largely to match, but is unfortunately mired in scattershot plotting, muddled action, highfalutin dialogue and spotty characterisation, rendering the end result a bonkers delight. 

The series functions as a kind of side story/fan fiction/homage/what-if to many classic horror tales of yore, picking liberally from the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolfman and Dorian Gray in the first season alone. None of these elements mesh particularly well, with each providing more than enough material for their own series. Yet somehow, the show is never less than watchable and after a time becomes addictively so as the various characters careen off one another in ever-more-bizarre directions.

The main thrust of the series follows Eva Green’s supernaturally sensitive Vanessa Ives and her sponsor, Sir Malcom Murray (Timothy Dalton) as they pursue his daughter – the famous Mina Harker – across London. Along their travels they pick up Mr. Chandler, played by Josh Hartnett, a mysterious gunslinger from America as well as a young Dr. Frankenstein, who is currently having trouble controlling his own offspring. While this may sound a delicious prospect, the series seems to take great pleasure in luxuriating in its set-up, taking an age to get to the point.

The production and costume design is as well produced as one might expect and the make up is generally solid, though occasionally the various vampire lessers become a bit identikit. On the downside the show has a rushed quality to it visually. It’s clear that the schedule is a tight one and many sequences have a schizophrenic quality as they shift between the painterly, classy quality the show is reaching for and the workman like presentation of other sequences. The action set pieces in particular suffer, with most devolving into darkly-lit, poorly-choreographed fisticuffs, with only sound effects to render them understandable. The big battle at the end of the season is a prime culprit that falls well short of the excitement and tension it is aiming for, almost undercutting the entire finale and by extension the trajectory of the entire season. 

If anything it is the quieter scenes that serve the show better, with several popular literary characters interacting in variously thought-provoking ways, some providing entertaining spins on the old tales. This does backfire from time to time though, as many of these scenes can feel extraneous to the overall arc of the series. The sub-plot of Frankenstein’s monster working behind the scenes at the Grand Guignol theatre for example, is a novel idea that unfortunately never really gels well with the rest of his story. On top of this, despite this time spent with certain characters, many remain inscrutable or changeable for much of the season depending on what characteristic a scene or episode needs them to portray.

What makes all this work though (for the most part) is the splendidly game cast. Eva Green camps it up magnificently as Vanessa Ives, her expressive features always providing life to some of the more ridiculous sentiments her characters has to convey. She spends a good deal of the season possessed as well, and clearly has a lot of fun with these by turns, freakish and inadvertently comical scenes. Green is so engaging though, even the bum notes add to the pleasantly batty nature of the show as a whole. Timothy Dalton meanwhile, hams for all he’s got, managing to bring a gruff warmth to an otherwise unlikeable character. It is really inexplicable he has not been more present on our screens. The show could survive off he and Green alone. 

There is capable support too; Josh Hartnett returns to the screen and is vastly better than his usual bemused efforts. Like many actors of his generation, he’s finally matured into the roles he’s playing. That said, his character is frustratingly inactive at times for a supposed man of action, and the mystery about his true nature is not given much time to breath at the same time as being painfully obvious. Harry Treadaway as Victor Frankenstein is a stand-out and frequently gets some of the best scenes. His Frankenstein is unlike any seen before yet still manages to convey the classic elements of the legend; equally intelligent and egotistical, but also incredibly vulnerable and wounded. Like much of the show however, his character comes with many caveats. Following the early reveal of his name and creation of a monster, his original beast surfaces and begins to torment him. The conflict between the two provides many of the series’ best and yet some of the most awful/confounding moments, including an encounter with Van Helsing that is the worst kind of subversion.

If these characters, while not entirely successfully rendered, remain generally engaging, one who consistently does not is Dorian Gray. Horribly cast and horribly written, the character represents everything that doesn’t work about the series. Lazily shoe-horned in and egregiously written, the skin squirms whenever he is on screen, particularly whenever he is required to be amorous (which by dint of the character is distressingly often), especially in his introductory scene with a consumption-afflicted Billie Piper. Piper’s character is perhaps the clearest of the bunch. Spending most of the season separate to the supernatural goings on, her plight is clear and relatable. Unfortunately, her end destination, like much of the show’s supposed twists, is somewhat obvious. 

Overall the show is a curious beast akin to the characters that inhabit its world; muddled, equal parts fascinating and entertaining, but by turns also dumbfounding and frustrating. By the end of the season little has been gained, and arguably much lost. There is little to inform what the path of the next season will be bar a smattering of new threads and old ones still hanging. Either way, I’m morbidly fascinated now, and will be present and correct for the start of the next season.

The Raid 2 Review

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The Raid is perhaps the most enthralling, brutally efficient, ruthlessly engrossing action movie of the last decade. It appeared out of nowhere, single handedly drawing attention to Indonesian Cinema, writer/director Gareth Evans and star Iko Uwais. Its impact on the martial arts movie scene cannot be overstated and the inevitable Hollywood remake is already in development. Before that though, Evans and Uwais have re-teamed for the first in two planned sequels that will make up a trilogy of films. Unfortunately, despite the early buzz, strong critical response and rabid fanbase (of which I used to count myself a member of), this latest effort is a downgrade in nearly every way. Most reviews sound as if the writers were bludgeoned into acceptance, and that is what much of the film feels like, a gruelling, unnecessary beating.

The story makes its first misstep in an attemptedly shocking opening scene that serves only to sever much of the dramatic potential the sequels promised. What follows is a bloated, meandering, predictable slog that lacks much of the urgent, desperate narrative the original so beautifully displayed. The expansion of the story and the canvas it is told against is not the culprit, rather the lack of focus that gave the first film such a clarity of purpose. The previous films story of a squad of cops trapped in a dilapidated building complex struggling to survive was immediately engaging, and a model of economic delivery that frequently skewed towards survival horror in its aesthetic. The sequel takes inspiration from more heady material, with many describing it as The Godfather with fists. Such quality outside of the unarguably masterful fight scenes is sadly absent. The narrative cherry picks beats from vastly classier films such as Infernal Affairs in hopes of conjuring a satisfying whole, but is rote in execution.

Much of the problem lies with the sidelining of the central character of Rama (Uwais) for much of the film. Unlike the original, in which he was an unwavering man of action and duty, following a disjointed opening act (which utilises an ambitiously fractured narrative before completely discarding it), he is largely relegated to watching other characters engage in the story or is absent entirely. Far too much of the film is focused on a gang war we are given little reason to care about, with thinly drawn characters flitting in and out with precious little rhyme or reason, as Rama is sent undercover to break a ring of police corruption and the underworld that supports it. The first film succeeded because we were with Rama for almost the entire running time and his plight was clear; in the sequel it is difficult at times to even tell if he was supposed have conflicted loyalties over the Kingpin’s misogynistic, traitorous son he is assigned to shadow, or the curiously benignly sketched Kingpin himself. By the final scenes this element almost became absurd considering the vendetta that put Rama on the hunt for them in the first place. This is not the fault of Uwais who again turns in another great performance of a man who can fell hundreds but still come off as human. What is at fault is a listless plot that reaches for moral complexity but ultimately boils down to the most overused of action film end games; KILL THEM ALL.

This leaves the main hope for the sequel standing up to its forebear being the action choreography. Sadly, while the various battles are frequently inventive, they lack the urgency of the original and seem to have had the violence dialled up to compensate. While the blood-letting felt necessary in the original as part of a desperate fight for life or death, here we watch endless hordes of anonymous hoodlums and gangsters killing one and other for reasons that are so byzantine as to render any empathy impossible. There are some fights that stir the excitement of the original; several early battles during the prison arc have the same sense of frenzied survivalism of the original, particularly a muddy battle between inmates and guards that sees Rama trying desperately to stop his ticket into the underworld from being killed.

What makes a great deal of the action sequences suffer is the ramshackle cast taking part in them. With Rama being the only returning character from the original who gets more than a throw-away line and an unceremonious goodbye, what we are left with is a host of new faces killing one and other in increasingly violent ways who don’t get anywhere near the same cogent, economical development of the original. Hammer Girl is an eye catching character but is ultimately little more than a mid level video game boss whose weapon of choice again, seems present only to add shock value. There is a definite disconnect between the two films with Rama being the only piece that truly draws them together. The story goes that Evans originally wanted to make something else before The Raid but couldn’t acquire the budget, and so made that instead with a fraction of the resources. This film feels as though this was the film Evans originally wanted to make only with Rama bolted on to turn the whole thing into a trilogy. It would explain the shoddy manner in which any other surviving character from the original is treated.

This is not to say the film is an unmitigated disaster, only a terribly disappointing one. The film finally springs to life in the last half hour with a series of fantastic stand-offs, beginning with the novel use of a car as an offensive weapon and culminating in a truly bruising kitchen beat-down. The supposedly stand out car chase sequence preceding this finale however, while sporadically exciting, has been overrated.

Technically the film is a step up and the fight scenes have lost none of their fervour, but without a compellingly told story, the Achilles heel of most martial arts films, it doesn’t live up to its lofty ambitions. This ambition leads to perhaps the biggest fault which is the frankly ludicrous running time. Seriously, it’s Lord of the Rings long. Evans remains a director to watch, the inventiveness and zeal he attacks action from the camera work, editing and performances of the stunt teams is impeccable, but in every other department, he needs to take a long hard look at what truly made The Raid breakout before continuing with a third film.

Directed by Gareth Evans. Starring Iko Uwai, Yayan Ruhian, Arifin Putra & Oka Antara. 2hrs40mins

Mood Indigo Review

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Michael Gondry is one of the most idiosyncratic filmmakers out there and his latest, Mood Indigo, is perhaps his most eccentric offering yet. Following an excursion to Hollywood it was inevitable Gondry would return to his home turf to stretch his quirky legs, and the resulting film is one that long time admirers will surely flock to. The film is frequently joyously nutty with one scene after another being suffused with Gondry’s trademark visual tomfoolery despite being wrapped around an incredibly well worn terminal disease plotline.

The story follows a gentleman of leisure, Colin (Romain Durais) who lives in a dream house, maintained by miniscule man in a mouse suit (obviously), where his every need is taken care of by his delightfully keen man servant/chef/lawyer, Nicholas (Omar Sy). Colin is happy and seems to have everything he needs except for a wife and despairs over his shoddy luck in this field while all his friends bounce from one relationship to another including his best friend Chick (Gad Elmaleh) who has just embarked on a romance with Nicholas’s nephew Alise (Aisa Maiga). One night at a party Colin meets Chloe (Audrey Tatou) and the rest is at once utterly predictable from a narrative standpoint yet a consistent flurry of unexpected visual flights of fancy that only Gondry could provide.

Chloe and Nicholas swiftly marry and all seems to be happily ever after but an errant water lily infects Chloe’s lung and she falls ill, forcing Colin to abandon his free wheeling life style to care for his wife. What follows has been covered in countless other doomed romance tales, but the manner in which Gondry tells the story marks it out as one to watch. The way in which the free spirited, bright and breezy tone (or mood) the film begins with transitions to one of colourless dread is wonderfully handled and Durais beautifully sells the desperation of a man who once had everything, but would now give anything for his wife’s health. As his house of whimsy decays all around him and stress literally ages his friends, the playfulness of the first half gives way to one of crushing dread. It’s a difficult switch to pull off but Gondry’s confidence holds the viewer throughout Chloe’s decline.

The film is not without issue, Gondry’s rambunctious style, while a major factor in what sets it out from similar films of its ilk, means the story rarely stands still as it flits from one scenario to another. At times these jumps can be gleeful, but at others one can’t help but wish Gondry has exercised a modicum of restraint so as to ground the actual human emotion a little more. Tatou, who is as luminous as ever, even while succumbing to a terminal disease, is give very little to do other than lie in bed with a plucky sense of acceptance. Her romance with Durais, while pleasant and sold for the most part via one Gondry sponsored, bonkers set piece after another, isn’t entirely convincing. Which is a shame as all the performers throw themselves into their roles with immense pluck. Omar Sy in particular is a delight as Colin’s all encompassing butler of sorts who fights for Chloe’s life with all the passion her husband does. Seeing him fall foul of the malaise that takes hold of everyone as Chloe’s condition worsens is perhaps the most quietly affecting as his previously frenetic demeanour is slowly stripped away.

Also solid are Chick and Alise, though they at times seem to have stumbled in from another film, obsessed as they are for the most part with a legendary militant philosopher who gives lectures that constantly are on the verge of an all out riot. Indeed they represent part of what sets the film out as unique, and yet overstuffed at the same time. There is an entire story to tell about their relationship and the damage worshipping an icon can have, but due to the onus of the story being focused on Colin and Chloe’s predicament, are reduced to bit players as the tale goes on. By the end their story acts almost as a B-side that is swiftly wrapped up in surprisingly dark manner.

The films is not entirely weighted towards gloom by the end though. Gondry cannot resist mining every scenario for all it’s worth, even managing to make a funeral blackly comic and Colin’s desperate job hunt an utterly ridiculous pursuit. These are all the more affecting too following the idyllic earlier scenes as Colin and Chloe romance one another, culminating in possibly the best wedding scene in cinema for some time.

So how does it rank in the pantheon of Gondry? Well, Eternal Sunshine will likely ever remain atop his work, but Mood Indigo certainly represents something more honest and expansive than much of his recent work, standing tall over The Science of Sleep, Be Kind Rewind or Green Hornet. You’ve seen this story many times before, but never told like this.

Guardians of the Galaxy Review

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They might be A-Holes, but you’ll love them all the same. Marvel’s big gamble has paid off big time and the previously thought to be high risk tale of a bunch of space bums has netted the biggest first film gross since the original Iron Man. Marvel expertly advertised the film as a blast of fun filled fresh air in a sea of grit, all to the tune of classic 80s music. To the relief of many, the end result turned out to be just that. Star Lord would be proud.

The film opens with its thankfully only earth bound scene as we find a young Peter Quill, soon to be played by a near impossible to dislike Chris Pratt, fleeing from his mother’s death bed only to be snatched up by a passing space ship, before taking up residence in the far reaches of the Marvel Universe. Director James Gunn plants his flag tonally early on as we transition to a now adult Quill hunting for a mysterious orb on a gorgeously rendered, decimated planet. Gunn takes the time to set up this wreck of a world as mysterious and ravaged, but very quickly stops for his lead to break out his mix tape and blast out some serious tunes in possibly the best title sequence a blockbuster has dared display in some time. The title drop is sublime. As he skips, kicks away alien critters and uses others as impromptu mics to lip synch, Pratt immediately draws the audience in as he makes his way through an ancient ruin in what can only be described as a deranged sci-fi version of Singing in the Rain. It’s oddball, infectious, a little messy, but always charming. Exactly like the film as a whole.

Quill quickly comes up against Korath (a sadly under used but still intimidating Djimon Hounsou), a crony of the big bad, Ronan the Accuser, who is also searching for the orb. After an eye catching escape, Quill flees with his prize and kicks off the pursuit for what he now holds in his possession. The film wastes little time in drawing the future Guardians of the Galaxy together as Ronan dispatches the assassin Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana, to acquire the orb. She catches up with her quarry on the planet of Nova Prime where a talking raccoon and sentient tree are also on the hunt for Quill after a bounty is placed on his head. The character dynamics are put in place swiftly and with great humour that would not be out of place in a Joss Whedon outing. Indeed, much of the tone of the film feels like Whedon’s much loved Firefly series, only with much more outrageous characters. Rocket Raccoon and Groot, wonderfully voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel respectively, are certainly two of the most bizarre characters ever to grace the silver screen. Rocket is a cantankerous, weapon obsessed, talking raccoon experimented on by aliens and Groot is a 9ft tall humanoid tree only capable of saying the phrase “I am Groot” To say they are an entertaining pair would be an egregious understatement. We haven’t even got to Drax the Destroyer yet.

After their disastrous first encounter leaves these oddballs stuck in prison, they forge an uneasy alliance to escape and sell the orb to the highest bidder before Ronan can get to them. The banter between the characters is amusingly combative, with each trying to one up the other, and coming from such a bizarre mix of creatures is never less than endearing, even when they resort to simply shouting at one another for extended periods of their conversations. That is except for Groot, who is for the most part, portrayed as a largely oblivious, benign puppy dog who only displays his more fearsome capabilities when he is in combat. When he does spring into action however, he does so with just as much crazed glee, if not more, than his friends and to great comic effect.

It is in the space prison where the team meet the last member of the team who goes by the slightly worrisome name of Drax the Destroyer. Drax is a knife keen, literal minded alien who does not understand the concept of metaphors, and in an unexpected turn of events, turns out to be the funniest of the group as a result. He nabs many of the best lines and former wrestler Dave Batista turns in a surprisingly comedic performance for such a tower of muscle. In fact the only member of the Guardians who doesn’t quite fizz as much as the others is Gamora who is sadly saddled with the majority of the moral conscience of the group.

It’s not all the fun and games though. As the Guardians bicker and play, Ronan and his forces close in for the kill. Ronan is played ably by Lee Pace, who fares better here than he has in the Hobbit Trilogy, but at times suffers for being so darkly serious in a film so rambunctious in every other detail. He is a gloomy, emo RADA reject residing in a monochrome ship sailing in a sea of technicolour. This was surely deliberate, but unfortunately the films tends to grind to halt when the bad guys show up, rather than tighten with tension. Former Dr. Who companion Karen Gillan is under served in a poorly written (tho beautifully designed) role that largely boils down to her screaming rote bad guy lines such as “Find them!”, “Get them!” and so on.

It’s not just evil that gets short changed, many of the supporting characters get little to do. Michael Rooker as Yondu fares best but could have just as easily been excised from the film entirely while John C. Reilly and Glenn Close are almost completely wasted. Benicio Del Toro turns in a suitably bizarre performance as The Collector but is on-screen for all of five minutes. This is doubly frustrating as much of the plot revolves around his character and marks out the films only real problem. The plot is as messy as the characters. It’s not a complex plot, or a particularly over stuffed one, but Gunn is so in love with Guardians that he seems to be in a rush to get them to the next scene or the next plot point before they’ve had time to earn it. It’s down to much of the quality of the dialogue and the acting that the switch from enemies, to weary allies, to friends is at all convincing as very little actually happens to bond the group. Several plot points occur largely because it feels like ‘something needed to explode now’ and undercuts how surprisingly smart much of the rest of the film and its execution is. It’s oddly endearing however, the film, like the Guardians themselves is messy, not as stupid as you might expect, but not quite as clever as it thinks it is either.

In terms of the cinematography, production design, make up and visual effects the film is masterfully done though and a constant visual feast. This does occasionally affect some of the larger set pieces, with some locales being so dense and busy with information that some of the action became hard to discern. That said, there is always a good quip or sight gag just around the corner so the action never become tedious, only a little noisy at times. This remains a shame though as there was an opportunity for a bit more invention in the action scenes that hopefully the now inbound sequel will provide.

Indeed the certainty of a sequel with the Guardians now fully, joyously established is a tantalising prospect. Whatever they do, good, bad, or a bit of both, it can’t come soon enough.