Darkness Has Survived

Alan Taylor

Chris Hemsworth
Natalie Portman
Christopher Eccleston
Tom Hiddleston

Impartiality. As a critic, it’s not something I struggle with but an image I struggle to maintain. I love comics but as Marvel Studios are releasing exceptional comic adaptations, I feel the need to be overly critical or at least seen to be, to ensure my opinions are unbiased. Well bugger that. I have no desire to penalise a film because I enjoyed it. Finding genuine fault with Thor: The Dark World has been incredibly difficult, so I’m going to stop trying. What I will do, however, is keep this review spoiler free and not prattle on about the monk’s rewards – because by now we can count on at least two or three post-credit sequences with Marvel films and they’re not relevant to this review.. even if they are awesome.

The film opens with the Asgardian legend of the Dark Elf Malekith [Eccleston], who forged a weapon of pure malevolence, called the Aether. With it, he planned to revert the universe back to a state of darkness and kill all life on every known world. His plan was thwarted by Odin’s father Bor and Malekith sacrificed the majority of his own people to make his escape, waiting in darkness and silence for his day of vengeance. Much like The Lord Of The Rings, it was in the Asgardian’s power to destroy the Aether but instead they buried it and removed its existence from the history books. The morons, what could possibly go wrong with a plan like that? Cut to the present day and bar his appearance in New York to recover Loki [Hiddleston] in The Avengers, Thor [Hemsworth] has not returned to Earth in nearly two years. Subsequently, Jane Foster [Portman] has moved to London in an attempt to track down anomalies with similar patterns and signatures to the one seen in New Mexico, during the events of Thor. Thor, however, has been preoccupied with keeping peace in the nine realms, after the destruction of the bifrost in the first film. But when Jane makes a discovery in London that coincides with a galactic convergence, Malekith’s awakening and the mysterious but powerful Aether, Thor is forced to intervene and set in motion a series of epic events, filled with revelation, disparity and loss.

Continuing the Marvel film formula of equal parts action, drama and humour, Thor: The Dark World feels like a wonderful follow-up to the events of The Avengers; big enough that a global threat is implied but not to the degree that the audience quietly murmurs ‘where are SHIELD and the Avengers?’, as they did in Iron Man 3. Although there are several climactic and expository scenes on Earth, this story doesn’t make the mistake of Green Lantern and favour a localised setting over a fantastical one. Instead, the film revels in its cosmic locations, hinting at all of the nine realms and the various creatures that inhabit them, while demonstrating the sheer vastness of the ever-expanding Marvel cinematic universe. First thing to note is the production redesign. Not to batter Kenneth Branagh’s Thor film (’cause I still like it) but everything felt far too shiny and clean and new and be honest.. CGI. Finally, Asgard lives and breathes as a sprawling city of columns, wood and rock. Everything feels elemental and real, affording the fantastical touches (specifically the bifrost and floating skiffs) a sense of grounded realism – to a degree. The costumes are equally nice, ditching the clear pristine colours and slightly fake plasticy aesthetic to one of hard-wearing, long-worn, flowing leather and fabric. Then there’s the new addition of the Dark Elves, who have a subtly terrifying visual presence with their tall proud stance, unrelenting drive and eerie expressionless masks.

Of course, no matter how pretty the film is, without a decent story or the right actors to portray it, the film would be lost. From the returning cast, to the new additions, each and every role is played out exceptionally well. As with previous Marvel releases, Hemsworth and Hiddleston more than happily steal the show. While his range may feel arguably a little two-dimensional, Hemsworth plays Thor exactly as the character should be. If anything, his role as space cop and heir apparent is weighing heavily on him and his loyalties between his duties and his heart are constantly torn – which, for an actor, is gold. Then there’s Hiddleston as the infinitely charismatic and enchanting Loki. The man is beyond wondrous. The fun he has playing the role is so unbelievably evident but rather than simply rinsing-and-repeating the same one liners and actions (a very comic book mindset, I might add), the actor insisted there would no point in returning unless there’s something new to tell. Here we see the front that Loki puts up for others and his internal struggle with being a true villain or simply a mischievous child but I’ll go into that more later. Portman’s return as Jane Foster is both confident and sincere, ensuring that she has something different to do this time, while being treated with contempt by the surrounding Asgardians. Rather than simply running around fawning over Thor, she plays an active role in each of the action/drama/comedy events and proves herself braver than most. Then we have the new villain (or old villain as the story suggests), the Dark Elf Malekith, played by Christopher Eccleston. I’m not really an Eccleston fan and every time he’s cast in something I roll my eyes and prepare for the worst. Then I see him in said role and he always surprises me. Malekith is driven, malicious and merciless. While I wouldn’t say he’s true evil, he’s a beautifully crafted opponent and an interesting character to explore. I could happily identify each and every supporting role, highlighting their developments and progressions but in all honesty, there’s really no need. Suffice it to say, the supports provide excellent bursts of excitement and laughs without hindering the story or feeling too silly or out of place.

While I have found it very difficult to personally fault the film, I have a few flaws that I believe others could highlight. Do I agree with these points? Not at all. Why bring them up? To show that I understand people’s complaints and dismiss them entirely. The film is helmed by brilliant direction but one thing the film lacks is a signature. Which is a bit contradictory. Great pacing, graceful camera movements, stellar cinematography, neat editing, well choreographed fights and action and yet the whole thing feels like television directing, where the director’s personality doesn’t really come through. In other words, I could say anyone directed this film and you’d have a hard time disproving it. Equally, Brian Tyler’s score, which was a perfect match for Iron Man 3 was a little drab and uneventful. Sure it fit, sure it didn’t feel as cheesy as Patrick Doyle’s but it lacked presence. There’s also a huge amount of fantasy science fiction at work here and if that’s not your thing, you’re going to hate every minute of this. Also, there’s not a great deal of backstory dialogue, so if you haven’t seen the previous Marvel films (specifically Thor and The Avengers) you may be a bit lost. Personally, I love this. I hate when sequels feel the need to pander to new audiences. Sod new audiences. If they don’t know what’s going on, that’s their own fault. Go buy the first film on DVD for a fiver and catch up. Idiot. But yes, as a standalone film, it’s a bit much and very exclusionary.

To my mind, Thor: The Dark World has done something greater than simply providing us with a continuing story. It has proven that you don’t need Robert Downey Jnr to make a really entertaining, successful comic movie. I’m not saying that as a dig to Downey Jnr, more to the public/media’s impression of Marvel films. The stories and characters that can be drawn upon are infinite and so unbelievably rich that the potential for great movies, in the right hands, is limitless.

Release Date:
30th October 2013

The Scene To Look Out For:
Trying to remain spoiler free is going to be tricky here but I will give it my utmost. The effects of the convergence mean that physics between the nine realms shifts erratically; gravity warps, transportation portals appear and disappear and general chaos ensues. The whole thing is edited wonderfully, giving a really broad scope without feeling over-the-top. Furthermore, despite setting it in the heart of London (and Svartalfheim and Vanaheim… and Jotunheim) the typical memorable monument thing (Oh look, St. Paul’s Cathedral right next to Tower Bridge and the Palace of Westminster! Yey London) is kept to a minimum and the comedy still runs throughout like a vein. One particular moment sees Thor falling down 30 St Mary Axe and his hammer, Mjolnir, chasing after its master before Thor disappears into a portal and reappears on the wasteland of Svartalfheim. The hammer immediately changes course and accelerates upward into space. Only for Thor to reappear on a platform of the Charing Cross underground. Slowly stepping onto the train he asks, “How do I get to Greenwich?” To which a passenger calmly responds, “This train, three stops.” Glorious stuff that legitimately feels like something out of the comics.

Notable Characters:
As much as the characters have grown and developed, Loki is still the ultimate scene-stealer. I think Marvel are well aware of what they have with Hiddleston’s rendition of Loki and will do everything in their power to give him some sort of spin-off release. But Loki’s more than just one-liners and a sea of grins, he is a deeply troubled individual; which is something that really comes across in his various illusions. No longer just a way to duplicate himself tricking people to charging off cliffs or into glass prisons, he uses them to mock, to deceive and to hide his own frailty. Utilising a simple gimmick like this to expand the character’s very core is incredibly clever and unfolds sublimely throughout.

Highlighted Quote:
“Bringing a mortal here is like brining a goat to a banquet table”

In A Few Words:
“A spectacular follow-up and a riveting fantasy story that continues to drive Marvel’s reach”

Total Score:


Cinema City Film Quiz #108

[27 October 2013]

Winning Team:
Han And Chewie Get The Lethal Munchies

Genre – Sci-fi horror in which the heroes of the rebellion become zombies

Runners Up:
Carrie On Up The Pumpkin King
Genre – A sexual inuendo fuelled horror comedy
A Nightmare On Sesame Street
Genre – Puppet horror
Genre – Who is the masked fiend making mincemeat of sausage dogs? Crossover
Genre – Smack-talking, badass Dracula. ‘Nuff said

ROUND I: Pre-Production
1. What was the title of the 2011 prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing?
2. In which film series does the killer Jigsaw imprison people and force them to mutilate themselves or perish?
3. Nosferatu, Dracula and Fright Night are about what type of creature?
4. Where is Dawn Of The Dead mostly set?
5. Excluding the remake, how many Evil Dead films were made?
6. Which studio made most of the big horror classics of the thirties and forties?
7. Who is the killer in Final Destination?
8. What was the first name of the title character in Corpse Bride?
9. The poster tagline Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid spawned from which 1986 film?
10. Frankenstein’s Monster, Imhotep, Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were all played by which actor?

ROUND II: Filming [Buddy Films Special]
1. Which of the following actors played the (sort of) title role in Midnight Cowboy? Jon Voight? Dustin Hoffman? Al Pacino?
2. What is the name of Samuel L. Jackson’s character in Die Hard With A Vengeance? Jesus? Deuce? Zeus?
3. What is the name of the gang in Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid? Foot in the sand? Hole in the wall? Bird in the sky?
4. The final scene in Thelma & Louise takes place at which American landmark? The grand canyon? Mount Rushmore? Yosemite National Park?
5. Who plays the villain Kirgo in See No Evil, Hear No Evil? Kevin Costner? Kevin Spacey? Kevin Bacon?
6. What was Reggie arrested for in 48 Hours? First degree murder? Indecent exposure? Armed robbery?
7. What was the title of the film considered to be the first buddy movie? Huck and Tom? Sons Of The Desert? Buck Privates?
8. Buddy films were comedies until Akira Kurosawa released Stray Dog (when the genre changed to cops/crime) in which year? 1944? 1949? 1952?
9. Which of the following wasn’t offered the role of J in Men In Black? Chris O’Donnell? David Schwimmer? Jim Carey?
10. Brett Ratner believed that US audiences wouldn’t be familiar with Jackie Chan’s Hong Kong movies, so he recycled most of the physical fights and gags in Rush Hour from previous films. True or False?

ROUND III: Post-Production
1. What was the first feature film with a computer-animated title character?
2. How many other horror movies are named in Scream?
SIXTEEN (including two characters who share the title of their films i.e. Casper and Candy Man)
3. What trilogy did Kenny Ortega direct after Hocus Pocus (13 years later)?
4. The following was the poster tagline for which film, Nut Up Or Shut Up?
5. Mitch Brenner and Melanie Daniels are the lead characters in which horror film?
6. What is Tommy afraid of in Halloween?
7. Where is Damien’s 666 birthmark, in The Omen?
8. What was the name of the actor who played Freddy Krueger in the original Nightmare On Elm Street films?
9. What is the name of Danny’s imaginary friend (or the boy who lives in his mouth) in The Shining?
10. In The Fog, the townsfolk of Antonia Bay sank the Elizabeth Dane on which day in April?

ROUND IV: Promotion & Release
1. Which of the following was not directed by James Whale? Bride Of Frankenstein? The Invisible Man? The Wolf Man?
2. How many people are in the cellar when Ben and Barbara arrive at the farm house in Night Of The Living Dead? 4? 5? 6?
3. Crystal Lake is the setting for which horror film? Friday The 13th? I Still Know What You Did Last Summer? The Hills Have Eyes?
4. Which of the following is not one of the effects of magic using, in The Craft? Finding several dead sharks? Being struck by lightning? Bleeding from the eyes?
5. The following quote is from which film, “It’s my fault, I should have known if a guy like me talked to a girl like you, somebody would end up dead”? Wolf Creek? Tucker And Dale Vs. Evil? Wrong Turn?
6. What was the name of the witch in The Blair Witch Project? Elly Kedward? Rustin Parr? Sally Burkitt?
7. The opening scene of The Exorcist takes place in which country? Iran? Israel? Iraq?
8. Which of the following was not on the betting pool board in The Cabin In The Woods? Sexy witches? Brian? Angry molesting tree?
BRIAN (although there was a Kevin)
9. After leaving London, Jim, Selena, Frank and Hannah head to which city, in 28 Days Later? Manchester? Liverpool? Newcastle?
10. 2006’s Slither contains no CGI whatsoever. The entire film was achieved through prosthetics and props. True or False?

Screenshots: Bride Of Frankenstein / The Wolf Man / The Mummy
Poster: The Creature From The Black Lagoon
Actor: Bela Lugosi


Life Is Impossible In Space

Alfonso Cuaron

Sandra Bullock
George Clooney

Plot synopses for disaster or survival films are really irritating. Same goes for the trailers and marketing, for that matter. As a cinematic analyst, you want to detail the reasons the film works and where it falters but in doing so, you inadvertently ruin the story or give away key developments. As such, this review will be less of a recommendation and more of a study to be read after seeing the film – which is how I have always presented my opinions on this site. This means **subtle spoilers throughout**.

After a brief title-card explaining that nothing can survive in space, the story opens in silence high above the Earth. The sheer beauty of this opening shot really sets the tone for the entire film and if you’re not seeing it in IMAX, you’re robbing yourself of a vision of wonder. The camera slowly finds the Hubble telescope, which is undergoing repair. A small crew consisting of Dr Ryan Stone [Bullock], veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski [Clooney] and a few largely unseen NASA personnel are overseeing the zero-gravity operation. Just as a side-note, the disembodied voice of Ed Harris as ‘Houston’ was a really nice touch. As they approach the close of their mission, the crew receive intel that debris from a destroyed Russian satellite is shredding other satellites and looping around the Earth, heading their way at great speed. Before being able to re-enter the shuttle, Kowalski and Stone are separated as the high velocity shrapnel tears through their only transport, sending Stone spinning off into space. Kowalski manages to calm the doctor and pick her up with the use of a nearly depleted jetpack. In an attempt to survive, and avoid further confrontations with the constantly orbiting debris, Stone and Kowalski make their way to a nearby Russian space station. But several complications continue to arrive every step of the way.

There’s been a bit of a resurgence of minimalist science fiction, indicative of several 60’s/70’s releases. Slow paced films that explore a wealth of thematic elements on a spectacular backdrop: Moon, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris, Marooned. Being such a one-man show, the burden of performance is wreathed solely on Bullock. Sure, Clooney provides support but acting-wise there’s not a great deal of range for him here; he effectively plays a typical self-loving, wise-cracking Clooneyesque character. To give credit to her, Bullock is entrancing. The realistic portrayals of fear, determination, frustration and the sheer draining toll it takes on her is mesmerising.

Gravity works on two clear levels. Firstly, as a visually entertaining and thoroughly tense survival thriller set in space. Secondly, as a very complex and layered analysis of death, rebirth, reality, perception, isolation, overcoming adversity and a barrage of other pretentious philosophical, metaphysical and theological theories. Narratively speaking, there are no subplots, side-stories or cut-aways to anything other than the action taking place in Earth’s orbit; a simple creative choice which really staples the sense of isolation, abandonment, desperation and claustrophobia (which is odd considering the nature of endless space). Aside from the multifaceted exploration of the human spirit, Gravity also tries to tell a scientifically accurate story. Unfortunately, every time a science fiction film claims to be or appears to be respecting and adhering to the laws of physics, someone always has to point out that it’s still 80% inaccurate. This particular movie is no exception. It’s still largely nonsense and ignores the Kessler syndrome and several other nitpicking details that contradict everything presented. More importantly and in the film’s defence, this isn’t a documentary, it’s a dramatic narrative and similarly to Sunshine, it’s more about the psychology of the event, rather than the exact science of it.

As mentioned in my brief plot synopsis, the entire movie, from start to finish, is visually stunning. I mean, really spectacular. People might immediately assume that I’m talking about the computer generated effects (which are amazing, to be fair) but I’m actually referring to the work of the cinematographer and the director. To achieve this level of plausibility with complex lighting techniques is a mind-blowing undertaking. Despite such an engrossing story and perilous situations, every now-and-again you find yourself wondering about the lengths they must have gone to in order to actually film this story. We have become quite familiar with green-screen and CGI, to the degree that we take for granted the colossal work that goes into creating these images. With Gravity however, you start to really wonder how they managed to achieve it, aside from flying the actors into space and just filming them. But before you can spend too long contemplating how they made this marvel, you’re quickly slapped with another ordeal and the ‘how’ falls out of necessity and is replaced with ‘how will she survive?’ Adding to this immersive feeling is Steven Price’s beautiful but unsettling industrial score. Swaying from placid to tempestuous, it really mirrors the on-screen parallel between a ship caught in a storm, with people being washed overboard, drowning and the boat itself becoming thoroughly unstable – something that is openly visited in the film’s closing scenes.

So with all this lavish praise, why not a 10/10? If anything, my description above details one of the finest films of the year (and it probably is) yet it still manages to follow the archetypal story of the veteran one day off retirement, the minority dying in the first twenty minutes and the anxious but secretly strong heroine overcoming her fears and triumphing over extremely ridiculous obstacles. So for all its wit, beauty and intelligence, it still follows the same formula as your run of the mill brainless action film; it simply lacks the one-liners and the guns. I’m sure several readers will be screaming at their screens reading that last line but it’s a statement I stand by. Having said that, I would happily recommend this film to most people and highlight it as a prime example of the capabilities of IMAX3D… yes, that’s me promoting and praising 3D. That alone should illustrate the regard in which I hold this film.

Release Date:
7th November 2013

The Scene To Look Out For:
**Spoilers are no longer subtle here but extremely obvious**
Rather than highlighting a specific scene, I’d like to offer a reinterpretation of several scenes. To my mind, there are a handful of scenes which could be considered hallucinations before an eventual death. Starting with Ryan spinning off into space before being miraculously saved by Kowalski; specifically as she stops breathing after greatly hyperventilating. And again when she gets on board the Russian station and curls up into a ball to sleep. The film even openly suggests hallucinations when Kowalski opens the hatch to the module and gives her a hint on how to get to the Chinese station. All these moments, while dramatic, could be interpreted as the death of the lead character and the remainder of the film being a fantasy as her neural synapses die. This kind of clever and subtle filmmaking is something I revel in and greatly enjoy. Opening up the possibility that everything presented to you is a lie, after all, it’s a work of fiction. Why use it to tell the truth?

Notable Characters:
Well, this is a moot point. To note anything other than Sandra Bullock is meaningless and it’s difficult to expand on the praise given above. Avoiding a lot of the clichés, Bullock’s character feels very real, very relatable and very human, despite her high intelligence and phenomenal luck. The fact she won an Oscar for The Blind Side was extremely annoying but here she proves that she is wholly deserving of such an accolade.

Highlighted Quote:
“I hate space”

In A Few Words:
“A beautiful contemplative disaster piece, gorgeously executed and masterfully acted”

Total Score:


Cinema City Film Quiz #107

[13 October 2013]

Winning Team:
The Hunger Shames

Genre – Michael Fassbender’s wang does battle with other wangs (with sexy results)

Runners Up:
Michael Assvender
Genre – He vends asses. And arses. Christmas comedy.
Purple Rain Man
Genre – Autistic Musical
The Fass And The Furious
Genre – Comedy
Fassmember – Longer, Harder & Uncut
Genre – RomCom

ROUND I: Pre-Production
1. Which Bond film features the Tina Turner song, Goldeneye?
2. What is the subtitle of the third Lord Of The Rings film?
3. Who is Peter Pan’s nemesis in the film of the same name?
4. What were the names of the four lead characters in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? (one point per correct answer)
5. Take Me Out To The Ball Game, Field Of Dreams and Ed are all films about which sport?
6. Which two words link these film titles: Matron, Cleo, Up The Khyber?
7. What did Guy Ritchie direct before Sherlock Holmes?
8. Which actor appeared in Corpse Bride, Sweeney Todd, Alice In Wonderland and Terminator Salvation?
9. The following quote is from which film/s, “Hello Clarice”?
10. Name any film directed by Terrence Malick. [bonus point for least common answer]

ROUND II: Filming [Michael Fassbender Special]
1. How many Spartans make a stand against Xerxes in 300? 299? 300? 301?
301 (including Leonidas)
2. What is the nickname given to Colonel Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds? The Hawk? Jew Hunter? Detective Bingo?
3. In, X-Men: First Class, when playing chess against Charles, what colour pieces is Erik Lensherr using? Black? White? Tinted Glass?
4. Who directed A Dangerous Method? Darren Aronofsky? David Lynch? David Cronenberg?
5. What year was Jane Eyre released (the Fassbender version, as opposed to the novel)? 2012? 2011? 2010?
6. What is the name of Fassbender’s character in Hunger? Bobby Sands? Dominic Moran? Stephen Graves?
7. Centurion is based on which Roman legend? The treaty between Carthage and Rome? The last days of Pompeii? Massacre of the Ninth Legion?
8. Aidan Quinn plays which US President in Jonah Hex? Abraham Lincoln? Ulysses S. Grant? Andrew Jackson?
9. The first and last scenes of Shame take place where? On a subway train? In a hotel room? In a bar?
10. The names of the androids in the Alien films (including Prometheus) follow an alphabetical pattern. True or False?
TRUE (Ash, Bishop, Call, David)

ROUND III: Post-Production
1. Bud and Lou were the first names of which comedy duo?
2. What colour was the Scarecrow’s hat in The Wizard Of Oz?
3. Yul Brynner was born in which country?
RUSSIA [Yuliy Borisovich Briner]
4. Where does the Dread Pirate Roberts finally catch up with and fight Vizzini, Fezzick and Inigo, in The Princess Bride?
5. What happens to the bear in Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan?
6. In which film is an ex-wrestler hired as a bodyguard for a weapons designer’s children, who play elaborate pranks on their carer?
7. The following is the poster tagline for which film: Mischief, Mayhem, Soap?
8. In Easy Rider, Billy and Wyatt set out from and head for which US cities? (one point per correct answer)
9. Renton and Spud are arrested after stealing from which type of shop, in Trainspotting?
10. Which band do Garth and Wayne go to see in concert at the start of Wayne’s World 2?

ROUND IV: Promotion & Release
1. What was the title of the first film sequel? The Fall Of A Nation? Bride Of Frankenstein? In The Navy?
2. Marion Robert Morrison was the real name of which actor? Lee Marvin? John Wayne? Donald Sutherland?
3. What colour was the Probe 16 car (referred to as a Duango 95) in A Clockwork Orange? Green? Orange? Grey?
4. What is the name of Richard O’Brien’s character in The Rocky Horror Picture Show? Riff Raff? Eddie? Malbert?
5. Which of the following was not directed by Nicholas Ray? In A Lonely Place? Key Largo? Rebel Without A Cause?
6. Which Paul Newman film features the following quote “I knew you couldn’t drive, I didn’t think you couldn’t read”? Winning? Road To Perdition? Cars?
7. What is the name of Peter’s colleague who shares his name with a singer, in Office Space? Michael Bolton? George Michael? John Lennon?
8. How old does Mitch Robbins turn at the start of City Slickers? 38? 39? 40?
9. Bonnie And Clyde featured a small supporting role which was the cinematic debut for which actor? Al Pacino? Christopher Reeve? Gene Wilder?
10. The term prop is an abbreviation of Proper Acting Tool. True or False?
FALSE (theatrical property)

Screenshots: The Avengers / The Godfather: Part II / Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
Poster: Howard The Duck
Actor: John Candy