30 January 2016

Agents of SHIELD S3E4 "Devils You Know" review

I've got to say, I'm more than a little impressed with the speed that the third season of Agents of SHIELD is developing. I've mentioned it before now, but "Devils You Know" proves beyond reasonable doubt that the show is done spinning it's wheels - we are only four episodes in, but "Devils You Know" feels more like a mid-season finale than just the fourth episode in a twenty-two episode season. It would seem that critics of the shows tendency to drag things out no longer have a leg to stand on, and that can only be a good thing - maybe the general discussion surrounding Agents of SHIELD can finally get past "Trust me, it got better".

Starting with a fairly routine recruitment mission gone wrong, "Devils You Know" has Daisy, Mack and (later) the ACTU attempt to track down Lash and the people who may be helping him, while Hunter and May continue their mission to find and kill Ward, whose version of Hydra is slowly but surely growing in size and power - in part thanks to Hunter, who seems to be willing to put innocent people in danger as long as he can get his revenge. Elsewhere, Simmons is still investigating the portal in order to try to reopen it.

28 January 2016

Agent Carter S2E1 "The Lady in the Lake" review

The announcement of a second season of Agent Carter was always something of an inevitability, but still one that was met which much enthusiasm from fans of both the show and the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe in which it takes place. I didn't love the first season, if I'm being honest, but I did like it - it was a good, enjoyable story told in entertaining (albeit somewhat forgettable) 45 minute chunks, and even if I do prefer the more established Agents of SHIELD at this point, I've still been looking forward to catching up with Peggy Carter, Howard Stark and Edwin Jarvis in the late 1940's.

Set about a year after the first season concluded, "The Lady in the Lake" has Peggy reassigned to the new SSR Office in Los Angeles, which is being managed by her friend Daniel Sousa. He's working with local police in order to try to find out who killed a young woman and dumped her body in a lake - as well as trying to find out how the entire lake managed to freeze during one of the hottest days of the year.

The Big Short review

The basic concept of The Big Short (the collapse of the American housing market) is one that will instantly turn a lot of people off, and that's understandable. Mortgages are not things that people associate with thrilling film-making, something which when combined with the complex terminology surrounding the topic means that most people simply don't give films like The Big Short a chance. And that's a real shame - because what we have here as a film that not only overcomes the natural difficulties of making a movie about the financial sector entertaining, but actually manages to inform you about how the greed of American bankers created a near worldwide recession at the same time. And it does that without feeling pretentious.

It does this by telling us the story of the people who saw it coming, starting with hedge fund manager Michael Burry, who was the first to spot that the market is built on a foundation of unstable loans. Realising that he can make money off this knowledge, Michael buys mortgage bond shorts and waits for the market to crash, which he predicts will happen in the first half of 2007 and make him billions. When several other people get wind that someone is betting against the US economy, they investigate and like Michael realise that the housing market is on the brink of collapse.

24 January 2016

Agents of SHIELD S3E3 "A Wanted (Inhu)man" review

Despite being a fan of the show, I do still have my concerns about Agents of SHIELD. The quality of the first half of the first season still looms over any discussion around the show, and I've often find myself becoming overly defensive about Agents of SHIELD which, if we are being totally honest, could still be a lot better than it is. One common criticism is the shows tendency to spin it's wheels and drag things out for too long, which I talked about a little last week - but the other is it's habit of not being all that original at times. One of my main concerns with season three so far has actually been the appearance of the Advanced Threat Containment Unit (ACTU) - as competent as the SHIELD versus Real SHIELD storyline was in the second season of the show, I didn't want to see it repeated here with a different agency.

"I'm done fighting with people over who gets to fight the real fight. It's a colossal waste of time and resources".

That's Director Coulson speaking, in reference to Rosalind Price and the ATCU. Consider me relieved.

23 January 2016

Creed review

Up until last week, I had never seen a Rocky film. Despite the critical acclaim surrounding the first two films in the franchise, they were an area of pop culture that I had just never indulged in - what I perceived to be dumb boxing movies simply didn't interest me, so I just never took the time to watch them. In fact, it wasn't until Creed started receiving good reviews and award buzz did I decide that I was going to change that, and ended up watching Rocky, Rocky II, Rocky III and Rocky IV (in short, the Apollo Creed story) in the course of about a week. The reason I'm telling you this is so you realise that I have no real connection to this franchise - so when I say that Creed is a great film, you'll know that this isn't coming from nostalgia or a pre-existing deep love for these characters.

We follow Adonis Creed, the illegitimate son of ex-heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, as he moves to Philadelphia under the name Donnie Johnson in order to make a name for himself as a boxer. After the opportunity to fight against the current champion in his weight-range appears, he begins training with the legendary Rocky Balboa in order to prove to himself that he is worthy of the Creed name.

18 January 2016

The Revenant review

Set in 1823, The Revenant is based loosely on the true story of Hugh Glass, a man who was left for dead by his fellow hunters after an attack from a Native American tribe. We follow him as he attempts to make his way through the wilderness and back to civilization, where the man who betrayed him remains unaware that not only is Hugh Glass still alive, but also determined to get his revenge.

Beyond the undeniably gorgeous cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki and the impressive "one take" action sequences that are littered throughout, The Revenant deserves none of the critical acclaim it has seen. An undeniably interesting concept, the story of Hugh Glass is wasted in a film that desperately reaches for depth that isn't there thanks to the ego of director Alejandro González Iñárritu. This ego shouldn't really come as a surprise to anyone who has seen his previous film Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), but it was easy to forgive in a movie that was legitimately entertaining, both on a technical level and as an interesting character piece (no matter how misguided its commentary on Hollywood may have been). It is harder to forgive here - winning the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) seems to have inflated that ego even more, and it has manifested itself in a film that never allows you to forget that you are watching an Alejandro González Iñárritu Picture ™, in all its glory.

17 January 2016

Agents of SHIELD S3E2 "Purpose in the Machine" review

One of the major issues that has plagued Agents of SHIELD is the shows unwillingness to progress - it took just over 30 episodes for the mystery and various surrounding mysteries of Agent Coulson's resurrection to be solved, which is far too long to stretch the initial hook off a series on for and resulted in some episodes (particularly episodes in the first half of the first season) feeling almost aimless. It's an issue that got resolved somewhat in the quicker paced second season, but not entirely - even as a fan of the show I can admit that Agents of SHIELD has done it's fair share of wheel spinning, and I fully expected that flaw to continue into the shows third season.

I'm pleased to say that "Purpose in the Machine" has proven me wrong. It picks up as soon as "Laws of Nature" left off, Fitz's mental breakdown still going on when the team realise that containment has been breached and rush towards the Monolith. After dragging Fitz out, it doesn't take him long to finally realise that the Monolith is a portal to another world - which sets him on a mission to get Simmons back. Meanwhile we catch up with Ward as he continues setting up his own version of Hydra, and we find out why May never returned to SHIELD after her vacation.

12 January 2016

The Hateful Eight review

Quentin Tarantino's eighth film may also be his most aptly titled - the characters that we follow throughout The Hateful Eight are, as the name of the film would suggest, truly hateful people. Within the context of the film itself we can find heroes to support and villains to hate (although which category each character falls into changes throughout), but outside of that particular cabin at that particular time no such distinction exists. It's a very odd feeling to root for a character that you know full well would deserve to die in almost any other situation they could find themselves in - but that's exactly what The Hateful Eight manages to do.

Set just after the end of the American Civil War, The Hateful Eight follows bounty hunter John "The Hangman" Ruth as he transports outlaw Daisy Domergue to the town of Red Rock in order for her to be hung. After picking up a couple of passengers on the way to Red Rock, the occupants of the stagecoach soon find themselves being forced to seek refuge from a fast-approaching blizzard in Minnie's Haberdashery, a small shack containing the rest of the titular eight.

10 January 2016

Agents of SHIELD S3E1 "Laws of Nature" review

To say that Agents of SHIELD received a mixed reaction when it first launched would be something of an understatement - there are very few people who would consider the first half of season one to be anything other than a failed experiment, Marvel Studios unfortunately stumbling in their initial foray into the world of TV. Despite the show improving fairly quickly after the all-important Captain America: The Winter Soldier tie-in episode and continuing that improvement with its second season, it will still be interesting to see how many people decide to tune in for the season three opening.

Regardless of viewing figures, Agents of SHIELD is back and it's better than ever. We meet up with Director Coulson and company several months after the season two finale, where we find both SHIELD and our main characters in a very different place to one we have seen them in before - SHIELD now seems to be primarily concerned with the emergence of new Inhumans, who are gaining super-human powers at an extraordinary rate since the Terrigen Crystals manufactured by Jiaying last season found their way into the food supply.

7 January 2016

Joy review

I'm just going to come right out with it - Joy is not a good film. In fact, for the vast majority of its running time Joy is a consistently bad film, a somewhat decent story ruined by a director who clearly has no idea how to tell it. Narrated by the titular character's Grandmother (a decision made after the film had been shot, and it really shows), Joy is very loosely based on the story of Joy Mangano, the woman who invented the Miracle Mop, and follows her as she comes up with the basic idea for the mop before creating a prototype and trying to sell it.