Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

This post was originally written for York Student Cinema.

The long-awaited follow-up to 2012’s Avengers Assemble has finally arrived in the UK, a week before US release. Awkward press tours have been had, actor workout regimes have been discussed and premieres have been held. We finally get to find out the answer to the question hanging over its big, super-powered head: how can it possibly live up to its predecessor?

Age of Ultron kicks off with an impressive opening shot that sees the camera pan between the heroes as they embark on a mission to take out the last HYDRA base. The action is spotted with Joss Whedon’s trademark humour, bringing out the increased sense of unity and camaraderie in the team since we last saw them. Of course, this is not to last. Tony Stark and Bruce Banner (Science Bros!) team up to try and create a peace-keeping force to keep Earth protected. It works, Earth is safe, the Avengers disband and Stark and Banner settle down to binge-watch Mythbusters on Netflix. Except that last part doesn’t happen and the scientists instead end up birthing a disturbed, psychopathic AI who will stop at nothing to obtain world peace by bringing about human extinction.

It’s impossible to talk about Age of Ultron without comparing it to its forerunner. This film is bigger than the first Avengers film, and it fits an insane amount of plot, world-building and character development into its 141 minutes. One suspects that some hard decisions had to be made over cuts, and certain strands would have made more sense had they had more time to breathe. But the sheer scale and ambition of the film is tempered by the humour and the small human moments that Whedon is adored for. And while there is a temptation in today’s blockbusters to ‘go big’ and throw money at massive city-felling CGI battles (here’s looking at you, Man of Steel), there’s a concerted effort here to show the heroes going out of their way to protect civilians. It’s nice.

Having had more than our fill of the tentpole characters, happily the focus is often drawn towards Black Widow, The Hulk and Hawkeye. Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo are both solid, building on their chemistry from the first film as their superheroic counterparts strike up an unlikely relationship. Hawkeye, Marvel’s most neglected Avenger, gets to stretch beyond his previous role as a convenient plot device. Jeremy Renner spent much of his screen time in Avengers Assemble possessed, and now we finally get to see more of his backstory (whether that’s a good thing or not is up for debate).

Whedon has admirably tried to address the gender balance in Ultron by introducing the powerful Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olson) alongside her lightning-fast brother Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Their powers make for a visually interesting contrast to the standard ‘strong guy’ powers of the other leads. The sketchily outlined abilities of Scarlet Witch include bringing trippy hallucinations out of other characters, which opens an interesting little window into the psyches of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

An effort has also been made to tackle Marvel’s villain problem. With the exception of Loki, the studio has turned out a series of increasingly underwhelming baddies; a massive failure when villains are generally considered to be one of the most memorable parts of any great comic book film (see: The Dark Knight’s Joker, X-Men’s Magneto). AI Ultron is refreshing- delightfully unhinged, but with a believable origin story and clear motivations. He has inherited some of the wit of Stark, and is imbued with a deep voice that can fluctuate between comedy and malice, courtesy of James Spader. This individuality helps to differentiate him from the Sentinels, the other self-replicating robot force that recently caused havoc in X-Men: Days of Future Past. He doesn’t quite scale the heights of the best comic book villains, but he’s a massive improvement on what came before.

The main problem, then, is the Marvel end-game. Age of Ultron will, of course, be followed up with 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. It appears that Tony Stark himself will be playing a villain of sorts, pitted against his former ally Steve Rogers in a political (and presumably physical) battle over the rights and liberties of superheroes. It’s a conflict that will force heroes to choose sides and decide between regulation and resistance. It seems like a step backwards to follow that up with a big purple alien trying to collect MacGuffins to destroy the universe. But Marvel has a good track record for working with talented teams. I think they’ll figure it out.

weekly photo challenge: a wall collage

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In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Wall.”

My old room was totally covered. Anything interesting went up – feathers, posters, Venetian masks, band tickets. But I’m in rented student accommodation now so I’ve had to rein myself in to (mostly) this little corner over my bedside table.

There are a few quotes from Jack Kerouac, Yoko Ono and The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories. A painting that reminds me of my cats. Photos. Some film frames. Friendly Fires artwork. A gorgeous birthday painting from my best friend. An old envelope I bought in York. The cinema ticket from the first time I went out with my boyfriend. When I’m sat at my desk, getting over a crap day, I can look over and be reminded that life is a jumble of the good and the bad.

I think you can learn a lot about a girl by walking through her bedroom (I can highly recommend http://teenagebedroom.tumblr.com/)

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Why the new Ghostbusters reboot might not be terrible

It’s no secret that Hollywood has gotten cagey with its money of late. Piracy is the problem that just won’t die and online content providers (namely Netflix) have been taking a large slice of the collective film pie. Unsurprisingly, this has resulted in less of the innovative risk-taking that resulted in the original genre classics, such as Star Wars, Terminator and Spider-Man. Instead, the studios are churning out sequels, reboots and prequels to Star Wars, Terminator and Spider-Man. So let’s get something straight: they were always going to cash in on Ghostbusters. Everyone loves Ghostbusters! So, studio logic goes, let’s give the people more of what they love! Don’t forget Sony’s two main tentpoles are currently the uneven Amazing Spider-Man (now entering the Marvel universe) and *shudder* The Smurfs, so of course they’ve been raiding their archives in search of a franchise to reanimate.

Let’s get past the bit where we all groan about how the original was so great and the new instalment is doomed to be a disappointment. Let’s assume something crazy. Let’s assume it might not be bad.

A reboot like this can only be successful if it brings something to the table that its predecessor didn’t. Though darker tonally, the revived Planet of the Apes and Batman franchises are good examples of this; they both nodded to their roots whilst managing to be innovative and interesting, and that’s why they worked. Had Sony managed to plough on with its initial plan of reuniting the original cast, Ghostbusters 3 might have just been an inferior rehash of the original. Instead they’re attempting to start off fresh by rooting a load of new characters in the Ghostbusters universe, which is certainly a good start.

Speaking of which, the cast is looking good. Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon will all be donning jumpsuits in 2016. Sticking with Ghostbusters tradition, our leads are Saturday Night Live alumni (all four, if you count McCarthy’s hosting gigs). And while Wiig and McCarthy have already broken into the mainstream with Feig’s Bridesmaids, anyone keeping up with SNL will tell you that Jones and McKinnon are breakouts. The team is all-female, which might go some way to make up for the raw deal women got in the original (did anyone else feel uncomfortable when Sigourney Weaver was possessed by that weird sex demon?).

And if you don’t trust Sony, trust the director. Paul Feig’s CV is short but impressive. He made his small screen debut as a creator of the sadly short-lived Freaks and Geeks, and went on to direct one of the great Mad Men episodes, ‘Shoot’, as well as a number of episodes of The Office and Arrested Development. That was all before Bridesmaids even came along. This is a guy with remarkably few critical duds under his belt. If I had to entrust anyone with this beloved 80s comedy, it would be him.

So yes, the Ghostbusters reboot is the result of a broken system that prizes reliability over originality. The critics began sharpening their knives as soon as it was announced. But if you give the talented team behind it a chance, it might just surprise you. And let’s not forget, no reboot can ever stop the original from existing. If it’s crap, we can just pretend it didn’t happen and carry on as we always did. It worked with Indiana Jones.

11 celebrities that spoke out for gender equality in 2014

I decided I was a feminist in college. I wouldn’t necessarily have said I wasn’t one before that, but I made my active choice when somehow losing my school uniform meant that the world now thought it knew me, knew what was best for me, owned me. Because apparently it’s fine for random men to comment on my body, call me anorexic or tell me to ‘cheer up’. It’s fine to isolate the female minority in Physics class by making sexist jokes and defending it as ‘banter’ (oh you Privileged White Boys, you’re so edgy!). It’s fine that the media feeds us all this idea of how men and women should look and act. It shouldn’t be.

So the fact that so many big names have gone against the grain this year and spoken out against the damage of sexism is awesome. Here are a few of my favourites. (I’m not ranking, because ranking by who believes men and women are equal the most seems weird and kind of arbitrary.)

Emma Watson

“We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that that they are and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence.

If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled.

Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong… It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum not as two opposing sets of ideals.”

The HeForShe Campaign Launch, UN Headquarters

In many ways, Emma has been the ripple that caused a wave. Standing up on such a public platform to reach out to men everywhere was incredibly brave, enough to make Feminism a trending topic on Facebook and to encourage guys to show that they are with us.

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt

“A lot of people who don’t identify with that word feel like that word is somehow against motherhood. Personally, I don’t take it that way. For me as a feminist, it should be up to the woman to decide if she wants to be a mom … if that’s what she wants to do full time, that’s awesome, that’s what my mom did. But if she wants to go out and have a career apart from being a mom, then she should be able to do that as well, and that’s to the benefit of everybody.”

The HitRECord Youtube Channel

This will come as no surprise to anyone who has seen his directoral debut, Don Jon. JGL has spoken out this year about his feminist upbringing, proving once again that respect and empathy are very attractive traits.

 

Beyoncé

“We have a lot of work to do, but we can get there if we work together. Women are more than 50 percent of the population and more than 50 percent of voters. We must demand that we all receive 100 percent of the opportunities.”

The Shriver Report

A lot of people have criticised Beyonce for giving off mixed messages by proudly coming out as a feminist and then doing pop queen stuff (dancing provocatively, degrading lyrics etc). I feel the same way about this as I do about Disney’s Mulan: it may not be anyone’s idea of ‘ideal feminism’, but it’s a big step in the right direction. It’s a lot of pressure to hold one person up to such high standards, especially as everybody defines the word differently. Plus it has to be said that there are racial double standards when Madonna doing raunch is ‘liberating’ but Beyonce doing the same is ‘degrading’.

 

Malala Yousafzai

“I always loved learning and discovering new things. I remember when my friends and I would decorate our hands with henna on special occasions. And instead of drawing flowers and patterns we would paint our hands with mathematical formulas and equations.

We had a thirst for education, we had a thirst for education because our future was right there in that classroom. We would sit and learn and read together. We loved to wear neat and tidy school uniforms and we would sit there with big dreams in our eyes. We wanted to make our parents proud and prove that we could also excel in our studies and achieve those goals, which some people think only boys can.”

Nobel Prize Lecture

Really, you should just read her Nobel Peace Prize speech in its entirety.

 

Mindy Kaling

“As [Kaling] stood by the banquettes, a tipsy man in his 80s cornered her and showered her with compliments, apparently mistaking her for Malala Yousafzai. “Congratulations on your Nobel Prize,” he said, before expressing wonder at how well she had recovered from Taliban gunshots.

Ms. Kaling was speechless. “Did he really think I’m Malala?” she said when he was safely out of sight. “And that if I were, I’d be at the Boom Boom Room?”

The New York Times

Mindy Kaling has always used her most powerful tool to tackle sexism and racism in the film industry: humour. The Mindy Project has entered its third season and Kaling continues to dazzle, winning Glamour‘s Woman of the Year and gracing the cover of Elle for its annual Women in TV issue.

 

Aziz Ansari

“If you do believe that mean and women have equal rights, if someone asks if you’re a feminist you have to say yes. Because that is how words work. You can’t be like ‘Oh yeah, I’m a doctor that primarily does diseases of the skin.’ ‘Oh so you’re a dermatologist?’ ‘Oh no that’s way too aggressive a word, no not at all.'”

The Late Show with David Letterman

So Aziz Ansari came out on Letterman as a feminist this year. And he has a point.

 

Amy Poehler

“[Autobiography title Yes Please] came out of my improvisational training; when someone offers you something onstage, you say yes to it. Saying yes to things got me pretty much everything I have. Saying yes is the reason I am where I am.”

Good Housekeeping

This year Amy released an autobiography, begun winding down her award-winning comedy series Parks and Recreation and co-hosted the Golden Globes with her old SNL castmate Tina Fey for the second year in a row (and will be back again for a final time in 2015). And if that’s not enough, she’s been dropping cracking interviews all over the shop.

 

Anna Kendrick

“[Feminism] is a very female-centric word. I understand that the implication is that “I’m a woman who supports women” and not “I’m a person who supports gender equality.” I feel like the word can be appropriated by the wrong people for that reason and misinterpreted by those people, but you just have to fight back and own that word. It’s practically become a curse word. Somebody says, “Oh, you’re being such a feminist,” and you’re supposed to be like, “No I’m not.” Why are we afraid of that word? It exists and we can’t get rid of it, so let’s fight for it and embrace it. That is truly a bummer.”

The Daily Beast

Though the UK will have to wait until 2015 to see Disney’s adaptation of Into the Woods, we can bide time by enjoying discussion of Anna Kendrick’s portrayal of a, shall we say, less Prince-reliant Cinderella. Picking up the Sondheim musical was a risky move from a studio that made its millions on happy endings, but not so for Kendrick, whose star power is increasing by the minute.

 

Daniel Radcliffe

[On whether he sought out scripts with rounded roles across the cast] “Well, on more than one film I’ve persuaded people to build up the female roles.

There are certainly more female writers now than there were but the fact remains, most female parts are written by men. At least there are so many more female directors, producers and directors of photography [DOP] now.

I worked with an amazing DOP last year, Reed Morano, who did Kill Your Darlings, and what she did for that film was amazing. I think – I hope – the film industry is becoming a lot more balanced.”

Stylist Magazine

Daniel Radcliffe has been on a roll this year! And not just for stretching himself across two completely different genres including romantic comedy (What If) and fantasy horror (Horns). When interviewed he gives the impression of being a very pensive, observant guy, and he certainly hasn’t been afraid to discuss Hollywood’s problem with women.

 

Jennifer Lawrence

“It’s my body, and it should be my choice, and the fact that it is not my choice is absolutely disgusting.”

Vanity Fair

Who were the victims of the apple cloud attack? Women. Because for a man to be pictured naked is not a story, but for a woman to be pictured naked is apparently shameful. We already had Jennifer’s heart and soul captured on film for the world to see but still we demanded her body. Those that viewed the pictures attempted to excuse themselves by placing the blame at her feet and insisting she should have known better than to send those photos anyway. They should be ashamed of themselves for resorting to victim-blaming to cover their asses. The only small consolation to emerge from this attack has been the conversation it has provoked and Lawrence’s powerful riposte.

 

Ellen Page

“The other day a website ran an article with a picture of me wearing sweatpants on the way to the gym. And the writer asked ‘Why does this petite beauty insist upon dressing like a massive man?’. Because I like to be comfortable. There are pervasive stereotypes about masculinity and femininity that define how we’re all supposed to act, dress and speak and they serve no-one. Anyone who defies these so-called ‘norms’ is worthy of comment and scrutiny, and the LGBT community knows this all too well.”

Human Rights Campaign’s Time to THRIVE conference

Though we celebrated the first gay marriages in the UK this year, seeing Ellen Page stand nervously at that platform and declare her sexuality to the world was a welcome reminder that we still have so far to go before we reach universal LGBT acceptance. She came out to give courage to others that feel unable to do so, and to those that suffer because of their sexual orientation. And in doing so, we take one more small step into what is hopefully a more tolerant and open-minded world.

And so the time has come to say goodbye to our Victoria 5

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It’s been a long time coming. Film has been on the way out for years, as studios have increasingly turned to cheaper, easier and more efficient alternatives. Only now has it finally dropped down the chain to York Student Cinema. Yes, after a long year (and at least 3 showings of Frozen) we have finally scraped together the money to install our new digital projector!

And it’s very good. The brightness and the clarity of the picture is just incredible. I almost feel sorry for our old Victoria 5; the company’s tagline, ‘Realer than reel’, adds insult to injury. Now trailers come in the compact form of a memory stick, while whole films will be posted to us on hard drives we need only plug in, and hunting down tape for splicing reels together has been replaced by playlisting capabilities.

Many people feel that 35mm has a sort of old-timey romance to it that cannot be replicated with pixels. Perhaps the nostalgia emerges from the inevitable break with the glorious cinematic history of film. The idea of the breathtaking period glamour of Gone With the Wind having been captured on anything other than celluloid is unthinkable, and who can help but admire the ingenuity required to create lightsabers without the use of modern special effects? The transition to digital provides a marked departure from the the safe rolls of film that have provided us with comedy, drama and wonder since the days of Georges Méliès.

The list of directors mourning the death of film includes Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino and Stephen Spielberg. We, the projectionists, have no idea what it’s like on the front line. We just show and appreciate the end result, marvelling at how someone managed to fit such a wealth of beauty and visual spectacle into such tiny frames. We are very privileged to have seen movies like very few people get to see them- as physical things to touch and hold. We run it through our hands, chop it up, stick it back together, mangle it, and (after much work and a lot of swearing) put it on display for everyone to see. It’s an under-appreciated job, being the final cog in the machine ensuring that the long process pays off, and that the film gets the showing it deserves.

Certainly, there are things I’ll miss. There was that one time we tried to identify a woman in a frame of The Counsellor (it was Brad Pitt with long hair). And the moment when the projector decided to burn the film just after Johnny Depp said an embarrassingly bad line in The Lone Ranger, as if it had just given up. Or the day I officially qualified as a chief projectionist, a happily uneventful showing of Don Jon.

But do not expect me to swing a bell about the city, pronouncing that the end is nigh. I have experienced the difficulties with film first-hand. I know it takes up a lot of space. I know it requires a lot of preparation. I know it has the tendency to mangle and burn at the slightest mistake in setting it up. It’s tricky but has an undeniably unique quality, and I don’t think this is the end of the road: many directors are still actively committed to shooting 35mm and, among others, J.J. Abrams’ untitled Star Wars instalment will be hearkening back to the franchise’s pre-digital days by using film stock.

It’s given us many years of mostly good, if occasionally frustrating and unreliable, work. Time for our old Victoria 5 to take a step back and and let one of those new digital whippersnappers pick up the slack.

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To anyone amazed by my suddenly brilliant photography skills, I should add that these gorgeous photos were taken by someone at York Student Cinema (I know not who!).

Things I have learned while serving toast to rich people in Ireland over the summer.

  • The Irish do really love potatoes.
  • When an Irish person says ‘How’re you doing?’, they actually mean hello (like Joey off of Friends). They will often look confused if you reply ‘Not too bad thanks, how are you?’
  • Americans are the friendliest tourists, and the nicest to talk to. I will not say who the least friendly are.
  • People like marmalade at least twice as much as they like any other type of jam.
  • Some people think 40 seconds is too long for toast and will tut and grumble at you.
  • The hotel industry is, by its very nature, two-faced. While I don’t at all disagree with doing everything you can to make the customer happy, it can leave you feeling like you aren’t worth as much.
  • Everyone has a different idea of how ‘five star’ staff should behave.
  • You CANNOT please everyone. Small example: some people want very well done toast while others can’t have it unless it’s very lightly done. In this case you can do your best to change the settings between guests but conflicting preferences can’t always be resolved.
  • While most people are lovely and polite, the occasional arse ruins it for everyone.
  • If you are being waited on in a busy restaurant, try and be extra nice and understanding to your server. Smile. It might cheer their day a little.
  • When pushing through the heavy swingy doors in a restaurant, always push with your arms. Do not accidentally walk into them head-first like I did once.
  • I’m more dependent on the internet than I would like to admit.
  • Man cannot live on bolognese alone.
  • By getting through this summer, I have proved to myself that I am stronger than I gave myself credit for.

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5 things you can expect from Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic, Interstellar.

That time has come around again guys. It’s been two years since the release of The Dark Knight Rises and, like clockwork, the promotion machine for Christopher Nolan’s latest has begun to slowly ramp up. Emphasis on the slow. True to form, cast and crew have had their mouths zipped on major plot points while trailers have been typically vague, showing McConoughey’s Cooper sadly driving through fields in a greyish hue. Where are all the wormholes and spaceships? While I am just as clueless on the story as anyone else, I feel it is my duty as a self-proclaimed Nolan expert to tell you what else you can expect.

(Please note that any light digs at Nolan are not malicious but come from the deep well of love I have for him in my heart.)

 

1. It will focus on a young troubled white guy.

As seen in: Every Christopher Nolan film except Insomnia, in which Al Pacino plays an old troubled white guy.

Hopefully Chris will one day decide that he is ready to step outside the safe bubble of protagonists that look like him. Hollywood’s diversity problem means that the overlap in the Venn diagram of currently successful actresses and women of colour is pretty small right now so Zoe Saldana should keep her eyes open.

 

2. It will not be funny.

As seen in: Memento, The Prestige, Batman Begins.

Nolan isn’t exactly known for cracking up his audiences. Sure, there are some exceptions to the rule: Heath Ledger’s Joker injected some twisted humour into The Dark Knight, and even Inception managed to drop the meme-friendly line ‘You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling’. But in general, expect the usual po-faced plot labyrinth.

 

3. The McConaissance will continue.

As seen in: Magic Mike, Mud, Dallas Buyers Club.

Some say that he finally finished his Joaquin Phoenix-style meta role as an actor that would only make mediocre rom-coms. Others reckon he managed to find the source of Ryan Reynold’s star power back in 2011 and stole it. Whatever the cause, Matthew McConoughey’s career resurgence shows no signs of faltering with his next sure-footed step into the arms of Interstellar. How long will his winning streak last? I’ve no idea. If nothing else, it means there’s still hope out there for Reese Witherspoon.

 

4. It will feature a starry cast.

As seen in: The Prestige, Inception, The Dark Knight Rises.

Newbies McConnaughey, Jessica Chastain and David Oyelowo join Nolan regulars Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine, resulting in one blinding ensemble. It’s gratifying to see Brit and one-time Spooks actor Oyelowo bagging another solid part after prominent roles in Jack Reacher and The Butler, while lucky charm Michael Caine is always a highlight.

 

5. Hans Zimmer will be taking care of the soundtrack.

As seen in: The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, Inception.

Yes! Hans ‘BAAAAMMM’ Zimmer is teaming up with Nolan once again to make each ream of exposition and every set of furrowed eyebrows EPIC.

Interstellar is released in the UK on the 7th November.

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