Month: April 2018

Marvel, Gatekeeping and the ‘Problem’ with Avengers: Infinity War

There has been an interesting response to the dominant Avengers: Infinity War this weekend as it romped home to a record-beating opening weekend in the States, and a remarkable $600 million plus global take home. Aside from the legion of critics, professional and amateur, who have all lined up on either side of whether the film is good or bad (and most reactions seem positive), the issue again seems to concern fandom. In this instance, whether Infinity War is for anyone who isn’t already a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

A piece in The New Yorker has been widely circulated, with people criticising and defending an article which suggests Infinity War suffers for the fact it does nothing to ‘introduce’ the myriad amount of Marvel players to new audiences. Some are suggesting that it doesn’t have to, given its place as the first part of a finale to an ongoing saga—which I discuss more in my review—but some have on the other side of the fence suggested this kind of storytelling by Marvel Studios, and how the fandom have responded to it, is yet another form of ‘gatekeeping’.

That fandom are, once again, erecting a big ‘KEEP OUT’ sign and planting it firmly in the entrance of every cinema from Middlesbrough to Manhattan.

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Marty (1955)

When I’m not looking at all kinds of geeky media on this blog, I’m co-running my website Set The Tape, on which I now and then publish content. This is part of a review you can find the rest of in the link below.

You know a Marty. I guarantee it. Sixty three years since Delbert Mann’s picture became one of the breakout hits of 1955, and you still know a Marty. That slightly overweight guy in the club, standing on the sidelines with his beer watching slicker, more confident men pick up the attractive young women. Would he be as kindly and sweet natured as Ernest Borgnine’s titular character? Who knows? But you know a Marty, or you knew one at some point. Which is why this film, unexpectedly, resonates across the decades.

Originally a TV play from the great Paddy Chayefsky, who would later go down in greater legend for his Oscar-winning screenplay for 1976’s powerful satire Network, Marty was also originally directed by Mann in that same broadcast from 1953, starring a young Rod Steiger and Nancy Marchand rather than Borgnine and Betsy Blair in the cinematic version. The script, nonetheless, remains much the same; set over one day, Marty is a heartfelt examination of loneliness in sprawling post-war New York City, with a disenfranchised generation of men and women struggling against the social constraints of expectation when it comes to their gender roles.

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Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Say what you like about Avengers: Infinity War but nobody can deny one thing: it is breaking new cinematic ground. For decades there have been sequels. For decades there have been franchises. For decades we have seen continuing universes on both the big and small screens, sometimes overlapping, develop characters and storylines. Marvel Studios differ in their approach. This is the first time anyone has, over a ten-year period, created and structured a cinematic franchise in the narrative style of a ‘season’ of television.

This is something I have discussed when talking about the Marvel Cinematic Universe before because it has cast a shadow over the mainstream cinematic landscape which is likely to stay for years, perhaps even decades, to come. Kevin Feige, producer supremo, has been the constant here; ever since 2008’s Iron Man turned Robert Downey. Jr from disgraced character actor into the biggest movie star in the world, Infinity War has been the goal. While undoubtedly tides have changed, production realities have emerged, and details have altered, Marvel have been working to a decade-long plan to unite the Avengers against Thanos, the Mad Titan, and his plan to wipe out half the universe with the combined Infinity Stones.

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Alien: The Cold Forge

When I’m not looking at all kinds of geeky media on this blog, I’m co-running my website Set The Tape, on which I now and then publish content. This is part of a review you can find the rest of in the link below.

Given that the Alien franchise is arguably one of the most renowned and beloved in cinema history, it comes as something as a surprise to learn there have only ever been nine tie-in novels, outside of the official movie adaptations and one anthology collection of short stories. The Cold Forge, now the tenth Alien tie-in novel, proves if anything how much of a goldmine publishers have previously missed in telling stories within the universe Ridley Scott created. Alex White’s story would make a damn fine movie in itself.

Taking a cue from the previous, successful trilogy of novels over the last few years including Out of the Shadows & River of PainThe Cold Forge manages to cultivate its own corner of Alien’s dark, corporate, late-capitalist future by creating a uniquely Alien set-up: a research and development facility in deep space, in orbit of a burning star, with a collection of characters all with unique personalities, distinguishing traits, and several with plot-specific secrets.

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The Prisoner #1 – ‘The Uncertainty Machine’

When I’m not looking at all kinds of geeky media on this blog, I’m co-running my website Set The Tape, on which I now and then publish content. This is part of a review you can find the rest of in the link below.

Half a century on, The Prisoner remains a truly landmark piece of television. Much like Twin Peaks some quarter of a century later, Patrick McGoohan & George Markstein’s series adds definition to the era it was made while remaining defiantly *in*definable. A 16-part series for British TV channel ITV, The Prisoner ostensibly concerned an intelligence agent—known only as Number Six—who, after quitting for undisclosed reasons, finds himself captive in The Village – a strange, quaint British seaside town filled with nebulous intelligence operatives looking for why he left the service. This, however, is just the base layer.

The Prisoner was much like a set of Russian dolls in terms of narrative and comprehension – every answer just seemed to lead to another question. It remains one of the most fascinatingly bizarre TV shows ever made, on British TV or anywhere else, steadfast in its refusal to provide conventional narrative storytelling; indeed the more its star McGoohan took control of the reins, the stranger the concept became.

McGoohan edged it away from being a quirky spy thriller (and possibly sequel to his earlier hit series Danger Man) and further into an allegorical, surrealist farce designed to commentate on the evolving idea of big government and deep surveillance on society. By the end of its final episode, ‘Fall Out’, his message was clear. *Everything* is the Village.

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Star Trek: Strange New Worlds – ‘The Beginning / Forgotten Light’

In an attempt to try and tackle the onerous job of looking into the Star Trek book universe, thanks to the help of Memory Beta’s chronology section, I am intending to look at the saga in book form from stories which take place earliest in the franchise’s timeline onwards. This hopefully should provide an illuminating and unusual way of examining the extended Star Trek universe.

These stories take place, in part, 200,000 years ago.

One of the most exciting aspects of the Strange New Worlds, non-canonical anthology books which were released amidst Star Trek novels over roughly a ten year period, is how they could explore all kinds of territory the TV shows or movies would never have gotten near – perhaps even to a greater degree than the tie-in novels, which always usually had to revolve around characters we know from the screen. The Beginning and Forgotten Light are two such key examples.

Now I’ve decided to talk about these short stories together because both of them, unusually, cover the exact same topic, just in different ways and contexts: the creation of the Borg. If ever a race in Star Trek were likely to have an origin story, it would be the terrifying cybernetic beings first encountered by the USS Enterprise-D in The Next Generation’s second season episode Q-Who?; a collective of telepathically linked drones who travelled the galaxy in cubes assimilating every species they come into contact with, believing they were technologically superior and that knowledge of all cultures inside their collective would allow them to reach perfection. A fascinating alien creation, the Borg cast arguably the biggest shadow over Star Trek in the 90’s as the Klingons or Vulcans did in the 1960’s.

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Funny Cow (2018)

Funny Cow isn’t really about comedy. Laughter is the prism through which this bleak fable spins a tale of escape and identity. To make the story of the titular, unnamed ‘Funny Cow’, about the rise of a comedy superstar would be to miss the point. Adrian Shergold’s movie is a strangely oblique, fourth wall breaking self-biography, dominated by the immense talent of Maxine Peake.

I won’t be the first person to say this, but I would go on record to suggest Peake might well be the finest British actress of her generation working today. It is rare to find an actress with the kind of extraordinary range she employs as Funny Cow, an incredibly scattershot and difficult to pin down role as written by Tony Pitts (who also plays her vile, abusive husband Bob). By turns, Peake has to be downtrodden, attractive, quirky, demure, flirtatious and more than a little mentally scarred by decades of abuse, and she manages it with aplomb. Shergold understands the picture lives and dies on the actress in every frame, who holds the central role, and you genuinely cannot imagine anyone embodying Funny Cow as well as Peake. She is magnetic, as she almost always is.

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