The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – Film Review

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When I first saw The Amazing Spider-Man, as both a cinemagoer and an avid Marvel fanboy, I had but one question on my mind: ‘Didn’t I see this movie ten years ago?’. Poor Webb. When Sony approaches you to reboot Marvel’s greatest superhero that already had a perfectly suitable origin story, a memorable cast and a charismatic Asian lady playing his theme tune, it was inevitable that some toes were going to be trodden on.

Now, two years later, our toes are somewhat healed and ready for Andrew Garfield’s second entry as our friendly neighbourhood hero. Does his charisma hold together this web of ideas? Or does director Mark Webb swing in too many directions? Can I possibly make any more spider puns?

The sequel opens up in a rather dramatic fashion. A continuation of the flashbacks in the first film sees Peter Parker’s parents, Richard (Campbell Scot) and Mary (Embeth Davidtz), leaving the child with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). The nature of Richard’s work with Oscorp puts him in danger, leading to the couple’s inevitable death and the laying of the shady corporation’s foundations into place.

Years on, the incident, the death of Gwen’s father and the continuing responsibilities of Spider-Man put Peter, and those he loves, at risk. Can the superstar of New York possibly keep up the pace with love interest Gwen (Emma Stone), the return of old friend Harry (Dane DeHaan) and the rise of misunderstood villain, Electro (Jamie Foxx)?

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Old Friends, New Challenges

As you can see from my somewhat long-winded description, there is a lot going on here. Mark Webb, this time around, is a bit of a visionary. With plans to extend Spidey’s universe into two more films, as well as two spinoff films, The Amazing Spider Man 2 oozes continuity rumours, sub plots and the ticking of the right Spider-Man boxes.

Whilst it may feel over-stuffed with ideas, the film does right to relate it all (albeit, with some tedious links) to the film’s plot. It’s admirable, considering the franchise doesn’t have any other Marvel films to bounce off of like the rest of its cinematic universe. Taking the film in its own right, as a sequel to the first film and a middle-finger to the Sam Raimi films of old, it’s a successor in almost every single way.

Garfield is swarve, cocky and adorably awkward as both Peter Parker and Spider-Man. Whether it’s the choreographed web-swings, the humiliation of Russian mobster Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti) or his head-over-heels moments with Gwen, the man helms this entire universe, bringing a spark of life out of its characters. As great as Tobey Maguire was, Garfield (again) just leaves him out to dry as the Spider-Man of old. And yes, for those concerned, he is just as ripped.

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Your Friendly Neighbourhood Hero

In terms of the action, comedy and romance, Webb has turned the dial up to 11 on every aspect, making them complement one another perfectly. At times, the film doesn’t take itself too seriously, with CGI boss-fights and wise-cracks galore to please the simpleton in all of us. Then, it wants to wrench your heart out in Garfield’s scenes with co-star Stone, as you remember that this superhero is just a teenager like many of us, with promises to keep and a life to lead. Particularly with Gwen’s valedictorian speech, there isn’t a dry eye in the house.

Of course, a round of applause must go to Foxx and DeHaan for their strong depictions of some of the web-head’s greatest villains and the universe’s most intriguing characters. One can hope that they return in The Sinister Six movie, but they will not be missed as much as a character who meets their end in the film. Nudge nudge!

Overall, The Amazing Spider Man 2 acts as a successor movie to its prequel, as well as a building foundation to its further movies, which creates some building tensions within the movie. Still, you can’t ignore the film’s evident charm and mass-appeal to the cinemagoer and Marvel fanboy in all of us. You may leave slightly disappointed, but you’ll be guaranteed to be quoting it and practising your wise-cracks on the way home – or is that just me?

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That’s No Moon, That’s a Book Review!

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Not too long ago, in this very galaxy, Verily, A New Hope brought two pieces of treasured history, Shakespeare and Star Wars, together. That literary geek’s dream now has a sequel: The Empire Striketh Back. If you need an excuse to brush up on your love for Shakespeare, your Star Wars fanatics or that ghastly impression of Yoda, Ian Doescher may have just found it.

From the moment you grasp the book, it hits you that you’re holding something brilliant. A centralised Yoda coated in Shakespearean quilt dominates the cover, surrounded by an exquisite scenery and classic Star Wars characters and vehicles. Together, they mock and complement one another in perfect harmony, with these illustrations continuing throughout the book.

As for the inside, a traditional Shakespeare story awaits you, only this time set in space. Once you begin to read the prologue, you see what Doescher is trying to do – translate The Empire Strikes Back’s dialogue into Shakespearean. Take Han Solo’s “Punch it!” line and you get “Anon, Chewbacca, lead us to our fate!”. The effect is simultaneously humorous and impressive in that it feels authentic for Star Wars and Shakespeare fans alike.

Like So!
Like so!

This isn’t just in Doescher’s dialogue, but in his presentation of each and every page. The book is divided into five Acts, each divided into Scenes, each Scene presented in the form of a traditional Shakespeare play. You have your characters and stage directions, the use of iambic pentameter and prose, and just about every Shakespearean device you could name. From reading the Afterword, you can tell that the man knows his stuff.

Don’t assume that he is simply a scribe – he has his own, literary imagination to toy with. Through his use of monologues, you gain an extended insight into the characters and themes of The Empire Strikes Back. Some of them are suitably hilarious (every now and again, Chewbacca and R2-D2 get their own, dramatic speeches), but the majority heighten the film to another level of ass-kicking sophistication.

A minor criticism is that, just like with the first two Harry Potter films, if you’ve experienced it before, you’ll get a strange sense of déjà vu. The plot almost entirely follows that of the film (save swapping a few scenes around), which becomes more obvious when you follow the book alongside the film like a script. That’s to be expected, as the surprises and changes are intended for the dialogue.

And so, once I finished this heroic tale and chuckled at its closing sonnet, all I could do was await The Jedi Doth Return. Shakespeare and Star Wars fans, with criticisms considered: this is the spoof you were looking for.

 

Band of Skulls – ‘Himalayan’ Review

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Original article on York Vision

With Leeds and Reading, two studio albums and more commercial appearances than Kevin Bacon (‘Need for Speed’, ‘Twilight’ and ‘Guitar Hero’, to name a few), the three-piece alternative rock band are starting to extend their reach that bit further than Southampton. Now, having teased via Facebook and streamed through NME, Band of Skulls’ third studio album, ‘Himalayan’, has finally arrived – does it bode well for their rock ‘n’ roll image?

The album doesn’t ease you in – the immediately aggressive guitar and drum beat of “Asleep at the Wheel” bellow to the fact that you, listener, have entered the world of rock of roll. It feels familiar to some of their previous sounds, very The Black Keys and, as some fans are describing it, ‘fucking dirty’.

That feel begins to settle in for the next few tracks. You’ll begin to feel your feet stomping and your head banging as “Hoochie Coochie”, what with its tight, dance floor grip. From there, lead singers Emma Richardson and Russell Marsden know that they’ve got you and ask you to sit back, relax and take a classic Band of Skull’s road trip.

Together, they co-operate to deliver to their fans, to rocking newbies and just about everyone. You’ve got the love ballad of “You Are All That I Am Not”, the psychedelic feel of “Cold Sweat” and that exploding sound of about every song. By the end of “Get Yourself Together”, you feel satisfied that the band have tried to stimulate you in almost every way they can.

Admittedly, I was sat there making some comparisons to the likes of Foo Fighters and Jimi Hendrix throughout my listen. With that familiar, kick-ass rock sound underlying its modest 12-track listing, you can’t help but draw a few here and there. Still, it doesn’t completely take you away from the fact that Band of Skulls has given you a pretty good journey for the past hour.

Whilst it may not deliver something completely new to its genre, ‘Himalayan’ does provide for a great time to both fans of its genre and for its loyal fan base. With their upcoming European tour, expect to hear their name just a little bit more, folks.

Next-Gen, Maybe Next Time

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Original article at York Vision

Gaming community, I’m about to make a statement which will probably get me shunned to my bedroom early and without any supper. Considering your anger when the Playstation Network is down without explanation, I’ll have to put it bluntly: I won’t be getting next-gen. Now, put your Blades of Chaos and blue shells DOWN and be calm, go with me on this. I can assure you that it isn’t due to a distaste or lack of money. My argument for doing so is pretty simple: I’m a bit of a culture freak.

By that, I don’t mean I staple Kermit the Frogs together to make a t-shirt like Lady Gaga once did. What I mean is I feel this need to always be aware of the culture around me. I spend most of my day on Facebook and Twitter looking for trending topics in the worry that I may wake up tomorrow and miss something that has potentially just exploded onto the internet. To remain blissfully unaware is difficult.

Have you ever been asked “Have you seen this?” or “Have you heard that?”and feel that little bit dumb or ‘out of the loop’ for having not done so? It pains me when I know I haven’t seen Life of Pi or read Harry Potter past the fourth book, because I feel uncultured, even though I like to think I’m a pretty well-rounded individual. Well, it’s the same with gaming.

In the great console war, I chose my side long ago on Christmas Day. Since then, I’ve been dedicated to Sony’s innovative exclusives and mainstream titles, from the original, clunky Playstation to the high-tech prowess of the Playstation 3. I made it my mission to delve into as many different genres as I could, from shouting ‘JAAASOOON’ in crowded shopping malls in Heavy Rain to pummeling thugs and battling throat cancer in inFamous.

Yet, all it took was a “You’ve never played Mega Man?” to make me realise that this exclusivity was excluding myself away from the excess of culture that exists across consoles. Certainly, you can’t play every game that’s ever been created, nor would you want to. However, you can only remain so versatile within such a restricted domain.

One of my friends is a self-confessed Nintendo fanboy (admittedly, not something many people confess), who would constantly inform me of the latest game that “was much better than your AAA rubbish”. Usually, I would roll my eyes at him; now, I’m willing to invest in a part of culture that just hasn’t existed in my life at all. Whether that be Nintendo or the simple ‘indie’ developer (I’m developing a slight obsession for the newly released Octodad: Dadliest Catch), there’s still a vast amount of content that is yet to be explored.

So why the need to move onto next-gen? On a developer’s point of view, it’s ‘moving with the times’ as technology advances, products need creating and, let’s face it, the wages aren’t going to pay themselves. For the consumer, are you really unsatisfied with your current console and need to move on? Has the absence of touch-pad controls and speech recognition made you break down crying in the middle of GAME? I didn’t think so.

That’s why, my nerdy brethren, I’ll be saying no to next-gen for the next couple of years. As part-time IGN anchor Ron Burgundy famously put: ‘Try to think of these consoles as women. Totally different, beautiful women that you can play with”. Without sounding like a player, I think I’ll spend time with some other women before I take my current relationship to the next level. God forbid my girlfriend reads this article!

‘Twas the Night Before Valentine’s

Original article at York Vision

We’ve come a long way from the first medieval associations of Valentine’s Day with the romantic love and chivalry of Geoffrey Chaucer’s time. But is chivalry dead? Doris Xu has given us a fascinating insight into Chinese mythological romance right up to modern commercial culture. Adrian discusses his plans for his first Valentine’s Day as a student in a relationship. Not all of us will be sending generically mass-produced cards and strewing a path of rose petals to the bedroom after a sumptuous restaurant dinner in 2014.

Popular suggestions include e-cards (because it’s the thought that counts?) for long distance relationships, or pushing the boat out with a £20 Marks and Spencer’s dine in for two deal. Even happily established, i.e. virtually married, couples often scoff at the ‘commercialization’ of the tradition. With the trend for doing things ‘ironically’, our comment editor has expressed a desire to watch When Harry Met Sally whilst crying into his Ben & Jerry’s. How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and Bridget Jones’ Diary are also suitably tragic but brilliant options for viewing on the 14th.

ADRIAN HORAN

For the first time in Valentine’s Day history, I won’t be spending mine sneering at the joyful statuses of lovers on my Facebook news feed, or resisting the urge to mope to R.E.M.’sEverybody Hurts, because I’m now one of the lucky people to be in a relationship and have plans.

Considering this, I find myself a bit of a newbie in celebrating it this year, particularly when me and my girlfriend conform to the opposite gender stereotypes. I’m quite the softy, who considers a box of chocolates and a serenade to be acceptable; she isn’t into cheese (the emotional kind, she loves real cheese) and will happily accept chocolates on an essay-stimulating basis, rather than an emotional one.

That leaves us with limited options: we’re both new to this business. As a compromise, we’ve both agreed that we’ll stand together against the commercialisation and have a romantic, student night in. I’ve been assigned as chef, whilst a cold 76 Tang Hall Lane is the designated romantic cabin of love and assorted biscuits. The problem is that I’m sharing with a couple already, so the fight will be on as to who can claim the table and scented Gladecandles first!

DORIS XU

In China, western Valentine’s Day seems more popular among young lovers than the traditional one known as Qixi festival. Qixi festival originates from Chinese folk tales. According to the mythological story, the love between a weaver girl as an incarnation of Vega and a cowherd symbolizing Altair cannot be permitted by heaven. They were expelled to opposite sides of the Milky Way, and could only meet once a year on the night of July 7 in lunar month, when a flock of magpies would form a bridge with their wings to reunite the lovers. Although the reunion can never happen, lovers, newly-weds, and old couples, will cuddle up together and gaze at the sky to seek Vega and Altair as part of tradition. If it is a rainy night, people believe the rainfall to represent the tears shed by the separated couple.

In contrast to this ancient and sentimental way, young people prefer western Valentine’s Day featuring romance. Generally speaking, young people will enjoy a candlelight dinner with lovers exchanging presents. In some cases, some young men may devise a surprise. One of my best friends in China told me how excited she felt when unpacking the valentine’s gift. She fancied a handbag before and a couple of days later, she was depressed to find other buyers had nabbed it. She felt down, until she unwrapped the Valentine’s present and found it was exactly what she longed for.

On February 14th, some young men and women in love may choose to register marriage on the special day. Another tradition is the blind date. Some dislike spending Valentine’s Day alone, so attend blind dates organised by matchmaking agencies and TV programs. Some parents are even involved in the matchmaking if their children are too busy to date. Parents may put up a profile of their child and if they are satisfied with the counterpart, they will exchange contact information. This seems like a market, but it’s become a prevalent phenomenon in China in current years.

Meanwhile, in terms of the pressure to celebrate, some young people said they have no alternative. Otherwise, their lovers may think they are not loved. Each year, celebration may cost them a sum of fortune, since after Valentine’s, there are some other romantic festivals such as March 14th known as White Day, and May 21st which is celebrated among the young as the pronunciation of the date in Mandarin is similar to “I love you”, plus Qixi festival. In the end, nobody can be happier than shopkeepers!

 

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Special Edition – Review

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Original article at York Vision

Composer for the scores of timeless classics such as Mrs Doubtfire and The Silence of the Lambs, Howard Shore is writing in the league of musical genius. Sadly, as admirable as his efforts were, they were overshadowed by the likes of Robin Williams burning his bosoms over a kitchen stove. That certainly wasn’t the case with his soundtrack for The Lord of the Rings, giving him renowned success and nasty hobbitses everywhere music for Middle Earth. If following that up with a score for An Unexpected Journey was a brave return for Shore, continuing with The Desolation of Smaug was an even braver one.

Opening with The Quest for Erebor, I was half expecting the popular Misty Mountains Cold theme to intertwine itself with the film’s score as was previously done. However, it instead has that orchestral empowerment we were introduced to ten years ago. From the first few tracks, it begins to feel darker and gloomier than An Unexpected Journey, a fitting move by Shore as Peter Jackson’s prequel trilogy begins to change its tone. Flies and Spiders hits this perfectly, with its sharp chords and mighty crescendos, giving it that feel reminiscent of Mordor from The Lord of the Rings score.

  The Elves save not only Bilbo and company from some horrific spiders, but the soundtrack from becoming two hours of doom and gloom. Rivendell, also from the original trilogy, has always been a personal favourite piece of mine, as beautiful to me as a pint is to Pippin. Feast of Starlight provides that same gloomy but mystical coating, before the soundtrack goes on its travels down The Forest River, as fast paced as the scene in the movie itself.

From here, Shore takes inspiration from his previous Middle Earth composition. Sadly, it isn’t a cameo of The Green Dragon Song like they did with Frodo last year, but instead giving a certain ambiance to his music in order to portray different themes and concepts conveyed in the film.

For example, we have the bold and brass nature of the Dwarves, conveyed by instruments of a similar description in Girion, Lord of Dale; summing up the very personality of a city with grandiose melodies, as is done for Lake-town in Thrice Welcome; and letting you know when Hobbits are getting some worthy screen time with the famous Shire clarinet in The Courage of Hobbits. It all feels familiar, which is a wonderful thing – this is the Middle Earth you left ten years ago, which sounds as authentic as you remember.

The composer isn’t afraid to tread new ground, however. Shore uses a descending arpeggiated melody in pieces such Bard, a Man of Lake-town and Protector of the Common Folk which give the score some cohesion, whilst pushing the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra to its limits in creating an altogether sinister conclusion of tracks to scale up Smaug’s fiery (sorry) reputation, as is brilliantly presented in My Armour is Iron, with its rhythmic strings and blaring brass, building him up in a Sauron kind of way.

What’s more, Shore has created something truly beautiful in his tracks Kingsfoil and Beyond the Forest. They’re almost narcotic when they introduce a basic, elven melody that breaks away from the overall threatening tone of the film; although, they are true to this concept, and can be just as epic in their own rights as the songs progress.

Let me discuss the elephant in this soundtrack, Ed Sheeran’s I See Fire. Where does a chart-topping, acoustic-loving 22 year old have his place in a Middle Earth soundtrack? You either loathe it, for said reason, or you love it for the reason that I do. Of course he’s not singing in Elven, but that doesn’t take away from the authentic feel that he grants to The Desolation of Smaug.

The song bleeds with Thorin’s anguish for Smaug destroying his people, calling to his dwarven brothers to stand against him. ‘And if we should die tonight, then we should all die together…. watch the flames burn auburn on the mountain side. Desolation comes upon the sky.’ Ed Sheeran channels this in his tender vocals, strumming a simple rhythm on his guitar, accompanied by nothing more than a drum and cello. Its simplicity mirrors the fact that Thorin and his people have nothing. Also, he gets a folklike violin solo – any Hobbit’s dream!

To conclude, Shore does a magnificent job in capturing the essence of The Desolation of Smaug in his soundtrack. He stays comfortable in some parts, using old tricks in a new setting; in others, he experiments with what he has learnt across his time as a composer, daring to be different in some aspects, paying off entirely. Whilst it won’t go down in motion picture history as The Lord of the Rings soundtrack did, it will certainly go down in mine and any budding Tolkien fan’s history.

Bad Films – The Attraction of Repulsion

Fast food. From alarming news stories and the likes of Supersize vs Superskinny, it’s safe to say that society is informed on how it can lead to malnutrition. Yet the Big Mac will always be one of God’s most wonderful creations, what with its criminally delicious effects on our taste buds. Is it the same for bad films? Are they as bad for us as the critics deem them to be, or do they make a good substitute for a Big Mac?

For starters, what do we even consider to be a ‘bad film’? According to Rotten Tomatoes, a film review aggregator, bad films are otherwise known as ‘rotten’ if less than 60% of the films’ reviews are rated ‘positive’. It’s shallow, but it essentially gives budding cinema-goers the ‘yay or nay’ on a new movie release. A rotten habit of mine (oh stop) is searching for the latest, hoping they’ll be the greatest, and pre-imposing my opinions based on that miniature tomato or bogey green splat. Should I not watch something because of a blemish composed of the beliefs of a critic?

In all honesty, we spent the majority of December watching film after film stamped with this curse. Christmas films are as sinfully awful as that tacky, sing-along Santa that your Mum is obsessed with. Jingle All the Way is a personal favourite, where every year I chuckle at Arnold Schwarzengger running across the city to get his kid a Turbo Man doll. I think to myself, ‘This is absolute trash, when will he shout “Get to de choppa!”?’, yet I continue to watch it, just like I do any Christmas film plucked from the depths of a bargain bin.

This seems to be apparent at pretty much any time of the year. The truth is, we love our trash. Twihards together spent hundreds of millions on seeing an awkward Kristen Stewart pout at pretty boys, whilst comedy junkies flock to the new Adam Sandler flick to see his latest attempt at “acting”. We dedicate the ‘Razzies’ to mocking their efforts and attempts; yet, we still willingly empty our wallets to see some sub-standard cinema shite.

The question is – why? As much as critics slate these “bad films”, I feel they exist in their own right as an art form. Sometimes, we find that we don’t want to watch a film and be philosophically engaged, politically persuaded or culturally inspired. Sometimes, I just want to relax at the end of a long week and get a kick out of having my senses insulted with pure rubbish. Would you prefer admiring the Mona Lisa to watching a flipbook of a cartoon cop repeatedly running over a burglar (always a highlight of Hot Fuzz)?

Of course I’m not undermining the talent and genius of these creative minds. If anything, these two art forms give light to one another. We wouldn’t know what an Oscar-worthy film was without having Syfy readily on demand to scoff at Titanic 2. Society needs that counterbalance to really appreciate what taste is and I’m glad people exist who give our cultural lives a bit of perspective. As the saying goes, ‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure’. Or another man’s Big Mac? I might have overdone that metaphor.