Spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen “Captain America: Civil war” then read no further. You have been warned.
There’s a scene in the movie where Steve Rogers is informed that the love of his life, SHIELD agent Peggy Carter, has died, probably aged around 100 years old. She gets a military funeral, and watching the scene I found it surprisingly touching, especially as the image of her used on the coffin is a current image of Hayley Atwell in character from the TV series “Agent Carter” set in 1946.
What struck me was that, watching her funeral, we realise that she is one of the few characters we have seen in her entirety, starting out as a much disparaged (by men) WWII intelligence officer who grows to become, as one of the key leaders of SHIELD, one of the most powerful people in the world.
But what really warrants her status as their greatest hero is the fact that she isn’t a superhero. She doesn’t have a super-serum coursing through her veins, or incredible intelligence matched to huge inherited wealth.
She’s just an ordinary woman, and a woman growing up in an age where for most of her life her looks count against her and discrimination based on her sex is the norm and in many cases the law. Then, as if that isn’t enough, she loses the love of her life, believing him to be dead well into her 90s.
And yet, despite all that, through a mixture of intelligence, hard work and competence, by the 1980s she is one of the leaders of the most powerful organisations in the world, and one of the most effective intelligence operatives ever.
Peggy Carter is the character every little girl can aspire to be, and that’s why she’s the greatest.
Posted by Jason O on Apr 30, 2016 in Movies, Movies/TV/DVDs, Not quite serious., Politics, Science Fiction
Spoiler alert: I’m assuming if you are reading this you have seen the movie. If not, don’t read any further as I’m talking about key plot points.
The two most recent “Captain America” movies have been the most political of the Marvel Universe movies, with both “The Winter Soldier” and “Civil War” having, at their heart, a question about the political accountability of self-appointed groups of do-gooders with extraordinary power.
In “Civil War”, a division emerges between the superheroes over a proposed UN treaty which puts them under the control of an international oversight body.
Unlike many superhero movies, the question isn’t black and white. The treaty comes about as a result of rising casualty rates amongst civilians caused by The Avengers group fighting various bad guys. As a plot, it’s very close to the key plot of “Superman Vs. Batman: Dawn of justice” but exercised much more interestingly. Both Tony Stark (in favour of oversight) and Steve Rogers (against) make valid points in the debate.
But what’s interesting is the politics at the core of the disagreement. Stark believes (rightly, I think) that a group with such immense power must operate with public consent, and so must be accountable and even open to restraint. Rogers, guided by his own sense of morality, believes that a group of individuals with such talents as theirs should not let themselves be restrained by politics.
Interestingly, he spits out the word, and that tells us something about the at-times curiously elitist views held by Rogers, that if he believes something is right, that’s good enough, and that no government, even one elected by the people, has a right to overrule his right to intervene. It’s a fascinating insight into our modern society that such a view is portrayed in a movie as a reasonable side to a case, and not what it really is: the argument of a fascist superman. In short, if someone believes themselves to be emotionally right, as Rogers does, then that’s OK.
As it happens, Stark displays incredible hypocrisy when he discovers that Bucky Buchanan, under Hydra mind control, murdered his parents, and anoints himself the right to murder Buchanan (technically innocent)under a straight and simple desire for emotional revenge, but in doing so makes his own original point that their powers have to be held in check.
Politics aside, it’s a great entertaining movie. The fight scenes are excellent, it’s chock full of cameos and it has plenty of humour. DC take note.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 29, 2016 in Movies/TV/DVDs
I’m not a huge fan of Zach Snyder as a director. It’s not that he isn’t a competent director, because he is. But his style, all speed and shadows, can be frustrating. Put it this way: I can’t tell you what the Batmobile looks like, and I’ve seen the movie. That and his obsession with slow-motion “symbolic” shots makes the movie so much longer than it deserves.
That’s not to say it’s a bad movie. Ben Affleck gives a good performance as a grizzled world-wary Bruce Wayne, and Henry Cavill isn’t bad as Clark Kent. Gal Gadot steals every scene she’s in as Diana Prince, helped in particular by a thumping soundtrack and in particular one revealing scene from her history. But none of them are likable the way Tony Stark or Steve Rogers are.
The problem for this movie, and its position as DC’s launch vehicle to create a rival to Marvel’s Avengers, is that Marvel have set a very high bar, and this movie doesn’t reach it.
It’s joyless, dour, nearly totally devoid of humour, and even the CGI looks more like CGI than Marvel’s does. Put this movie in a league of superhero movies and it comes in way down the list, way past both Avengers movies, all the Iron Man movies and The Dark Knight trilogy. And I write this as someone who regards himself first and foremost as a Batman fan.
This isn’t a bad movie, as I said. It entertained. But, like Man of Steel before, it’s not a movie you’d be rushing back to watch a second time.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 18, 2016 in British Politics, Cult TV, European Union, Fiction, Movies/TV/DVDs, Not quite serious.
When the governor of the Bank of England dies suddenly, and his obvious successor Sir Guy Acheson (Rowan Atkinson, in a surprising straight role) is ruled out because of a shares scandal, brilliant but maverick economist Steve Darblay (Episodes’ Stephen Mangan) finds himself appointed Governor of the Bank of England, in the middle of a currency crisis, by the ruthlessly ambitious Chancellor of the Exchequer Tom Parrish (Hugh Laurie.)
For Darblay, his appointment not only places him in the driving seat in dealing with everything from interest rates to the future of the euro to who goes on the new £5 note, but also a target for Acheson who feels bitterly wronged but also that the new governor is not exactly from the right side of the tracks.
With his former Cambridge tutor Bill Burke (Roger Allam-The Thick of It) and even more brilliant economist (and former girlfriend) Yves Cassidy (Lenora Crichlow-Sugar Rush) at his side, Darblay gets ready to take his seat at the most elite of the world’s councils.
Guest starring Delaney Williams (The Wire) as US Fed Chairman Matt O’Malley and Sidse Babette Knudsen (Borgen) as ECB President Martina Delacroix.
Special appearance by Stephen Fry as the Prime Minister.
*I wrote this as a joke, but as I wrote it I thought “Jesus, I’d watch this!”
Are you a Robert John Burke fan? What about Delaney Williams? Or Timothy V. Murphy? Or Reg E Cathey? Or Jayne Atkinson? Or Boris McGiver?
Never heard of them.
Yeah, you did. You just don’t know it. Every good TV show from The Wire to Sons of Anarchy to Law and Order SVU to House of Cards has been made good not just by good lead actors, but by the character actors
around them. We call them character actors, and it’s a slightly misleading title because it hints that they’re sort of limited to playing a similar type of character all the time, which isn’t true, although it feels that way.
Is there anyone who doesn’t think of the words “Internal Affairs” and automatically think of Robert John Burke? If anything, some become so good that writers actually start basing characters around them and their sheer presence on screen.
Unlike series regulars, who have time to build a character and their personality and quirks, character actors are usually turning up for a
once-off and yet still have to create a fully credible 3D character. That takes skill, and if you look at the various actors named here, every one of them is an equal peer to the series lead when they’re on screen with them.
In fact, we have now, rightly, reached a point where producers have realised that the really good character actors aren’t just someone to fill in scenes with the series regular but are
now adding value as audiences not only recognise them but know that a Reg E. Cathey or a Jayne Atkinson always bring something worth watching to a scene, and want to see more of them.
So here’s to the character actors. Some break through to lead, some do a “Stephen Toblowsky” and become a character genre in themselves, but all deliver.
To jog memories as to all those from above, you’ll have seen Boris McGiver in
House of Cards and Person of Interest, Robert John Burke in SVU and Person of Interest, Delaney Williams in SVU and The Wire, Jayne Atkinson in House of Cards and Criminal Minds, Reg E. Cathey in House of Cards and The Wire, and our own Timothy V. Murphy in Sons of Anarchy.
Posted by Jason O on Jan 1, 2016 in Movies/TV/DVDs
Before his breakthrough role (all less than 20 minutes of it) in “The Silence of the Lambs” in 1991, Anthony Hopkins had been a successful if moderately well known actor. In 1971, he starred as British secret agent Commander Philip Calvert in the film of Alastair Maclean’s “Where Eight Bells Toll”, which was intended to have been the first in a series of movies about Calvert.
The film is noticeable for being a very low-key thriller, a sort of modest budget 007 about Calvert investigating the disappearance of ships carrying gold bullion off the coast of Scotland. Hopkins, like Michael Caine’s Harry Palmer, plays the role as a tough but workaday johnny just doing his job. It’s a pity they didn’t do any more of the movies, as the character is actually quite likable. He’s rude, shouty towards his boss, vicious in fights, yet has a moral compass. The late Robert Morley is superb as his boss, who expresses shock at the possibility of a member of his club being a baddie: “But he’s on the wine committee!”
I posted the below scene, which is the last scene in the movie (it does not really ruin any plot) because it highlights the character, and the theme tune which will bounce around your head for days afterwards.
From 1981 to 1991 mention the island of Jersey to anyone watching British television and they’ll almost certainly mention “Bergerac”. The detective show, set on the island, starred John Nettles as recovering alcoholic detective sergeant Jim Bergerac of the Bureau des Etrangers of the Jersey police, a special unit that dealt with tourists but more often with the many very wealthy foreigners who lived on the island.
By today’s standards, the Jersey of the 1980s all looks a bit naff, but at the time the wealth of the island, its sunny location and the French connection made it all seem very exotic and even glamorous indeed, and for ten years it was a Saturday teatime favourite.
As with many successful shows, Bergerac had a breakout character, Charlie Hungerford, played by veteran character actor Terence Alexander, who was a north of England bovver boy made good, a sort of Arthur Daley who had done very well for himself, thank you very much. One of the running jokes of the show was that Hungerford seemed to know absolutely everybody on the island, or at least was connected, often without his own knowledge, to every criminal enterprise on Jersey.
The show was a huge hit, and was responsible for boosting tourism to Jersey, with Nettles himself heading up the campaign.
Nettles went on to achieve a rare success for an actor in having played a household name for a decade as Jim Bergerac then went on to do it again for over a decade as Chief Inspector Barnaby in “Midsomer Murders”.
If you like spy shows, politically incorrect humour and sexual vulgarity, Fox’s cartoon show “Archer” is for you.
It’s based around brilliant but incredibly self-centred and over-sexed agent Sterling Archer, operative of ISIS (Yeah, they’ve since changed that. Ahem.), and his battles against the KGB, terrorists, his domineering nymphomaniac mother/boss (played by the brilliant Jessica Walter of “Arrested Development” fame), his fellow agent/ex-lover Lana Kane, his dysfunctional/sociopathic/perverted co-workers and people who stole his Black Turtleneck Is Cool look.
Try it. But be warned. This is not one for the kiddies or the faint hearted. Think “The Man from UNCLE” but with a lot of dick jokes.
Posted by Jason O on Dec 21, 2015 in Cult TV, Movies, Movies/TV/DVDs, Not quite serious., Politics, Science Fiction
Watching “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and also seeing the new Star Trek trailer got me thinking recently about how society is ordered in both systems. Admittedly, the Empire existed when humans were still in dwelling in caves, and so a like-for-like comparison isn’t quite fair, but as models go they’re worth comparing.
Which works better? Depends on the question.
Economic Freedom: there’s no comparison. The Empire is a free trade Caveat Emptor kind of place, with huge discrepancies between rich and poor. Slavery is tolerated. On the negative side, private property rights don’t seem to be respected by the state as much as just tolerated. Imperial stormtroopers can burn down your farm without as much as a “by your leave.”
The Federation, on the other hand, is almost the opposite, in that it is in effect a Communist society where possibly all property is owned by the state. Having said that, civil rights seem to apply to a home and individual once it has been allocated. Slavery is banned in the Federation, as is discrimination based on many criteria. Many of them. The Federation seems to have more laws than the Empire has stormtroopers.
The Political System: both systems seem to devolve a lot of non-military power to local decision making, however it is chosen locally. There is a tendency in the Federation towards only permitting members to join that govern with the broad consent of their people and involves detailed negotiation and examination of a candidate. The Empire, on the other hand, just annexes planets. Think British Empire. vs EU.
The Empire is a dictatorship. The Federation Council is chosen by member states, with the Federation President being a low profile bureaucrat. Russia vs EU. Neither hold galactic elections. Only one has a leader who personally murders people.
Civil liberties: There are pretty much none in the Empire, whereas the Federation has probably the most civil liberties in any galaxy. The Empire executes people. The Federation does have the death penalty, but very rarely uses it. Instead, prisoners tend to be exiled to New Zealand. That’ll learn ‘em. Finally, Imperial forces seem to be limited to humanoids and clones, whereas Starfleet is multicultural. It might explain why stormtroopers are such dreadful shots.
Military power: Although the Imperial fleet is much bigger than Starfleet, the Federation’s ships are technologically more advanced, with both cloaking (unofficially) and transport technology. Most Imperial weapons seem to be crude energy blasters, whereas Federation weapons are targeted and sustained beams. Both sides boast a superweapon. The Empire has a Death Star, the Federation the Genesis Device. The Death Star has superior range, whereas the Genesis Device would have to be delivered from orbit by a cloaked ship. Having said that the GD leaves the planet intact and devoid of life, ready to be reseeded with plant life. It is the neutron bomb of the galaxy.
The Empire has far superior ground forces, with the Federation having a very limited Military Assault Command capability. It also has better psychics who can actually do stuff aside from sense that people are stressful.
So, of the two systems, where would one choose to live? It’s a simple enough choice. If you are a swashbuckling scofflaw with a belief that you can make your own way and outrun any other ship (and do, maybe, the Kessel Run in under 12 parsecs, say) then the Empire is for you.
If, on the other hand, you want order, dignity, and enough money to live a nice middle-class life but no more, the Federation is the one. You can become very rich in the Empire, but also have it taken off you at a whim by the starving underclass or the shady Ayatollah who runs it. And they’ll either freeze your ass off or feed you to some sort of giant sand sphincter with teeth.
In the Federation you can work your way up through the fleet by meritocracy, or sit on your ass writing light operas. Whatever floats your boat. You won’t go hungry, and neither bounty hunters nor the military will bother you.
Unless the Empire decide they quite fancy owning the Federation, of course.