Be Here Now (1997)

oasis-be-here-now-artwork-large-1469112956Cover: An archly staged shot of the band in the grounds of a Georgian mansion. The Rolls-Royce in the swimming pool is a reference to an urban myth about Keith Moon of The Who. What’s less obvious is that the motor’s number plate (SYD 724F) is the same as a van’s on the cover of the Beatles album Abbey Road. Be Here Now’s release date (Thursday 21 August) is visible on a calendar, while the inflatable globe is a call-back to the Definitely Maybe artwork. The album title doesn’t actually appear on the cover.

Best track: D’You Know What I Mean? was the album’s lead single and is its opening track. It’s a Hollywood blockbuster with huge guitar sounds, massive production, electronic noises, a string section, a wild guitar solo and even aircraft flying by. The lyrics mention two Beatles songs – The Fool on the Hill and I Feel Fine – while some Morse-code beeping is a reference to another: Strawberry Fields Forever. The track also uses the ‘Amen break’ drum pattern, one of the most copied pieces of music ever. In 2016, a remix called D’You Know What I Mean? (NG’s 2016 Rethink) was released. It tones down some of the excessive production and is a blander listen. The strings are more prominent, but it misses the original’s oomph.

Honourable mentions:
* Noel Gallagher sings the lead vocal on Magic Pie, which starts out pleasingly gentle then takes off. There’s a vaguely psychedelic feel at times, as well as lyrics that paraphrase a speech Tony Blair gave at the 1996 Labour Party Conference: “There are but a thousand days preparing for a thousand years.” (Coincidentally, Be Here Now was mastered on the first day of Blair’s premiership.) The track does admittedly bang on, which is a recurring problem with this album.
* Stand By Me was the album’s second single. It got to number two, being held off the top spot by Elton John’s Candle in the Wind 1997. Written while Noel had food poisoning – hence the line “Made a meal and threw it up on Sunday” – it’s obviously not a patch on the Ben E King song of the same name. But it’s still a likeable, string-driven ballad.
* Fade In-Out has a Wild West-sounding opening – all stark, skeletal guitars, like something from a Bon Jovi B-side. Then a primal scream at the 190-second mark kicks it into a higher gear – the idea for which came to Noel late one night and he woke his wife up by trying it out. Incidentally, Johnny Depp plays slide guitar on this track. (It was the 90s.)
* The soulful Don’t Go Away was written in 1993 when Oasis were hanging out with a band called The Real People, who later hinted it was a naughty copy of one of their tracks.
* All Around the World is frankly ridiculous – a nine-minute, repetitive, derivative and simplistic singalong with three key changes. But you have to chuckle at the sheer gall. It was actually written before Definitely Maybe, but Noel held off recording it until he had the muscle to produce it as an overblown epic. The song became the longest-ever number one when released as a single in January 1998. Hardly original in itself, it was then uncannily echoed in the melody of Hear’Say’s 2001 hit Pure and Simple. Noel was asked whether he’d like to sue for plagiarism. Showing the kind of self-awareness he rarely gets enough credit for, he just laughed.

Worst track: Whereas the enormous production on D’You Know What I Mean? sounds tight and controlled, My Big Mouth is just a rambling mess. It reportedly has 30 separate guitars on it, which swamp an already boring tune. People who dismiss Oasis as ‘dad rock’ probably think this is what all their songs sound like.

Weirdest lyric: In the drab title track, this nonsensical verse appears twice: “Wash your face in the morning sun/Flash your pen at the song that I’m singing/Touch down bass living on the run/Make no sweat of the hole that you’re digging.” There’s then a mention of Digsy, the band’s mate who had a whole song written about him on Definitely Maybe.

Best video: The promo for All Around the World drops Oasis into a surreal animation that owes a great debt to the Beatles movie Yellow Submarine and not a small amount to the work of Terry Gilliam.

Review: The week of Be Here Now’s release seemed amazingly stage-managed. On the Tuesday there was a hubris-heavy documentary about the band on BBC1. Radio play of the album’s tracks was limited (reportedly because the record company thought they weren’t very good). Then branches of HMV opened at midnight on Thursday morning for eager fans to buy the album as soon as possible. All this created mystery and anticipation and resulted in first-day sales of 424,000 copies – an astronomical figure. But now it’s been 20 years (!) and the dust has not only settled but been blown away and forgotten, how does Be Here Now stand up? Sadly, it lacks the quality-control of the first two Oasis LPs. A number of songs are bland, almost all of them are too long, lyrics plumb new depths of meaninglessness, and the production is overblown in a way that only cocaine-quaffing rock bands can achieve. There is good stuff here, but it’s overshadowed by the bad.

Six questions are the answers you might need out of 10

Dracula: The Impaler (2013, Derek Hockenburgh)

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An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: The modern day, plus a few flashbacks to the 15th century. We start somewhere in America, then the main bulk of the story is in Transylvania – specifically at Vlad the Impaler’s castle.

Faithful to the novel? This low-budget, straight-to-DVD movie starts with seven friends celebrating the end of high school with a pool party and beer pong. They’re all off to college soon, so decide to go on a holiday beforehand. Based on a dream had by rich kid Adam (Christian Gehring), they decide to visit Vlad Tepes’s castle in Transylvania. They’ve all heard of the fictional Count Dracula, who was based on Vlad, because Bram Stoker’s book exists in this fiction. At the castle, they meet a young woman called Veronica (Diana Busuioc). She plays host and tells them about Vlad (Gregory Lee Kenyon), who in 1476 or so accepted being an immortal vampire as a trade-off for his love Elisabet being spared death. The film soon becomes a slasher-flick: the fat friend (Mark Jacobson) is attacked by weird baldy men caked in mud, the phone-obsessed friend (Rocco Nugent) is impaled, and the blonde friend (Christina Collard) is torn to pieces by Dracula’s Brides-types who appear in that one scene. At the climax, as one survivor is tortured by another, we start to question whether what we’ve seen took place the way we saw it…

Best performance: In tone and performance, the sexy Veronica is not a million miles away from the Red Woman in Game of Thrones. She’s played by one of the movie’s writers, who’s also the wife of the director.

Best bit: When the survivors find two of their friends dead, their reaction is one of violent distress. One character even retches. It’s a nice bit of genuine emotion, which lifts the film above the Scooby-Doo surroundings.

Review: This is a poor film with plenty of blemishes: the cast is variable, the story is muddied, scenes set at night are lit by floodlights, unwanted shadows appear on people’s faces, a scene set on a moving train is filmed with a rock-solid camera and actors sitting stock still… But there are a few things in its favour. For a start, the gang of friends do actually feel like real pals. They swear at each other, have in-jokes and take the piss, which helps set them up for when they go through the various traumas. The script also contains a couple of funny scene transitions and there’s some trippy editing. It’s barely a vampire film, barely a Dracula film, but it passes the time well enough.

Six promise rings out of 10

Doctor Strange (2016, Scott Derrickson)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

After neurosurgeon Dr Stephen Strange is badly injured in a car crash, he loses the full use of his hands. Feeling that Western medicine has failed him, he seeks guidance from the Ancient One, an expert in mystic arts….

The lead character of this film is an arrogant, rich genius with a goatie beard who’s played by Sherlock Holmes. His demeanour is marked by lots of sarcasm and showing off, but he then suffers a trauma that makes him question his place in the world. After a period of training and experimentation, he decides to dress up and fight evil… While Doctor Strange is not exactly a remake of 2008’s Iron Man, the similarities are remarkable. One huge difference, however, is that this movie turns its back on the plausible science of Tony Stark’s world. In its place comes full-on weirdness. At the start of the story, Dr Stephen Strange (a reliable Benedict Cumberbatch) is working in a New York hospital. He’s good at his job, swaps banter with his colleagues, and flirts with ex-girlfriend Christine Palmer (an underused Rachel McAdams, who was coincidentally in Robert Downey Jr’s Sherlock movies). It’s a thoroughly modern feel, full of ER procedures, pop-culture references and even a long walk-and-talk shot in a corridor. But Strange’s life turns upside down when his hands, so vital to his work, are badly damaged in an accident. (Eagle-eyed viewers – and people looking for things to mention in blog posts – will spot a ‘hand’ motif in this film. There are many close-ups of hands, lots of actors use hand gestures, and at one point Stephen even hallucinates about hands growing out of hands growing out of hands.) Desolate and depressed, scientific Stephen surprises himself by seeking help from mystics in Katmandu. At their mountain retreat, he meets the explains-everything-earnestly Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the never-cracks-a-smile Wong (Benedict Wong) and their boss, the not-Asian-like-in-the-comics Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). Strange begins to learn about astral planes and mirror dimensions and shaping reality and sacred texts and time loops and sling rings and sorcerers of antiquities and Eyes of Agamotto and planet-defending ‘Sanctums’ in New York, London and Hong Kong. It’s a daunting assault of mumbo-jumbo, for both Stephen and the viewer. At one point during his training, Strange is passed a piece of paper with the word ‘shamballa’ on it. He reasonably asks if it’s a mantra, but Mordo replies that it’s the wi-fi password. A good gag, sure, but a bit sniffy considering how much mysticism Stephen has recently been exposed to. In fact, Mordo is generally a bit annoying: his only role in the story is to have a grave enough expression on his face that we’ll accept what he’s saying as important. Librarian Wong is more fun, and there’s a likable run of gags between him and Strange. Meanwhile, the Ancient One is a very powerful Celtic mystic/wizard/priest type who can harness energy, cast spells and control time and space. Swinton is good value, but her casting drew accusations of Hollywood whitewashing. (Arguing that sticking to the comic book’s vision of a male Asian teacher would be too close to a Fu Manchu cliché, director Scott Derrickson conceded that casting a white actress still wasn’t ideal. “What I did was the lesser of two evils,” he said, “but it is still an evil.”) Strange learns from her quickly and soon uses a magical portal to travel to New York, where he defeats Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a former pupil of the Ancient One who wants to summon an interdimensional entity called Dormammu. (Are you keeping up with all this? I had to take notes.) Our hero gets help from a self-aware cloak that floats around of its own volition like it’s Orko from the He-Man cartoon. Quite why this cloth-with-personality does this is not entirely clear – unless you’ve read the comics, one suspects – but then again not a lot is entirely clear with this film. It’s a world far removed from logic and reason and science. This may be a deliberate contrast with the medical jargon and Manhattan lofts of Stephen’s earlier life, but you get the sense that the script is using it as an excuse not to justify things properly. Compare with Star Wars, in which Ben Kenobi has one line about the Force – “It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together” – and we all get it instantly. Doctor Strange, however, bombards us with made-up rituals and silly names. It’s difficult to understand (or care) about what’s happening. After the Ancient One is killed, for example, Strange and Mordo chase Kaecilius to Hong Kong. He’s destroying its Sanctum because he wants… um, Dormammu to take over? Is that right? Admittedly, this action climax has a fun twist on the usual superhero formula. We still get Marvel’s obsession with urban carnage, but Stephen and Mordo actually turn up too late. The area has *already* been levelled by Kaecilius. So Stephen rewinds time to put everything back the way it was: a fun, visually interesting idea. Conversely, while the film’s earlier action/fight scenes play in real time, they do plenty of peculiar things with space: city streets bend beneath characters’ feet, architecture melds and changes before their eyes. It’s all very impressive (unless you’ve seen the Christopher Nolan film Inception), as are the psychedelic sequences when Stephen uses his new powers. But overall this is a simplistic movie that’s been made superficially complicated by lots of empty razzmatazz.

Six men on a bus out of 10

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Frankenweenie (2012, Tim Burton)

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An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: It’s the modern day, albeit a stylised version that’s stuck in the 1960s. The story takes place in the town of New Holland.

Faithful to the novel? Not at all. This black-and-white, stop-motion animated film is a parody of Universal Pictures’ pre-war horror films, especially Frankenstein (1931). A young boy called Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) is distraught when his dog Sparky is run over and killed. So, inspired by a science teacher called Mr Rzykruski (Martin Landau), he resurrects the pooch via the electrical charge of a lightning bolt – ie, in the same way as in the 1931 classic. There are two minor Dracula connections. Victor’s next-door neighbour is a girl called Elsa Van Helsing (Winona Ryder, coincidentally one of the stars of 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula). And in one scene Mr and Mrs Frankenstein (Martin Short and Catherine O’Hara) watch 1958’s Dracula on TV.

Best performance: The stop-motion animators and cinematographer Peter Sorg. The high-contrast, black-and-white photography is very Universal Horror, and the physical puppets and sets really are quite beautiful.

Best bit: The newly resurrected Sparky wags his tail so furiously it falls off. “I can fix that,” says Victor.

Review: A fairly routine animated film, in that there’s plenty of whimsy, a lot of visual humour, and flashes of sweetness and sadness. With the story predictable enough for kids to follow, you start counting off the nods and winks. A character who looks like Vincent Price? A corpse resurrected during a lightning storm? A haircut like Elsa Lanchester in Bride of Frankenstein? A climax in a burning windmill? Check, check, check, check.

Six robotic buckets out of 10

Captain America: Civil War (2016, Anthony and Joe Russo)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The Avengers are torn apart when their two leaders disagree over whether the group should sign a document that would limit their authority…

Not so much a movie as a balloon debate, Captain America: Civil War features a plethora of characters wanting our attention. Unlike The First Avenger (2011) and The Winter Soldier (2014), this third ‘solo’ outing for Steve Rogers is basically an Avengers film in disguise and has a bloated cast to match…
* A short prologue set in 1991 shows us Bucky Barnes aka the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) during his time as a brainwashed Soviet assassin. (We know it’s 1991 because of a big, fat, Futura-font caption. This device occurs throughout the film, usually telling us which city we’re in.) Cut to the modern day, and Bucky is going about his life, wearing a baseball cap and buying fruit in an eastern European market, when a creepy guy called Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl from Inglourious Basterds) frames him as a terrorist. Zemo’s doing this in order to draw the Avengers to the secret base in Russia from where the Winter Soldier programme was run. He wants revenge on them, you see, for what happened a couple of movies ago.
* The psychic Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) is now part of the Avengers team after temporarily siding with the bad guy in Age of Ultron (2015). And she kicks this film’s plot off when she accidentally kills some civilians while the gang are chasing a villain in Nigeria. Why this bothers Wanda and her friends more than previous times they’ve caused carnage is not clear. But then comes outside pressure: US Secretary of State General Ross (William Hurt, returning to the series for the first time since 2008) insists on UN checks-and-balances for the Avengers; the press start to question their legal authority; and team leader Tony is guilt-tripped by the mother of a friendly-fire victim. These films have often shown a ridiculous disregard for collateral damage. Characters seem to blithely accept innocent deaths and massive destruction of property, so this feels like the producers trying to right that wrong. Significantly, the same year’s Batman/Superman crossover contained similar ideas: time had clearly come for the superhero genre to address the elephant in the room. But despite feeling horrendous guilt for what she’s done, Wanda still objects to Tony being overprotective. Brat.
* Meanwhile, Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans) ain’t playing ball. He doesn’t like the idea of politicians being in charge of the Avengers and thinks they should remain self-governed. It’s a brave bit of storytelling, which basically casts the film’s nominal lead character as a villain. But it’s also a real head-scratcher. Steve is a man who voluntarily signed up to fight fascism despite being a weakling weighing 98 pounds. Now he wants to live without the law? Hmm…
* Fellow Avenger Natasha Romanoff (Scarlet Johansson) is another surprise. She’s previously shown a healthy disrespect for authority and even once walked out of a Senate hearing. But now she’s all for adhering to government oversight. There’s some unconvincing dialogue to explain her change-of-tune.
* In the resulting argument about what to do, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) sides with old pal Steve for no reason other than Steve is his pal. (Bear in mind that Sam was a test pilot in the US Air Force. And now he thinks a chain of command is a bad idea. Does that sound plausible?)
* Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) is the leading voice advocating that the team sign the Sokovia Accord, a document that would limit their powers and give the UN jurisdiction. Um, that’d be Tony Stark the independent, dictatorial, billionaire businessman, then? (Incidentally, his argument doesn’t stop him later illegally smuggling a teenager out of New York City and into Germany…) So here is the film’s central conflict. The civil war of the title is the two opposing factors led by Steve and Tony. It makes you wonder why the movie’s not called Captain America vs Iron Man…
* Also in the mix is Vision (Paul Bettany), the powerful entity created in Avengers: Age of Ultron who now dresses like a Kennedy brother having a day off. He’s on Tony’s side of the divide, presumably because his personality is based on Tony’s old AI computer.
* James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes (Don Cheadle) sides with old pal Tony. Being a colonel in the Air Force, this one actually makes sense.
* A new character being introduced in this film is T’Challa aka Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman). When we first meet him, he’s the son of the king of fictional country Wakanda. After his dad is killed in an explosion, T’Challa seeks revenge on the man he thinks is responsible: Bucky. To do this, he dresses up like a panther. He presumably just happened to have the all-black cat-suit lying around in case he needed it. In recent years we’ve all grown tired of superhero origin stories, but this character goes too far in the other direction – he’s introduced with such little effort it’s difficult to care about him. Because the now-brainwash-free Bucky is a member of Steve’s gang, this automatically puts T’Challa in Tony’s camp during the conflict.
* When Steve and his colleagues refuse to sign the Accord and go rogue, Secretary Ross gives Tony 36 hours to bring them into line. So what does Tony do? Does he use the vast resources of his multinational corporation? Ask for help from the UN or the US military? No, he spends at least half of his allotted time travelling to America so he can recruit an untested teenager from Queens who’s been beating up muggers. The introduction of Peter Parker aka Spider-Man (Tom Holland) is one of the film’s sillier elements, which highlights the fact that preparing the ground for sequels now seems more important than telling a good story. It must be said that Holland is decent in the role and it’s also nice to skip the character’s origin story (which has been filmed twice in recent years). But the only reason the character is in this film is to promote an upcoming solo movie. His involvement in this plot makes little sense. Peter has a hotter-than-usual Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).
* Clint Barton aka Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) doesn’t appear until the 80-minute mark, then joins Steve’s team. For some reason.
* The movie gets a good boost of comic energy when Scott Lang aka Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) shows up. He’s just pleased to be involved and is star-struck by Steve and Wanda (“I know you too, you’re great.”). During the massive, 12-character showdown between the two camps at an airport, Scott tries out a new trick: rather than shrinking down to a few millimetres high, he massively increases in size. Ant-Man becomes Giant-Man.
* Also involved in the story is Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), Steve’s friend from the last Cap film, while Martin Freeman shows up with a phoney American accent as a dodgy civil servant. But there’s no sign of Thor, Bruce Banner, Pepper Potts or Nick Fury.
As indicated, how the superheroes fall into the two camps feels anything but character-driven. A cynic might suggest that the sides have been artificially balanced – each team has a famous Avenger (Steve/Tony), a famous Avenger’s best friend from the US Air Force who’s played by a black actor (Sam/Rhodey), a character of dubious motives (Bucky/T’Challa), a woman from eastern Europe dressed in an outfit that accentuates her breasts (Wanda/Natasha), a newbie who feels like a real person rather than superhero (Scott/Peter) and an ancillary character who’s easy to forget about (Clint/Vision). It’s almost like a committee have cast the parts depending on how cool the line-ups will look while fighting each other. It’s certainly far from engaging storytelling. This is a shame, as there are things to enjoy here. The cast is entertaining, while the fights and chases are often energetic and weighty. But this is barely a film. It feels more like a season of television that’s been compiled into a highlights reel. We get the big story beats and lots of action scenes. The whole thing rattles along with some fun and style. But we’ve lost the ebb and flow of a well-structured movie.

Six FedEx delivery guys out of 10

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Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015, Joss Whedon)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

When an artificial-intelligence programme called Ultron is let loose, he wants to destroy the world – only the Avengers stand in his way…

This second Avengers film is big, flashy and at times a lot of fun. But because it tries to squeeze so much into a paper-thin plot, none of the elements gets enough attention and the film also feels too long. It’s 136 minutes and sags in the middle under the weight of too many characters and too many action sequences… In the first scene, as the Avengers launch an attack on a scientific base, there’s a continuous, 59-second shot that reintroduces the six core members of the team. (Well, it’s not actually continuous – you can spot how various elements have been stitched together in post-production – but it’s still impressive.) We meet Clint Barton aka Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans) and Bruce Banner aka the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). They’re a well-drilled team, complementing each other’s abilities and trading quips while they fight. But some big things have changed since the first Avengers mash-up movie. The SHIELD agency that recruited the gang has been disbanded and our heroes are now a self-governed collective (who even have their own logo). Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), Rhodey (Don Cheadle) and Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), three secondrary characters from previous films, are still giving them occasional support – but there’s dialogue to explain why conspicuous absentees Pepper Potts and Jane Foster can’t be arsed to turn up to a party. This post-SHIELD set-up feels like a storytelling backwards step after the political machinations of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s more simplistic and less interesting. For example, the film doesn’t make much effort in placing its story in any context – we see lots of civilian extras looking scared, and a few local cops who defer to these vigilantes at a moment’s notice, but there’s little sense of the wider world the characters are trying to save. The Avengers exist in a bubble, so their storyline feels very inward-looking… Having stumbled across some research into artificial intelligence, Tony Stark wants to use it to run a global defence system. But when the AI system, Ultron, is prematurely activated it goes rogue and – for some reason – decides to wipe out humanity. Tony has other problems too: most of the team didn’t know what he was up to and are angry with his arrogance. Then, after a big action sequence that includes an Iron Man/Hulk face-off and yet more MCU urban carnage, the group is struck by paranoia thanks to one of Ultron’s sidekicks. Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) are twins who want revenge on Tony for building the weapons that killed their parents, so initially team up with Ultron. Pietro is super-fast, while Wanda is psychic and plants hallucinations in our heroes’ heads. Tony sees a grim future where his friends are dead; Thor thinks he’s home on Asgard; Natasha flashes back to her cruel childhood; and Steve fantasises he’s at a party with old flame Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell showing up for a one-line cameo). So, riddled with doubt and fear, the team are in a bad way. The film is too. As the Avengers hide at a safe house, the pace seriously flags. There’s plenty going on – Thor buggers off on a nonsensical subplot; Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) crops up; Natasha angers internet fans by referring to herself as a ‘monster’ because she can’t have children; there’s a sweet romance between Natasha and Bruce – but the script short-changes the 573 subplots and character stories. A new one even gets added into the mix late on, when Tony creates a new being called Vision (Paul Bettany) by combing the personality of his computer Jarvis with an organic body. It’s all very scrappy. At least the big, third-act sequence has a twist. This series of films has coined a new action-movie cliché: big things falling onto a city. Now, it’s the city itself that’s about to fall because Ultron has floated it up into the sky with the intention of crashing it back to earth. (It’s a big job and means our villain is busy off-screen for curiously long stretches.) The team fight an endless supply of robots, helpless people need rescuing, Avengers make gags. But it all feels very mechanical and verges on boring.

Six WW2 vets out of 10

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Boo! (1932, Albert DeMond)

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An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: N/A

Faithful to the novel? This is a 10-minute comedy short produced by Universal Studios, who in the 1920s, 30s and 40s were behind some very successful monster movies. Boo! is an affectionate parody of the genre, using sarcastic narration over repurposed clips from The Cat Creeps (1930), Frankenstein (1931) and, slightly oddly, the German film Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922). Why writer/director Albert DeMond didn’t – or couldn’t – use excerpts from the studio’s recent Dracula (1931) is unknown. Other than the title sequence (see pic above), the only new footage in Boo! is of actor Morton Lowry. We first see him reading a copy of the novel Dracula that strangely has its title printed on the wrong side of the cover. A narrator (DeMond) then explains the premise of the film: to explore how nightmares can be entertaining. The man falls asleep and dreams a surreal episode made up of clips from old movies… Firstly, Dracula (actually Count Orlok from Nosferatu) wakes up in his coffin and spooks someone. Next, Frankenstein’s monster wakes up on the operating table, kills a doctor, and then bumps into Dracula and is scared. This historic on-screen meeting – the first ever in cinema – is achieved by cutting together clips from different films. We then meet actress Helen Twelvetrees in footage from The Cat Creeps – “Maybe the nightmare is going to become a pleasant dream!” trills the narrator. The monster approaches her (again, via some cross-cutting) and then Dracula’s hand reaches in and attacks Helen’s male friend. Being a scene from The Cat Creeps, the hand actually belongs to the bad guy from that film. Scared, Helen later goes to bed, where again the monster watches on as Dracula attacks her and another male friend. Then, inspired by Dracula’s actions, the monster heads off to spook actress Mae Clarke (in footage from Frankenstein). We then end on the man from the start of the short, who’s woken up while hanging from a chandelier.

Best performance: N/A

Best bit: The clips used from The Cat Creeps are the only surviving footage from that film. It seems to have been an unsettling horror with a villain not unlike Lon Chaney in the similarly missing London After Midnight. It was a remake of a silent film called The Cat and the Canary (1927).

Review: What a bizarre little thing this is. The clips are mostly silent, with narration commenting on the action and sometimes providing silly voices and groans, while some footage has been reversed or repeated for comedic effect. The continuity isn’t especially convincing or important. The narrator sometimes assumes different characters are the same person, for example, and there’s even a joke about it: “So the caretaker comes downstairs with a hatchet. I don’t know how he got upstairs [because in the previous clip he was in a cellar], but anything can happen in a nightmare.” Some gags work, some don’t. But at least it doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Six woman automobile drivers out of 10

Thor: The Dark World (2013, Alan Taylor)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Thor must defeat a foe who wants to plunge the universe into eternal darkness. His quest leads him back to Earth and old flame Jane Foster, and also means an uneasy alliance with brother Loki…

Ask a fanboy to name some all-time great bad guys in superhero films and he wouldn’t need to stop playing with himself: one hand is enough to count off Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor, Terence Stamp’s General Zod, Jack Nicholson’s Joker, Heath Ledger’s Joker and Ian McKellan’s Magneto. But ask him to list mediocre examples and he’d need dozens of tweets’ worth of space. For example, the antagonist in Thor: The Dark World is the spectacularly forgettable Malekith, a Dark Elf who wants revenge for a long-ago defeat and plans to take his anger out on the whole universe. He’s played by Christopher Eccleston, though from under so much prosthetic make-up and with such non-descript alien dialogue that they could have cast anyone. And he’s such a drab, lifeless villain that you wonder why Thor bothers leaving the gym to give him the time of day. As the story gets underway, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is preparing to take over as king of the magical realm of Asgard, but is still pining after Jane Foster, the human woman he met in his first solo film. The current king is still Thor’s dad, Odin (Anthony Hopkins); the queen is still Frigga (Rene Russo, given much more to do this time round); and the all-seeing Helmdall (Idris Elba) is still standing guard at that fancy teleport-booth place. Meanwhile, Jane (Natalie Portman, bright and likeable) is in London. She’s on an awkward date with Roy from The IT Crowd – but when her colleague Darcy (Kat Dennings, the comic relief) interrupts, Jane has to leave to investigate a weird time/space portal in a warehouse. Before you know it, she’s been transported to an alien world and infected with a strange space gas called the Aether (ie, yet another meaningless Marvel plot device). It’s bad news for her health, but it does attract Thor’s attention. So he journeys to Earth to see how she is. She responds by slapping him and saying, “Where were you? I was right here where you left me. I was waiting and then I was crying and then I went out looking for you. You said you were coming back.” He replies that the Bifrost bridge was destroyed, the Nine Realms erupted into chaos, wars were raging, marauders were pillaging, and he had to put an end to the slaughter. “As excuses go,” she concedes, “it’s not terrible.” They then travel to Asgard, leaving Darcy and her intern Ian (Jonathan Howard) to break old friend Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) out of a psychiatric facility. Traumatised by the events of Avengers Assemble, you see, he was committed after running around Stonehenge in his birthday suit… As with the first Thor film, there’s a clash of tones going on here: ever-so-earnest scenes on an Asgard full of ceremony and glean and people in capes… versus comedic scenes in the London of the Shard and the Jubilee Line and high-viz-jacketed Metropolitan Police officers. The contradiction is heightened by Thor himself, who switches his attitude depending on which world he’s in. He’s clearly aware of irony on Earth, yet at home talks like he’s in an am-dram Shakespeare. The film’s not a disaster, by any means, and is very watchable at times. But sadly the cross-cutting between worlds doesn’t flow at all, the pace sags in the middle, and because the plot needs so much explaining – it’s something to do with the convergence of planets, which only happens once every five thousand years – everything feels very stodgy. Some action scenes have little meaning because we’re not experiencing them through a character’s point of view, while drama scenes are shot like television, with flat coverage and some epileptic editing. (Darcy’s first appearance, for example, lasts for 66 seconds and contains *35* separate shots. It’s just a scene of three people talking and not moving.) Thank the Nordic gods for Loki, the bad guy from both Thor’s first movie and Avengers Assemble. We see him briefly at the beginning of the story, then the film comes alive at the hour mark when he takes centre stage. Tom Hiddleston’s performance fizzes and pops as trickster Loki has to team up with his brother. In fact, thinking about it, we’re going to need that extra hand – let’s call Loki the sixth great bad guy in a superhero film. It’s just a shame that he’s not *this film’s* bad guy. It could do with him being more than just a subplot.

Six men who’d like their shoes back out of 10

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A self-indulgent appendix: The big action climax of Thor: The Dark World is both set and filmed in Greenwich, south-east London, which is about three miles from where I live. For the Dark Elves’ battle with Thor and his pals, the production team used the beautiful site of the Old Royal Naval College. It was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built between 1696 and 1712; originally a hospital for seaman, from 1873 it became a Royal Navy training college. The Navy left in 1998, since when the buildings have been both a tourist attraction and a university campus. Over the years, many films and TV shows have shot there: once you clock its architecture and layout, you never stop spotting it. For example, I first visited the site in 2010 specifically to see a filming location from the Harrison Ford movie Patriot Games (1992). The scene of Jack Ryan foiling an IRA assassination attempt was filmed at the ORNC, which was standing in for central London. Having been there in person, I then noticed the buildings being used in dozens of other films: Octopussy (1983), Four Weddings and Funeral (1994), The Madness of King George (1994), The Avengers (1998), Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001), Starter for 10 (2006), The Queen (2006), The Golden Compass (2007), The Duchess (2008), Sherlock Holmes (2009), The Wolf Man (2010), Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011), Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011), Skyfall (2012), The Dark Knight Rises (2012), Les Miserables (2012), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015), even a spoof Doctor Who episode in 1993. I mention all of this because over the last seven years I’ve been back to the ORNC hundreds of times. I go most weeks for one reason or another: to attend a free music concert in its Chapel, to see a new art exhibition in the visitors’ centre, to show it off to friends, to see the Painted Hall (perhaps the most beautiful room in Britain), for a walk round its grounds, for a pint in its pub. It’s become a very special place to me, as has Greenwich in general. So, when it came to blogging about Thor: The Dark World, I took my laptop there to write the review.

Hail, Caesar! (2016)

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Written, directed and produced by Joel and Ethan

Eddie Mannix, a fixer at a 1950s Hollywood film studio, must contend with a star who’s been kidnapped by communists, another who’s fallen pregnant, and another who can’t act…

Seen before? No.

Best performance: Tilda Swinton plays two roles. Twin sisters Thora and Thessaly Thacker are both journalists, and are based not that loosely on real-life gossip columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons. The gag is that they always appear in quick succession, confusing whoever they’re trying to get information from, and Swinton’s having fun with the characters’ clipped voices and supreme confidence.

Coen regulars (running total of appearances): George Clooney (4) assays another Coen-brothers idiot. Frances McDormand (8) has a tiny yet comical cameo as an editor. Fred Melamed (2) was also in A Serious Man. Josh Brolin (3), Tilda Swinton (2) and Scarlett Johansson (2) appear again.

Best bit: We see a number of scenes from fictional movies being shot at the studios – a Biblical epic, a Gene Kelly-style musical, an Esther Williams-style swimming film, a Western, a stuffy drawing-room drama… They’re all entertaining in a behind-the-curtain way, with the musical being the best. Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum) is a song-and-dance man who’s playing a sailor in his latest movie. The sequence we see being shot is an elaborately choreographed number called No Dames, which has some dazzling dancing and subversive lyrics.

Review: It’s not awful, but there’s a relentless sense with this film that it’s not as good as it should be. It’s a sketch show rather than a wholly satisfying movie, and like most sketch shows is very hit and miss. The Acorn Antiques-style fictional movies, for example, are tremendous fun, while there are a number of classy and funny performances – not least from Ralph Fiennes, who nearly steals the entire film as uptight-yet-polite English director Laurence Laurentz. But the story is so lightweight and scattergun. Threads seem to get picked up then dropped on a whim, while Scarlett Johansson’s subplot is beyond cursory. The film meanders and never seems to rise above a mildly interesting second gear. There’s also, sadly, a smugness about the proceedings. It’s a funny film, but nowhere near as clever as it thinks it is.

Six Soviet submarines out of 10

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011, Rupert Wyatt)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Where, when and what: This is another reboot of the franchise, though the film does have some vague similarities to 1972’s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. The story is set in San Francisco in the modern day over a stretch of eight years.

Humans: The lead character is Dr Will Rodman (James Franco), a research scientist who works for biotech company Gen-Sys. His boss is the money-obsessed, moral-light Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) – the line “I run a business not a petting zoo!” tells you all you need to know about him. After five years of working with primates, Will finds a cure for Alzheimer’s, but the chimp from his study goes on a rampage and has to be killed. She’d recently had a son, so Will smuggles the young chimp out of the building, takes him home and names his Caesar. Will lives with the father, Charles (John Lithgow, very good), who suffers from Alzheimer’s… until Will tries the cure on him and it works. Five years later, however, Charles has a relapse. Meanwhile, Will starts a relationship with veterinarian Caroline Aranha (Freida Pinto). Also, after Caesar is placed in a primate shelter we meet its manager – the no-nonsense, charmless John Landon (Brian Cox). His son Dodge (Tom Felton) is his assistant and also a vicious little shit.

Apes: In a first for this series, the ape characters are mostly computer-generated creations. But they’re still driven by actors’ performances using motion-capture technology (you know, that thing where they put golf-balls on a onesie and film the actor wearing it on a green-screen space). It’s really impressive stuff, not least because the apes’ emotions are so well conveyed, even if occasionally the creatures seem a bit lightweight against the real-life backgrounds. Caesar is played by Andy Serkis, the actor who pioneered the art of mo-cap with his portrayal of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies. Caesar’s mother – nicknamed Bright Eyes by Will, a nod to the 1968 film – dies early on, so to save the infant Caesar from being put down Will takes him home and raises him. Because of a treatment of new wonder drug ALZ-112, Caesar has above-average intelligence. By the age of three, he’s using sign language and doing puzzles; five years later he can understand English. But he’s a volatile ape and attacks a neighbour when angry, so a court orders that he live in a primate sanctuary. It initially seems to be a friendly place, but Caesar is soon held in a dirty cage and mistreated by the staff. So he escapes, frees his fellow inmates and doses them with ALZ-112… The rebellion soon involves hundreds of primates from across the city, and their rampage climaxes (almost inevitably) on the Golden Gate Bridge.

Review: There are two films going on here, running side by side. When the story is being told from Caesar’s point of view, it’s a very watchable and engaging thriller. The combination of Andy Serkis’s talents and the CG wizardry create a character easy to sympathise with, and even without dialogue we always know what he’s thinking and feeling. However, the human side of the story is disappointingly thin and bland. James Franco’s Will is as uninteresting as a Hollywood lead can be; Freida Pinto’s Caroline is as tokenistic as they come (she has *nothing* to do all film long – seriously, she’s a totally pointless character); and the bad guys – Jacobs, Landon and Dodge – are stunningly one-dimensional. It’s a shame.

Six Towers of Hanoi out of 10