Thoughts On Infinity War (SPOILERS AHEAD)

As the title suggests, this review of Marvel’s ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ does contain spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the film, and want to go into the movie completely blind, come back and read this later.

‘Infinity War’ is the culmination of the seventeen MCU films that came before, featuring an unprecedented roster of superheroes and our first look at Marvel’s ultimate big bad, the Mad Titan Thanos. But did it live up to its annoying clusterfuck of a marketing campaign that generated hype only Star Wars can match? Or was it so stuffed with character and jarring narrative that it simply baffled audiences?

Well you’ll be pleased to hear that it was, in fact, one of the strongest offerings from the MCU to date, thanks to a number of details.

First and foremost, ‘Infinity War’ instantly gives us something we’ve been lacking over these last ten years and that’s stakes. You can have as many epic third act battle scenes as you like, but ‘Infinity War’ chooses to give us a cold open. A distress call overlays Marvel’s classic titles, before opening onto a decimated Asgardian refugee vessel; bodies are strewn across the ground as the haunting Ebony Maw, one of Thanos’ Black Order, weaves his way among the corpses, proclaiming their salvation. What ensues after this, I’ll keep to myself, but in just two or three shots, Marvel gives us instant stakes, like we’ve never had before. It’s then that I realised this film was going to be a different beast.

There are highlights in every single beat of this film. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo, and writers Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely expertly balance humour with the severity of the events in the film, allowing characters such as the Guardians of the Galaxy to seamlessly slot into the film’s narrative. It is these interactions that perhaps shone the brightest: Rocket and Groot adventuring with Thor, Star Lord meeting Tony Stark and Peter Parker, even the tiresome Drax and incredibly nerfed Mantis had their own endearing moments. But one aspect of the Guardians’ narrative that didn’t sit well with me was Gamora’s death as Thanos’ sacrifice for the Soul stone; I have no idea why. It struck an emotional note with me, don’t get me wrong, but I would have wanted the Soul stone to have had another story. Perhaps with the original Avengers. I also feel like we had so much to see from Gamora, given that she too, had her powers lowered in the MCU – it irked me that she had to die, and her downright annoying monologue-bot sister, Nebula got to live. As a writer, though, this iteration of how Thanos gets his hands on the Soul stone makes sense; it’s streamlined with minimal detraction from the wider story at hand, and, more importantly, it humanises Thanos and gives him an almost Shakespearian fatal flaw. It would have been far too shallow to portray Thanos as this big, CGI heavy madman, hell bent on wiping out humanity for the fun of it, so having Gamora as his emotional compass really helped to ground him a little bit. It’s going to be interesting to see how his anguish at losing Gamora plays out in Avengers 4.

Another major highlight for me were the film’s Scottish scenes. Not just because I’m Scottish, though, let me make that one clear (although, across the three showings I’ve now been to, this had generated applause from audiences)! These really serve as a dual purpose. The first being that they offer huge character development for Scarlet Witch and Vision, having only featured in two films, and their powers having yet more to explore and understand. They show Vision gaining more humanity, with the time he spends with Wanda and they show Wanda gaining a far greater control over her powers as she goes head to head with Proxima Midnight and Corvus Glaive – two more of Thanos’ Black Order. Eventually, they’re hurled into Waverley Station, giving way to my absolute favourite part of the film. Steve Rogers, sporting some seriously luscious locks. In the time since ‘Civil War’ it seems that Steve, Natasha and Sam have formed an almost quasi-military group, and it simply gave me chills to see three of my favourite characters, grounded characters with no cosmic abilities, facing off against Proxima and Corvus to the tune of Alan Silvestri’s ‘The Avengers,’ harkening back to The Avengers’ 2012 outing in ‘Avengers Assemble.’ In short, I loved seeing Wanda and Vision’s development, where certain other directors may have sidelined them, and a sort of clandestine iteration of The Avengers kicking ass once more, against the backdrop of one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

On a much larger scale, the film’s writing (and editing, to a degree) is the most important aspect of why it just works. With so many characters to juggle, Marcus and McFeely would have had their work cut out for them. It could have been a garbled mess. But it was far from that. One of the things that helped with film be so impactful was the jarring of Steve Rogers’ more grounded faction of The Avengers, juxtaposed with Stark’s space bound ensemble. The film cuts between all the different areas where the team, and Thanos, find themselves, but no one scene ever sees a resolution; the tension builds and builds, keeping you on the edge of your seat. All locations and scenes, weave into this grand tapestry, waiting for their destiny, taking you with them, investing you in each and every characters. In short, ‘Infinity War’ takes Joe and Anthony Russo’s ensemble storytelling ethos to another, grander, dimension, with a monumental payoff.

Of course, it leads to one hell of an anticlimax, with half of our beloved heroes turning to dust (cue Peter Parker dying in Tony Stark’s arms, and Bucky dying right in front of Steve), all in an eerie blanket of silence. It’s anticlimactic, yes, but it certainly makes me eager to see how Marvel plan to wrap up this chapter of the MCU in Avengers 4 (I’m also pretty stoked for some sweet sweet Carol Danvers and Steve Rogers interaction).

All in all, this was some pretty incredible fan service from Marvel, laden with so much golden character interaction that it’d take me an age to tell you about.

 

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Submergence

I think it might be worth prefacing this by saying that it’s been a while since I’ve offered my thoughts on a piece of art, in any form. I might be a bit rusty. But I want to get back into the swing of things, after all, that journalism degree seems to be gathering dust…

I’m going to start off by telling you that I hate romantic films and I’m not a fan of thrillers. At all. Any whiff of Hollywood romance makes my eyes loll right back into my head. And thrillers? Well, nothing compares to ‘Die Hard’ does it? In fact, the only draws I saw in Wim Wenders’ film adaptation of J. M. Ledgard’s ‘Submergence’ was that it stars one of Glasgow’s finest actors, James McAvoy, and that I could see it on the cheap at the Glasgow Film Festival. You’ve got to represent, right?

The film follows a bio-mathematician (played by Alicia Vikander) and an MI6 agent (James McAvoy) who, after meeting at a remote, French bed and breakfast, fall head over heels for each other. But nothing runs smoothly in these kinds of tales, as the pair are driven apart by their respective missions – James ends up being battered by militants and poor Alicia ends up submerged at the bottom of the ocean.

Do they live happily ever after? Well, I can’t spoil it for you, because I don’t know. And that’s what perhaps bugged me most about this film. I JUST LIKE CLOSURE OK?! Let’s turn that assessment on its head: the film finished too soon, and I wanted to see more. More vast, sweeping visuals of the French coast. More of Vikander’s sensual, subtle performance (nothing new here). More of McAvoy’s cheeky, boyish and wholly Scottish (he’s not playing a posh English dude in this film, much to the joy of the audience – but for the most part, nothing new here either) charm. More suspense. More romance. And that, truly, is the mark of something impressive.

Yes, there were con’s to the film. Act two lurched from James’ angst to Alicia’s becoming tedious at times. And the film’s continuity in terms of hair, make up and costuming could have been tighter.

But, all in all, the film offered up gorgeous visuals and enthralling performances from the film’s leads. The script itself was, for the most part, strong, and, most importantly, I never managed to roll my eyes once. A fine job from Wim Wenders.

Master’s Degrees, Film Festivals and Life in General

I haven’t updated this in a while, and for that, I do apologise. I’ve been busy. Between trying to get a masters degree, living in my car for three hours a day every day and my first grad job, I’ve been swamped.

So let me catch you up. My MA is still, very much, go. But if you were to ask my lecturers, they’d probably express a deep concern that I’m not engaging. I am. I just can’t seem to find the time to actually type up the screeds of notes I’ve speed-written at my desk before work, sprawled across ten different notebooks. In part, this is because I can’t seem to find the time or the energy to think and right now, it seems like the most daunting task I’ve ever undertaken, just to pull all of these different strands together into a coherent argument and a strong body of work. But the work’s there. I’ve thought about it, read about it, thought about it some more. But I don’t feel ready, or even feel like sharing it.

In all honesty, I’m just tired and sick of wasting time on things that are never going to bear some semblance of a benefit to me. And if you drill that down, that extends to emails or drafts I’d rather keep to myself. I’m happy working on this on my own until it comes to fruition. In my weary state, with no time to think, that is probably the biggest conclusion I’ve drawn from the experience of working on this project. It’s an important life lesson too. You need to invest in things that benefit you, and take care of you.

But it’s not all bad. The project itself has taken an exciting turn. Born from the discovery that, prior to its film adaptation, ‘Filth’ had a short life on the stage. In the form of a one-man monologue. Truthfully, between this work – in all its iterations – and stories dominating news coverage today, I feel like I’ve found the perfect foundation for the next phase of telling the ‘Cultists’ story. It’s current form is a series of four monologues corresponding to my four, foul and unstable characters. And that, to me, is exciting.

And that’s what I’m saying. If I hadn’t got the sads one night and decided to take time out to watch ‘Filth’, I probably wouldn’t have decided to take the project in that particular direction.

I consider everything – experience – an important part of my process as a writer. From attending the Glasgow Film Festival this year (which I’ll try and keep you posted on), to my job; it all helps.

Probably the biggest piece of news I have to offer you is that I’ve landed my first graduate job. I don’t work as a writer, no, but I do work in film. Every day, I count my blessings for that; the proof that six years at university weren’t a waste of time. Even when I’m sitting in traffic on a Monday morning, I’m always looking forward to the day, not dreading it like I did with previous jobs. I’m in a good place.

Update done. Keep your eyes peeled for a riveting analysis of Wim Wenders’ latest cinematic offering, staring Glasgow’s finest, James McAvoy, and the stunning Alicia Vikander, ‘Submergence.’

Updates! Details! Changes!

I should be writing.

Since going back to university in September, that statement has been stuck in the back of my mind and, two months later, I’ve still found myself unable to write a great comedy script for my masters project. Sure, I have rough notes for half a script, some half baked jokes about politics, a few decent ideas and a pile of writing guides gathering dust beside my bed. I’ve also been blessed with a sick, cynical and often fatalistic sense of humour. I kind of thought that would be enough. But the more I stare at the lame jokes I’m trying to make on a screen, the more painfully aware I am that I’m not exactly reaching, what I like to call, ‘peak funny.’

It’s a fickle thing. I’ll have an idea, mostly based on the Great Orange Dictator across the pond and his shenanigans, and it’ll be hilarious in my head, but as soon as I write the gag, it loses it. And it’s disheartening. And it’s making me not want to write right now. It’s actually making me fear writing and fear putting my work into the world. That’s just my theory about why I’ve found myself not being able to write. It could be any number of things from being unhappy with where my life’s been heading for a while, my general lack of concentration, all my irrational worries. Maybe I’ve lost my funny?

Now that’s a terrifying thought to get my head around.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. The handful of you who actually know me will be aware of how much I’ve hated the last six months from messed up shoulders to not doing anything with my degree(s) or not earning enough. Well, I’m fairly confident that that’s changed recently. Completely out of the blue, I managed get myself a grad job… that doesn’t involve (much) writing. Instead, it involves a fair amount of videography, which is equal parts exciting and giving me the fear at the same time. But I’m just stupidly thankful that I haven’t spent five years at university to not be able to work in the arts.

I haven’t even started my new job, but over the last couple of weeks I’ve experienced the biggest shift in outlook than at any other time in my life. I’ve never been an optimistic person, ever, and at this point, it’s all feeling kind of foreign that I have nothing to whine about. Suddenly I am feeling far more creative and suddenly I’m feeling it necessary to broaden the collection of work I engage with and draw influence from.

I usually round off these posts with exactly that, so I’m just going to quickly give you a run-down of what I’m listening to or watching and how those are impacting how I’m viewing my creative practice at the moment. There are a few of the usual suspects in there but what’s really grabbing me about this list is that there are just as many musical aspects in there as there are cinematic or televisual; I don’t know why that is, but I’m sure I’ll find the answers soon.

  • Biffy Clyro: So my masters project is set in Scotland. I don’t know why I chose to do that, if I’m completely honest, because all my life, I’ve had this kind of resentment towards being Scottish (I know, I’m sorry), and I’ve always had a really blinkered view of what the Scottish arts scene looks like. Some people call it the ‘Scottish Cringe’. I can’t really explain it, but when I listen to this band’s back catalogue, I begin to feel that whole notion dissipate, giving way to a huge swell of pride that a band from my wee country could write music that is equally as poetic as it is brash and abrasive. That, and I’ve been listening to them on the bus to work a lot recently.
  • Thor: Ragnarok: Possibly the finest addition to the MCU and the movie our favourite Asgardian deserved. There are so many things I could say about this film, but I’ll keep it short. I loved the way this film struck the balance between being outrageously funny (thanks, in large to director, Taika Waititi’s portrayal of Korg, along with his sidekick Meik) and having a villain in Cate Blanchett’s Hela that the audience believed could end the film’s protagonist. I also feel that Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie and the space-age score from Mark Mothersbaugh deserve honourable mentions, both of which just gave me chills.
  • All These Countless Nights: Reworked – Deaf Havana: I’ve blogged enough about the original version of this album for you all to know just how much of a special place it has in my heart, but I have to say that these guys have outdone themselves with this understated, classy offering. Skip to ‘Like A Ghost‘, ‘St. Paul’s‘, ‘L.O.V.E‘ and ‘Pensacola, 2013.’
  • Stranger Things: Normally I like to steer clear of anything with such an obvious amount of hype until it’s died down a bit, but the lure of an 80’s sci-fi period drama completely sucked me in. Everything from the gripping writing to the true-to-time score had me completely hooked. The Duffer Brothers completely nailed the nuances of the era and I’ve found myself itching for season three.
  • Forget Me Not – Brian Fallon: It’s been a while since I’ve listened to Fallon or Gaslight, but this track captivated me from the get-go, after being released at the end of a particularly crap week for me. That bouncy, 60’s-esque vibe instantly smacked a smile across my face, lending heavily from my favourite track from Fallon’s first foray into solo albums, ‘Mojo Hand‘. If this is any indication of what Fallon’s sophomore offering will sound like, I reckon I’m going to be one happy girl.

That’s it, folks. Time for me to lop all my hair off on Friday and get on with my real, proper big girl job. IT’S A NEW ME!

Modern Masters Formula

Hi everyone! It’s been a while since my last update. I had the intention of using this blog over the summer months to spew all my thoughts about film and television into one convenient internet baggie. It didn’t happen. Life gets in the way. This blog works best when I use it to store all my musings about academia.  It’s rare for this blog to receive an update so early in the semester (we’re, what, three days in now?) but I have the fear, so this is me trying to kid myself that I’m making meaningful in-roads into actually doing my masters project. I have three pages of a script, FYI.

I was so wrong, by the way. So very, very wrong.

Coming from a journalism background, and falling down so many social sciences rabbit holes in every research project I’ve had a hand in, it was instinctive to take a similar approach to my masters project. Carrying out a study into audience reactions towards shows of a political nature by way of creating my own web series of a similar nature was my initial idea. The practice was going to yield findings. I was comfortable with that. But it’s not what’s required of me in this case and now I’m struggling with the idea that this is more a journey of self discovery into my own creative practices than a study of how people react, behave and perceive what I do. I’ve mentioned this before, but ‘practice as research’ is an incredibly difficult thing to wrap your head around, especially when you’re used to looking at what makes other people tick. It’s also disheartening that all these objectives I had been milling over are now moot and I need to go back to the drawing board at this late stage.

I think my main stumbling block is my confidence, or lack thereof, in my own practice, since a large swathe of my success in this MA hinges on technical ability. I’ve been writing pretty much since I fell out the womb and, with a journalism degree, I should be all right at stringing sentences together. But I’ve only been dabbling in screenwriting for less than a year. Nonetheless, I know that that is where my comfort zone is. I know that, as a creative, I am a writer. A screenwriter, hopefully. But the thing is, I need to be able to produce something that is of the standard that it could be positively received by industry as well as academia. If I’m being frank, I’m not sure I’m at that level yet.

There’s also this idea in my mind that by even attempting a vein of research such as PAR, I’m shooting myself in the foot. I don’t see my future research interests being in that area and I feel like dedicating all this time to PAR is going to kill my chances of being taken seriously when it comes to attempting to get my PhD off the ground, where I’d be looking to revert back to research methods I’m more comfortable with. Is what I’m doing now going to be credible when I do that? Not only that, but what if this masters project doesn’t open up any doors for me as a screenwriter? Am I royally fucking myself over both professionally and academically?

Nevertheless, I have spent a chunk of my summer attempting to engage with the practice I’m developing. Not only am I still milling over Douglas’ invaluable guide to creating a series geared towards what the industry needs right now, I’m immersing myself in Yorke’s enthralling explanation of why we tell stories in his book ‘Into The Woods‘. I won’t say too much at the moment about the book because I do plan to write a review of it when I eventually reach its end. However, I will say that it has changed my perspective on the practice of screenwriting and, indeed, telling stories and consuming media. I have the tendency to overthink everything and, gasp, refer back to Vogler like it was the bible. Yorke presents a compelling argument for me to try new things in my writing, particularly disregarding structure (if it’s a story worth telling, then surely structure is intrinsic in its narrative?) and, in contrast, dabbling with five acts instead of three. So the next steps for me in writing my episode scripts for ‘The West End Cultists‘ is to perhaps consciously employ these aspects throughout my drafts and to compare the differences and similarities in terms of how the story flows.

Breaking away from theory, I’m glad I had the foresight in my proposal to mention shows I would like to return to and look at for inspiration. I had earmarked ‘Community,’ ‘Parks and Recreation,’ ‘The West Wing,’ and ‘The Newsroom.‘ Now, staring down the barrel of an average of five seasons, I’m not sure how feasible it is to be able to watch each of these in their entirety, but I’m going to give it a shot. I will probably fail miserably. But I feel like the first two should bear insights into the sitcom format (with the addition ‘Parks and Rec.’ bearing insight into the ‘mockumentary’ style that I’m aiming for), while the latter two deal more with thematics of the show. But I also want to pinpoint another show.

I was so miffed when I found out that season seven of American Horror Story was going to deal with political cults (I’m certain I had the idea first), but, after viewing the first episode, I firmly believe that this season might just offer me some inspiration and a point of comparison. I’m looking forward to seeing where Ryan Murphy takes it, especially since it draws from the election of Donald Trump and the impact that seems to be having on American society, albeit in a more dramatic form.

For me, it’s a no-brainer to follow news and current affairs. It was expected of me during my journalism degree and it’s stuck, allowing for me to take snippets of it and apply it to ‘The West End Cultists.’ I’m hoping that, now I’m rethinking my research objectives, this might be something I can address, linking my everyday life with the notion of a more grounded approach to storytelling and my own creative practice. I never stop being a writer, even if I’m not physically writing, because I’m constantly gathering experience and information to pour into my scripts. Who knows? There might be some academic jargon to solidify my view. I might get lucky with this one.

In fact, even writing blog posts, such as this, have become something that I take for granted so much that I’m doubtful of their value in my journey towards completing this body of research. Maybe it’s because it’s always been an expectation of every academic piece of work I’ve ever turned in, to have something there, documenting, contextualising, that I see it more as a requirement, or a chore, than something that could yield any groundbreaking insight into my own creative process.

That doesn’t mean I’m not looking forward to writing down every creative meta-musing I have over the next few months. I love a good journal entry. I love illegible notes in so many notebooks that I need to dig through the pile for hours to find them again. But I am apprehensive. Less about the academic approach and more about the practice. From getting into the right frame of mind to write a compelling and interesting script after putting in a shift at work where I’ve used minimal brain power, I’m covered in burger grease and I just want to cry, to overcoming my fear of actually filming things (my short films suck, I’m a words and pictures kind of girl, that’s my thing). More than that, though, I’m apprehensive of how I’m going to combine practice and research, since, up until very recently, the two always existed as separate entities in my studies. It’s going to be an interesting few months.

To quote Mason Verger from ‘Hannibal‘, “I am enchanted, and terrified.”

 

Cry laughing and… Clay

You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘laugh until you cry‘ but a couple of nights ago, I watched a show that made me cry-laugh. No really. Ugly crying and laughing my ass off (I have a lot off ass, go figure).

It feels like I’ve been bleating on about my excitement for I’m Dying Up Here for months now and, after watching the show’s premiere, the hype was well deserved. With Jim Carrey serving as executive producer and a cast that boasts names such as Melissa Leo, Clark Duke and Ari Graynor, this new series from Showtime has all the ingredients of a hit. Throw in Sebastian Stan in the pilot episode, and, surprise surprise, I was utterly sold.

Set in 1970’s Los Angeles, I’m Dying Up Here, focuses on Goldie’s: a comedy club famed for priming the finest comedians for superstardom under the guidance of Goldie herself (played by Melissa Leo). The gang are a close knit bunch, so much so that when one of their own, the tragically dashing Clay Appuzzo (Sebastian Stan), makes it on to the Tonight Show, they find themselves huddled around the television together, anticipating the moment of truth: will he impress so much that he gets the couch? Of course he does.

But mere hours later, he walks out in front of an oncoming bus (sorry Stan clan, his role on this show is short lived… no pun intended), feeling like he’s reached his peak with nowhere left for him to climb.

It’s Clay’s story that seems to serve as the show’s catalyst, propelling viewers into the plight of these stars in the making. Stan enjoys very little screen time, however, what we do see of him is satisfying enough; he is, after all, seasoned in playing these tortured souls throughout his career and he brought just that to Clay. Stan conveys Clay’s pain in such a subtle yet convincing way that you just can’t help but lap it up. Not only that, but some of the writing of Clay really resonated with me on a personal level, particularly that line about being far more honest around strangers than loved ones. It’s something I endlessly wrestle with in life. Not to mention the feeling of dread I have about actually realising my own potential in my career, which I saw in Clay’s character.

But I have to admit, it was Clay’s ex, Cassie (Ari Graynor) that wowed me the most. Over the course of the episode, we see Cassie struggle against Goldie’s judgment that she isn’t ready to perform on the main stage and it’s her grief at losing (and being haunted, in a sense, by) Clay that forces her to evolve. I became so invested in her plight, that I was on the edge of the seat towards the show’s climax, when she finds herself on the main stage, faltering (David Flebotte and your glorious writing team, I salute you big time). But the kicker comes when she reminisces about her ex in the most lewd yet heartbreaking fashion. This was it. This was when I cry-laughed.

I cannot wait to see more of this show and you can bet your ass I’ll be blogging about it as the season progresses.

I’m Dying Up Here premieres on Showtime on June 4. You do not want to miss this!

In Defence Of Miss Sloane

It flopped in spectacular fashion at the US Box Office, making a measly $5m against a $13m budget and it’s a damn shame.

Miss Sloane follows lobbyist, Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) as she attempts to sway political figures into voting for increased gun-control in the United States. However, Sloane becomes embroiled in multiple scandals, from corruption to soliciting and ends up facing trial for some of her more dubious behaviours during her stellar career.

Every so often, a new tragedy brings the gun-control debate back to the table on the American political landscape and yet, change is seldom granted. Miss Sloane offers not only an insight into the process of steamrolling change into the political landscape, but a sense of satisfaction in what ‘could be’ for supporters of increased gun control. During an interview with The New York Times, the film’s director, John Madden, in this sense, explains that this the film an element of fantasy due to American politics being so far away from such a seismic shift taking place.

But the timeliness and divisiveness of the film’s subject matter is only one ingredient in the film’s magnetic draw. This highly stylised political thriller boasts a respectable supporting cast, sleek wardrobe and a gripping yet informative screenplay.

The thing that stole the show, however, was Chastain’s razor sharp portrayal of the insomniac, benzodiazepine addicted, tactical genius; the film’s titular character. Chastain nails the stoic and slightly smug nature of Elizabeth Sloane effortlessly, quickly flitting from quick rebuttals to spectacularly coming undone in private. The duality of Sloane makes for a character with so much depth and complexity that you yourself won’t be able to help but be utterly torn between loathing her and rooting for her wholeheartedly towards the film’s stunning climax.

The film had everything going for it. Where did it all go wrong?