Friday, 27 April 2018

Avengers: Infinity War (12A)

As both of our regular readers will know, we're nothing if not avowed Marvel fans here at Popcorn towers.

We've got the books, we've got the tattoos, we've seen the films — we're not calling ourselves experts, but we'd like to think we sit in the 'serious fan' section at geeky get-togethers.

Which is why we surprised ourselves with our cautious approach to Infinity Wars — this was surely going to be a step too far.

Not only were we going to have sit through another endless round of battles with a HUGE cast, but with the inclusion of the excellent Black Panther AND the Guardians Of The Galaxy, the whole thing got HUGER.

This thing was just going to collapse in on itself from the weight of the cast alone...

Then there's the small matter of the last three Marvel films.

All three — Guardians, Panther and Thor Three — all set the bar so high there was just no way something so weighed down could hope to clear it.

Not a hope in Hell.

But then the first message arrived. There were a lot of exclamation marks.

Then plans were made to see it. Fears aside, it's what we do. We can't miss one, can we?

And it takes just 10 minutes for our tiny little minds to be blown.

Infinity War not only clears the bar that's now been set, it raises it to a whole new level.

Picking up from where Ragnarok left off, Infinity War is dark, complex, funny, shocking and packs so much emotional punch it's like being walloped by an tearful Hulk.

Comic book movies aren't meant to reduce an entire cinema screening to a breath-held silence, but that happens more than once.

It was the kind of silence you can hear. You could tell no one was doing anything other than staring at the big screen with hearts in mouths.

And I still don't know how directors Anthony and Joe Russo pulled this one off — how they got away with what unfolds.

The last time I left a cinema in this state of awestruck silence was T2 FFS...

It very quickly becomes apparent that all bets are off, and in making such a bold move a new level of jeopardy is introduced which heightens the tension.

Then there's the way the disparate groups are woven together.

Everyone gets time to shine before being thrown headlong into the blender, with the final groupings not being what you would expect.

For that, full credit must go to writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.

Their use of humour at just the right moments is also worthy of noting.

Because, a Deadpool gagfest this is not.

This is a dark, dark movie from the off, and that's just one of the things we love about it.

That and the fact we lost count of the number of times we suddenly found ourselves holding our breath.

Not to mention sitting bolt-upright, screaming NOOOOOOOOOO silently in our heads.

In fact, there's just so much going on, it's proving really hard to review because there's so much we could talk about but they would all be a spoiler of some kind.

This is actually one of the hardest reviews we can remember writing.

What we can say:
  • There's not a single bad performance
  • The fight scenes are positively visceral 
  • It's gripping
  • It in no way feels like its two-and-a-half hour running time
  • It has the epic scope of Lord Of The Rings
There are, of course, some negatives. 

At least one character appears to just vanish, and there are times when you wish they'd just kept the camera still for two minutes.

But really, that's it. 

The stand-out performance comes from a very unexpected quarter, and the story is not about what you would think, and what could have been a bloated vanity project is a gripping roller coaster of a movie that pulls no punches and changes the game.

This is no normal Marvel film, but it proves once again just how much work DC have to do to catch up. 

We'll be off to see it again at the earliest opportunity.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Marillion: All One Tonight — Live At The Albert Hall

It is to my eternal shame and embarrassment that I have never — at time of writing — seen Marillion live.

I've been a fan since Sugar Mice tickled my young, tender ears, and like a dutiful geek I hoovered up the back catalogue like a rat in a punnet of blueberries.

Then disaster.

A stunning double live album marked a parting of the ways, the Scottish one left and the young English one stepped into his giant shoes.

And while Hooks In You seemed like a good start for the band, it was the far darker and more complex Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors that held my sway.

And so it was, me clinging to the old band while they went off in a new, alien direction.

Then Brave happened.

Those five lucky folks who shared a flat with me in my first year at university may well remember the album too, as Alone Again In The Lap Of Luxury and — in particular — Hard As Love became part of the soundtrack of my chequered love life.

And so I was reunited with Aylesbury's finest. And so we have kept each other company over the years.

Sure, there have been times when we haven't been so close (I still struggle with Radiation), but when we've connected — Afraid Of Sunlight, say — life has been joyous.

And so it was when F.E.A.R landed in 2016.

An album full of passion and anger, it seemed to be exactly what the world needed to hear at that moment.

It was a dark, complex, wonderful, beautiful piece of work — and one we had no choice but to name our Album Of The Year.

The fact we missed out on getting tickets for last year's Albert Hall show took a bit of the shine off the album's success, but time heals all wounds.

Especially when an e-mail lands, offering you the chance to review the live DVD that was filmed at the show we failed to get tickets to.

Wonderful stuff.

And so, with cuppa on, 'full screen' enabled and the big headphones deployed to shut out everything we settle down for Disc 1...

...and emerge, just over an hour later, wanting to wallow in the whole thing all over again.

It's not always possible to capture the energy and atmosphere of a live show on film — which is the main reason we're not massive fans of them — but on All One Tonight Marillion have managed just that.

With the audience and band sharing a special bond, the love and pride that envelopes this show sweeps off the screen and makes you feel part of the event.

The first disc is F.E.A.R played in full, and live it's a bigger, darker, bolder beast than it's studio counterpart.

The visuals of the live show are also blended well with the band's performance and the audience's reactions.

Everything sweeps, everything soars, the band are on top form and front and centre Steve Hogarth, very much the eye of the storm.

He's not a massive ego fronting a big band, which takes a few seconds to get your head round. Instead, in a beautifully understated way, he's the conduit — the special link between the music and the audience.

And you can tell he thinks both are more important than he is, he just loves being there in the middle of it all.

And that's the other thing that comes across very, very clearly — just how much fun the band is having on this special night.

Then we move onto disc two, and we find the band augmented with a string quartet, a french horn player and a flutist.

For the second half of the show, Marillion take you through their back catalogue — with songs old and new given new depth and life with the addition of the extra musicians.

Well, I say old.

What becomes clear as you enjoy the band's back catalogue is that they stop at Easter (the song, not the egg-feasting holiday).

Nothing from the 'old' band is aired — and you don't miss them at all.

Because when you realise watching this lot have so much fun on that hallowed stage is just how many great songs they've amassed in the last 30 years.

You also realise just how good a band they are.

Sure, anyone can sound good in a studio — but to recreate it live? With extra musicians? At The Albert Frickin' Hall????

They're a bit special.

And, humble. And normal.

Which is what comes across so clearly in the half-hour documentary.

As the band talk about putting on the show and the rehearsals and planning, none of them are anything but awestruck by the venue they'll be performing in.

It takes something special for a band to still be going — and producing great new material — after more than 35 years together.

And what this DVD captures is that something special. The chemistry within the band and the chemistry they have with their audience.

And to top it all off, we're finally going to see them live in a couple of weeks. I imagine the band will be delighted...

* The special edition of All One Tonight will be available here once it's back in stock. If you could hold off ordering yours til we've got ours, that would be dandy.