Guardians of the Galaxy review: Marvel’s latest chapter is not quite out of this world

Guardians of the Galaxy sees pilot/dudebro Peter Quill become the object of a manhunt when he steals an orb belonging to the feared Ronan the Accuser. When he finds out the orb has the potential to destroy millions of innocent lives, he teams up with a gang of outcasts to bring Ronan down.

After the deserved success of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I was expecting big things from this, and it delivered on some fronts but not on others.

Quill and the gang are not well known, so there’s a strong sense of freedom to Gunn’s directing. He has been allowed to tell the kind of story he wants to tell without having to worry too much about pandying to the stalwart fans of the comics. He gets rid of the angst that we’ve come to expect from superhero movies lately, and the result is a fun and frothy space opera packed with wit (a throwaway semen joke is especially lol-worthy), but unfortunately that means moments we’re supposed to take seriously, like Drax’s pretty heartbreaking back story, tend to lose their edge.

Visually, it’s a treat.  Director James Gunn immerses you in his incredibly beautiful, bright and bonkers universe which you sort of wish actually existed. Like all good sci-fi movies, this has a water-tight, well established world with it’s own rules, peoples…and alcohol, realised in great detail. Plus, the CGI is seamless and it’s never not cool to see hundreds of one-person spaceships get fried.

Quill’s a player, but Chris Pratt is loveable enough to stop him from being a complete douchecanoe. Gamora is a brilliant female character, which we know Zoe Saldana excels at; but Rocket and Groot (Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel respectively) steal the show as the trigger-happy, oddball double act. Most-surprising performance goes to former wrestler Dave Batista. WWE stars can be cringe on the big screen, but if The Animal is serious about a film career, it could take off.

Marvel need to put in work on their villains, though.  WHERE IS THE THREAT? Lee Pace and Karen Gillan are solid actors who were wasted in this movie. Nebula is badass, but only briefly; and while Pace gets a delightfully grim murder scene early on, his potentially defining moment gets invalidated in seconds, albeit in a funny way.

Guardians of the Galaxy is n bombastic popcorn movie with an 80s vibe that people old enough to remember Spaceballs first coming out will appreciate. Those who don’t might feel like they’ve missed something – and I include myself in that. I grew up with Discmans and The Backstreet Boys. Maybe it’s a generational thing? Or maybe my post-Cap 2 expectations were too high…

THREE OUT OF FIVE*

*Yeah, that score is kinda subject to change. At the screening we were denied the after-credits sequence, so I’m planning on watching GotG again so I can see it.

Saturday Special: Courgette and Cinnamon Muffins

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“Cinnamon and WHAT?” I hear you cry.

“Stahp yo’ cryin’,” I reply. “And it’s cinnamon and courgette.”

The courgette in this delightful sweet treat works exactly how carrot does in a carrot cake. It’s not immediately obvious, but it adds a certain sweetness and almost creamy texture to them that really does work. So if you’re looking for something intriguing and delicious to whip up and amaze your friends with then give these a go.

Here’s how you make them (the recipe is from my go-to book for anything cakey and awesome, ‘Annie Bell’s Baking Bible’):

You will need:

225g plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

100g golden caster sugar, plus extra for dusting

1/3 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus extra for dusting

200ml whole milk

1 medium egg

75g unsalted butter, melted

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

125g coarsely grated courgette

75g raisins

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C and arrange 8-10 muffin cases inside a muffin tray (silicone muffin cases would be perfect for this, as recommended by my fellow DTSFTers, or you can use regular cupcake cases and put them on a baking tray, like I did).

2. Combine the flour, baking powder, 100g sugar and cinnamon in a large bowl and mix.

3. Whisk the milk, egg and butter with the lemon zest in a medium-sized bowl, then stir in the courgette and raisins.

4. Put the wet ingredients in with the dry ingredients and loosely combine – the mixture should be wet but lumpy.

5. Divide the mixture equally between the muffin/cupcake cases and sprinkle some more sugar and cinnamon on the top to give them a golden look and a nice crunch and put in the oven. You can check if they’re cooked by sticking a knife in the middle of one, but here’s the difference – if it comes out slightly wet still, it’s cooked. You want them to be slightly underdone to give them that ooey-gooeyness.

Bon appetito!

Hannah

 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Andy Serkis + sweet CGI – James Franco = very, very good

 

Years have passed after the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes and an outbreak of simian flu has smoked a large percentage of the human race. The apes exist in peace in their own realm, but trouble starts when a group of human survivors venture into their territory in search of electricity.

DOTPOTA runs a lot deeper than just a simple humans vs apes story. Apes are not the enemy, but neither are humans. Gary Oldman’s character is hell bent on wiping the animals out, while on the apes’ side Caesar (an astonishing performance from Andy Serkis yet again) has to contend with the hateful and violent Koba (Toby Kebbell, also astonishing). It’s these nuances that keep the story grounded among the monkeys-on-horseback setpieces.

Much like he did with Cloverfield, director Matt Reeves succeeds at creating a decaying, imposing and desolate world that is also plausible. He’s also great with large-scale destruction of civilisations without overdoing the explosions, which makes the chaos in the third act much more effective.

The clip that aired during the World Cup semi final, of Koba shooting a man in the face, drew complaints from parents for a reason. The tone veers sharply and seamlessly from sci-fi/action to chilling horror. That is in no way a criticism.

There has been talk of how hardly any female characters feature in the film (some interesting points are made in both of these articles – thanks, Sophia!) and to be honest, while watching I got swept away by the brilliance of the film and I didn’t notice. Looking back on it however, it should have been glaringly obvious. In terms of women we have Keri Russell’s Ellie, and Caesar’s other half Cornelia who, as Vulture rightfully points out, you don’t even know is called Cornelia unless you IMDB that shizz later.

The most disheartening thing about it is that the lack of female characters was not intentional – it just sorta happened. Reeves himself has admitted he doesn’t know why DOTPOTA contains hardly any women and that’s sad. Female characters wasn’t even something that came up in discussion, and that’s a problem most films still have. Dudes are the default. This isn’t to take anything away from this movie – I loved it – but there’s room for improvement should a sequel go into production (which it hopefully will).

I’ll finish on a positive note. This is going to sound flowery, but there’s a great message here about judging people on their good and bad qualities as individuals instead of lumping everyone together with sweeping generalisations. Also there’s a baby ape in it and it’s soooooooooooo cute.

FIVE OUT OF FIVE

Saturday Special: Gorgeously Golden Peanut Butter Cookies

Photo on 08-07-2014 at 22.49

Excuse the mess…

 

Long time no speak.

So here’s a cookie (BISCUIT BISCUIT BISCUIT) recipe from Nigella Lawson’s website, which I understand to be a ‘community recipe’, and thus not by the lady herself. Nevertheless, these tasty treats are so delicious that you’d enter into a battle to the death with your own mother just to have the last one.

 

Taken from the website:

Ingredients

50g soft light brown sugar

50g caster sugar

50unsalted butter (soft)

1 medium egg

teaspoon honey

teaspoon vanilla

200g peanut butter crunchy

100plain flour

teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

teaspoon salt

Transformers: Age of Extinction? Transformers: Age of ExSTINKtion more like. Ha.

(Picture: Paramount Pictures)

Everything is awful

When Tesco Tony Stark Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) discovers an abandoned truck that turns out to be a Transformer, he and his daughter become wanted by a crooked government official and the evil Decepticons, who are both trying to wipe Autobots off the face of the earth.

Quick disclaimer first – I haven’t seen Transformers 1 through 3, so I can’t say whether they were better or worse than Age of Extinction, but I’m going to go with better.

Man of Steel (which I enjoyed) raised a few eyebrows with the amount of destruction depicted on screen, but Age of Extinction manages to top it. Stuff blows up. A lot. Cars crash into other cars that then crash into buildings, and as a result the already trying 165-minute running time seems much, much longer. The plot is weak, the dialogue is atrocious and the third act features a dull, lengthy scrap in the streets of Hong Kong that only serves as a way to push more brand names in our faces. Oh yeah, and there are dinosaur Transformers now too, and the sight of Prime riding one like a horse is the least ridiculous part of this film.

That honour probably goes to Cade’s daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz), who fell victim to the “woman in a Michael Bay movie” trope. Despite the fact she’s meant to be 17, there’s a lot of focus on how hot she is (including a weird comment from her dad’s friend about her shorts) and she spends 85% of the film screaming for someone to save her.

Actually, all the human characters are paper thin. Wahlberg’s performance is particularly unremarkable, which is a shame because he’s usually engaging and likeable on screen. Jack Reynor’s Shane on the other hand is neither, and should have been killed off in the first act along with Cade’s pervy mate. As for Stanley Tucci and Kelsey Grammer – why did they agree to something so beneath them? WHAT DOES BAY HAVE ON THEM???

There are plus points: the heavy Imagine Dragons track for one; and the visuals are impressive. The fluid look and feel of the Transformium-made bots works well, and seeing Optimus Prime and co. switch from Transformer to vehicle is still pretty cool to watch. Bay has spent so much time making sure the non-human characters look good that he’s forgotten to, you know, actually make a decent movie.

60 minutes too long, incredibly boring and some mild racism thrown in for good measure (Ken Watanabe’s samurai Autobot), even 15-year-old boys will be insulted by this crap. And if they aren’t then they should be. No bueno.

ONE OUT OF FIVE

Sunday Special: Bakewell Tart

Oh yeah, OH YEAH. A bit of bakewell tart on a weekend never went amiss.

It’s ‘DTSFT’s least likely to cook’ Helen here, with a recipe from The Guardian on what makes the perfect bakewell tart. I didn’t alter a single thing, so I’ll copy it wholesale from the website and paste it here. All credit to Felicity Cloake for this.

Makes a 23cm bakewell tart 
For the pastry:
140g plain flour, plus extra to sprinkle
85g cold butter, plus extra to grease
Pinch of salt
Ice cold water

For the frangipane:
110g butter
110g caster sugar
2 eggs
110g ground almonds
25g plain flour
½tsp baking powder
Zest of ½ lemon

For the compote (or use 100g low-sugar raspberry jam):
250g raspberries (fresh or frozen)
25-35g caster sugar depending on sweetness of tooth
Juice of ½ lemon
25g flaked almonds, to top

To make the pastry, mix the flour and salt in a bowl, and then grate in the cold butter. Rub this into the flour, then stir in just as much cold water as you need to bring it together into a dough; it should not be sticky. Alternatively use a food processor. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least an hour. Preheat the oven to 190C (170C fan)/gas mark 5.

Grease a 23cm tart tin and roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface until large enough to line the tin. Do so, then line with baking paper and weigh down with baking beans or dried pulses. Bake for about 15 minutes until golden.

Meanwhile, make the compote, if using, by putting the berries into a small pan with the sugar and lemon juice and bringing to the boil. Simmer for about 12 minutes until thickened. Allow to cool slightly.

To make the frangipane, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy, then beat in the eggs. Fold in the dry ingredients and zest and a pinch of salt.

Remove the paper and beans and return the pastry to the oven for a couple of minutes until golden. Spread the compote over the base, and top with the frangipane. Level out and bake for 25 minutes until golden and well risen. Add the almonds on top in the last 5 minutes of cooking.

 

I didn’t have flaked almonds so like the pikey that I am, I took some whole almonds and chopped them a bit. Don’t bother if you haven’t got flaked almonds, not worth it!

 

ImageHere’s a cross-section photo for good measure:

Image

@bythesheetstore

Costume Plot: Tom Ripley in ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’

To celebrate the release of The Two Faces of January today I thought I’d look at the Ann Roth and Gary Jones’ costumes from The Talented Mr Ripley – another Patricia Highsmith adaptation. (SPOILERS for The Talented Mr Ripley abound and if you haven’t seen the film – why not?)

The film (and the book) look at the life of Tom Ripley mostly concentrating on what happens following the murder of Dickie Greenleaf. Costume plays a huge part in this. In the same way that Catch Me If You Can is concerned with taking on different identities so is this film – but with very different outcomes. The aim was to do a normal costume plot but I realised that it’s more interesting to split Ripley into his different incantations: Tom Ripley and Tom Ripley as Dickie Greenleaf – the Dickie Greenleaf he wanted Dickie to be.

Tom Ripley

Ripley in New York

The first time we see Tom he is playing the piano wearing a borrowed jacket and it is this jacket that sets off the whole chain of events. Without the Princeton insignia he would never have been approached by Herbert Greenleaf. But he still made the decision to lie. Ripley has never fitted in and this was an attempt to not seem like an outsider. To belong in the entitled world he watches and attends to in the bathroom of the opera. Back in New York we have the first sight of Ripley’s corduroy jacket that makes regular appearances throughout the film.

Ripley in Italy

The clothes he wears when in Italy are the firm establishment of him and his differences from Dickie. His wardrobe is limited, well worn and not fashionable or particularly well maintained. The clothes serve a purpose but they are just another way in which he doesn’t fit in. When Dickie mentions getting him a suit made he feels like this is his true acceptance into Dickie’s world. However short-lived. His suit at the airport also show the first of Ripley’s button-down shirts. This is a common recurrence and helps to add that “buttoned up” view of Ripley and firming up his outsider status. He is dressing the same way in Italy that he dressed in New York. (With the swimming “trunks” a notable exception. They are seen only once and even on the beach Ripley cannot fit in.)

Ripley in Italy 2

The whites and blues are becoming more common here and contrast against Dickie’s cream colours plus his silk polos. Dickie is the wealthy American abroad and fully inhabits the part.

Ripley in the Bar

We have Dickie’s Italian friend, Ripley and Dickie. The style differences between the three is very noticeable. Even in a laid-back environment Ripley appears severe and overly structured.

Ripley in Rome

Dickie mentions getting Ripley a suit made. This feels like Ripley’s true acceptance into Dickie’s world. However short-lived. (Notice the return of the cord jacket I highlighted earlier.) Any acceptance is destroyed by the meeting with Freddie and Ripley’s subsequent game of dress up in Dickie’s clothes. The foreshadowing is combined with Ripley’s true enthusiasm and joy of “being” Dickie. If meeting Freddie was the beginning of the end, this revelation sped up the process.

Ripley on the Boat
The costuming of Dickie and Ripley is particularly important here because it enables the hotel concierge to fairly legitimately mistake Ripley for Dickie. We needed to see them dressed in a similar fashion so that someone who doesn’t personally know the two of them could be easily mistaken. Ripley’s shirt is undoubtedly a poorer quality than Dickie’s but that slight difference wouldn’t be noticed for such a fleeting moment.

Ripley post Dickie's death

From now on we have a different Ripley. We have Ripley keeping up appearances as Ripley as well as “being” Dickie. The key difference for this section of the film is Ripley’s hair. As “Ripley” it is usually parted on the right and when he’s “Dickie” it’s parted on the left. These are the examples of Ripley being Ripley but with Dickie’s hair. The first image is from Ripley’s return to tell Marge that Dickie isn’t returning. He’s already discovered that he can impersonate Dickie and his journey is about to start. This is the first appearance of the black polo neck jumper but this piece becomes important in showing Ripley’s inner turmoil. Then we have Ripley meeting Marge and Peter. He’s back in a suit we’ve already seen, as well as a knitted tie we’ve already seen. Then we have Ripley disposing of Freddie’s body. He may have been dressed as “Dickie” when he killed him but “Ripley” is doing the dirty work. Ripley has been the killer really – not Dickie. Following yet another murder Ripley has retreated back to the black polo neck jumper.

Ripley

The hair parting has returned to “Ripley” and Ripley has come to Venice to see Peter. He starts the journey with the black polo neck and the cordroy jacket but these are quickly replaced with a white polo neck – actually belonging to his Dickie persona. Ripley for Peter is very different from Ripley for Dickie or Marge. He is closer to the Dickie persona and is much more comfortable in who he is. He fits with Peter. He starts wearing more of his Dickie clothes and is less awkward and ill at ease. The corduroy jacket disappears. The button-down shirts disappear.

Ripley

On the cruise away with Peter (when the search for Dickie has been stopped and the matter apparently settled) Ripley has fallen back to the black. His short-lived happiness is destroyed by the presence of Meredith. She remarks that she barely recognised Dickie – this is Ripley as Ripley. He’d left Dickie behind but unfortunately for Peter, that is not to be. The big black coat he wears drowns him as Ripley is drowned in his own lies and deceptions.

Ripley as Dickie

I always thought it would be better, to be a fake somebody… than a real nobody.

Dickie
Ripley’s confidence levels soar when he’s Dickie. He has beautifully cut suits, sharp shirts and silk ties. The Dickie he thinks Dickie should’ve been. He even surrounds himself with his own Marge – Meredith. Most of his suits are in dark colours but the first suit has the warm tones that we associate with the real Dickie.

Dickie

We finally see Ripley having his suit fitted. The best costume here is Ripley’s dressing gown with silk pyjamas.

Dickie

In fact the only thing that looks like Dickie is you.

Freddie has a point. The first costume is one of Ripley’s most Dickie-ish costumes. The warm but muted colours, the soft fabric quality – these are obviously a step up from his Ripley clothes. The next polo shirt is the one we see later when he plays piano for Peter. A light cream shirt makes a nice comparison from the last time we saw Ripley – disposing of Freddie’s bloodied body. Then there’s the white shirt he wears talking to the police another time. His guilt compared with the purity of the clothing makes for the perfect dichotomy.

S x