Reigns

It’s Wrestlemania time once again, kids. The biggest event in the wrestling calendar has come for 2015. If you’ve been following along on tumblr then you know that I’ve been predicting all the pay per views since last year’s event where Daniel Bryan over came Triple H, Batista and Randy Orton to become the WWE World Heavyweight Champion. At the time everyone was expecting big things. It was the culmination of a (roughly) year long  journey for Daniel Bryan, overcoming the Authority and acquiring his boon. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.

This year we’re in a similar position. Roman Reigns has taken up Batista’s mantle of being the Royal Rumble winner that the fans have rejected. Rejected in part because he’s not Daniel Bryan, and in part because there are a number of other young wrestlers who are more talented and more popular. The feeling that Reigns is being pushed because he fits a certain mold is frustrating a lot of viewers, which is kind of sad. Yes, Reigns is only half as talented as his Shield brothers at the moment but is being pushed twice as hard, but he is young.

As much as I would criticise the WWE for not capitalising on the popularity of Seth Rollins, Bray Wyatt or Dean Ambrose, I can’t rag on them for doing something new. I’ve had my fill of John Cena, Randy Orton and Sheamus in the main event but does that mean I want to replace them with Dolph Zigger and Daniel Bryan? Well, no. Integrating new, young talent into its main event scene is exactly what the WWE needs. The feuds between John Cena, Randy Orton, Sheamus, Dolph Ziggler and Daniel Bryan have nearly all been exhausted. Adding Rollins, Reigns, Ambrose, Wyatt and Rusev and it creates a number of fresh, interesting pairings. Consider also Cesaro on the undercard and guys like Finn Balor and Kevin Owens in NXT and there’s excellent potential for new talent if given the opportunities.

WWE World Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar and the number one contender, Roman Reigns, close out the go-home episode of RAW for Wrestlemania 31.

How can we elevate the intensity of this match? I know, add a tug of war.

Does that mean that I want Roman Reigns to walk out of Wrestlemania as the WWE World Heavyweight Champion? No. I do think it’s too soon for Reigns to have such a major title run. But a solid, evenly booked match with Brock Lesnar could be the thing to nudge Reigns into legit superstardom. If he comes through in entertaining the fans that will be the things that will win them over. Whether that’s the road the WWE wants to go down is another matter. I always remember a story CM Punk recounted about going over the Shield in a handicap match but being told to make them look good. The same situation could occur here where Brock will dominate most of the match, only for Reigns to rally and pull a victory out of nowhere, Cena-style. If that happens it’ll destroy his reputation with the fans.

One extenuating circumstance is that Brock Lesnar has recently resigned with the WWE. After weeks of teasing a return to UFC and storming out of an episode of RAW, Lesnar announced his new contract on ESPN. It’s possible that retaining the title is part of that new contract. Of course, WWE may want to keep the title on Lesnar if they realise just how bad fan reaction is towards Reigns. There are also rumours about a double turn, where Lesnar would become a face and Reigns would turn heel, possibly by aligning with Paul Heyman. For the record, I’m against that. Reigns may benefit from a heel run and tutelage under Paul Heyman, but Lesnar is a better heel than a face.

There is another option, and one I’d prefer. Have Reigns and Lesnar slug it out, a good, even battle with Brock Lesnar coming out victorious. I’m sure you all know where I’m going with this. Have Seth Rollins cash in on a weakened Lesnar and leave Wrestlemania as the WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Reigns benefits by having caused enough damage to Lesnar to allow Rollins to successfully cash in, which he could taunt Rollins with in coming weeks. Rollins would obviously benefit by becoming champion, and rightfully so. Not only would a young, talented superstar be squarely placed at the top of the WWE, but it would reward all of his great, engaging work, both in and out of the ring, in the past year. Of the three, Rollins deserves the title run most.

WWE United States Champion, Rusev, assisted by Lana, crushed John Cena at the previous Pay Per View, WWE Fastlane.

A repeat of WWE Fastlane may be best for business.

That being said, the outcome of the main event will largely depend on how the undercard pans out. If a heel is going to walk out of Wrestlemania with the title, Vince McMahon will want the faces to rule the roost in the other matches. Daniel Bryan will most likely take home the Intercontinental championship in the ladder match, and John Cena will probably ruin another superstar’s momentous rise. Rusev has done nothing but improve since his debut and his reward will be to become another notch on Cena’s ‘overcoming the odds’ belt.  Wyatt has arguably never recovered from his loss to Cena at last year’s Wrestlemania (though the cage match at Extreme Rules was the nail in the coffin) and I’d hate to see the same happen to Rusev.

The every idea that, 13 years into his WWE career and 15 world title reigns later, John Cena still needs to overcome the odds is ridiculous. At this point in his career, he’s done it all. So, having that level of expertise and ability, he should be helping to build younger stars up, not beating them on the grandest stage of all. Look, I’m not a Cena hater and I’m not trying to say that he’s past his prime or should lose every match. Cena is one of the hardest workers the WWE has, he’s reliable and when he’s on form there’s few wrestler who can rival just how entertaining he is. But it’s time to start rewarding other hard workers, relying on different wrestlers and cultivating new entertainers.

It’s a double edged sword though. If the Russian sympathetic, heel Rusev beats Cena I have a feeling that WWE (read:Vince McMahon) will want a face to triumph in the main event. Which is fine. I’ll be content with a Roman Reigns title run, I just feel there are more deserving contenders. But, whether you’re pulling for Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns or Seth Rollins, there’s one way to know first hand who leaves as WWE World Heavyweight Champion and that’s to watch the Pay Per View tonight, March 29th, at 7pm. Lastly, here’s a run down of predictions for the card:

Pre-show 4 way tag match for WWE Tag team titles: Cesaro and Kidd

Pre-show Andre Memorial Battle Royale: Damien Sandow

Seth Rollins Vs. Randy Orton: Seth Rollins

Bray Wyatt Vs. The Undertaker: The Undertaker

WWE IC ladder match: Daniel Bryan

Sting Vs. Triple H: Sting

WWE US title match: Rusev

Bella Twins Vs. AJ Lee & Paige: AJ Lee & Paige

WWE World Heavyweight title match: Brock Lesnar

Deal

By now it’s common knowledge that Sony has made a deal with Marvel Entertainment to allow the Spider-Man character to be apart of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This came hot off the heels the Sony hack and the leak that Sony had no idea what to do with Spider-Man. There was no overall vision or greater direction. There were even suggestions of an Aunt May film. This was fine when no one knew about it but once it was leaked public outcry ensured and Sony were forced to do something to salvage their reputation. Namely, co-chairman Amy Pascal stepping down and the leasing of Spider-Man back to Marvel.

Good news, but there is one major downside; Sony’s Spider-Man franchise will be recast and rebooted for the second time in only four years. It’s disappointing to lose Andrew Garfield, who is a fine actor regardless of your opinions of the Amazing Spider-Man series, and audiences are less than enthused about witnessing an origin story for the third time. But these are small prices to pay to see Spider-Man in the Marvel universe and play his part in Captain America: Civil War.

It’s no secret that I actually enjoyed the Amazing Spider-Man films. The films are not as bad as the detractors make them out to be. Emma Stone’s chemistry with Garfield makes the relationship between Gwen Stacy and Peter Parker leaps and bounds more believable than Tobey Maguire’s awkward courting of Kristen Dunst’s M.J. Sam Raimi actually seems to struggle with the romance elements, relying on love triangles to create most of the conflict. Furthermore, Amazing Spider-Man 2’s use of multiple villains is basic layering. How likely is it that only one villain is going to have a problem with Spidey at any given time? It’s time management of villains is at least better than that of Spider-Man 3.

Fellow Avengers Captain America and Iron Man, played by Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. become enemies in the third phase of Marvel's cinematic universe, Captain America: Civil War.

Spider-Man in the middle.

The biggest problem with the Amazing Spider-Man series is that the films came so soon after the previous trilogy was cut short. It was facing an uphill battle from the very beginning. It really would have benefited from an over-arching story, and no, I don’t mean the Parker parent investigation. Exploring the relationship with Gwen Stacy created a nice contrast to the original trilogy and portraying the iconic Death of Gwen Stacy on film was a great idea. Had Sony been smart though, they would have built towards the the Clone Saga, which would have allowed them to bring back Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy for a third film and possibly even replace Peter Parker with Ben Reilly if they felt Garfield was becoming stale. The plots of both films were about biogenetic research so a third film about cloning wouldn’t even have been that much of a leap.

Sony were not that smart, however, and when faced with their lack of plans for future Spider-Man films, they made the deal with Marvel. Personally, I feel that this deal benefits Marvel much more than Sony. Marvel get to do Civil War the way it was meant to be done and the combined fans of The Avengers and Spider-Man will both come to see the crossover. A crossover, it should be noted, that takes place squarely amongst Marvel’s third phase, on Marvel’s ground where Marvel has final say. Meanwhile, Sony get the expertise of Kevin Feige but all casting, directing and creative choices are still in the hands of Amy Pascal and Sony. If you didn’t like the Amazing Spider-Man series then there’s really no reason to be excited by this deal. All of the same people behind that series are behind this new reboot.

But, as I stated, I liked the Amazing films so I am, at least, interested to see how Sony tries engage audiences for a third time. Rumour is that they’re looking at a younger Parker, so we’ll be back in high school. Does that mean more Gwen Stacy or another attempt at Mary Jane? If I had to guess, I’d say Sony will go back to Mary Jane, given that she never made an appearance in the Amazing series. In terms of plot, Green Goblin has technically been done in both the original trilogy and the Amazing series, so they’ll likely give him a break. Doctor Octopus or Venom could certainly make reappearances. There are a number of smaller villains who could appear but for the initial film in the reboot, Sony will likely want to go big.

Drew Goddard is the official director for the new Spider-man reboot.

From old gods and ancient monsters to a man that does everything a spider can.

There is some news though. Sinister Six director, Drew Goddard, also known for his work on Cabin in the Woods and Cloverfield has been signed on to direct the 2017 Spider-Man reboot, rumoured to be called Spectacular Spider-Man after the comic book series of the same name. Goddard is a good choice. He can direct big set pieces and he can write both funny and intense dialogue. How well he can write romance remains to be seen though but this is definitely a positive choice.

Beyond that, there still isn’t much information to go on. Word is that Sony might be looking at Dylan O’Brien or Logan Lerman for the role of Peter Parker. Contradictory rumours also state that Sony want to go younger, and sign the actor on to a long deal. If Sony do go younger the actor will probably be an unknown, which would fall within the Marvel pattern of casting the least expected choice and turning them into massive stars. For what it’s worth, Logan Lerman would be my pick. He has the range needed for the role. No word on what Sony are looking for in the co-stars, but I still think Leslie Rose would make a fantastic M.J.

The creative potential for this deal is enormous. At the very least, it is an interesting injection into the superhero genre, just when the Marvel Cinematic Universe might have been getting tired. At most, it could be the boost that the Spider-Man franchise needed. Either way, the audience wins.

Hardly

There goes my cautious optimism. In December of last year the Suicide Squad main cast was officially announced. Roughly one month later Tom Hardy dropped out due to ‘scheduling conflicts’ with Fox’s The Revenant. The cracks already beginning to show. Man of Steel was basically a lot of aimless wandering around followed by the destruction of Kansas and Metropolis and I’ll be surprised if anything forming a coherent and enjoyable film comes out of the Justice League in all but name, Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. DC and Warner Bros. need Suicide Squad to be the film that captures audiences and they can’t afford any missteps.

I realise this sounds like the conspiracists who claim that a secret organisations rule the world because of minor markings and typos on documents and papers, but I do believe there is cause for concern. Tom Hardy is the kind of actor who can really do anything and do it well. Want him to step up into the main role? He can do that. Or he can take the back seat and support the main cast. He can be charming and likable. He can be your villain and terrorise your protagonist. Tom Hardy just has that versatility.  And that’s really what any actor playing Rick Flag Jr. needed to bring to the table.

Even if Warner Bros. aren’t following the Suicide Squad story from its comic book origins, the character of Rick Flag Jr. was still likely to be the linchpin, holding the team together. The point of the film, or at least an interesting hook, is that these guys are villains. They don’t play nice and don’t work well with others. Someone or something is going to have to unite them, and it would really fall on Rick Flag to do that. The Joker doesn’t care about anyone else unless it furthers his own plans, often even being borderline abusive towards Harley Quinn. Rick Flag, with his military experience, is a natural squad leader and thus, vital to the team.

Tom Hardy, best known for his roles in Bronson, Bane in The Dark Knight Rises and Eames in Inception, has dropped out of the Warner Bros adaptation of Dc Comic's Suicide Squad.

From brutal biopics to futuristic Sci-fi, Hardy’s versatility is his biggest selling point.

That’s why it is important for the actor who plays Rick Flag to be capable in a range of roles. With a lot of big names such as The Joker and Deadshot, its important for Flag to become a background character when needed. In the same vein, the actor also needs to stand up against the more larger than life characters and command the scene he’s in. If the actor can’t fulfil those roles, audiences will question why the rest of the squad are following him or just getting in the way. DC could have recast any other character but Tom Hardy as Rick Flag was the perfect choice.

It is unfair to blame DC though. After all, they had no choice. They had to recast the role due to Tom Hardy’s scheduling conflicts. And I completely understand, Hardy’s choice. The Revenants sounds like it could be a great film. Directed by recent Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture Academy Award winner, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Hardy will star alongside Leondardo DiCaprio in the film adaptation of the book of the same name about a fur trapper who is betrayed by his fellow hunters and seeks revenge. That sounds like a brilliant combination of talent and creativity. At the moment I have so much more confidence in Iñárritu and 20th Century Fox to produce an intense 19th Century thriller than I do in the ability of DC and Warner Bros. to create a watchable superhero ensemble action film. This is the kind of thing DC Comics should be good at and they’re not. And that’s kind of sad.

Admittedly, I am dubious of the scheduling conflicts reason. The Revenants will be released in December later this year, while Suicide Squad won’t see the light of day until August 2016. That’s eight months difference. While I’m aware that Warner Bros. won’t be filming right up until August, the same is true for The Revenants. There’s post production after shooting that Tom Hardy doesn’t need to be present for and then some promotional appearances. How likely is it that Warner Bros. couldn’t work around a promotional event that Hardy was involved in? This throws up a red flag to me that there were other reasons for Hardy’s departure. Maybe he no longer believed in the project or perhaps he had problems with the director, producers or other cast members. Will Smith might have pulled a Fresh Prince of Bel Air and had Hardy removed like Janet Hubert-Whitten. I can only speculate but I do find the departure suspicious.

Tom Hardy, best known for his roles in Bronson, Bane in The Dark Knight Rises and Eames in Inception, has dropped out of the Warner Bros adaptation of Dc Comic's Suicide Squad.

Kinnaman is less proven but at least it wasn’t Jake Gyllenhaal.

Replacing Hardy is Joel Kinnaman. Kinnaman is best known for AMC’s The Killing and his role as the titular Robocop in the 2014 reboot. Despite Robocop’s less than favourable reviews and the struggles of The Killing after the initial two seasons, Kinnaman’s performances have generally been applauded. So it’s was a good choice but whether he can handle in the role in the way that I know Hardy could remains to be seen.

In other DC news, Suicide Squad cast members Will Smith and Margot Robbie recently starred in Focus, a dark romantic comedy and con-men and grifters. Again, the film hasn’t been a smash but the actors performances stood out. And I’m also coming around to Jai Courtney, mostly thanks to the recent Terminator: Genisys trailers, which have, amazingly, got me sold on that film. Of course that has everything to do with Emilia Clarke and the interesting time travel twist of the original story, and nothing to do with Jai Courtney. On top of that, Joe Manganiello is rumoured to be playing Deathstroke. At this point the cast size is reasonable so I’d worry about Warner Bros. adding too many extra characters.

More than a year out from Suicide Squad and I’m already feeling like this is falling apart. Like it is barely held together with duct tape and chewing gum. I really want DC to make a good superhero film. Not a good film with asterisks and disclaimers, just a simple, enjoyable movie about superheroes. Marvel are producing them with factory like efficiency these days, so the question has to be asked, why can’t DC even make one?

Stationary

It is easy to understand why audiences would be excited by Jupiter Ascending. Outside of Marvel’s recent Guardians of the Galaxy and the upcoming Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, the space opera genre isn’t exactly rife with fresh, new films at the moment. On top of that, it had a solid cast including major names such as Mila Kunis, Eddie Redmayne and Channing Tatum. If that wasn’t enough to get most viewers excited, the fact that it was written and directed by the revolutionary Wachowskis was the final push of hype. With that direction of talent in front of and behind the camera, tackling new genre, Jupiter Ascending was sure to be great. And that’s where it’s biggest problem begins.

On paper, Jupiter Ascending should be able to do no wrong. Once you get into into the details though, it starts to fall apart. The problem really comes down to expectation. I enjoyed the film in some regards and I don’t think it is unviewable. Being watchable isn’t a particularly gleaming report though. But I had the benefit of reading reviews and knowing that it had been panned beforehand. So I went in with lowered expectations, thus I was ok with what I got in return. Expectations are a deadly thing. They can make a good film great and decent film terrible.

If you don’t know, Jupiter Ascending follows house cleaner and Russian immigrant, Jupiter Jones, who is discovered to be the perfect genetic resemblance of a royal space monarch. Said Monarch is now dead, but wrote into her will that the recurrence of her genetic structure would inherit Earth. Her children are none too pleased about this and each try and capture Jupiter to use in their own plans. Said capture involves Caine, a hybrid wolf man who also had wings for some reason, and Stinger, another hybrid although this time with bees.

Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum as Jupiter Jones, heiress of Earth, and Caine, a hybrid man-wolf with gravity boots, in the Wachowski's science fiction space opera, Jupiter Ascending.

Don’t worry about the car. Aliens fixed it.

The reason that Earth is so important is because it’s over populated. Our space ancestors are apparently in the business of growing populated planets and harvesting the people to create a serum for regenerating cells. Jupiter balks at the idea of killing billions in exchange for immortality and struggles to maintain her right over Earth to protect herself, her family and everyone else. This involves her being captured three times, each involving a daring rescue by Caine. During their excursion into outer space, Jupiter begins to fall for Caine.

That’s the basic plot of the film but there’s really a lot going on in the film, it’s just not anything that really matters. It’s soft science fiction, so the focus is really on the characters and the story rather than why things are the way they are. Those characters and story aren’t able to bear the load though. The characters sound like they were named by a teenage girl, and they obviously asked some children what they wanted Caine to be and they couldn’t decide so they made him a half-everything. Action scenes, while visually impressive, feel drawn out and difficult to follow.

The Wachowski’s last great film was undoubtedly 1999’s The Matrix. It is clear they they were trying to recapture that glory with this film. It’s another science fiction film where a seemingly normal human turns out to be special and is introduced to how the world really is. Mila Kunis puts on a fine performance as Jupiter and her humble, selflessness is refreshing compared to Neo’s enigmatic self-importance. But she goes through a lot with in the film and doesn’t get an awful lot out of it. She gets Earth, a renewed appreciation for her family, some gravity boots and winged, lupine boyfriend. But she almost died several times. Her family almost died. There are still billions of planets being harvested by the Abrasax family. Her romance with Caine feels shallow because there’s no real connection beyond his saving her life and her liking dogs. And one of those is a joke.

Eddie Redmayne plays antagonist Balem Abrasax in The Wachowski's science fiction space opera, Jupiter Ascending.

Stephen Hawking’s genetic reincarnation is a complete monster.

By the end, the film just doesn’t come together. The events where she each meet Abrasax sibling one by one have no real consequence on what happen next. Kalique tells Jupiter to do what she was already planning to do, simply because it feeds her plan against Balem. Titus tries to marry her and then kill her. Balem wants her to sign Earth back to him so he can harvest it immediately. The siblings talk about each other but they never try to stop each other. You’d think that Kalique and Balem would have a vested interest in stopping Titus’s wedding but Kalique does nothing and Balem kidnaps her family and forces her to come to him instead. Maybe he doesn’t know where she is, but given how little the siblings care for each other, it stands to reason that Balem would be keeping an eye on his brother. But nope, everything is just left up to circumstance and chance . It winds up feeling like a lot of ideas thrown at a board with very little in common, bar a main character.

The Caine romance seems to exist in some alternate film as well. One where there are scenes between Jupiter and Caine that aren’t him saving her or him adamantly stating that he feels nothing for her. It’s far too obvious that it’s a ‘doth protest too much’ situation but it would make more sense for it to be true. Jupiter even mentions that she tends to fall for the wrong guy, and there’s little to suggest that this isn’t history repeating itself. She fell in love with him because he was there to save her. What’s she going to do now that she doesn’t need saved so often? A preferable ending would have been if Jupiter went back to her life, keeping Caine around because she appreciates him as a guard and in case the Abrasax siblings try anything else. Apparently, the Wachowski’s were going for a Wizard of Oz kind of vibe, but it’s not like Dorothy went back to Kansas and started dating the lion.

There is a lot wrong with this film. That can’t be denied. However, if you limit your expectations and shut your mind off when you go in, you may find Jupiter Ascending to be mildly entertaining. Otherwise, stay clear.

Carded

By now we’re all accustomed to binge watching. Netflix has been offering Video on Demand and streaming services since 2007, so we’ve had eight years in which our understanding of viewing our favourite programs has moved away from the format of enjoying one episode a week. It makes sense that an audience would want to follow the full story at their leisure. Chapter by chapter serials have largely fallen out of favour, with readers more commonly preferring to read full novels. In the gaming community, attempts by studios to release games in smaller chunks have been met with criticism, such as with Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeros.

Naturally, the change in format affects how we experience the product. Stephen King’s serial novel The Green Mile reads differently than his stand alone novels, such as Misery. In much the same way, weekly television shows have to hold our attention longer than Netflix’s House of Cards. If an episodic show isn’t exciting for just one week it can dampen the viewers interest. Maybe the viewer even forgets to tune in the following week. By releasing all of the episodes at once, Netflix bypasses that problem. There is less pressure on House of Cards to provide quality content episode to episode. It’s episodes only have to keep you invested for ten seconds rather than one week.

That’s not to say that House of Cards episodes could be complete rubbish and people would still watch. Some people might but most would just stream something else. But the hook only has to be immediately interesting, not something that it going to keep coming to mind several days later. The death of Zoey Barnes in season two is a prime example of a hook that made me desperate to watch the next episode. It was powerful, unexpected and game-changing. It’s not just the death of a major character, because that’s often superficial and nothing more than shock value, but this displayed that House of Cards wasn’t afraid to upset the status quo.

Kevin Spacey's Frank Underwood faces new challenges as the President of the United States of America in the third season of Netflix's House of Cards.

Maintaining power is harder than taking it.

And that’s where House of Cards’ third season misses the boat. I wasn’t excited to watch another episode until perhaps episode three after the negotiations between Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood and the Russian President. Those first two episodes are good, better than some of the series’ you’ll see on basic television, but the show is going through the motions. The first episode in particular is all about moving set pieces into place and preparing for the season ahead. But I was able to watch the first episode and say, ‘ok cool’ then go away and do something more important and come back and watch the second episode when I had time. Usually, if I’m invested in a show and there are more episodes available, I’ll be calculating in my mind when I’ll have time to watch it and looking forward to it.

Another character death would not solve the problem, don’t get me wrong. There doesn’t need to be another huge upheaval of the status quo because Frank’s move to the White House is pretty big as far as changes go. But it all seems a little predictable. He’s the President that no one voted for, so of course he’s unpopular with the American people. The opposition will use this to their own advantage to win the next election, as you would expect. Even his own party want a new face, because they didn’t want him in office and they want to stand a chance against the republicans at the next election. The conflict with Russia is the first plot point that wasn’t readily apparent before the new season began.

Thanks to the format, Netflix can get away with a lacklustre few episodes for House of Cards but I don’t believe they should accept that. They should want every episode to be the best the audience has ever seen, that every episode should be trending and talked about on twitter. Consider the Breaking Bad episode, ‘Fly’. Reactions to the that episode are divided, with some calling it slow and filler, while others consider it artful and emotional. But those first episodes of House of Cards aren’t going to split opinions. Viewers might agree that the episodes are good but no one is going to label them great.

Michael Kelly's Doug Stamper turns to alcohol when Kevin Spacey's Frank Underwood starts pushing him away.

The obsessive compulsive’s guide to alcoholism.

What is it that keeps them from greatness? Robin Wright is fantastic in the role of Claire Underwood, but her attempt to be appointed to the U.N. is just dull. It’s all politics and while it’s fun to watch Frank bully and outmaneuver his opponents, much of Claire’s story requires her to answer questions, make calls and try not to step on any toes. Molly Parker comes across as tepid in the role of Jackie Sharp. I liked her in season two and while I feel that her story in season three will be significant, I’m really struggling to care about the character. While the losses of Peter Russo and Zoey Barnes were integral to the story, they brought a level of charisma and the underdog effect that is largely missing from this third season. It’s similar to the effect of losing Jimmy Darmody had on Boardwalk Empire.

Perhaps the more puzzling change is the character of Frank Underwood. We expect our leaders to be relatable and to represent the needs of the people because he understands his people. It was compelling to see Frank become President specifically because he cares only about his own power and because he is the most inhuman person on the show. He’s had his moments in prior seasons but he’s never seemed more vulnerable than in the opening episodes of season three. I don’t expect him to be a mustache twirling villain but crying is so uncharacteristic of Frank Underwood that its actually jarring to watch.

This is a solid entry into the House of Cards series. A lack of new, engaging characters for the audience to root for hurts the overall appeal, as does a lack of episode to episode quality. The sum of the parts is highly enjoyable though and Kevin Spacey once again owns the role. And now that Bryan Cranston has moved on from Breaking Bad, perhaps Spacey is finally in with a shot at the Emmy.

Oscars

The Oscars just don’t seem as hyped up this year, do they? The Academy Awards are always significant because they’re the creme de la creme when it comes to movie award ceremonies, but this year just doesn’t seem as important. Perhaps its because the nominations really seem to be lacking any big commercial features. Previous years have included films such as The Wolf of Wall Street or Django Unchained in their number, and while those are entertaining and artistic in their own right they also have a broader appeal than many of the films that we’re seeing on the 87th Academy Award nomination lists.

An argument could possibly be made for American Sniper or The Imitation Game to fall under that category of stylistic films with wide appeal. However, both of those are still biopics. That’s not to say biographical films can’t appeal to a large audience but, generally speaking, someone isn’t going to pay to sit in a cinema and watch a film about a real life figure that they don’t know. Interest in the figure usually precedes their interest in the film. The Academy doesn’t have to garner to the average viewer but it does seem a bit out of touch when all of the nominations are given to artistic, specialist subject films.

Enough of what’s wrong with the nominations, let’s get started with who deserves to win what out of the big four. First up, as always, is Best Picture.

The 87th Academy Awards Oscars logo

A white logo for a white-washed nomination list

  • American Sniper
  • Birdman
  • Boyhood
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • The Imitation Game
  • Selma
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Whiplash

The above problem makes it a little difficult to really decide which film the academy will go for. There are a number of choices here that could feasibly win. For my part, I’d like to see either Birdman or The Theory of Everything take the prize. American Sniper and The Imitation Game can be eliminated because they are the films with the widest appeal and those kinds of films generally don’t win. They just there to round out the nominations. It would be funny to see Selma win after the white-wash controversy, but I can’t see that actually happening. Boyhood will probably win some direction or cinematography awards, but the pieces aren’t all quite there to warrant a Best Picture win. So that brings it down to Birdman, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Birdman is probably a little too weird and Whiplash might be too youthful and involved with modern culture (like The Social Network) to appeal to the Academy. They’re dark horses though and I could see one pulling out the win if they can’t come to a consensus on the top film.

I’d give the nod to The Theory of Everything. Birdman is a better film, but it and other films might divide the academy, which will benefit a decent film with good acting like The Theory of Everything. On to Best Director;

The Theory of Everything stars, Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones with the real Dr. Stephen Hawking.

Opposing opinions on other movies could give The Theory of Everything the edge to win.

  • Wes Anderson
  • Alejandro González Iñárritu
  • Richard Linklater
  • Bennett Miller
  • Morten Tyldum

I could forgive the Academy for not giving the Oscar for Best Picture to Birdman but Alejandro González Iñárritu deserves the award for Best Director bar none. Richard Linklater is probably his biggest competition as both films are very creative and stylistic in their use of filming and editing. But for me, it was the direction and the cinematography that really made Birdman. The acting and script were strong but it might have fallen flat if it weren’t for the stylistic choice of shots that Iñárritu uses. It’s Alejandro González Iñárritu or nothing.

And the Oscar for Best Actor goes to…

Director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, and main actor, Michael Keaton promoting the Academy Award nominated, Birdman.

Iñárritu, and Keaton are the combination that elevates Birdman.

  • Steve Carell as John Eleuthère du Pont
  • Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle
  • Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing
  • Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson / Birdman
  • Eddie Redmayne  as Stephen Hawking

Michael Keaton has already won a number of awards for his role in Birdman so he could be poised to do the same here. Special mention certainly has to go to both Steve Carell and Eddie Redmayne for their performances and just how indistinguishable from their characters that they became. I’ve also heard praise for both Bradley Cooper and Benedict Cumberbatch. Any one of these nominations would be a good choice. Michael Keaton is probably my pick here. Birdman might not have worked the way it did with a lesser actor in the title role.

Last of the Big Four, but by no means least, is the award for Best Actress;

Rosamund Pike plays the psychotic Amy Elliot in the psychological thriller, Gone Girl.

Rosamund Pike is the only clue of Gone Girl’s abduction from the Oscars.

 

  • Marion Cotillard as Sandra Bya
  • Felicity Jones as Jane Wilde Hawking
  • Julianne Moore as Dr. Alice Howland
  • Rosamund Pike as Amy Elliott-Dunne
  • Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed

Julianne Moore has been winning this award at other shows but I would much rather see Felicity Jones or Rosamond Pike take the award here. Jones certainly helped sell the emotion of the Stephen Hawking biopic as much as Eddie Redmayne. Pike too did a great job, excelling in a dark thriller that really sank or swam based on her performance. Pike possibly deserves it more given how both Gone Girl and David Fincher have been overlooked in this year’s award nominations. It’s really a long shot, but I’ll stick my neck out and go with Rosamond Pike.

So, those are my choices for the main four awards. For Supporting actor and actress, J.K. Simmons will take home the award for his role in Whiplash and…I genuinely have no idea for supporting actress. None of them really strike me as having made the films that much better for being in the role they were in, bar possibly Meryl Streep. She’s already got more nominations than anyone else in the history of the Academy Awards and she’s won a few times, so why not share the wealth.  So I’ll pick Emma Stone because I like Emma Stone.

Find out if I’m right or wrong by tuning into the 87th Academy Awards on ABC tonight. Or, if you really disagree with my choices and want to let me know, fire off a message with your thoughts or predictions in the comments below.

LWYRUP

It feels like an age since rumours of a Saul Goodman spin off began circulating. In fact, mentions of the spin-off can found as far back as 2012, so the debut of Better Call Saul has been a long time coming. That’s not to say too long. Good things come to those who wait and Better Call Saul is a good thing and it’s been worth waiting for. It’s still hard to believe that Breaking Bad ended a year and a half ago. Watching Better Call Saul felt like slipping into an old, familiar bed.

Creating a spin-off of one of the most popular shows on modern television could have been a disaster. It’s not that I don’t have faith in Vince Gilligan’s abilities as a writer and director. But telling such a dramatic and captivating story can be hard to recreate, especially when treading back into the same universe and setting. Having seen Breaking Bad and becoming acquainted with Albuquerque, viewers come to expect a certain level of storytelling and character development. There will obviously be backlash if the latter doesn’t match up to the expectations created by the former.

Good news all round then. Fans of Breaking Bad and Vince Gilligan can collectively breathe easy. Better Call Saul is good. Only time will tell if it even glances the same greatness that Breaking Bad became but it is certainly off to a good start. It feels familiar without being a complete retread of previous material. This is the same affable, loquacious Saul Goodman that we know and love, but his name is James McGill and he hasn’t quite broke bad yet.

Bob Odenkirtk reprises his role as Saul Goodman in the Breaking Bad prequel, Better Call Saul on AMC.

Before Saul Goodman, there was Jimmy McGill.

It’s interesting seeing Saul Goodman try to be an honest lawyer, defending his clients to the best of his legal ability rather than his criminal abilities. There’s shades of the man he will become, such as the scam he attempts to run on Betsy Keller to manipulate her into giving him their business but there’s still a conscience in there. Even knowing that he owes his life to Nacho, Jimmy refuses to participate in stealing the one point five million that the Kellers allegedly stole. The man he is then is a far shot from the man who helps Walter and Jesse distribute their meth and launder their money.

Furthermore, this is not a man trying to figure out where he went wrong. This is a man looking back at the good times. Let that sink in for a moment. Gene, the former Saul Goodman thinks of standing the desert, talking Tuco down from a death sentence to a couple of leg breakings, as a nostalgic moment. The opening to the first episode is some of the best cinematography that I’ve seen in any television show. Without a word, we see Saul Goodman as he is now, out of the game and hidden in Nebraska, baking bread and longing for the man he was. Maybe he’s looking back and wishing he’d never met Walter White, but he still wishes to be Saul Goodman with the cheesy late night commercials.

Better Call Saul casts Breaking Bad in a whole new light. It’s the ‘in media res’ of Saul Goodman’s story. We don’t have the full picture yet. We have the middle and the end but beginning is lacking, and that’s what Better Call Saul aims to tell. And in the telling, Breaking Bad becomes Saul’s comeuppance. Before, Saul was just some sleazy criminal defence lawyer, looking to make a fast buck any way he could. Here we see Saul on the straight and narrow, sitting at the crossroads to a darker path. It’s riveting viewing in the same morbid way that a trainwreck is fascinating.

Michael Mando stars as Nacho, Tuco's friend in crime, and a possible ally to Bob Odenkirk's Jimmy McGill on the drama series, Better Call Saul, on AMC.

What happens to Nacho between the events of Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad?

Breaking Bad told the complete story of Walter White and his transformation from a mild-mannered chemistry teacher, whose life wasn’t what he had anticipated and felt he’d never got what he deserved, to a drug lord with a meth empire, willing to poison children and kill whoever he felt slighted him. From season one to season five, that was the progression. With each passing episode, Walter became more morally corrupt and eventually just became Heisenberg. But in the end, we saw that come back and bite him on the ass. His family were terrified of him, his son told him to die, his brother in law was killed due to an association with white supremacists, his partner was being held hostage and forced to cook, his former business partners were discrediting him on television and his cancer was back. Saul Goodman was a casualty of Walter’s downfall, forced into hiding at the same time. Now it seems that Walter’s downfall may have just coincided with Saul’s own.

It’s not without it’s flaws though. For one, the show does lack tension and intensity. While the series does seem to be a little more humorous in tone than Breaking Bad, it’s still not meant to comedic. The old Shakespearean category of ‘romance’ seems to fit best. Moments such as Jimmy, kneeling in the desert, begging for his life, are obviously meant to be dramatic and exciting but we know that Jimmy can’t die here. Tuco too, has to survive. That said, I did like the twist by having Jimmy haggle for the lives of the skaters, thereby keeping the peril of death in the scene and still maintaining Jimmy’s culpability.

With this creation, Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have shown that they are as talented as Breaking Bad made them out to be. They weren’t just fortunate to hit a run-away winner. And with Better Call Saul, they have the potential for another. It’s really good viewing, interesting and enthralling in imaginative ways, and it doesn’t require any previous viewing. It stands alone from Breaking Bad, intriguing because the implications but quality viewing in its own right. With a debut of 6.9 million viewers, Better Call Saul is the show to watch right now.

Presenting a Special Guest-Ian Williams

Originally posted on Jessica's Book of the Month:

Interview with Ian Williams, author of Transitory: 

Ian Williams’ Transitory was book of the month for January. This was the first month of this club, and the response and enthusiasm was tremendous.

Ian Williams is a science fiction writer from the United Kingdom. Transitory, which is about a businessman who travels to a distant planet and finds out that he is the target of a hitman, is Williams’ first novel. He recently released a second novel called The Sentient Collector, which is first in a dystopian trilogy.

To check out Transitory: http://www.amazon.com/Transitory-Ian-Williams-ebook/dp/B00LACOVU2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1423431456&sr=8-1&keywords=transitory

Here are what some reviewers have said about Transitory:

1. “The author, Ian Williams, took me to a fantastically different location without the normal dreary travel time evident in some science fiction books. His characterisations were brilliant. They made me care about Nate, the main character, and also the others who were helping him get to the truth.”

2…

View original 1,613 more words

Family

Between the mid-season premiere returns and the new shows such as Agent Carter and Better Call Saul, you might have missed the return of another well known, award winning show. Whether you noticed or not, The Americans has returned for it’s third season with its unique blend of family drama and covert espionage. Few other shows can boast that kind of breadth of television drama. Yet, compared to The Walking Deads and the Game of Thrones of the world, The Americans is one of the less talked about, under-rated shows on TV.

The action in The Americans isn’t always as fast paced or as violent as you might see in other shows. It has its moments, of course, such as when Keri Russell’s character, Elizabeth Jennings, fights off two FBI agents, but much of the suspense comes from characters listening to messages, intercepting American intel, and relaying information back to Moscow. It doesn’t make for the most riveting viewing experience but there is a subtle, intensity to such scenes. It’s a very trivial action but its a matter of life and death. In that way, the show really encapsulates the essence of the Cold War.

I do feel bad for Keri Russell. Elizabeth Jennings tends to get the rough side of the deal in most of their missions. She gets shot and nearly beat up and what does she get in return? She loses the precious intel. Meanwhile, Matthew Rhys’ Philip Jennings is going around getting blowjobs and Kama Sutra sex and blackmailing Pakistani intelligence officers. Clearly things are not easy for women of the KGB and if that’s the kind of life that awaits Paige, it’s understandable that Philip may be a little reluctant to allow her to follow them down the same path.

Keri Russell and Holly Taylor star as the covert Russian spy living on American soil and the daughter that doesn't know about it, Elizabeth and Paige Jennings, in FX's original drama, The Americans.

Is Paige the American born Russian spy that the USSR have been waiting for?

Despite agreeing not to allow the KGB anywhere near Paige last season, Elizabeth does seem to have taken a step back to consider it. The Americans has been very clever with this Elizabeth and Paige storyline. The dynamic between mother and daughter and relating to your children as they grow up and develop their own, sometimes differing, ideals is a major theme in most television shows with families. But The Americans has broached the theme from a very different perspective. Elizabeth is trying remain close to her daughter and understand her as she grows from a child into a teenager and she’s doing it as a KGB agent. She’s actively trying to figure out if this is a person who would be interested in what the Soviet Union can offer.

It’s easy to forget, among all the politic and spying, that this is what the idea of sleeper agents was really all about. Yes, they wanted KGB agents acting as Americans but it was their American born children, indistinguishable from the kids next door, who were to be true agents. There would be no need for subterfuge. They are exactly who they say they are, except their loyalty would lie with Russia. In theory, that’s fine. As parents, that must be a difficult call to make. Elizabeth and Philip are on opposite sides of the fence, or so it seems. Elizabeth is such a skilled liar that it’s difficult to know who she’s telling the truth to. No one has asked Paige what she wants but I doubt anyone cares.

Along the same mother-daughter theme, Elizabeth’s mother is dying. Of course, we don’t see her because she’s back in Russia and Elizabeth can’t see her, but even seeing Elizabeth’s tears as she listens to a recorded message about her is enough to convey the levity of the situation. Often, Elizabeth can come across as hard and unemotional, who generally thinks of her country (her actual country) first. Over the course of the show, she’s begun to think more for herself and her children but she still commands a rather tough presence. This storyline has given her some vulnerability, which is nice to see because she takes getting face planted on a car like a champion. It’s also clear from her story about becoming an agent that it was her mother who instilled that ‘country first’ idealism in her mind. It’ll be interesting to see, when her mother does die, if Elizabeth can take the emotional punches in the same stride that she takes the physical.

Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys' characters, Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, assist Rahul Khanna's Yusef Rana in covering up the death of Annelise.

This is not part of the Kama Sutra.

Despite that hardened outer demeanor, it’s clear that Elizabeth is very affected by her own mistakes. She internalizes them. Having lost the list of CIA names, she rushes to correct the mistake at the first opportunity. Philip is much more likely to display his feelings but he’s also a big picture kind of guy. If something bad happens, he makes the best of it. Elizabeth doesn’t take failure well and is much more likely to take a risk to fix it. That’s probably why the FBI have her picture while Philip manages to sleep with an FBI supervisor’s secretary with no one being any the wiser.

Oleg is trying to save Nina from a Soviet labour camp using his familial connections, whilst Stan Beeman continues to deal with the separation from his wife. Both are foils for the Jennings and their family relationships. Of course, there are other storylines, such as the FBI housing a defector, but those political plots are side stories to the main heart of the series which is all about family. Family relationships and how those influence the actions of parent and child. It’s easy to imagine that the revelation of her parents will horrify Paige, but there’s also the notion that she won’t want to disappoint her family. It’s natural to want our parents approval and to make them proud.

If The Americans was a straight political thriller it might never have reached its third season but the theme of family that runs through the series gives it heart and meaning beyond its Cold War setting.

Angles

Coming out of the Marvel Entertainment vault, Disney’s new superhero flick is the animation, Big Hero Six. Having plumbed the depths of Marvel’s known works, and Marvel selling off the rights to its biggest franchises long ago, Disney is now content to adapt the more obscure teams and heroes for the big screen. Guardians of the Galaxy was obscure, sure, but at least it had vague connections to the greater Marvel universe and related works. Big Hero Six has none of those connections and is probably as out there as Disney could probably go. In all fairness, it seems to be working and Big Hero Six is no exception.

Big Hero Six follows kid genius, Hiro Hamada, and the inflatable robot carer, Baymax. Despite being a genius, Hiro doesn’t have much ambition. He’s happy to illegally battle in robot contests, that is until some brotherly motivations drives him to make something that could truly change the world. A tragic event occurs, his technology is destroyed and Hiro becomes griefstriken. Well, that’s not quite true. His technology wasn’t destroyed and when Hiro learns that it is being used for a more nefarious purpose than he intended, he, Baymax and four of his brother’s friends use their intellect to become superheroes.

Big Hero Six doesn’t revolutionise the genre, either in terms of superheroes or animation. But it is funny and it is charming. There are a lot of familiar tropes in play here, such as the loss of loved ones as a origin story, and most of the plot points and twists are easy to predict, but the writing never feels lazy. The story itself is simple but what gives it depth is the characters. These characters feel more alive than some of the characters in live action movies.

T.J Miller, Jamie Chung, Scott Adsit, Ryan Potter, Génesis Rodríguez and Damon Wayans Jr. voice the Big Hero Six team of Fred, GoGo Tomago, Baymax, Hiro Hamada, Honey Lemon and Wasabi in the Disney film of the same name.

A more diversely flavoured Marvel superhero team.

It helps that the central message of the film isn’t about learning to work together as it too often is in ensemble films. At times it feels as though the film is going in that direction, especially when the team don’t communicate in one fight and end up taking out each other rather than the target. Part of the main idea of the film is that friends are good and help keep us sane but there’s also a nice echo in the film about looking at problems from another angle. This is a film that encourages creativity and innovation in the youth. That’s a refreshing point from a superhero film.

Where Big Hero Six really excels is the portrayal of Hiro’s loss. His grief and depression are depicted with tact and with the perspective that this isn’t something he can just get over or easily treat. It’s something that it really takes the entire film and a friendship with Baymax to overcome but it doesn’t come without its setbacks. Some might argue that it is unrealistic. It’s not like people who suffer with depression can simply make friends and become a superhero team. But that’s kind of missing the point. It’s not the process of becoming a superhero that helps him overcome his grief. It’s the compassion and kindness of everyone around him that eventually brings him out the other side.

Diversity is also a major plus for Big Hero Six. The majority of the team isn’t white, which is extremely progressive when you consider that The Avengers won’t officially add a black member until phase three. An argument could be made for Don Cheadle as War Machine/Iron Patriot but that’s why the word ‘official’ is in there. DC are doing a little better, with an Israeli Wonder Woman, a black Cyborg and a Hawaiian Aquaman, but we won’t see Justice League until 2017, so Big Hero Six has it beat by a solid 2-3 years. Considering the recent controversy regarding how white-washed the Oscar nominations are, I can see the diversity of its characters being a huge draw for Big Hero Six.

Baymax serves as Hiro's inflatable healthcare companion and the team's pillow.

Yet another thing that doesn’t exist that movies have made me want.

Will Big Hero Six be a money maker like Frozen? Unlikely. It’s family friendly and Baymax is adorable though so it will definitely appeal to kids. Adults too, because I personally would love my own personal Baymax. If that technology is a bit too advanced some kind of massive plushie would be great. But most of the money will come from kids and parents of kids buying the merchandise. Fans of the comic book will likely enjoy the film because its a good film, regardless of its source material, but might be slightly disappointed. Their comic book counterparts, from what I know, are different and had connects to mutants and X-Men. Baymax for instance was not a carer and could morph into dragon-like creature. The X-Men connection was obviously cut to avoid issues with Fox but Baymax’s change into the loveable, inflatable, health care assistant was surely done to sell toys.

At this point, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Marvel and Disney can make Big Hero Six appeal to the general public. Before the superhero genre really took off in film, Marvel’s biggest cash cows were Spider-Man and Wolverine. All of the rest had their fair share of fans and readers but those two were major players. Tony Stark wasn’t even close. But Marvel and Disney have made household names out of Tony Stark, Captain America and Thor. They’ve done the same with Big Hero Six. It’s unique blend of progressiveness and charm make it a joy to watch.

American readers will already know this since they got to see Big Hero Six back in November of last year. I don’t know the reason for the delay to the UK but I’m not too bothered by it. Disney have more than made up for it by delivering Avengers: Age of Ultron to the UK a whole week before it’s due in the states.