London Film & Comic Con 2016 (Event Review)

LFCC1

Sunday 31st July – Olympia, London – £18.00

londonfilmandcomiccon.com


 

RUBBING SHOULDERS WITH THE STARS

By Con tradition, Sunday is always the quietest of this annual three day celebration into all things TV, film, print and nerd, but even by that standard attendance at yesterday’s culminating day of London Film & Comic-Con 2016 (LFCC) seemed strangely low.

Whether this was because organising body Showmasters had listened to fan feedback from previous events and laid the floorplans of each of the Olympia’s trio of vast levels out more sparsely, or just because so many people chose the Saturday instead is hard to determine, but having fewer crowds to contend with is no bad thing.

The illustrious venue’s ground level contained the multitude of merchandise vendors, selling everything from vintage SNES games to Thai cinema posters. This is great for a wallet-tempting browse, but with competing stalls selling the same product for different prices, and the awkwardness of walking around all day with a replica Darth Vader helmet, it’s best not to part with your hard-earned cash too swiftly – provided you intend on a second circuit later in the day.

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In addition to wall-to-wall stalls, the rear of the ground floor behind CEX’s giant inflatable shark housed a Cosplay paradise, with the grandiose costume-loving pose-aholics even getting their own stage area for a “Blind Date” parody panel and catwalk presentations. Finally, various full-scale incarnations of the Batmobile and the Mutt Cutts wagon from Dumb & Dumber were displayed in more open areas, courtesy of character-cars.com.

Up the creaking steel-lined steps (or via the manned lift) and beyond the curiously uncluttered gallery was the trove of autograph stalls and professional photographs, giving fans the chance to interact – for a cost – with their screen idols. All calibres of celebrity were present, from A- (Jeremy “Hawkeye” Renner) to C-listers (Jamie Scream Kennedy), current (Game of Thrones is always well supported) to retro (David Prowse and Kenny Bakers are stalwarts), young (Stranger Things‘ Millie Bobby Brown) and old (Sylvester McCoy) from all manner of films, TV and wrestling shows.

Your appreciation of this section will depend upon your familiarity and idolisation of famous faces – but I always enjoy glimpsing stars in the flesh, even if I don’t pay for the chance to greet all that many. While my friend, Thom Downie of the 80s PictureHouse got signatures and photos with a host of stars (see the podcast’s twitter feed for pics!), I was more interested in just two: Jon “Napoleon Dynamite” Heder and Famke GoldenEye Janssen – and what vastly diverse experiences they were!

LFCC3While the moonboot-wearing, Pedro-voting ginger permed outsider (charging a fair £20 for a signature) was a cordial, charming gentleman who was happy to shake hands, chat and pose for an impromptu group photo, I baulked at the steep £45 “Jean Grey” was asking for the same ‘honour’. Keeping my DVD of The Faculty inside my bag, I decided against parting with my money, and am mighty glad I did having since heard some horror stories about her cold and untactile manner. Clearly Ms. Janssen did not want to be there, so why give her business?

Across the balcony expanse was the Comic Zone at one end and the Gaming Zone at the other, granting enthusiasts of each medium the chance to indulge in their passion, with lines of playable consoles (both old and new), arcade machines and VR headsets for the gamers, and personalised caricatures from a raft of high-profile illustrators for comic book aficionados.

The top floor held what could be considered a convention in-and-of itself: the Young Adult Literature Convention (YALC), celebrating the recent market boom of the “middle grade” genre for teenagers. With signings, panels, publisher’s stalls, activities, workshops and merchandise, this was an astonishing and exclusive coo, attracting some seriously top talent (Malorie Blackman, Philip Reeve, Frances Hardinge, Darren Shan).

LFCC4After so many years and so many events across the country, Showmasters continue to grow and improve. Juggling so many demands and schedules, there will always be disappointments (Sam Neill and Ron Perlman cancelling), irritations (Judge Reinhold hopped in and out of his chair every ten minutes, while his minders vocally told off photo takers; Rutger Hauer was so busy Thom even missed out of a “virtual queue” ticket!) and anecdotes (John Ashton persevered through the event despite suffering a detached retina!), however the calmer atmosphere and delightful approachability of everyone at YALC made LFCC a con-siderable success!

Having now attended two large conventions in as many weeks, the lesson I have learnt is that lower expectations lead to a happier all-round experience. While I had (clearly unrealistic) hopes of attending multiple panels at Star Wars Celebration Europe, disappointment followed when they ALL sold out. By hoping for less and achieving more (my big purchase, a Jurassic Park baseball jersey, is a thing of beauty!), I came away from the Olympia far happier last night. Here’s just hoping that Sam Neill confirms a swift return to a future event soon!

CR@B’s Claw Score: 4 stars

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X-Men: Apocalypse (Cinema Review)

12A – 144mins – 2016 – 3D


 

MU WORLD ORDER

While I don’t tend to pay too much heed to reviews before I’ve watched a new release, my lackadaisical approach to seeing this sixth Marvel/20th Century Fox X-stalment (NINTH if we are to include the 2 Wolverine spin-offs and Deadpool) has meant that before taking my seat in the cinema yesterday evening I was well aware of the glut of two star write-ups Bryan Singer’s Days of Future Past follow-up has received.

Tying directly into the sting at the end of the previous film, X-Men: Apocalypse opens with a colourful-if-chaotic prologue set in Ancient Egypt, establishing the transferable abilities of premiere cyber-mutant, En Sabah Nur (Oscar “Poe Dameron” Isaac). Beneath my 3D glasses my eyes were struggling to keep up with the tumult of effects and exposition hastily edited together in a headache-induced blur of visual noise.

Not a good start, I thought, and if things stay like this for the following two-hours-and-twenty-minutes I can well understand the backlash… However, once the Stargate-esque opening title sequence concludes and we fast-forward to 1983 (this is the McAvoy rather than the Stewart continuity, in case Wade Wilson was asking), the action settles to a more measured pace, allowing you to appreciate the effort – and expense – put in to the shots.

That’s not to say that the locations settle, for his is still a large-scale, globe-encompassing blockbuster, with Berlin, Poland, Auschwitz, Cairo and New York all featuring in this prequel trilogy closer. Reawakened, Apocalypse – as Sahar Nur now prefers to be known – tours the planet to recruit the deadliest mutants to become his upgrade-enhanced “Four Horseman” and aid the invincible menace in ridding the modern world of the weak and returning Earth to the glory days when he was worshipped.

You could question why an immortal God-like monster with Apocalypse’s immense abilities requires assistants, but by roping in Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Steve Jobs Fassbender) to join his gang, the CG destruction is at least grounded in human drama. The man they used to call Magneto has been in hiding in Poland for the past decade, settling down with a loving wife and daughter in an attempt to put the White House calamity behind him. But when tragedy shatters his domestic bliss, Erik’s rage rises once more.

Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is also haunted by a ghost from his past, with his love for Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne, returning from First Class) and his pain at having to wipe her memory still weighing him down. Time-stopper Quicksilver (Evan Peters) is also back in town on personal business, and Apocalypse really hits its stride when drama and spectacle collide. Speaking of spectacle, this film is at its most awe-inspiring when it lets loose with the violence, and I was surprised to see this still achieve a “12A” rating, as some of the bone-crushing and blood-letting is brutally intense.

Although you could argue that the stakes aren’t exactly as universe-definingly fateful as the film would like you to believe (after all, we know Apocalypse doesn’t succeed in wiping out mankind as we’ve seen 3 films set after these events), there is still much to enjoy and invest in here, with a stand out being a zipping set-piece soundtracked by Sweet Dreams Are Made of These perfectly encapsulating the period and timbre. A cameo from a certain adamantium-enabled man-imal (you know Hugh) is also claw-some, and as superfluous as it is, for continuity’s sake it’s nice to finally see how Professor X lost his locks.

Short of using Cerebro, I’m clueless as to why so many critics have given X-Men: Apocalypse such a rough time – while it is long and its bulging ensemble set-up is busy, it’s also fun, rounded and far from shallow. Yes, it takes an unnecessarily petty pot-shot at The Last Stand (“The third films are always the worst”), but Singer’s confident enough that his saga-stitching threequel is not equally as disappointing. Ignore the critics who want you to believe that it is (no doubt all for the sake of “ironically” utilizing the quote) and make this one X you do give another chance.

CR@B Verdict: 4 stars

Captain America: Civil War (Cinema Review)

12A – 147mins – 2016


 

WHERE DOES THE BUCK-Y STOP?

Armageddon and Deep Impact in 1998; The Descent and The Cave in 2005; The Prestige and The Illusionist in 2006 – Hollywood has a quirky knack for throwing up two cannily-comparable films at the same time. So it is again in 2016 with the third Captain America adventure arriving just a month after comic-book rival Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice covered spookily similar narrative ground.

It was inevitable, really, what with DC Comics desperate to follow the bankable Marvel mould and set up a Justice League universe akin to the MCU, and with the once frivolous cape ‘n’ cowl genre now mining more cerebral storylines in an effort to bring their politics and pathos in line with their out-of-this-world fights and FX.

Clearly everyone likes a bit of healthy competition, from film studio bigwigs to men in tights. In Civil War, directed once more by the Russo Brothers, the great and the good of Marvel Comics’ superhero cannon are pitted against one another when their position on how they fit into humanity’s system of law is thrown into dispute.

While BvS let the diplomatic dealings quietly die in the background as the spectacle took centre stage, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s CW script does a better job of having the ructious plot run throughout its protracted runtime: should the Avengers with their inhuman abilities and city-flattening technology have the right to freely enter into dangerous and life-threatening situations without government oversight?

The catalyst for this quandary is the frequent infrastructure and collateral damage which follows in the super-team’s wake (we’ve all seen them contentedly chow down on shawarma following the rubble-heavy climax to Avengers Assemble), most recently the accidental bombing of a building in Nigeria as Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) et al set about stopping the theft of a biological weapon.

But while iron-suited billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), guilt-ridden over his role in creating Ultron in 2014’s average Avengers sequel, fully supports government sanctions to keep the team inside the law, Steve rejects such restrictions in his ongoing fight for justice. In refusing to sign the bill designated the Sokovia Accords, the Avengers are split and comrades become rivals.

“We’re still friends, right?”

“Depends how hard you hit me.”

Essentially, by breaking free from the Accords and following his own ethical path, Captain America and those that follow him are deemed criminal vigilantes who need to be apprehended. Except you never really get a sense of actual disapproval from either side of the fence. While the Dark Knight was full of solemn snarling in his outrage at Superman’s destructive approach in Dawn of Justice, Civil War still sees the contentious chums bantering and pulling their punches while supposedly fighting tooth and nail for what they believe in.

Picking up on character threads from The First Avenger (2011) and The Winter Soldier (2014), the aged Peggy Carter’s plot is resolved without her being on screen, while H.Y.D.R.A.’s revival of Steve’s old WWII friend “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is the clincher in Steve’s decision to not follow the government act. These elements aside, Civil War always feels more like a sequel to Age of Ultron than it does a third Cap film – it stars a vast, A-list ensemble cast gathered from an already grand 13-film sequence, which is only growing larger with every passing year and box office smash.

This is not the film to start your Marvel journey on! But unlike other epic-lengthed blockbusters with ballooning casts grappling for attention, Civil War never feels unwieldy. It also manages to never lose narrative focus or have needlessly digressive or ponderous dips in the action, keeping you alert and attentive until after the second end credits sequence.

The much-publicised new recruits threaten to steal the show, with the vengeful Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and yet another new Spider-Man (in the form of amiable high school quipper Tom Holland) granted far more screen time than I ever imagined, successfully getting their feet under the Marvel table in a thrilling mid-film airport smackdown. Even more surprising is that it is Iron Man who is dealt the film’s emotional sucker-punch at the crescendo, serving to further push Steve Rogers from the spotlight in his own film.

But such observations are incidental and never detract from either the narrative or the action. On both of those scores, Captain America: Civil War is an out-and-out success, balancing character-shaping story development with sly humour and witty references, sensitive insights, shocking surprises and grand scale, globe-hopping, heart-pumping adventure. It’s not as uniquely uproarious as Deadpool, but it will better reverberate with all demographics. Thor and Hulk will be sorry they missed this wild ride, while DC Comics will be outright jealous.

CR@B Verdict: 4 stars