REVIEW: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

My original Captain America: The Winter Soldier review from April 2014 is here.

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is attempting to make a life for himself, working for Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and SHIELD when an assassin from history known only as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) resurfaces.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a brilliant film. It combines spy thriller with superheroes who are really down to earth characters, so well that it almost goes beyond being a “simple” comic book movie. The superheroes here are all very human, and besides Steve Rogers himself who’s pretty strong but still human, they are all people who get hurt and bleed.

Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is a spy who’s used to showing people what they want to see, so her developing friendship with Steve is quite special. They are almost moral opposites in how they see the world, but they find a common ground and seeing them work together is great. Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) is a brilliant character, he’s a soldier like Steve but he’s never been a part of SHIELD so is someone Steve can talk to and trust. Because that’s the thing with SHIELD, it’s a super-secret organisation where everyone has their own agendas, you can never be sure who to trust.

Secretary to the World Security Council Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) is new character who personifies SHEILD’s shady agenda. He’s an old friend of Fury’s but being at the top of the SHIELD hierarchy means he definitely knows more than he lets on. Captain America: The Winter Soldier presents the idea of an organisation with almost limitless control thanks to its surveillance and ability to act outside of the law – this is political thriller territory and it handles it all incredibly well.

The fight scenes in Captain America: The Winter Soldier thrilling and generally well-shot. There’s a lot of hand to hand combat sequences and while there is quick editing and a variety of shot types, there’s moments where the camera tracks whoever’s fighting or there’s a wide-shot, so you can actually see the actors go at it and it makes the whole thing feel more real and tense.

There’s so many stand-out scenes in Captain America: The Winter Soldier but one of my favourites is the attack on Nick Fury’s car and subsequent car chase. Not only does it show off SHIELD’s technology and what a badass Fury is, but it’s tense and exciting and you get worried because Nick Fury is not a man who’s supposed to be able to get hurt.

I can’t not talk about the Winter Soldier. He’s one of the most ruthless yet interesting villains in the MCU. The music when he’s on screen, ‘The Winter Soldier’ composed by Henry Jackman, is haunting as well. It has this low bass rumble and these mechanical sounds that are almost like screams, you can imagine this is what the Winter Soldier hears in his head. It’s a great piece of music and the whole score is one of the most memorable from the MCU.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is magnificent. It’s got the usual spectacle but with its characters who are so relatable and human, it makes it a superhero film for the ages. 5/5.


READ THE WORLD – Switzerland: Heidi by Johanna Spyri

The edition of Heidi I read was translated by Elizabeth P. Stork.

The classic children’s story about a young orphan named Heidi who after growing up with her grandfather in the Alps, where she falls in love with the wide-open spaces, is sent to the city to be a friend for a sickly girl named Clara. Soon Heidi becomes homesick and wonders whether she’ll ever see the mountains and her grandfather again.

Heidi is a very bright, adventurous girl. She’s friendly and caring but she’s also determined. She’s an interesting heroine as you see how the people she meets and befriends shape her and her beliefs.

There’s a lot of lovely themes in Heidi of love and friendship. The familial love between Heidi and her grandfather is touching as he’s seen to be a gruff, unfriendly person by the villagers but the two of them understand one another and Heidi brings out his caring side. Her friendship with both Peter, a young goatherder, and Clara, a sickly girl in need of a friend, are heartfelt and believable.

The story is a bit too cutesy and sweet for my tastes and the way the characters talk is definitely a product of its time a it was written in the late 1800’s. Everyone is very enthusiastic about their emotions, especially if they’re positive about something, and it’s a bit much sometimes.

The descriptions of both the mountains which Heidi loves so much and the city she finds so oppressive, are both vivid. You really do feel like your sitting on a mountainside with the way the colours and smells are described.

Heidi is a quick, easy read. It’s nice I’m able to now say I’ve read this classic children’s story, one that I knew next to nothing about as I hadn’t seen any of the various film and TV adaptations there’s been over the years, but it wasn’t a memorable read.

My IndieAthon TBR

Tomorrow the IndieAthon begins! This readathon was the brainchild of Lia from Lost in a Story, Marie from Lots of Livres, Eloise from Eloise Writes, Joel from Fictional Fates and Syd from Reading & Rambling. IndieAthon is a month long readathon in March where the aim is to read books that are self-published or from independent publishers. There’s a bingo card if you’d like an extra challenge and you can follow the IndieAthon Twitter account for more info.

I’ve got five books that I’d like to read during this readathon, which may be a surprise to some as I tend to set myself overambitious TBR’s but these five books are the only books from independent publishers I have close to hand right now.

The Hotel Tito by Ivana Bodrožić, published by Seven Stories Press, and So the Path Does Not Die by Pede Hollist, published by Jacaranda Books Art Music, are both recent purchases that I got on this years London Bookshop Crawl so it would be nice to read them as they’ve caught my interest so recently. I received All Day at the Movies by Fiona Kidman from the publisher, Gallic Books, to review. I’ve only just started it so this will be my first read of the readathon. Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash by Eka Kurniawan, published by Pushkin Press is a book I first picked up because of the striking cover. The fifth book isn’t pictured as it’s an ebook and that’s Reading the Ceiling by Dayo Forster, published by Dean Street Press.

At the end of last year, I posted about what Indie books I owned and wanted to read, but so far this year I don’t think I’ve read any books that are self-published or from independent publishers. The IndieAthon is the perfect opportunity to change that and to make a dent in my ever growing physical TBR.

Are you taking part in the IndieAthon? Do you think about who’s publishing the books you’re reading? I have to say I generally don’t. Following the #IndieAthon on Twitter looks like it’s going to be a good way to discover different independent publishers and learn more about indie books in general.

REVIEW: Sky High (2005)

Son of superhero parents, the Commander (Kurt Russell) and Jetstream (Kelly Preston), Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) is about to start Sky High – a school for kids with superpowers. The only problem is, he doesn’t have any yet and fitting into high school has never been tougher.

When Will and his best friend Layla (Danielle Panabaker) don’t fit the typical superhero mould, they get relegated to sidekicks which are generally seen as the losers of the school. This is where you get your typical high school dynamic of the popular kids vs the unpopular kids, and you’re introduced Warren Peace (Steven Strait), the Bad Boy who has hidden depths. There’s a lot of fun scenes with characters using their different powers, whether that’s in fights or in training and seeing all the powers and technology like ray guns together can be entertaining.

Sky High blends a lot of typical high school movie clichés with superhero ones and they work well together to make a fun film. At some points it’s as if Sky High knows it’s almost a spoof of both the teen comedy genre and the superhero one. Characters wear clothes in colours that relate to their powers or to people they’re associated with, and there’s a great gag with the popular yet mean cheerleader squad.

Sky High’s not too different to the norm but it’s different enough with the elements it pulls from both genres and the entire cast looks like they’re having a lot of fun – Kurt Russell especially. Sky High is a fun-family film, it’s got comedy, drama and superhero shenanigans, definitely a fluffy easy-watch kind of film. 3/5.

REVIEW: Thor: The Dark World (2013)

When Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) becomes possessed by an ancient and powerful entity known as the Aether, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) must team up with his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to protect her from the genocidal Dark Elves led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), who wants the Aether to throw the Nine Realms into darkness.

Thor: The Dark World finds Loki in prison for his crimes against Earth and his relationship with Thor is put to the test when he is the only one who can get them off Asgard undetected. Loki continues to be one of the most interesting and complex characters in the MCU. The one thing you can guarantee Loki to be is untrustworthy but the way that presents itself is still surprising.

While the Dark Elves do look aesthetically cool and somewhat intimidating, that doesn’t make them good or compelling villains. Malekith has no motivation besides turning the universe into darkness because that’s what he and his people thrive on, not matter the effects on different people. A lack of a decent villain makes this a typical end of the world type story. Algrim (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Malekith’s second in command, is reduced to a henchman and offers little opportunity for Akinnuoye-Agbaje to show how good an actor he is.

A nice call-back to the events in The Avengers is, like Tony Stark in Iron Man 3, the fact that Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) is suffering from having a God in his head. This reminds us that while the main heroes and villains of this story are Gods and monsters, there are humans here that have very human reactions to the fantastical things they face.

Thor is almost second fiddle to most of the characters in Thor: The Dark World despite being the titular character. Loki proves to be the more interesting and funny brother while Jane Foster saves the day with science. Still, Thor is suitably heroic and the final battle between him and Malekith is both funny and thrilling, thanks to the laws of physics being turned onto their head.

Thor: The Dark World is a more serious film, it even has a darker palette and it definitely likes that mouldy green colour that’s almost ever-present. It still has sprinkles of humour throughout and some good action sequences but it’s an average outing for Thor. 3/5.

REVIEW: Zorro by Isabel Allende

A child of two worlds – the son of an aristocratic Spanish gentleman and a Shoshone warrior woman – young Diego de la Vega cannot bear to see the brutal injustices the helpless face in late-eighteenth-century California. And so, a hero – skilled in swordplay and acrobatics and with a persona formed from the Old World and the New – the legend known as Zorro is born.

My knowledge of the character Zorro solely comes from the films starring Antonio Banderas, especially The Mask of Zorro (1998) so this was a nice insight into the potential origin story of the masked vigilante. In the original stories, Zorro was already a hero for the downtrodden, so this book is more about the boy who would become Zorro.

I really enjoyed the historical setting of this book. It spans from 1790-1815 and takes place in both California and Barcelona. I knew little about the history and politics of late-eighteenth/early-nineteenth century California and Spain, especially how the California was a Spanish territory and what happened to the Native American who lived there. The book is rich in the historical details without it ever really taking away from Diego’s story.

I enjoyed Zorro more as it progressed because you first see how Diego’s parents meet and I wasn’t too interested in that, but once Diego is born and you start to follow his adventures and how he slowly begins to learn about the good and evil in the world it became more interesting to me. Diego’s relationship with Bernardo, a boy who is more like his brother than a friend, is great because they have an almost telepathic connection. How their friendship develops over time is wonderful because Bernardo acts as a foil for Diego’s exuberance and his schemes probably wouldn’t be a success without Bernardo’s input.

The action, when it happens, is exciting and the sword fights are thrilling. Zorro is a mixture of a lot of different genres, family drama, romance, and action and adventure. The story is of Diego’s first twenty years and he fits a lot into them and it’s interesting to see that as he evolves, he is becoming the hero we’ve heard of before.

Zorro is a well-written story about an adventurous young man who is a purveyor of justice, destined to become a legend. It’s always fascinating to read an origin story of an almost mythic character and Isabel Allende does a brilliant job with this one. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Shape of Water (2017)

In a top-secret research facility in 1960s Baltimore, a lonely cleaner named Elisa (Sally Hawkins) befriends a mysterious amphibious creature (Doug Jones) who is being terrorised by government agent Strickland (Michael Shannon).

The Shape of Water has a magical quality to it. The setting and particularly the music, gives it almost a golden age of Hollywood feel. Especially as the story is almost a classic story of love, friendship and good trying to triumph over evil. It’s almost like a fairy-tale and the way the film is bookended by some narration definitely adds to that feeling.

All the performances in The Shape of Water are great. Sally Hawkins does a brilliant job at conveying Elisa’s thoughts and feelings without ever saying a word. You believe in the connection she’s forming with this creature and seeing the two of the bond is lovely. Michael Shannon’s Strickland is a menacing presence from the first moment he appears. Every time he’s on screen your eyes are on him as he’s like a coiled spring ready to explode at any moment.

The Shape of Water is a bit tonally uneven. At its centre is a sweet story but then there’s sudden bouts of blood and violence – most of which are courtesy of Strickland. It’s also got some surprising moments of humour, a good number of them were from Elisa’s neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins) who’s friendship with Elisa is lovely.

The Shape of Water is one of those films where I appreciated it more than I liked it. While for many it is one of their favourite films of the year, for me it was a lovely film with a lot of heart, but I don’t think it will stick with me for very long. 3/5.