Films: Avengers Assemble; Barbaric Genius

The sun has been white-hot; perfect weather for hiding in air-conditioned cinemas. Though, as I found out, this is something of a minority view.

Saw Avengers Assemble at the Muswell Hill Odeon. First screening of the afternoon, and I was the only person there. The film is enjoyable enough, though I felt rather acutely that it wasn’t made for the likes of me. I have a low tolerance level for big glossy fight scenes and battles, and was rather hoping the choice of director, Joss Whedon, would mean such scenes would be broken up with lots of snappy quips and self-aware banter; that was really what I went to see the film for. I’m a big fan of his work in the Buffy and Angel TV series, and enjoyed Serenity, his last film as a director.

As it turns out, though, the Avengers film does rather expect the viewer to be less of a Whedon fan and more of a Marvel fan, and particularly a fan of the recent Marvel films like Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, none of which I’ve seen. However, Tom Hiddleston as the villain Loki is particularly Whedonesque: arch in a fun way,  hammy but in a knowing way. It seems slightly unfair that a team of superheroes has to fight a single supervillain, as it means the screen time for each hero is necessarily reduced, while Loki gets to do scenes throughout. Though it’s no spoiler to say that the goodies beat the baddie, in terms of attention the baddie ultimately triumphs.

Then the next day to see Barbaric Genius at the Odeon Panton Street. First screening of the day, but this time there was another sunshine-dodger in the cinema. And I enjoyed Barbaric Genius about twice as much as Avengers Assemble too: it’s rather more my sort of thing. A low-budget,  feature-length Irish-made documentary, it tells the story of John Healy, a London-born Irishman who survives an abusive childhood and years of sleeping rough in London to become – unexpectedly – a chess champion and then an acclaimed author. His late 80s memoir The Grass Arena is hailed by some critics as one of the greatest autobiographies full stop. But then the rags-to-riches story goes into reverse. He falls out with the publishers (Faber), they force his book out of print and – the film alleges – he becomes blacklisted by the London literary establishment. He writes other books, but no publisher will touch them.

One theory is that, despite his writing talent, Healy’s background and class prevents him from properly connecting with the city’s very middle class literary world. But although the film is very much on Healy’s side, it doesn’t let him off the hook. In the film, he mocks the cut-glass tones of the woman who phoned him to say he’d won the JR Ackerley Prize for Autobiography.  A publishing chief who doesn’t come across well is contrasted with a perfectly kind woman at Faber who liked him as a person – even when he was making threats of violence – and tried to protect him. A young man at Penguin also comes out well: in 2008 he reads The Grass Arena, and gets it republished as a Penguin Classic. The point is made that a good book deserves to be read, and once an author has proved their worth, their unpublished work should at least be given a chance.

Seems strange to note, but the technical quality of Barbaric Genius is actually superior to Avengers Assemble, at least in terms of the screenings I attend. The Avengers flick is in 3D, and I’m frequently irritated by bits of fuzziness and out-of-focusness that appear on the screen, presumably some sort of 3D side-effect. Perhaps it’s the Odeon Muswell Hill’s fault, or it’s to do with having to wear my own glasses underneath the 3D specs. Either way, it affects my enjoyment of the film, and I make a mental note to seek out 2D screenings next time. The novelty of 21st century 3D films has well and truly worn off. Not only does 3D add little to the filmgoing experience, but in cases like this it makes the experience worse.

That said, I’m looking forward to seeing the new Great Gatsby 3D, because it’s just the sort of film that one expects to not be made that way.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past… INTO YOUR FACE!”



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