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Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

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When a film has the word Imaginarium and is directed by bone fide genius Terry Gillian (he of Brazil, Time Bandits and god damn Monty Pyhton fame) you’re probably expecting fantastic dreamscapes, amazing imagery, original ideas and borderline surreal moments of inspired lunancy.

And there’s some of that in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus but not nearly enough for my tastes.

I’ll give it this, the story is very original. (Spoilers) The film is about a kind of travelling stage show with four members, the titular Dr Parnassus (Christopher Plummer)a kind of eastern mystic type, Anton (Andrew Garfield), a typical theatre nerd type who juggles, does magic tricks, etc; Valentina (Luly Cole) Parnassus’ daughter and Percy (Verne Troyer) who despite being played by Mini Me himself is not a midget, as he keeps telling people.

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The show is decidedly odd to say the least and seems to consist of a gold painted Anton spouting pseudo-poetry and trying to get people to crawl into a mirror. This transports them inside Dr Parnassus’ mind (the titular Imaginarium) wherein Parnassus and The Devil (gravelly voiced singer song writer Tom Waits) battle to warp the world of the Imaginarium to fight for that person’s very soul, The Devil tempting them and the good doctor trying to force them to do good, hard work.

It emerges gradually that The Devil and the good doctor have been gambling with each other and using souls as the currency for over a thousand years. The good doctor used to be a monk and he gambled with The Devil for immortality if he could get twelve good souls before The Devil could get  twelve evil ones. Later on he traded that immortality for youth and daughter but with a catch, on his daughter’s 16th birthday she would become Old Nick’s property lock, stock and barrel and that birthday is just three days away.

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The good doctor is rather depressed about this but then two things change in his life. Firstly they come across a man, hanging by the neck under a bridge with a flute in his throat. They rescue him but other than remembering his name is Tony (Heath Ledger, and Jonny Depp and Colin Farrell and Jude Law which yes I will explain) he is a complete amnesiac. What he is good at though is rejuvenating the stage show, drumming up business and flattering people (especially women) to take part.

The other big change is that The Devil offers the doctor a new deal. First to five souls in the remaining two days will win Valentina forever and with the help of Tony the good doctor may just have a chance. But isn’t it a bit coincidental that this man showed up just when Parnassus’ needed his help? And just who was trying to kill him anyway?

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That summary may seem strange and suggest a film that’s fairly bizarre to you but it actually simplifies the film dramatically. Most of what we learn about Parnassus’ backstory, his deal with Old Nick and the true facts about Tony are drip fed to us in dribs and drabs throughout the film and not necessarily in a linear order. Also a lot of what we learn is told to us in the Imaginarium or by The Devil himself so there is definitely a case of an unreliable narrator at work here. That makes the film fairly hard to follow but not impossible if you’re paying attention.

It also highlights that this is a film that cares about its story. I’ve reviewed a few artsy films recently (Gozu, Millennium Actress) that really could care less about their actual plots. The narratives are just an excuse to introduce various symbolic elements for the audience to interpret. Now Parnassus does have plenty of symbolism but the symbols are all fairly easy to interpret and they have meaning to the character sin the story themselves.*

However the symbolism isn’t so much important as the theme. This a thematic film, it has a plot and characters and it cares about what happens to those characters because through their actions it explores various permutations of the battle between good and evil, the power of imagination and the power of choices.

And thematically this is a very interesting film. Gilliam has always been a champion of imagination and this film, unsurprisingly, shows off the power of imagination to free us from humdrum or objectively terrible existences. However, it also shows the down side to imagination in that it allows unscrupulous people such as Tony to present reality as something that it isn’t. Tony is a con man, a character who preys upon other people’s desires and imagination to hurt them and help himself. He is in a way worse than The Devil, who in this film mostly seems bored and simply has to present characters with fairly banal things (a drink, a hotel, their own mother) in order to tempt them to his side. Tony represents imagination perverted The Devil the banality and evil without imagination.

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I could go on and on because thematically this is a deep and well put together piece. And it does have other things going for it too. The acting is great, we’ll talk more about Heath Ledger in a moment, but it must be said that Plummer does a brilliant job showing the inner life of Parnassus. Garfield is fantastic as well, for such a young actor he holds his own against heavyweight thesps like Ledge and Plummer with ease, even stealing the scene at times. Tom Waits as the devil is inspired casting and he is clearly having the time of his life in this. Verne Troyer is also good putting in a nuanced and enigmatic turn as Percy that genuinely surprised me since I associate him more with broad comedy than as a serious actor.

The only weak link acting wise is Lily Cole who was 21 when this film came out, is trying to play a 16 year old and is totally unconvincing at it. It doesn’t help that she’s acting opposite such giants all the time either because it just serves to emphasise how flat and lifeless she is as Valentina.

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So an original story, strong themes and well acted. However, it just isn’t imaginative enough. For a film all about imagination the scenes in the Imaginarium are just not that interesting. When I go to see a Terry Gilliam film I want to see something I have never seen before but everything in the Imaginarium just looks like a music video from the early  90’s. There’s nothing clever or breathtaking about them. There are a few good bits, I like the dancing policeman in fishnets but generally the scenes that should be stand out set pieces just feel lazy and uninspired and that is a serious problem.

Now I know that this film had numerous production problems and is an independently financed production so a lot of what they wanted to do they couldn’t, but that doesn’t matter. I can only review the film they made, not the film they wanted to make and ultimately Parnassus fails at what was the most important thing to get right.

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Which brings us to Heath Ledger. Now most of you reading this will know that Heath Ledger actually died partway through the making of this film. That left the crew with two options. Scrap the film entirely or try and come up with some kind of work around. The solution they came up with is actually inspired. Heath Ledger plays Tony in our real world but every time he enters The Imaginarium he is played a different actor, Jonny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell. Okay, it’s not wholly original since I’m Not There the Bob Dylan biopic did the same idea two years earlier (and starred Heath Ledger coincidentally) but it’s actually one of the film’s better and more interesting ideas and enhances it so much thematically. It’s one of those things born from necessity that you couldn’t imagine the film without since it adds so much to it and seems so integral.

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Ledger himself is easily the best thing in the film and it’s a fitting final performance showcasing his massive talent and charisma. He owns the screen when he appears and invigorates what can be a dull film at times. As for the other three Tonys. Depp does that thing he does where he bobs his head around like a surprised Goth chicken, Jude Law looks like somebody fed him too much birthday cake and then he tried to apply his Mum’s mascara and Colin Farrell is brooding and dark and smoulders and practically has a sign on his head saying “don’t you want to take him home and fix him ladies, he’s a bad boy.” So basically they do their typical shtick and go home.

the imaginarium of doctor parnassus colin farrell

Parnassus then is really only okay. If you like Gilliam and have seen all his other films you’ll find this a weaker effort but not a waste of time. If you’re not already a fan of Gilliam don’t bother, go watch Brazil instead and then thank me later.

*For example, why does Tony’s face change when he enters the Imaginarium? Well that’s because he is a charmer who shifts to be what he thinks people want him to be and their imagination affects him so when trying to seduce an older woman he turns into her ideal man (Johnny Depp).

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Is it possible to admire a film and not really like it? Because that is how I feel about Millennium Actress.

This is a good movie, a great movie, easily one of the smartest and best anime I have ever seen but at it’s core it is one of the most frustrating and upsetting cinematic experiences I’ve ever had too.

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The conceit of Millennium Actress is absolutely brilliant. Two documentary film makers Genya Tachibana (played by Shoozoo Izuka) and his cameraman track down film actress Chiyoko Fujiwara (played at various parts of her life by Miyoko Shooji, Mami Koyama and Fumiko Orikasa) to interview her about her life. As Chiyoko recounts her life story the film moves the three characters from standing in a room to actually inhabiting scenes from the various films Chiyoko has starred in, facing armies of samurai, Manchurian bandits and ninjas.

But it’s not just a case of inter-cutting the life story and the fiction of the films but that the film scenes actually stand for the events of Chiyoko’s life. So her starring as a nurse that has gone to Manchuria to find her lost love stands in for her becoming an actress travelling to Manchuria to star in a film and also look for her lost love. Or her becoming a Geisha and being refused to allow to leave her dwelling to see her love one last time before he is executed stands in for her being an actress and not being allowed by the studio to spend time searching for her lost love.

I’ve seen plenty of films that blurred the lines between fiction and reality before but never before have I seen it done so fluidly and confidently as Millennium Actress. There are barely any scenes in the film at all that take place in the reality of the plot, almost everything we see is the scene from a film Chiyoko has starred in, and yet without letting us see much of anything of Chiyoko’s real life we come to understand her life story anyway. That is masterful plotting and directing from Satoshi Kon, director of another excellent anime about an actress Perfect Blue.

And there are further moments of inspired confusion, one scene which is clearly supposed to be Chiyoko’s domestic life after she gets married is revealed mid-scene to take place on a stage; another has the background turn into a ukiyo-e wood block print, and on and on.

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Visually the film is phenomenal both in the quality of the animation and the varied and interesting imagery employed. This is a film that gives us samurai battles, geisha, acrobatic ninja fights,  space rockets, Godzilla, etc, etc. The acting is confident, the tone is perfectly assured switching between humour, pathos and drama smoothly and effectively. It’s a damn near perfect film in many respects.

It’s just a shame then that the actual story is so frustrating and often so dull.

Very briefly Chiyoko’s life story goes like this. She’s a school girl born in 1923. She gets asked to star in a movie as part of propaganda for the war in Manchuria. Her stifling mother refuses on her behalf.

She then bumps into an artist who is a dissident rebel protesting the war. He has been injured and is running from the police. She saves his life by directing the police the wrong way and helping him to hide. He flees to Manchuria the next day to help his friends but not before leaving her with a key that he says opens “the most important thing in the world.”

Chiyoko then decides to become an actress because this will let her go to Manchuria and look for him.

All of the above takes place in the first 10 – 20 minutes of the film. The remaining hour goes like this.

Spoilers.

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Chiyoko looks for the man, fails to find him repeatedly and then dies.

Kind of a bummer ending guys.

We don’t learn much of Chiyoko’s life at all really. We don’t know what her married domestic life was like, we don’t know if she enjoyed film making, we don’t really get to know her as a person beyond her love for this strange artist and hr obsessive need to find him, And she doesn’t find him, the whole film is about her search and it ends with her ultimate failure.

Which could work if the love story was convincing but it isn’t. If we got to know the artist better, got to see the love between him and Chiyoko blossom and then watched as fate cruelly tore them apart that would be one thing. It would still be a sad ending but it would be a tragic sad one and somewhat satisfying.

But it is impossible to shake the feeling that Chiyoko and the artist don’t really love each other at all. Chiyoko and the un-named man meet for two days at most, they share very few words and no names. They talk but the conversation they have in no way implies some kind of loving connection between the two of them, especially from his side and we see no evidence of their deep and abiding love for each other at all in the film. It is just impossible to believe that someone would spend their entire life obsessed with a person they met for two days and whose face they did not see.

And that’s a problem because that is all there is to the story. For all the clever plotting and imagery the story is incredibly simple and just isn’t very good, leaving a gaping void at the heart of what should have been a fantastic film.

But Adam, you cry out at your computer, which, seriously guys won’t work. Write me a comment instead or something. Adam, you type furiously in the comments, surely this is all a symbolic work right? We aren’t supposed to really believe that she loves the man, clearly the man is a symbol for something like the history of cinema, or the need to keep changing oneself in life, or the search for a national identity for Japan in the post war period?*

Well, yes, obviously. The thing with Millennium Actress is that what we as the audience see happen isn’t what actually happened, we’re seeing bits and pieces from Chiyoko’s films. And she says at the beginning that she sometimes can’t remember things very well so for all we know she’s just confusing reality and her film roles and there may never have been any dissident artist. And the film is rife with obvious symbolism like a key for the “most important thing in the world.”**

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But it doesn’t matter if a film has some kind of deeper symbolic meaning; it also needs to have a decent narrative to hold the viewer’s interest and pull them through the story. If you’re just showing symbolic imagery divorced from a proper narrative what you have is moving art installation not a film.

So yes, a skillfully made film with a wonderful conceit and a terrible story.

*no seriously, I read a review that tried to argue that. It was pretty compelling actually.

** so what symbolic reading do I have for the film? Well for me it all hinges on the very last line of spoken dialogue. “After all, it was the chase I loved.” This throws the events of the film into a completely new context, acknowledging that yes, Chiyoko didn’t really love the artist, she loved the idea of searching for the artist, of having some great lost love. I still think that doesn’t work as a character study because it implies that Chiyoko never found anything in her own life to love she just dreamed about love, and that is depressing and slightly repellent. However, this is a film about films and I personally think that the last line is a commentary on the nature of cinema. That we as the audience love the chase, not the happy ever after. Films with a romance plot are typically about the two characters in love with each other struggling to be together over the obstacles life throws at them. Once they get together the film ends, it doesn’t concern itself with their life together. It is the chase we love, the goal of the chase is seemingly irrelevant. Chiyoko basically isn’t a character but a stand in for cinema itself (since she has no life out of cinema, literally in the reality of the film) and her failure to find her lover is symbolic of how cinema will never end and how love stories will carry on forever. The device of having her love story take place across a thousand years in different settings and periods also suggests this as it shows that these love stories re-occur again and again.

Like I say this is a very smart film, I don’t doubt that all the character faults are deliberate to the symbolism but it doesn’t stop it being a frustrating watch.

 

 

So I was disappointed to find out that skipping posting on Saturday did not cause the internet to break in half. I was half hoping that the lack of regularly scheduled Mummyboon content would cause much wailing and gnashing of teeth and that my inbox would be flooded with suicidal lamentations.

Sadly this was not the case…all I ask is your undying affection and obedience without hesitation. Is that too much?

Nonetheless you might be wondering why I no post? Well because I’ve been on holiday enjoying the wonders of Northern France and Holland (and yes it was Holland specifically before anyone gets pedantic). I’d built up a bit of a buffer before going away but didn’t have a chance to post anything between getting home and Saturday coming to pass.

I didn’t want to skip the week entirely though but I don’t have the time to put anything particularly complicated together so here are my comments on a few nerdy news announcements.

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Whilst I was gone D23, Disney’s big annual fan convention happened and we learned lots about upcoming Disney projects, including one I’ve written about before Big Hero 6.

“Big Hero 6” features brilliant robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada, who finds himself in the grips of a criminal plot that threatens to destroy the fast-paced, high-tech city of San Fransokyo. With the help of his closest companion–a robot named Baymax–Hiro joins forces with a reluctant team of first-time crime fighters on a mission to save their city. Inspired by the Marvel comics of the same name, and featuring comic-book style action and all the heart and humor audiences expect from Walt Disney Animation Studios, the CG-animated “Big Hero 6” hits theaters in 3D on Nov. 7, 2014.

Whilst I still think San-Fransokyo is an appalling name I kind of like the notion that this is going to be a world that freely mixes bits of Japanese and American culture. The Golden Gate Bridge with Torii Gate stylings in the concept art posted above is particularly nifty. Considering this is a property that was two American guys doing their best to affectionately parody Japanese concepts and ideas that themselves were often riffs on American concepts setting it in a world that is a strange mixture of American and Japanese culture is a smart idea. It also avoids the potential problem of audiences in America being put off by a Japanese setting and too much Japanese cultural baggage.

Nintendo have announced loads of Pokemon news recently, particularly regarding the new games X and Y. Whilst Black and White basically perfected the formula as it has stood for 5 generations now X and Y seem to be shaking up the game considerably. 3D graphics and movement, customised attack animation,  new ways of battling (Sky Battles and Horde battles with 1 pokemon against 5 aggressors) riding pokemon and a new type, Fairy type.

Incidentally I totally called Fairy Type back in this blog post here. You may refer to me as Nostradamus from now on.

But the only change I want to talk about is Mega Evolution.

What is Mega Evolution? Why watch the video above and find out.

Well, did you watch it? Did you find out what it is?

Fucking stupid, that’s what it is.

Okay, okay, gameplay wise this isn’t a massive deal. Pokemon that change form have been a feature of the games since the 2nd generation. Now usually these form changes don’t happen during battle and if they do they usually don’t effect stats whereas clearly these new forms will all improve the pokemon’s stats as well as alter their appearance. That’s fine by me. I don’t think Baziken or Mewtwo need to be any better than they already are but  it’s a cool mechanic and it allows for four stage evolutions which was always going to happen at some point.

What I have a problem with is that it turns the game into Digimon.

In Digimon evolution is a temporary thing. You activate it for a short period and then when your monster has used that strength boost it reverts back to an earlier stage in its development. Also all these stages have terms attached such as champion stage, ultimate stage and of course “Mega”*

Evolution in pokemon is a permanent mutation with pros and cons. Although your monster gets stronger it also gets less cute and learns moves more slowly. Also it can change the typing and the ability entirely and once your evolve there is no going back. Mega Evolution then isn’t an evolution in pokemon terms, it’s a power-up coupled with a sprite change. It shouldn’t be called evolution.

I doubt it will bother me too much whilst playing the game (unless it becomes a major plot point) but it is the first piece of X and Y news I’ve actively disliked.

On a more positive note Nintendo also announced Pokemon: The Origin, a oneoff anime special that will tell the story of Red and Blue.

Who are Red and Blue you may ask? Well they’re the stars of the original pokemon games and the original pokemon manga.

“Isn’t that Ash Ketchum?” you oh so naively ask?

NO, NO IT ISN’T ASH FUCKING IDIOT KETCHUM! YOU SHUT YOUR DAMN MOUTH NOOB! RED IS AWESOME ASH IS A TEN YEAR OLD IDIOT WITH SOME KIND OF GROWTH DEFICIENCY AND…

Sorry I, may have lost my composure for a bit there.

But to answer your question more succinctly, no, Ash is the star of the anime and is very similar to Red but Red existed as a character prior to the anime and has a few key differences. For starters he is a much more seriously minded character and a far better pokemon trainer. Ash has never won a league but Red became the champion of the original league and an enemy trainer in Gold and Silver.

This new anime is the first time Red and his rival Blue will feature in a cartoon. I’m usually not a fan of the pokemon anime. It’s fine for what it is; a cartoon to get kids interested in buying pokemon games and toys and whilst I haven’t watched the original Japanese version** the English dub can be surprisingly funny at times.

Pokemon: The Origin though looks like a lot of fun. As well as pushing all my nostalgia buttons hard the animation looks gorgeous. Nintendo may have convinced me to watch a pokemon anime for the first time since I was ten.**

Last bit of nerdy news to discuss is the announcement of the new Doctor Who: this guy.

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My reaction to the last two new Doctor announcements was “who?” followed by “he’s a bit young isn’t he?” followed by instantly loving them once I got to see them perform as the Doctor. So the fact that my reaction this time was “oh I know him, good actor,” followed by “oh and he’s the oldest doctor since the first, interesting.” might just mean that I have doomed Capaldi’s efforts before they begin.

Seriously though Peter Capaldi is a fine actor and he can do that turning emotions on a dime thing that David Tennant used to do in his sleep. He’s bound to be significantly less physical than Matt Smith but this is no bad thing, and the age gap means we can shake this companion/doctor romance stuff that has permeated nearly every doctor/companion relationship in the modern show.

I also like the fact that millions of fangirls on twitter are upset that they cast an older bloke because I am perverse and enjoy the misery of others. Especially fangirls and fanboys.

It will be sad to see Matt Smith go though. He is easily my all time favourite doctor. It’s all in the way he moves; like an alien who isn’t sure what his arms are for.

Sadly Steven Moffat will be staying on as show runner which is a shame. I love Moffat as a writer, Coupling, Sherlock, these are some of my favourite TV shows of all time and the episodes he wrote whilst Russell T Davies was in charge of Doctor Who were among the best the show ever produced. However, his tenure as show runner has been overall bad. There have been some highlights and some good stories but the general quality of stories has taken a sharp turn down.

So that’s my thoughts on some recent nerdy topics. Tomorrow normal service resumes with some film reviews.

* this knowledge gained entirely from the anime, I never played any of the games

** this isn’t strictly true actually, I used to watch it on the treadmill at the gym in Kobe but between running and it being in Japanese I didn’t really follow the dialogue very well. Other things I used to watch whilst on the treadmill included baseball and sumo which are a bit easier to follow without dialogue.

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So what have I been writing about these last few months. We’ve done some film reviews, we’ve started a long series all about the Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles, I’ve discussed adaptation extensively.

Hmmm, I think it might be time for me to talk about Kit-Kats.

Yes, Kit-Kats. Despite not having lived in Japan for 3 years I have retained my ability to find special Kit-Kats remains. This time it’s due to a donation from a friend of mine so thank you Kaori Yoshikawa, and if you’re interested in reading about Kit-Kats then you should all thank her too.

Incidentally if anyone in future wants to donate some kit-kats to me to review, or any Japanese foodstuffs, I am more than happy to do that. You can find me on twitter at RAdamHalls if you have a suggestion.

So Kaori gave me three flavours, two of which are green tea variants and the final one of which is a passion fruit flavour. I think I’ve discussed green tea enough on this blog to be honest and these flavours don’t seem to be adding anything new so we’ll just talk about the packaging briefly and then move on to the real star of the show, passion fruit.

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So let’s start with the pink one. Well it’s a very attractive box, the contrast of pink and green works nicely and it avoids being overtly cluttered. We have a picture of a cup of matcha which looks very inviting (do not be tricked, matcha looks significantly nicer than it tastes ) and some beautiful pink sakura blossoms. All in all this is a well composed Kit-Kat package.

Oh and there’s some Kanji on there, and hey! Just for a change this is Kanji I can read, one of them says Sakura and the others say Matcha and…

Oh hell!

This is a new flavour isn’t it. I’m going to have to review it again.

Arse biscuits.

Yes, a little research and reading the back of the packet confirms it, this Kit-Kat is flavoured with both matcha which I’ve reviewed many, many times before and sakura (i.e. cherry blossom) which I have not reviewed before.

I have had sakura tea before though and my main impression of it was that it was really salty. Really salty. Saltier than you’re imagining. Picture some seawater, now add some salt, now boil it for a bit so some of the water evaporates, now ejaculate into it. Saltier.

Which is not what you’d expect something called cherry blossom to taste of. You’d probably imagine there’d be some cherry aspect to it. But nope, just water and salt. Does that sound like an appetising cup of tea to you? Probably not, and if it does consider seeking a doctor, your tastebuds are broken.

It was basically a thoroughly unpleasant experience and not one I ever hoped to re-create so you can imagine I’m absolutely thrilled to have to try a sakura matcha Kit-Kat.

For any Japanese people reading this that’s an example of sarcasm, you might refer to it as an “American joke” and look bemused.

Oh well, before we get to that let’s look at the individual wrapper.

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It’s actually one of the best individual wrappers I can remember seeing and uses a pattern that’s completely new too. Rather than having one massive Kit-Kat logo in the middle that spoils the design it has a pattern of smaller red Kit-Kat logos repeating along with sakura blossoms, kanji and the English name all set against a patterned pink background. It’s very attractive and it makes sense, you have already bought the product by the time you see the indivdual wrapper, you don’t need yet another big red logo slapped in the middle. It’s not like you’ve forgotten in the time it tales you to take the individual wrapper out of the box that you’re eating a Kit-Kat.

Or does Kit-Kat think that people will forget? That because it’s pink and not red they’ll undergo some kind of existential crisis and break down into some kind of fit if they don’t see a Kit-Kat logo?

Nah, it’s probably a marketing rule thing.

It’s in the tasting that I have to own up to a problem with these particular three flavours. They didn’t make it through their journey over seas and then sit around in my flat in the middle of the hottest heatwave in the U.K. on record entirely unscathed. Instead they’ve melted into one big chocolatey wafery mess that will probably prove a detriment to the eating somewhat.

You never know though, it might be an improvement.

But with that in mind let’s give it a shot, sakura matcha. How does it taste?

If you said like every other matcha Kit-Kat I’ve ever eaten then…you’re wrong actually. I know I was surprised too. I went into this fully expecting it to be boring and samey but this is nice, really really nice and quite distinct from other green tea or matcha flavours. For starters it isn’t too sweet, nor is it too bitter. If anything the main flavour is cream. It does taste of green tea, obviously but it has a really strong, smooth creamy feel to it that it is absolutely delightful both flavour and texture wise.

And then in the aftertaste the saltiness of the sakura comes through. But whereas in tea it was disgusting in chocolate it works. It cuts the sweetness considerably and livens up the taste buds so the green tea and creamy notes really sing. If you’ve ever had a white fudge pretzel flip (I have confused every non-American and every Brit not my age) it’s similar only not as sweet and with a subtle green tea flavour to it. It’s really very moreish actually and works extremely well with a real cuppa.

This one was a bit of a revelation, I expected something disgusting but it’s a complete and utter winner.

So what about the other flavour?

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Well no luck with the Kanji this time but some research reveals this is Uji Matcha, basically a kind of very refined, very high quality matcha. I’m not the world’s biggest matcha fan and have absolutely no idea what Uji matcha tastes like or how it is distinguished from regular matcha.

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The package is okay but a touch busy. I like the use of black as  main colour, it really let’s the colours of green and red work together rather than clashing and adds a touch of sophistication. It’s also something I associate with Japnese tea houses which often have polished black wood as their main colour with highlights of red, gold and green. The off kilter design reduces the clutter and I really like the umbrella which is one of those quintessentially Japanese things. The only part I don’t like really is patterned cloth in pink and purple which adds a clashing colour and makes it unclear what exactly we’re looking at. Rather than a box of powdered tea it makes the green section look like some kind of cloth which is kind of confusing.

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The individual wrapper is similar to the sakura matcha just not as nice. Same repeating pattern but instead of gorgeous sakura leaves and pink we have tea leaves and green. It’s still a great wrapper though and so much more adult and inviting than most Kit-Kat wrappers.

Flavour wise it’s green tea, bitter but quite fresh and with a very refreshing after taste. It’s also not too sweet and, like the sakura matcha, surprisingly creamy. It’s a green tea Kit-Kat ultimately which are a dime a dozen but it’s a really good green tea Kit-Kat which can’t be said for most of them.

And it manages to avoid the soapy and waxy  chocolate problem

Finally we have passion fruit.

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The box is a really lovely colour. It’s a got gradient fade on it and is in various hues of yellow and orange but it just looks so warm, summery and inviting. It’s also not too busy for a change and I like the layout choice of using the trail of biscuit to lead your eye down from the Kit-Kat logo to the picture in the bottom right.

I do have two massive problems with it though.

Firsly the colour of the Kit-Kat in the picture is really close to the colour of the background so it kind of blends in. If it were me I’d have made the bottom right of the box purple so the Kit-Kat picture really pops. Also the pictures of the passion fruit are too small, not nearly delicious looking enough and they’re red? Now I’m not someone who use passion fruit all the time or anything but in my experience passion fruit are purple aren’t they? In fact i just did a google image search and got this back.

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That is a decidedly purple fruit, am I not right? There are few things in life more purple. Grimace from McDonalds, The Phantom and Ronnie (y’know Purple Ronnie? Nope, just confused all non-brits. Google it Americans) maybe but a passion fruit hAs to rank highly on your top ten list of purple things. However, the one on the box is, at best, maroon. Not the colour of a passion fruit at all. And that seems like such a weird design choice considering purple and yellow are contrasting colours and go great on packaging together. I wonder if the artist is colour blind, or has some kind of fear of the colour purple. Maybe he read The Color Purple the novel and forever associates it with lesbians. Maybe he got so distracted thinking of lesbians that he couldn’t possibly paint a purple passion fruit. I mean a passion fruit is kind of yonnic (I just gave you an awesome new word peeps, it’s the vagina equivalent of phallic, use it and impress your friends) so I can see where the lesbian fantasies might start.

Do you ever stop, read what you just wrote and have a little cry? No, me either. I stop, read what I’ve written and shrug nonchalantly, like a Frenchman. I’m half cut and it’s a fucking Kit-Kat, you’re all lucky I’m this coherent.

Where was I? Oh yeah, maroon passion fruits.

I can only assume it was done so the fruit wouldn’t clash with the Kit-Kat logo but it’s not something they’ve ever been concerned with before.

The individual wrapper is even worse, look at it.

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It’s plain yellow with a slight gradient, a Kit-Kat logo that is absolutely massive and loads and loads of text. No interesting or pleasurable aesthetic features just text on a plain background. What a terrible lazy effort.

Well, with packaging this bad, hopefully the Kit-Kat tastes better.

Unfortunately it isn’t great. For starters not only is it waxy, really waxy, waxier than any Kit-kat I’ve had recently but it is also weirdly gritty. I was prepared to put that down to the abuse it’s suffered in the heat but neither of the green tea flavours were gritty in the slightest and this is unpleasantly gritty to the extent that its hard to eat.

The flavour isn’t too bad. It starts off bland and then hits you with a really powerful hint of fresh, fruity passion fruit flavour. It is unmistakably passion fruit and if you like that flavour (and I do, I’m a massive passion fruit fan) it’s very realistic and very nice. And then it fades almost instantly back to blandness again.

It isn’t too sweet at least, being part of the “adult sweetness” range and that can be a problem for passion fruit flavoured products.

Overall I’d call this one a dud. Although it does a nice job of recreating the flavour of passion fruit the texture is simply disgusting and hard to get past.

marvel-ultron

First of all go read this from comics alliance

http://comicsbeat.com/thought-bubble-expands-to-third-hall-due-to-immense-exhibitor-demand/

So the next Avengers film, contrary to what we all expected, is going to be about Ultron.

Now, I have some opinions about this and they’re unfortunately not all positive ones.

Firstly in many respects I understand the desire to use Ultron in an Avengers film. For being the premier Marvel super-hero team the Avengers don’t actually have many villains of their own. When you think of the most famous Avengers stories the villains used in them are primarily from another corner of the Marvel Universe. Doctor Doom? Fantastic Four villain. Magneto? X-Men villain. Red Skull and Baron Zemo? Captain America villains. Thanos? More of a cosmic character likely to encounter Captain Marvel, Adam Warlock or Silver Surfer. Even Loki, the villain in the first Avengers film is mainly a Thor villain.

For the guys who are Avengers villains first and foremost you don’t really have many. Kang the Conqueror is probably the most prominent, a time travelling conqueror who wants to take over the past having subjugated the future, but using him means doing a time travel story which is always a narrative headache. Graviton? Molecular Man? The Hood? They’re basically pathetic schlubs who luck into amazing power, good for a fight scene but not for driving a narrative. The Masters of Evil? Well they’re a kind of evil Avengers which can work but they usually need a guiding force and that’s normally Zemo or another Captain America villain. And then you have Ultron.

Ultron is nice and conceptually simple. He’s an evil robot that wants to kill everyone. That’s pretty easy to build a narrative around. In addition not only is he physically powerful enough to go toe to toe with Thor in a punch up he’s also smart and able to do things like upload his consciousness into computer systems. So he provides a conceptually clear threat to our heroes and can engage them as a threat on multiple levels.

So it makes perfect sense why they want to use him and I agree that he’d be a great choice for an Avenger’s move villain.

So why don’t I think using Ultron is a good idea?

Well to answer that you need to know a lot more about the history of Ultron, so allow me to explain.

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In the comics Ultron was created by an Avenger, Ant-Man (real name Henry Pym). He was created waaaaay back in Avengers #54 in the 60’s. The original version was developed using Pym’s own brainwave patterns and shortly after his creation he immediately developed an Oedipus complex that caused him to want to kill his “father” (Pym) and marry his “mother” (Pym’s wife Janet Van Dyne also known as the super-hero The Wasp). Unfortunately for him as he was originally built by Pym Ultron was basically a face on wheels and not capable of accomplishing either of these tasks. So he hypnotised Pym (look it was the 60’s the moment you decided to become a super-villain you gained the ability to hypnotise people, they gave it out with the purple cape) into forgetting that he had ever created Ultron and set about building himself a stronger body.

Ultron

Once he had a sufficiently tough body Ultron set about trying to accomplish his three main goals of killing his dad, shtupping his mum and taking over the world. And of course the Avengers stopped him only for him to return again and again.

There would be many changes and developments for Ultron as an individual over the years, most significantly replacing his original body with a new one made of the indestructible  metal Adamantium, however his main contribution to Avengers lore has been his creation of various other robots, many of which would go on to become Avengers in their own right.

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The most prominent of these would be The Vision, a “synthezoid” with the ability to alter his density to become intangible or rock solid, fly and shoot lasers from his eyes and also possessed of the soul of a poet. The Vision was built to infiltrate and betray the Avengers from within but rebelled against his programming and went on to become one of the most long standing and respected Avengers in his own right.

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He even went on to marry another long standing Avenger The Scarlet Witch. Oh and his brain patterns were based on yet another Avenger, Wonder Man, effectively making them brothers of a sort (and they had a love triangle with the Scarlet Witch).

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He also created Jocasta (a copy of his “mother” Janet Van Dyne that he wanted to marry, which is all kinds of squicky) Alkhema (a villain but with a brain based on yet another Avenger Mockingbird) and Victor La Mancha (a robot disguised as a teenage boy with electromagnetic powers that was again designed to infiltrate the Avengers and betray them but ended up joining the Runaways and is now a member of Avengers A.I.).

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It i this aspect of Ultron that is to me the most interesting thing about him. He is a robot, and a pretty one note robot at that wanting nothing less than to wipe all non artificial life in the universe, but he also craves a family. And through various connections Ultron has a pretty sprawling family for a genocidal robot. In addition to his mum and dad, his two sons and two daughter/wives (ewwwww) that he directly created he is linked to many other prominent Marvel characters through their connections. Through his son the vision he has a daughter in law, The Scarlet Witch who herself has two children (if you’re wondering how a woman and a robot can have kids, well its a long story that doesn’t entirely make sense, suffice it to say, magic.) that also go on to become Avengers. The Scarlet Witch also has an Avenger brother, Quicksilver, and her father is, of all people, Magneto! Meaning Ultron and Magneto are related; a guy who controls metal and a robot, both of whom are racial supremacists, how has nobody ever done a story with these two yet?

And The Vision has his brain based on Wonder Man, yet another Avenger so that brings in Wonder Man’s family such as his murderous brother The Grim Reaper.

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So despite being a robot Ultron has all these links to different people forming a twisted and bizarre family dynamic, and that to me is what makes Ultron stand out from being just a genocidal robot, he’s a black sheep. A member of a family which is largely composed of noble super-heroes who wants to kill , literally, everyone. Henry Pym’s anguish at creating Ultron is akin to the mother in We Need to Talk About Kevin, the pain at being responsible for bringing such evil into the world. It’s like if Captain America turned out to be Hitler’s Dad.

It also brings up fascinating questions about nature vs nurture since Ultron is, in part, Henry Pym. They share a mind but in different contexts and it suggests that the capacity for evil on that scale resides within Henry Pym. And that works well for Henry Pym since his defining characteristics all seem themed around how he is a hero but so very easily could not be (like when he abused his wife during a period when he was mentally ill). Ultron defines Henry Pym as a character as much as he defines Ultron.

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So after reading all that you’re probably thinking; “Adam that all sounds fascinating. Not only have we got a genocidal robot that can engage our heroes on multiple levels but we’ve got a personal story of betrayal of the son in there that’s rife with potentially interesting character dynamics and symbolism. Why do you think this is bad idea?”

It’s because Hank Pym will not be appearing in Avengers 2.

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Yup, Hank Pym, the creator of Ultron, won’t appear in Ultron’s origin story.

And neither will the Wasp, Jocasta, Wonder Man or The Vision (we might get the vision but this is not confirmed) or indeed any of the characters that make up Ultron’s family except the Scarlet Witch and without the other family she has no connection to him.

Now, let me first and foremost state that I am not a comics purist. I understand that in adapting a story to a film you have to make changes. For example, you couldn’t do the Vision’s origin as it appears in the comics. To do it that way you first need to introduce Wonder Man and have him appear to die, then you need to introduce Ant Man, have him create Ultron, then The Vision shows up, does a few normal missions where he proves his worth as an Avenger and then reveals the shocking twist. You can do that in serialized story telling because you have the space to do a few filler issues where the point is to establish vision as a character before revealing the twist, you don’t have the luxury of doing all that in a 2-3 hour movie.

But if you do Ultron without Pym you rip the heart out of Ultron. He loses his whole family and the weird and fascinating Oedipus complex. He loses the aspect of the betrayal of the son, he basically loses everything that isn’t killer robot.

Now you can do one note killer robot and make it work, Sci-fi is littered with good examples such as the Daleks orThe Borg. But that simply isn’t Ultron. It would be akin to using Magneto and not referencing the concentration camp stuff, or using Thanos and not using his love (as in the romantic kind) of Death. The character’s have other aspects that make them function fine as antagonists but you’ve massively wasted the potential of the character.

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You’ve also torpedoed the character of Henry Pym. Hank Pym is the hero that fails. That’s pretty much been his defining motivation for the past 40 years. Hank Pym is the guy who strives for heroism everyday of his life but also beat his wife and built a killer robot. No other super-hero in the marvel universe is carrying such a burden on his shoulders (maybe Spider-Man in terms of how much it defines them but Peter failing to stop a thief doesn’t compare to building a creature that once killed the entire population of a country in terms of consequences). And that burden and trying to repent for it is what makes Henry Pym so fascinating to me. Take that away from him and you turn him into Reed Richards, just a science guy who thinks it’s cool to wear tights and punch people.

But, the Ant-Man movie they’re making might not actually feature Henry Pym but one of the other Ant-Men in Marvel’s history. So maybe they’re not concerned about ruining Henry Pym’s back story. In that case is there a way you can run this so that Ultron gets all his unique aspects back but doesn’t involve Henry Pym?

Well, you could have another Avenger build him. That way you still get to do the betrayal of the son and the twisted family dynamic stuff without introducing Ant-Man into the equation. But which Avenger? The most obvious choice would be Iron Man since he can feasibly construct an A.I. (he’s already built Jarvis after all) but this would ruin the character of Tony Stark by turning him into Henry Pym. Tony Stark can’t be the glib sarcastic guy if he’s built a genocidal robot, he’d have too much guilt on his hand. Having said that though Tony Stark does feel guilty for building weapons of war so maybe this would work. Bruce Banner is the other option since he has already made a monster that threatens the world (The Hulk) but could less plausibly build a robot.

Or, as a total wild card, maybe the Scarlet Witch. Fox has all the rights to Marvels X-Men characters so they can’t really do much with her mutant status in Avengers anyway. So why not make her a technological hero ironically called a witch. This allows her to build Ultron and immediately establishes the relationship between the two. In fact how about having Wanda make the Vision as  a husband for herself and then having the Vision create Ultron, who then betrays the two of them. Sure it reverses the family dynamic but it preserves many of the same themes and means you don’t need Ant-Man at all.

Whatever ends up happening I have faith in Marvel Studios, who have yet to make a bad film, and faith in Joss Whedon that they’ll figure something out. But my fear is that Ultron will be relegated to just an angry robot when he has the potential to be so much more interesting than that.

Also this scene needs to be in the film.

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