I’ve bought hook, line and sinker into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) ever since Iron Man was first released back in 2008. And Disney has done exceedingly well with their $4 billion acquisition. Recent profits have suggested they’ve made over $18 billion over the past 11 years.

I’ve generally enjoyed all the films – and watched most of them at the cinema – but time and work usually gets in the way of getting the best cinema experience, so I’ve seen a few at home. I, unfortunately, missed out on Avengers: Endgame – the much-anticipated sequel to Avengers: Infinity Wars which I did see in the cinema. I’ve been trying to avoid spoilers like the plague, and Disney/Marvel has yet to re-release the film in UK cinemas before the UK digital home release on the 19th August (alleged date). It is, of course, available on US digital home release. Disney, an avid tax credits collector when filming in the UK, puts us Brits in second place as they usually do.

I was up in Edinburgh when Marvel was filming Avengers: Infinity Wars.

So it’s kind of made things like the SDCC (San Diego Comic-Con) announcements a massive no-no in terms of news. While I appreciate that distribution windows are set to maximise bums on seats and profits (see my interview with Jane Goldman about this), trying to avoid spoilers in a country with a different release schedule is a massive pain in the arse! Disney can and should do better.

But at least Marvel has released Captain Marvel which helps fill in a few gaps between Avengers: Infinity Wars and Avengers: Endgame. It also introduces us to a young Nick Fury who, up until the events in this film, had never encountered an extraterrestrial before.

Captain Marvel is a fun film – much in the vein of Guardians of the Galaxy or even the recent Thor: Ragnarok. And you can’t be mad at a film in which does something very unusual with a lovable feline during the end battle. It’s also a sad film. Stan Lee passed away during editing, so Marvel’s usual opening logo features images of Stan during his regular cameos and some behind the scenes stuff before fading to black with the words centred in the middle of the screen:

THANK YOU STAN

Indeed, thank you, Stan. And thank you, Steve Ditko. And thank you Jack Kirby and all the others that worked with Stan to produce some of the finest characters and storylines in comics history. Without Stan Lee, we wouldn’t have these movies. And speaking more of Stan, he’s here in cameo form albeit during a period in which he was starting to become seriously unwell – sitting on a train and reading the script to Kevin Smith’s Mallrats (in which he has a small, but important role). It’s a lovely nod to both Stan – and indeed Kevin.

Brie Larson makes a marvellous Captain Marvel, and with a sequel announced (it’s been very difficult to ignore SDCC announcements), the universe is in good hands.

What I don’t understand is why so many people – mainly men – that were so bitter towards Captain Marvel (to the extent that Rotten Tomatoes, the review aggregator) had to step in and remove a substantial number of bitter reviews. I’m definitely seeing a trend in fandom where toxic elements are trying very hard to spoil things for all.

I had originally written and long and waffly review last week, but I felt it was too nitpicky, but more specifically, too waffly. So I thought I’d try giving it another go.

I’ll start off by saying that alongside Peter Harness’ and Toby Hayne’s adaptation of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Good Omens is one of the most faithful book adaptations I’ve ever come across.

It’s been some time since I last read the book, and indeed, I gave my only copy away a few months ago at Woking Railway Station so that others can enjoy the madcap antics of the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley. But as the series progressed, it all came flooding back.

The Good Omens TV mini-series shares a number of people across different Neil and Terry projects. For starters, the director Douglas Mackinnon and executive producer Caroline Skinner have both worked with Neil Gaiman on Doctor Who. Not forgetting David Tennant, of course. Gavin Finney (director of photography) and Rod Brown (executive producer) have worked together across Terry’s previous television adaptations: Hogfather, The Colour of Magic and Going Postal.

Cast-wise, perhaps only a budget afforded by a joint production with BBC Studios could pay for the likes of an all-star cast including Frances McDormand, Nick Offerman, Jon Hamm, Michael McKean, Michael Sheen, David Tennant, Miranda Richardson, Brian Cox, David Morrissey, and Benedict Cumberbatch. Though given how well read Good Omens is with the cast, I’m sure they’d have given up a hefty chunk of their usual salary to appear in the show. Though given Jeff Bezos is the world’s richest man, planning on some major space initiatives, he could afford to pay everybody on this production handsomely – several times over.

But it is the cast which makes this show so much fun to watch. Clearly Michael Sheen and David Tennant are having so much fun playing Aziraphale and Crowley respectively. These two hereditary enemies form a close bond over the many centuries since humanity was kicked out of the Garden of Eden, and are very happy with the status quo of things in the world (occasionally getting involved to help things along a bit). So when the Apocalypse comes a-calling, they’ve got to do something about it. They are the ultimate odd couple.

During their adventures, we come across weird and wonderful characters such as Agnes Nutter, a witch, who has written the world’s only truly accurate book of prophecies, which is inherited by her ancestor Anathema Device who sets out to stop the antichrist. But it turns out everybody has misplaced him. He was supposed to be given to the American Ambassador, but it turns out that the antichrist was given to an ordinary couple who raised him lovingly in a small village near an American airbase. His name is Adam, and on his 10th birthday when he wishes for a dog of his own, hell sends him a hell hound. But as he doesn’t know he is the antichrist, he just wants a small puppy. And the hell hound must obey him. So we see this big, snarling, more-teeth-than-should-be-healthy-for-a-dog, suddenly transform into the world’s cutest puppy.

We meet Newton Pulsifer, a man who loves computers, but every time he goes near one, it breaks. He ends up working for Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell, who is absolutely convinced witches still exist and is recruiting people for his army. And it doesn’t require the use of computers.

We also meet the four horsemen of the Apocalypse who have modernised somewhat and now ride motorcycles. Except Pestilence has now retired and has been replaced by Pollution.

All these characters weave in and out of each other in order to find the antichrist and put a stop to the Apocalypse. Aziraphale and Crowley both have to contend with their relevant superiors. There’s a lovely scene in which Hastor, one of the Dukes of Hell, literally gets caught up in a telephone answering machine and is only freed when a cold calling “we understand you have been involved in an accident” agent calls Crowley’s phone. I feel a lot of people will be satisfied how that one plays out.

It’s such a fun show that the 6 hours simply fly by. It does very much feel like a 6-hour film – especially as it’s shot in 2.35:1 aspect ratio which is a much wider format than most TV shows (though an increasing number of TV shows are adopting that format – the most noticeable has been the excellent Fleabag).

I must admit I was moved to tears during the last episode. The last 30 minutes were mainly spent snot-filled sobbing. A vital part of good storytelling is making you care enough about the characters. And it wouldn’t be too long before it’s all over. But I was crying mainly because this felt like a very final, long goodbye to the wonderful Sir Terry Pratchett who couldn’t be around to see just how bloody good this all was.

The ending also caught me out. We end on the song, “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”, performed by Tori Amos, and that’s when the tears started flowing again.

But I can’t be too sad about the ending. Neil Gaiman has a deal with Amazon Studios for more things, and Narrativia, Terry Pratchett/Rhianna Pratchett/Rod Brown/Rob Wilkins production company, has a few projects up their sleeves too.

Good Omens comes highly recommended. Very, very funny, emotionally satisfying, and tremendous fun. TV shows rarely tick all the boxes, but this one absolutely does. I’d highly recommend the 4K version – which requires that you use Amazon Prime Video’s search function. Just do a search for “good omens” and you’ll find it in the search results. If you have a 4K TV, do yourself a favour and watch it in 4K.

(P.S. I would also highly recommend Dirk Magg’s audio adaptation of Good Omens too – available via Audible)

John C. Reilly as Oliver Hardy and Steve Coogan as Stan Laurel

I love anything vaudeville. I’ve been a big fan of vaudeville ever since I became a fan of Charlie Chaplin. People like Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, and many, many more besides having been entertaining millions long past their deaths. They are as immortal as you’re ever likely to get.

I really got into Charlie Chaplin’s work after I read Chaplin: His Life & Art by David Robinson. It detailed the life of a comic genius from his tragic beginnings in East London, through to his rise to fame in vaudeville, though to pioneering filmmaker and eventually an exile. Having read that, I managed to find a dog eared ancient copy of My Autobiography by Charles Chaplin at the local library and absorbed it like a sponge.

When Richard Attenborough made his biopic of Chaplin, simply called Chaplin, starring Robert Downey, Jr. I thought that this was the weirdest casting imaginable. An American playing a British vaudeville comic? Yet, it WORKS SO WELL. To this day I couldn’t imagine anybody else playing Charles Chaplin. Robert Downey Jr’s gets it. He understood who Chaplin was.

Fast forward to 2018 and I hear that Jeff Pope (writer of the superb Philomena – highly recommended) was working on a Laurel & Hardy biopic. I thought it was about time! Laurel & Hardy’s films are instant classics. Stan Laurel, who wrote and directed (if not directly, but by proxy), made good of his visit to the US with Charlie Chaplin (and even understudied him for a while) and ended up as one of the greatest comedy double acts of all time.

Stan & Ollie doesn’t offer you the whole picture of Laurel & Hardy’s lives. It instead wisely picks a particular point in their lives and concentrates on that. Starting in 1937 at the height of their fame, we’re witness to a massive falling out with their producer, Hal Roach. We forward to 1953 at the start of their British tour.

It’s really during the tour that Stan and Ollie become friends. They learn more about each other and undergo challenges that would make even the strongest friendships crack right down the middle. Yet despite everything that happens – even the big fight that occurs at the after party in London – the two friends reunite and continue their tour to great success.

Steve Coogan wasn’t the first person I’d have thought could play Stan Laurel. Far from it – like Chaplin, I couldn’t have imagined Robert Downey Jr. in the role at first. But Steve Coogan completely knocked me for six with his Stan Laurel. There were times you forget you’re watching somebody play somebody else and just think, “That’s Stan Laurel – come back to us for these 90 minues of pure magnificance”. The same can be said of John C. Reilly who plays Oliver Hardy. It’s a testament to Reilly’s acting chops and the special effects make-up team who made him up to resemble Hardy that, again, you’re not seeing John C. Reilly, but Oliver Hardy himself.

We’re treated to scenes from their films performed on stage, including Lonesome Pine, Hard Boiled Eggs and Nuts, and the dance from Way Out West. Coogan and Reilly perform these routines so fantastically well, that I wonder if they’d be willing to perform some of Stan’s scripts that he wrote after Ollie had passed on. As a side note, this thing actually happened with Jacques Tati. A script he wrote but was never produced in his lifetime was eventually brought to the screen (albeit in animated form) by Sylvain Chomet in the form of The Illusionist. I highly recommend it. Coogan and Reilly really are THAT good.

Special praise must also go to the supporting actors, including Danny Houston as Hal Roach, Nina Arianda as Ida Laurel, Shirley Henderson as Lucille Hardy, and Rufus Jones as Bernard Delfont. The two wives are a particular wonder – “a double act for the price of one” is the perfect way to describe them. It’s interesting to note that Shirley Henderson was also in another favourite movie (another biopic) of mine, Mike Leigh’s Topsy-Turvy, about the lives of Gilbert & Sullivan during the time they were writing and preparing The Mikado.

The visual effects are also very good. You wouldn’t necessarily notice them, and that’s the point. Well done to Union (a company I had the brief pleasure of visiting sometime in 2017). The photography is spot on, as is the music. I look forward to hearing it whenever they get around to releasing it on Apple Music in the near future.

Stan & Ollie joins my list of all time movies which includes Chaplin, Topsy-Tuvy, Marcel Pagnol’s My Father’s Glory (and the sequel, My Mother’s Castle). Go see it today! My only complaint? 90 minutes (well, 97 minutes) seems to go by far too quickly. I’d have happily sat for 4 hours or more!

10/10