David Attenborough. Photo: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images
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All questions great and small: an unusually ruminative Chris Evans speaks to David Attenborough

Following his on-air announcement of a prostate cancer scare last week, the Radio 2 DJ has been in thoughtful mode.

The Chris Evans Breakfast Show
BBC Radio 2

In the days running up to the sudden and spirited on-air announcement of his ongoing prostate cancer scare last week, Chris Evans had sounded unusually ruminative on his Radio 2 morning show (listeners circa nine million). On the subject of age: “When you realise the governor of the Bank of England is younger than you, you think . . .” (an unspellable noise conveying not just shock but also transmitting with delicacy more than a millisecond of umbrage). On revisiting old records: “By the way, if you haven’t listened to a Dire Straits album or a couple of years, do bung one on.”

His mid-show interview on Thursday (29 January, 6.30am) with David Attenborough about his new documentary, Attenborough’s Paradise Birds, had the air of someone who was omnivorously preoccupied with questions big and small. “What time do you rise, David?” Attenborough – speaking down the line from somewhere, most likely his kitchen – paused, waiting for the rest of the question, but there wasn’t any. “Well . . . it depends,” he ceded after a moment, “sometimes about five, I guess, if I have something to do.”

There followed a quick chat about the male bird of paradise having more alluring feathers than the female. “And how come it’s different for us humans?” challenged Evans, intensely. “How many what?’ squinted Attenborough, perplexed. “I mean nature sorts it out I guess, in the end,” rolled on Evans, regardless, “but why does nature do this? How does it work?” An image arose that was sweetly irresistible: the presenter with his chin resting on fist on the steps of the Parthenon. One wondered how he was going to wrap it all up.

Ah, radio! The medium that favours the common touch. “Did you watch Wolf Hall last night, David?” “Which?” (Attenborough was once more confused. Was it because the line was bad or because he feared the pre-toast head-storm Evans was whipping up in his cortex?) “Wolf Hall, David. BBC2. Last night. Too dark? But that’s the whole point I guess. Saying that, I was a bit worried. Started with three candles but this housekeeper came along and just snuffed them all out.”

Then to Andy Williams singing, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”. 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 06 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, An empire that speaks English

Marvel Studios
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In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, every other line reeks of a self-help manual

This lame sequel suggests the makers have largely forgotten why the original was so refreshing.

The 2014 romp Guardians of the Galaxy boasted the budget of a blockbuster and the soul of a B-movie. What that meant in practice was that audiences had to endure the same biff-pow battle scenes and retina-blistering effects as any space adventure, but they were rewarded with eccentric characters and tomfoolery for its own sake.

Despite the Marvel Studios imprimatur, the film showed the forces of intergalactic evil being fought not by superheroes, but by a ragtag band of bickering goofballs: Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), aka Star-Lord, a self-regarding rogue in the Han Solo mould; the green-faced alien Gamora (Zoe Saldana); Drax (Dave Bautista), a literal-minded hulk; Rocket, a racoon-like warrior (voiced by Bradley Cooper); and Groot, a piece of bark that says “I am Groot” over and over in the dulcet tones of Vin Diesel. Movies this odd don’t usually become $770m smash hits but this one did – deservedly.

Those characters return in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (the “Vol 2” reflects Peter’s love of mix-tapes) but the new film suggests the makers have largely forgotten why the original was so refreshing. Gags are rehashed; several sequences (including an interminable slow-motion section involving a laser-powered arrow) are dragged way beyond their desirable lifespan. Late in the day, Rocket tells his shipmates that they have too many issues, which rather pinpoints the problem with the screenplay by the director, James Gunn. Gunn has saddled his characters with unreasonable baggage, all of it relating to family and belonging. No matter how far into space they travel, all roads lead back to the therapist’s couch.

Peter, raised by his late mother, is delighted when Ego (Kurt Russell) materialises claiming to be the father he never knew. The old man makes grand pronouncements, only to undercut them within seconds (“’Scuse me, gotta take a whizz”) but, on the plus side, he has his own planet and pulls the whole “One day, son, all this will be yours” shtick. Gamora also has family business to contend with. Her blue-skinned sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), wants to kill her: Nebula has never quite got over Gamora being Daddy’s favourite. To be fair, though, he did force them to fight one another, replacing parts of Nebula’s body with metal whenever she lost, so it’s not like we’re talking about only one sister being allowed to watch Top of the Pops.

The more Peter gets to know Ego, the less admirable he seems as a father, and soon we are in the familiar territory of having parenting lessons administered by a Hollywood blockbuster. The reason for this became obvious decades ago: the film industry is populated by overworked executives who never get to see their children, or don’t want to, and so compensate by greenlighting movies about what it means to be a good parent. Every other line here reeks of the self-help manual. “Please give me the chance to be the father your mother wanted me to be,” Ego pleads. Even a minor character gets to pause the action to say: “I ain’t done nothing right my whole life.” It’s dispiriting to settle down for a Guardians of the Galaxy picture only to find you’re watching Field of Dreams with added asteroids.

Vol 2 gets by for an hour or so on some batty gags (Gamora misremembering the plot and star of Knight Rider is an especially juicy one) and on the energising power of Scott Chambliss’s glorious production design. The combination of the hi-tech and the trashy gives the film the appearance of a multimillion-dollar carnival taking place in a junkyard. Spectacular battles are shot through scuffed and scratched windscreens, and there are spacesuits cobbled together from tin pots and bubble-wrap. This is consistent with the kitschfests that inspired the Guardians aesthetic: 1980s science-fiction delights such as Flash Gordon, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.

If only Vol 2 had mimicked their levity and brevity. Gunn ends his overlong movie with a bomb being attached to a giant brain, but this is wishful thinking on his part. He hasn’t blown our minds at all. It’s just a mild case of concussion. 

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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