Spot the fake

After admitting that around one third of its Coptic art collection was fake, the Brooklyn Museum of Art hasannounced plans to display them in an unusual exhibition next year, in which Coptic works still considered to be genuine will be deliberately placed alongside those which have now been deemed counterfeit. The Independent reports that the exhibition will serve to alert other museums of possible fakes in their collections, but it also questions the motives behind our desire for authenticity in art. Others have argued that the differences between the fakes and the genuine Coptic artefacts reveals to us what later generations have hoped to see in a period of history, or how they've wished to characterise a civilsation. The Art Newspaper reports "the fakes...place a greater emphasis on Christian iconography than the authentic works. This reflects market demand for such imagery in Europe and North America".

The wisdom of crowds

On a similar theme, a new exhibition, 'Click! A Crowd-Curated Museum', attempts to answer that perennial question: is it art? Using the idea of aggregate intelligence - that a group will, collectively, reach a more "accurate" estimation than they would as individuals - the Brooklyn Museum asked 3,344 members of the public to select photographs on the theme of Brooklyn, by mixture of professional and so-called amateur photographers. The top 20 per cent were then displayed at the museum. Reactions have been mixed: Ken Johnson at the New York Times writes "the exhibition itself is not very interesting to look at, but the issues it raises are fascinating."

Hungarian horror stories

Two new films will explore the life of notorious Hungarian countess Elizabeth Bathory, but it is unclear whether either will separate myth from fact. The seventeenth century aristocrat has long been the subject of historical rumours and an inspiration for Hammer's 1971 film Countess Dracula, after reports that Bathory used to torture and murder her female servants before bathing in their blood. More recently, however, historians have tried to reclaim her reputation, arguing that the gruesome stories were invented after her death. After surveying the existing books on Bathory, Tony Thorne at the Telegraph concludes "it's just not possible to say for certain whether she really was a depraved monster...or an innocent victim of male jealousy and greed."

In brief

Irina Baronova, the celebrated ballet dancer of the 1930s and 1940s, died earlier this week. The Herald Tribune praised her for her "indelible classical style and virtuosic technique." Meanwhile, Screen Actor's Guild members seem due to go ahead with their plans to strike despite last-minute negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The Times reported that the average SAG member earns only around £26,000 a year before agents take a cut of their earnings, in contrast to the stereotype that the actor's strike is being pushed for by Hollywood millionaires. In the UK, Tartan films, theinfluential distribitor of independent films such as Battle Royale and 9 Songs, was moved into administration last Thursday, and it seems unlikely it will be able to resume trading. Screen Daily reports that "distributors are clamouring to buy the back-catalogue," which also includes 2002's Irreversible and the acclaimed Korean film Oldboy.

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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