THE SOUNDBOARD STEREO: Afraid Of Dragons, Guardians And Punishers

Poster for Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)

Dir. by James Gunn

Other than maybe Spider-Man, Guardians Of The Galaxy has been the MCU’s most consistently enjoyable franchise. For a group of characters that casual cinemagoers would probably never have heard of just ten years ago, that’s no small feat, but with real style and James Gunn’s deft writing, it’s elevated them to basically household name status. And this right here is their swan song outing (at least in their current incarnation), not as fresh as the first but with character beats and emotional grounding that shine from front to back. The story itself can feel a bit lumpy at times, but never to a deal-breaking extent; it’d be nice for Adam Warlock to do more, but Will Poulter gives him a good presence and humour regardless. As for the core ensemble, they’re as solid as ever, the lead this time being Rocket, to whom Bradley Cooper once again gives the exact right amount of snip and snark, alongside some real pathos as the tragedy of his backstory is dove into. Yes, there’s some real intensity there (particularly around ideas of animal abuse that pull surprisingly few punches), and at its centre is Chukwudi Iwuji’s High Evolutionary, a refreshingly loathsome villain after Marvel’s recent cavalcade of ‘morally ambiguous’ foils. As for everything else, it’s just got that sheen that Guardians Of The Galaxy always has. The visual effects don’t seem to be on nearly as much of shoestring budget (although the Ravagers’ pet…thing certainly pushes that); that stacked cast extends across the board, right down to Sylvester Stallone coming back to give a line or two; and the soundtrack is predictably excellent, this time with a more diverse pool of eras to pull from. Unlike Wakanda Forever, the finality never looms over the entire piece, and while that was basically the point of that film, Guardians Of The Galaxy can adapt its own tone to fit, and comes out the other side three for three in terms of big hits. • LN

Poster for Beau Is Afraid

Beau Is Afraid (2023)

Dir. by Ari Aster

Hereditary and Midsommar showcased Ari Aster as the new voice in horror films, but when he announced a pivot away from the genre, fans were unsure what exactly to expect. The answer is Beau Is Afraid, a three-hour epic that’s definitely still twisted enough to keep people hooked. This is without a doubt a film one should go into knowing as little as humanly possible (if the spoiler warning above didn’t get you to turn back, pay heed now), an elaborate odyssey whose Marmite reviews are totally justifiable. The first act is a great film about living with anxiety just in itself, Joaquin Phoenix’s titular Beau, experiencing worst case scenario after worst case scenario until he’s in a completely irredeemable place, not just in his own immediate situation, but in his relationship with his mother. Further on in the film, things take a turn for the surreal with at-home doctors and hippie cults. Eventually the family issues from the first portion of the film rear their ugly head for a climax, where Beau’s actually alive mother tirades against the altruism expected from a mother, chastising her son for never giving anything back while she gave him everything. All this isn’t before the grand uncovering of a hilarious, mentally-scarring giant CGI penis monster in the attic (also revealed to be Beau’s father in reasons that aren’t immediately clear) in a characteristically unhinged Aster moment. Aster knows what he’s doing, and for every moment that tips the scale into pure stress or out-and-out stupidity, there are moments of pure hilarity strewn throughout the utter madness, like in-your-face criminal Birthday Boy Stab Man or the perfect needle drop of Mariah Carey’s Always Be My Baby. Beau Is Afraid is constantly at 100 miles-per-hour and Aster feeling like a cackling criminal mastermind, actively pulling strings and seeing how far he can push his audience in real time. Only the most chaotic of individuals will take to it straightaway, and while the actual themes of the film can get lost in the execution (a bit of reading up after the storm has calmed works wonders), it’s a fever dream that, whether you love it or loathe it, is worth the experience. • GJ

Poster for Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (2023)

Dir. by Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley

At a time when geek properties are practically box office money-spinners, it makes all the sense in the world to try again at geekdom’s most stereotyped IP. There’s no way it can be worse that the attempt at a Dungeons & Dragons film from 2000, after all, given that there’s a perceived seriousness around how things like this should be taken now. You wouldn’t get Hugh Grant in one of these otherwise, even if his character of a foppish, bumbling ‘antagonist’ is exactly how you’d imagine he’d slot into it. But really, Honor Among Thieves does shine, in no small part, thanks to its cast. The main party has so much charm and likability, which is a given when Chris Pine is the lead, but Michelle Rodriguez, Justice Smith, Sophia Lillis and a sparse-but-welcome Regé-Jean Page all absolutely dazzle. And while the story is pretty boilerplate among this kind of fantasy setting, there’s a lightness of touch that keeps it moving extremely well. It leans into both sides of the ‘action-comedy’ tag with a lot of effort; there’s some genuinely good choreography and clever uses of the settings and scenery, as well as a grasp on genuinely funny, often smart humour that feels wonderfully fresh. There’s the Marvel formula in here but way tighter and better-executed overall. And that’s just really good to see, especially when the end product has so much sincerity and approachability, never overdoing the source material’s heavy lore but not shunning or lambasting it either. And with how well it’s been received by audiences overall—especially when this is a prime candidate to cry and piss and moan about how ‘woke’ the casting is—it’d be great to see more of this. Great, genuinely fun stuff. • LN

Artwork for My Bloody Valentine’s ‘loveless’

My Bloody Valentine


Bands with tumultuous personal backstories are always fascinating to dissect, but even more so when they’re making an album that goes on to spearhead a whole genre. loveless has become one of, if not the, quintessential shoegaze album, but its alleged £270,000 production cost and astronomical pressure of critical success became an albatross around the neck of My Bloody Valentine, ultimately breaking them until their reunion in 2013. The guitars on this record are woozy, warped and an utterly formidable force, counterbalanced by Kevin Shields’ and Bilinda Butcher’s vocals, which are soft and tuned right back in the mix, their delicate tiptoeing often making it difficult to make out the actual words being sung. It can be hard to separate songs from each other straightaway (the chorus-like instrumental motifs of only shallow and when you sleep really help in getting them to stick out), but the overall effect is intoxicating. More than 30 years after its release, loveless is a rewarding listen that really wears the history it’s made on its sleeve. • GJ

Poster for Citadel

Citadel (S1) (2023)

Looking at Citadel, and its premise, and the personnel behind it, it can start to feel a little…familiar. Sure, the Russo brothers also directed The Gray Man instead of just produced it as they do here, but the same fingerprints are shared between the two. Other than the distinctions of Citadel being a series instead of a film, and on Amazon Prime instead of Netflix, the two can be boiled down to basically the same essence—an action-heavy spy property with sci-fi elements that’s nowhere near as good as it should be. That certainly isn’t true on a technical level, mind; Citadel has all the visual sheen and expensiveness you’d expect from a project fuelled by Bezos Bucks, and a uniformly solid core cast. Stanley Tucci is probably the standout, but there’s a good amount of effort and chemistry between Richard Madden and Priyanka Chopra Jonas that’s appreciated (although Madden does join the list of British actors whose faces can’t believably portray an American character). But beyond that, the show just isn’t all that engaging, stumbling from action scene to set-piece to time-jump with little grace or fine-tuning. At the time of writing, the final episode is yet to be released, though it’s hard to imagine it being anything different, or tying together an otherwise muddled collection of espionage / sci-fi tropes with any form of tightness. In a way, it feels a lot like Amazon’s other budgetary monolith The Rings Of Power—there’s clearly been a lot of effort and resources funnelled into it, but a wafer-thin, unengaging product that comes out the other side is far from ideal. • LN

Artwork for Phoebe Bridgers’ ‘Punisher’

Phoebe Bridgers


Arguably the centre of the sad girl-core universe that’s gained a lot of traction in recent years, Phoebe Bridgers’ voice has been integral to singer-songwriters with a lot of feelings everywhere, and for good reason. Bridgers’ vocal delivery always feels gorgeous and serious, but her vivid, witty lyricism adds a smirk to the sadness. The biggest difference between Punisher and debut Stranger In The Alps, though, is the instrumentation. While Stranger In The Alps was happy to wallow in its emotions, songs sometimes feeling like they’re stretching out too far with not much variety, Punisher ups the ante with the tools it uses, opting for more textural strings and keyboards to fully illustrate the profound emotions its lyrics sketch out. Beautiful and often haunting as it is, the central offering of Bridgers’ voice and lyrics can feel like quite a hard shell to break into initially, but the beautiful dreamy piano of the title track, thundering builds of ICU or the homely banjo of Graceland Too are enough to keep you coming back for more even if the whole package doesn’t totally click straightaway. As a whole project, Punisher feels like Bridgers crafting her own dream world around the internal struggles and heartbreak (of both herself and others who become characters in her stories), making grand existential statements while also colouring it in with small details of her house’s proximity to a hospital, watching her depressed friend eat saltines on her floor or a conversation with her estranged father from a Japanese payphone. This record feels like a unique slice of Phoebe Bridgers herself, tastefully done yet still rough around the edges, and certainly the high point of the singer’s career so far. • GJ

Words by Luke Nuttall (LN) and Georgia Jackson (GJ)

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