Iron Man 3

120px-Film-stripFirst cinema film in almost two-and-a-half months around work, baby and other commitments. It better be worth it…

Iron Man 3

“Where’s my sandwich?”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Nasty bad man starts blowing places up and Iron Man / Tony Stark decides to stop him

See it if you like: well, Iron Man and Iron Man 2. Dur.

So how does this do as a rounding-off to what’s apparently going to be a trilogy? Very well, in my opinion. Not perfect, but good.

As has to be the case, it’s much “bigger” in terms of wow factor than the previous two. How you manage to top that kind of thing on an ongoing basis is probably what limits most films to trilogies. Iron Man 3 manages it without getting (too) stupid and also without just being a repeat of the first two.

There is a little less of the wise-cracking in this one, and this is in part due to the overall darker tone. IM3 has a much more complex plot and a much nastier villain to go with the increased action quotient. The effects are also staggeringly good as well, due in part to the huge digital effects crew listed in the end credits.

For once, though, Robert Downey Jr has serious competition as the best actor. Ben Kingsley is simply superb as the evil Mandarin, a terrorist seeking to overthrow – or destroy – the US government.

There are some nice moments with Stark dealing with children in various situations which manage not to be at all mawkish, and an under-running theme of “how did you get out of that wormhole in New York?”

As ever, no spoilers, but there is an end-of-credits sequence. I shall say no more.

Oh, do watch the start of the credits up until the part where the big text list appears even if you’re not staying until the end. They’re made up of flashes from all three films, put together in a 1970’s-esque TV montage. It seems to suit the Stark image perfectly.

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Marvel’s Avengers Assemble

A surprise trip out to catch the film on the night of release. Carefully avoiding the crappy 3D version, and not being able to afford the IMAX we settled on the tiny-old-cinema-screen-with-dodgy-sound experience.

Marvel’s Avengers Assemble

“I have a plan: attack!”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Superheroes team up and fight bad guys. Well, dur.

See it if you like: Low-brow superhero flicks with too many characters.

There’s no denying the huge hype machine for this 142 minute effects-fest. With four films supplying the lead-in as far as story goes (more if you include the two Hulk movies) it has a lot to live up to. But does it manage it?

Well, as far as scale goes it’s pretty good. There’s a nice central bad guy and a nice huge threat towards the end to make it all larger than life. However, I found it somewhat messy with a couple of the characters virtually sidelined. Don’t expect the same level of cover for Black Widow and Hawkeye (Chris Evans) as for the other Avengers. In a way, it’s a good thing as they’re definitely weaker characters, certainly in this script. Scarlett Johanssen, for instance, just doesn’t convince me at all in her role, especially as the films plods on. She looks positively weak trying to wield two handguns.

On the flip side, there’s a great dynamic between Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and the banter between characters overall is pretty good. Snappy one-liners and a good dose of humour lift the film in just the right places. In fact there’s one very brief sequence – it involves Hulk and that’s as much as I’ll say – which had the audience roaring with laughter.

I wasn’t a fan of the Thor movie, but he’s much better in this. He’s just two dull to be the focus of a whole movie, but works well as part of the ensemble. I still don’t get how he’s a Norse god, but speaks with a posh English accent though.

The effects are predictably top-notch, with a good blend of live action and CGI. It looks like the effects masters are finally getting this right. The explosions are suitably meaty, and there’s plenty of destruction to keep even the most child-like of minds happy.

There’s not a huge amount in the way of plot – bad guy wants to take over earth, superheroes stop him (sorry if that spoils it for you) – and it does go very slowly in places. I confess to being a little tired on the evening we went, but I still didn’t expect to catch myself almost falling asleep. I did. Twice. One it got past this (around the hour mark), thankfully things picked up pace and I began to enjoy it more.

Overall, the two Iron Man films still stand out as the best recent offerings from this particular canon. The third in that series is coming up soon, and there’s also a teaser in the end credits of this film for more forthcoming action. Whether it’s a hint for Iron Man 3 or a second Avengers film, though, I don’t know.

Good, but not brilliant.

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Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows / 50/50

After far too many weeks with no cinema visits, I escaped from the house to catch three films back to back. And then had to settle for two as the first performance of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows was sold out, which screwed up my entire schedule. Pah. My only real complaint with the Cineworld Unlimited card is that you can’t pre-book seats with it online or by phone. This is particularly annoying when you’re going with friends who don’t have a card as they can pre-book, and you then end up in the situation where youre group arrives at the cinema to find they have tickets and you can’t get in.

Anway. Films.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

“Be careful what you fish for.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Moriarty takes a far more visible centre-stage in this sequel to the effects-heavy first film as he threatens to destroy Europe

See it if you like: the last film

I quite enjoyed the first of Guy Ritchie‘s Holmes films, though I’m still not a fan of the World’s Greatest Detective as an action hero. Sure, know that Holmes was a great pugilist but it’s not something that shows up in the original stories too often. On the other hand, big explosions and fights sell more tickets than brain-teasing detective work.

Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law once again take up the mantle of the Victorian answer to the Dynamic Duo, this time with Jared Harris‘ Moriarty providing a more obvious villainous role. Also centre stage is Stephen Fry as Sherlock’s more annoying brother Mycroft.

The direction is very much Guy Ritchie with several set pieces cut into very short, close-up (sometimes internal) shots of mechanics with exaggerated sound effects. He’s been doing this since Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and it’s still quite cool although getting a little long in the tooth. Especially impressive is the forest scene with the cast running from a variety of gunfire. This scene features in the trailer, but the full version is an incredible piece of footage.

Plotwise, the story is far deeper than the first film. As a result it can be a little slow in places. I also found the humour a little darker and less frequent than I recall from the first. This does make it a little more satisfying for an older audience, but probably less suitable for the younger fans who just want to see the action sequences.

It looks gorgeous and the acting it top notch. Downey Jr seems to have found a niche playing aloof characters with a sense of self-superiority. Between Holmes and Tony Stark he has the market cornered.

For a chill out bit of popcorn cinema, watch the original. For an impressive bit of cinema which engages the brain a little more, go for this one.

50/50

“If you were a casino game, you would have the best odds.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Man with gutter-brained best friend discovers he has a tumour.

See it if you like: Well-scripted, very well acted social dramas which toy with your emotions

First up, I’m not a huge Seth Rogen fan. The man has one joke which he’s reeled out in every single film he’s ever been in. Basically, he talks about sex in  rather teenager-ish fashion and smokes pot. Not something to slate him for as such, but it gets boring watching someone play the same damn character in every film he’s in.

However, it was he who encouraged his friend Will Reiser to write a screenplay based on his real-life experiences. That, in turn, led to this film. And for that reason alone I will forgive Seth Rogen anything. Obviously, there’s no telling – short of interviewing the guys or perhaps waiting for the commentary on a DVD release – how many of the actual events in the film are exact representations of Reiser’s battle with cancer. I would suspect that the majority are perfectly possible if not likely, and that’s the strength of the movie. Nothing in it stretches the boundaries of belief.

Rogen plays Rogen, as I said. If you like him in other movies, you won’t have any issues with his part in this one. Centrepiece and absolute star of the show, though, is Joseph Gordon-Levitt who plays Adam. He doesn’t make the part look difficult, and he doesn’t milk the “I’ve got cancer, see me suffer” thing. In fact for the vast majority of the film Adam handles things incredibly well, which makes the down points all the more poignant.

The supporting cast are all top notch as well. Some only appear briefly, others worm their way into the storyline. Anjelica Huston plays Adam’s mother and this ranks as one of the best performances I’ve ever seen from her. Strict, motherly, unshakable, domineering and loving. Matt Frewer and Philip Baker Hall join Adam in chemo. Two older guys surprised at the youth of their co-sufferer, yet embracing him into their exclusive little group.

It takes maybe 10 minutes for the film to get going and to realise it’s not simply another Rogen gross-out “comedy”. Perhaps it says a lot that I was nodding off a little during Holmes, an action film, and yet this film had my eyes glued open for pretty much its entire run.

Not one for kids, or those who cry at Lassie films. For everyone else – you simply have to see this film.

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Jackass 3D / Due Date / Let Me In

A three-film weekend, and the final one of the list due to Gillian being a horror fan. Nice to get off my backside and see an extra movie, though. Next week’s releases look amazing. Oh dear.

Jackass 3D

“Oh god, why do I have to be Steve-O?”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Plot? It’s a Jackass film. Good grief. Get to the back of the class.

First up, the 3D is pointless. The film doesn’t benefit at all, though they have tried to make it a little more grim with some ****, vomit and the like coming out of the screen. As with pretty much every 3D film I’ve seen, though, it just doesn’t need it.

More importantly, how is the Jackass formula holding up? Not too badly, to be honest, although I found myself laughing less hard than I did at the original movie. That one had me completely creased up unable to breathe at points. This third outing got more than its fair share of guffaws, a moment or two of queasiness, but on the whole I’m thinking this may be a good point for the series to finish.

Sacrilege? Maybe. But let’s be honest, Dirty Sanchez were doing ruder things on TV by the time Jackass were finally allowed to show their arses without black bars over them. The budget of the first Jackass film allowed for bigger and sillier stunts, and this had progressed on with this third film.

Thinking back, I was more laughing at the ideas they’d dreamt up rather than the actual execution of them. The simple fact is that Jackass simply isn’t outrageous any more. It’s had its life span and I really hope they go out on a relative high.

Fans: see the film. Mr Knoxville and crew: retire with your heads held high and your arms in plaster.

Due Date

“I’m sorry we drank your father”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Two unsuited guys end up sharing a car across the US for a couple of days.

Due Date is the bastard child of Planes, Trains and Automobiles and The Hangover, having the plot of the former and the level of humour of the latter. Sadly, though, it doesn’t match up on either count. In fairness, I never really “got” P, T &A aside from the hilarious Steve Martin “****” scene which the BBC continue to deny us when screening it. The Hangover on the other hand was incredible.

The film suffers from one major problem which afflicts so many releases these days – virtually every funny bit is in the trailer. Had I not seen that (several times) I genuinely feel I’d have enjoyed the film more.

As a saving grace, Robert Downey Jr puts in another great performance though I still think he’s better wisecracking in Iron Man. Zach Galifianakis returns to stereotype as “fat, stupid bloke”. Yawn.

The main problem is that Due Date doesn’t offer anything new. It’s a plot that’s been used before, as have many of the jokes. The performances are fine, but the whole thing’s ridiculously predictable, especially if (as I’ve already said) you’ve seen the trailer. In all honesty I’d say there were maybe 5 jokes which I’d not already seen before I sat down to watch the actual movie.

It’s not an utter dead loss as far as films go, but it’s a huge let-down after the side-splitting Hangover. Oh, and it has an incredibly well-filmed “inside the car as it happens” car crash. Which is weird as that’s also a highlight of…

Let Me In

“I’ve been twelve for a very long time.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: A little girl moves in next door to a little boy, but she can’t be friends mainly as she burns in sunlight, has superhuman strength and drinks blood. Erm. Few clues there?

Now, this one I enjoyed. It’s no perfect, but it has a lot going for it. Gillian’s seen the original (Let The Right One In) which I haven’t, and apparently this is a lot more accessible – it’s in English for a start – but has lost of a lot of the artistry and beauty of Tomas Alfredson‘s 2008 Swedish version. In other words, it’s a typical American remake.

Having said that, with nothing to compare it to I quite liked it. The young actors are excellent across the board, from Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Moretz as the two central characters (Owen and Abby) to the support there isn’t a complaint to be made. Moretz manages to be scary yet conjures up sympathy in her more human aspect. Smit-McPhee is perhaps a little too “soft” but that’s more the character than the actor.

While adults certainly appear in the film, it’s very much a story about these two characters. In fact, we never get to see the face of Owen’s mother.

It’s quite a grisly film and includes some rather disturbing imagery, especially given that the children are in many scenes. As disturbing as the horror aspects the the bullying and victimisation that Owen suffers at school. However, the fate that befalls his tormentors leaves the viewer a little unsure as to whether they deserved it.

The whole film generates conflicted emotion. Abby is a creature suffering from something that’s not her fault. She’s a child, in a child’s body with a child’s mind… but she’s also a dangerous creature when the mood takes. So should we feel pity for her or should she be treated as a monster? I suppose we’ve been asking questions like this since Mary Shelley had a certain book published over 100 years ago.

Having read a little more about the differences, I’m definitely interested in seeing the original – and the book on which it’s based.

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I Am… (for the second time)

OK, this was worth waiting the extra few days to catch…

Iron Man 2

“It’s good to be back!”

Plot-in-a-nutshell – bad men try to make new Iron Man outfits, real Iron Man has real-life crises and has to stop them. Come on, it’s a superhero film. You want a plot?!

It’s very, very rare for a sequel to outdo or even equal the original. Iron Man 2 has succeeded. Whether it’s better than the first is going to be a matter of opinion but it’s certainly every bit as good.

What I liked most about the first film was the wonderful banter, mainly in dialogue involving Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr). It’s fast, sharp and witty. I seriously wonder if they’ve hired a scriptwriter from The West Wing to add the extra zing. In all honesty, this dialogue gave me more laughs than I get from many so-called comedy films.

OK, let’s be honest. It’s not a complicated plot. A bad guy (Mickey Rourke) makes a cool exoskeleton with electric whips. Another nasty rich man wants to rip off Stark’s suits so he can make money in the weapons market. Things get out of hand, and a huge special-effects and explosion-laden fight ensues.

In with all of this, romance maybe seems to blossom between Stark and “Pepper” Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Samuel L Jackson reappears as Agent Nick Fury, and the Avengers project starts to gain some momentum. There is a very interesting post-credits sequence that’s apparently worth staying back for. I didn’t. So I read about it here.

This is a simple film with a good core set of actors. The effects are superb, the action sequences big and silly, the dialogue – as mentioned – witty. As far as it goes, and it doesn’t try to pretend it’s anything it’s not, this is a great piece of entertainment.

Which – after all – is what you’re after when you watch a film.

That and Scarlett Johansson in a sexy black outfit. Tick that box as well. Phwoar.

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