Saturday, 27 April 2013


And so it came to pass that "Phase 2" of Marvel's plan to rule the world  via the medium of the box office began with the continuing story of the character who started "Phase 1" back in 2008.

Returning to the suit (rumoured for the last time now that his contract is up), Downey Jr this time is under the direction of a new helmer to the World Of Marvel. With original director Favreau now just in front of the camera as Stark's upgraded from-bodyguard-to-head-of-security sidekick, it's the turn of Shane Black to help shape the world of Tony Stark, billionaire playboy who "builds neat stuff and occasionally saves the world."

Black and Downey Jr who previously worked together on the underrated Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, show all the spark, wit and downright questionable laughter that they delivered on their first project together  here on the more personal story of Iron Man in its third outing. For those who know Black's work, all the things that make him "him" are present and correct throughout his latest. Like his previous efforts (Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, The Long, Kiss Goodnight, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang) the story takes place around Christmas; there is a voice over to help proceedings along and there are some cracking lines of dialogue for you to try and remember so that you can quote them back to others and feel cool whilst doing so.

Yep, Downey Jr's natural swagger and Stark's coolness have just been given an illegal dose of Black's cultdom and it's a match made in heaven. As Kingsley's The Mandarin states to the US President via one of his many Bin Laden-esque video messages, you, as an audience member "will never see them coming" with what they have in store for you during its 130 minutes running time. More on him in a moment though.

The challenge facing Iron Man 3 is more than just being better than its predecessors (although that's not too hard when the below par Iron Man 2 is considered) - it has the task of being the first film released after the exceptional Avengers Assemble showed that under Joss Whedon, a superheroes film could be, well, super. And with all the superheroes having interacted and now aware of each other, the challenge  here would be to find a story that would only involve Iron Man and not the likes of Thor, Hulk or Captain America. The way that Black and co-screen writer Drew Pearce have gotten around this is simple  - make it personal - "no politics here, just good old fashioned revenge." With this personal edge now in place story-wsie, we are able to see the cool swagger of Downey Jr/Stark get stripped away - along with his suit - and have him try to build things back up from scratch... his composure, his strength, his trust and love in others and a back-to-basics suit just like the first time we saw him held captive in a cave, have to be built up from scratch. It's Tony Stark's fall from grace and his rise from the ashes as the premise. He may have helped save Earth with his newfound superhero chums, but the dying in the process has weighed heavy upon his mind. This makes him feel more real to the viewer despite his Malibu pad, his millions and his suits - of which they are plenty!

Downey Jr as expected is a star and this time gets to play off a few people - notably Cheadle - "it's WarMachine rocks...with a Z" - and a smalltown boy that gets just as good as he's given in the banter stakes, but the real other main shining star who gives Downey Jr a run for his money is Kingsley. His performance of The Mandarin, once the plot has moved on to its big reveal, is brilliantly executed.

A confidence-boosting start to Marvel's "Phase 2" of its universe, Iron Man 3 sets the bar for Captain America 2 (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and Thor 2 (Thor: The Dark World) and only adds to the already building anticipation that will be Avengers 2.

Cool. Neat. Go see.

UK release date: 26.04.13
Certificate: 12A

Saturday, 13 April 2013


Back in 2011, Ryan Gosling made the step from recognised bit actor to cool-as-hell leading man with his performance in Drive - a quiet man whose job as a stuntman allows him to use his "special skill set" to try and better the life of those he cares about.

Forward 2 years and Gosling returns to two things - the same type of character and to a director he has worked with before. This double date of destiny takes him to The Place Beyond The Pines. This time out those two points are somewhat different - subtle though they may be, they are enough to give you a whole different experience than that you may have been led to believe you would be undergoing. Here, Gosling's car expertise is replaced by that of a motorbike and the director he has reunited with is that of the small and intimate Blue Valentine - Derek Clanfrance and not Drive's Nicolas Winding Refn.

So, despite the trailer looking for all the world like a Drive sequel, this is definitely not. Not by a long shot. Here, Clanfrance has an epic tale to tell, but he chooses to do so in the small and intimate fashion that his Blue Valentine presented.

Here though the story is that of very different men at very different stages of their lives - in particular three certain individuals that will all be connected through a single action taken by one of them. What comes as a complete surprise - a welcome one but none-the-less distantly intriguing one - is that the film rather than the standard three acts (beginning, middle and end) feels like three separate movies. There's Gosling's carnival stunt rider story, Bradley Cooper's newbie cop story and then Dane Dehaan's loner school kid story.

Each of these has their own pace which only adds to the feeling of watching a trilogy edited together rather than just one film with a far-reaching story arc. Gosling, the first of the three, is all about movement - movement in the mental and physical sense. As the care-free stunt rider who learns of his fatherhood by accident, Gosling nails it as the loner who tries to do right by his new-found son and his "fling" from a year ago by resorting to bank robberies to provide for them. His momentum towards responsibility is matched with the speed of the bike sequences and the editing during the various bank jobs.

Cooper's "cop trying to do right despite corruption all around him" second storyline by comparison is a much slower and deeper experience. Especially after all the fast tension from before. Here, Cooper, along with the standard Ray Liotta "bad news/weasel" cop create a more basic tension - one that forever creeps up behind you, making you think that something will happen, but it never does.

The third story/act that belongs to Dehaan is both the harder one to explain and, quite frankly to swallow. Especially after what has gone before. This feels more like a soap opera than a movie but Clanfrance manages to avoid a total cheese-fest and keeps it out of the TV trash gutter and firmly in the "I'll go along for the ride" category.

At first cool enough to stand alongside the likes of Reservoir Dogs and Drive, it moves into Scorsese territory with bent cops and Liotta and with that switch, all it's cult status and hipness disappears. That doesn't mean that it falls flat or loses the viewer, no. It just asks you to take a very different journey from what you were expecting to take after watching the first 45 minutes of it.

UK release date: 12.04.13
Certificate: 15

Thursday, 11 April 2013


You may be forgiven for thinking that, of late, Tom Cruise seems to be on a one-man-mission to kick start possible franchises left, right and center. That, or either Hollywood producers and directors want him aboard to green light their films and hope that they'll get a franchise out of it!

So, along with his ongoing Mission: Impossible saga (the fifth instalment has been given the go ahead) and the not-so-certain to-be-continued Jack Reacher, Cruise has teamed up with a man who's no stranger to sci fi epics with possible sequel connections...

Despite the average reviews and fair box office receipts of his Tron: Legacy sequel, director/writer Joseph Kosinski is moving forward with the third instalment of the Tron universe, but not before he gets the chance to muck about with (and muck up) the real world instead of its cyber version. And this time, Cruise is along for the ride.

Oblivion's premise can be easily explained for those who need their plots basic and summarised - it's Tom Cruise as Pixar's Wall-E - a "Tom-E" if you will. The future Earth is all but uninhabitable. Stationed across it's desolate wastelands are teams of "clean up'ers" who ensure the maintenance of droid probes. Tom's "two weeks until his Earth shift finishes" character stands in for Wall-E - Jack, the mundane drone who has a heart. He even has a plant that he has nurtured from the wastelands. This he presents to his current love interest (Andrea Riseborough) who, like EVE, is clinical and work-obsessed. His life, and the way he sees it will forever change upon the arrival from the sky of Olga Kurylenko - the EVE of the movie that falls for and connects with Tom-E.

Now, this doesn't mean that Oblivion is a rehash of a Pixar great. It does have its own merits and is worthy of both time and money from audiences. Kosinski, who has a flare for visual story telling as shown in Tron: Legacy, shows that grand landscapes are his forte still, if not actual characterisation. His camera sweeps and soars along with the Harrier Jump Jet-esque craft that takes Jack across the desolate remains of New York or when following the super speedy drones on their seek-and-destroy missions. All looks impressive, even if the imagery of recognisable New York landmarks are constantly thrown in your face to hammer home the point that you're looking at Earth, and in particular, New York - The METS Stadium, The Empire State Building, The Statue Of Liberty, The NYC Library... these ALL make an appearance! To the point of near exasperation.

Which can nearly be said about the other cast. Apart from Cruise and Kurylenko, all the others are frankly wasted. This is never more evident than with Freeman who should be the equivalent of Fishburne's Morpheus from The Matrix (who even gets a "you have to see it to understand it" line of dialogue) but instead comes across more as a DeNiro from any of the Fockers sequels - just phoning it in for the pay cheque. Normally that wouldn't ruin a film too much but Freeman has the pivotal role as narrator for what has happened before. His one big speech that clues both Jack and the audience into the reason of what, why and where feels like an afterthought and is over in a rushed sentence. It's not his fault but that of the script which jogs along at a happy pace up until the reveal and then trips over it in its haste to move along to the next dazzling special effect-laden chase sequence.

A visual delight, Oblivion is a fun 2 hours that harks back to the big Summer Blockbusters of times gone by where A-list stars wowed the senses but not necessarily fed the brain during their antics upon the silver screen. Watch on as big a screen as you can find for the best experience.

UK release date: 10.04.13
Certificate: 12A