Thursday, 29 April 2010

Iron Man 2

Tony Stark is back, and this time, the world knows he's Iron Man. Six months after the end of 'Iron Man', Stark's living the playboy lifestyle, but his alter-ego brings its own problems: The government want him to hand over the Iron Man 'weapon' to the military, and old foes with personal grudges against the Stark family are emerging to take revenge. Plus, there's problems with Stark's arc reactor: Could the very thing which has been keeping him alive also killing him?

So, let's take the assumption that the 'Iron Man' franchise is based on the idea that everyone wants an Iron Man suit because it's the ultimate weapon, but Stark's reluctance to let go of the technology means that the people who truly want it are either going to have to kill Stark, build their own, or steal one. Well, you get a bit of all three with this film! There's a bit of something for everyone in this film, there really is. You get the overt comic book reference for fans of the comic, you get a great bit of action for the everyman, you get a (tiny) bit of romance for... those who like that... and you get some funny moments for almost everyone.

Robert Downey Jr is a great fit for the role, especially more so in this film. He comes across far better in this film than the original as the arrogant, chauvinistic playboy. Gywneth Paltrow is perfect in her role as Pepper Potts, playing a repressed, wooden assistant. Don Cheadle is a better Rhodey than Terrence Howard because he's a better actor and it comes across that way on screen, he has way more presence. Scarlett Johansson makes an odd appearance as a cross between Pepper Potts and Aeon Flux but is ultimately just eye candy. Last but not least, the bad guys: Sam Rockwell and Mickey Rourke. Sam Rockwell plays the 'generic Sam Rockwell role' as well as he can, being Sam Rockwell of course. And what of Mickey Rourke, playing the Russian bad-guy Ivan Vanko aka Whiplash? At first, I thought of Sean Connery in Hunt for Red October with the bad Russian accent (his first line he says in a heavily Scottish accent) but eventually it gets better and seems more natural. Don't let the accent distract you though, Mickey's a great villain: Evil through and through and thoroughly dislikeable.

There are a lot of problems with this film, the main one for me being that they try to put too much in this one film as a form of exposition. There's the Whiplash storyline, along with the government/army storyline, the Hammer Weapons storyline, the Natalia Romanova/S.H.I.E.L.D. storyline, the relationship between Tony and Pepper, Tony's personal problems and then there's the small case of Rhodey and the War Machine storyline finally coming into it after narrowly being avoided in the first film. Luckily, everything's all nicely tied together at the end, and is loosely kept together throughout the film by the 'Stark Expo', something which continues to re-emerge, in various forms, to set a backdrop for 'happenings'. It all seems a bit clunky in places because there really is too much going on, but it means it fills the two hours from start to finish. If you miss a minute, you'll miss something important. And why has Jon Favreau given himself a bigger role in this one? Lord only knows.

Overall, it's a great bit of entertainment. The visual effects are great, the fight scenes are on an epic proportion which is to be expected from the advances in CGI, and the Monaco Grand Prix scene in particular is pretty memorable, as well as the final fight scene. The introduction of new bad-guys is good, but for most of the film, they're thinking and planning rather than fighting and doing, which slows down the pace considerably. Boiled down, this film is Iron Man versus Iron Man, then Iron Man versus Iron Men, then Iron Men versus Iron Men. It's pretty much just an extension of the first film. Unfortunately, I can't help but feeling that there isn't really much point to this film other than to give Tony Stark the new arc reactor for the third film and to lay down the blueprint for the Avengers film which isn't coming for a few years yet. Oh, and stick around for the credits, because Marvel pull out their 'not-a-surprise-anymore' surprise and give you something ever so tiny but ever so significant for a certain future adaptation.

Rating: ***1/2

Monday, 19 April 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Mikael Blomkvist is a disgraced former journalist hired by Henrik Vagner, retired former CEO of the Vagner Group, to investigate the disappearance of his great-niece 37 years ago. Along the way, he uncovers a dark secret within the Vagner family which runs deeper the just the disappearance of Harriet Vagner, although he's not the only one investigating. Lisbeth Salander, a mysterious young punk investigating Blomkvist, becomes intrigued with Blomkvist's latest work and becomes involved, leading to the two of them forming an unlikely partnership as they seek to uncover the truth...

Right from the off, this film will absolutely keep you intrigued and engrossed, right until the very end. The characters are complex and interesting, the plot is intriguing and shocking, and the actual film itself is brilliant shot. The vast landscapes on display, what with the film being set and shot in Sweden, are breathtaking and cast a perfect backdrop to this tale of mystery and intrigue. What I particularly noted was the way the film seamlessly moved between action, mystery, thriller and comedy. The shift of genres throughout the film will keep you intrigued, so much so that you'll barely notice the film is two and a half hours long and will even have you asking for more by the end. For the first half of the film, it seems like a quest to get Blomkvist and Salander to work together, and when they finally do, the second half becomes the story of them connecting on a personal level whilst they work together to solve the mystery of Harriet's disappearance and everything else they uncover along the way.

It's hard to tell at time who the main character is; Michael Nyqvist's Mikael Blomkvist is a compelling lead role, with most of the action focused on him and his career and his investigation of the Vagner mystery. However, Noomi Rapace's Lisbeth Salander, the eponymous 'girl with the dragon tattoo', is so dark and mysterious, whenever she's on the screen, she completely steals the limelight. Rapace's performance is spot on, playing the role of the troubled, misunderstood punk with a history of abuse and violence. The subtle underplaying of the history of the character creates an added level of intrigue and mystery to an already compelling story. The acting si superb by all the actor throughout, especially in the scenes containing sexual violence. It's understandable that those must be hard scenes to film, as they were to watch, and yet all the actors involved play their roles to a tee, whether it's the abused victim or the sick-minded abuser.

It's clear throughout the film that this a literary adaptation, and director Niels Arden Oplev has done a great job in adapting the late Stieg Hanson's novel "Men Who Hate Women/The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" to screen. This film adaptation doesn't lose any of the fast paced action or punchy dialogue used in the book to move the plot along, although having the film in Swedish with English subtitles does, unfortunately, mean some parts are 'lost in translation', although that's not to say it's a difficult film to follow. The plot moves along at a consistent pace, and keeps on twisting and turning right until the very end. My only complaint is, much like the book, the film comes to a natural conclusion about one and a half reels before the actual end. It seems almost a shame that everything gets so neatly wrapped up by its conclusion, as I was hoping some elements would be left open for the sequel, even if things are wrapped up in the book as well.

Overall, I found this film phenomenal, engaging and masterful. Most definitely the best foreign film I've seen since Oldboy and just as uncomfortable to watch in parts, this is a compelling mystery story that relies heavily on its well written plot and dialogue. The acting is consistently high throughout, the plot is complex and yet not overly complex, and the film itself, as I've said before, is beautifully shot, offering unparalleled landscapes and visuals. If this film is anything to go by, I can't wait for "The Girl Who Played with Fire" to be released this summer.

Rating: *****

Monday, 5 April 2010


Dave Lizewski is a typical teenage boy who wonders why no-one has ever put on a costume and become a superhero in real life. Therefore, he puts on a wet suit and becomes Kick-Ass, who becomes an internet phenomenon but is better at getting his ass kicked than kicking anyone else's ass. However, he soon finds himself caught in the middle of an ongoing battle between real superheroes Big Daddy and Hit Girl and local crime boss Frank D'Amico, and after being betrayed by Red Mist, Frank D'Amico's son Chris, it's down to him to save the day.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the most knowledgeable person in the world when it comes to comic books and graphic novels, but I like to think I have a bit more knowledge than most, hence why I can recognise 'Kick-Ass' not just as the everyman superhero movie, but as an homage the superhero genre and to its influences. The number of Batman, Superman and Watchmen references hidden in the film, clear or unclear, were numerous by the end, including the last line read by 'Red Mist': "Wait 'til they get a load of me" - Not just a line leaving the franchise open to a sequel, but one of The Joker's famous lines from Tim Burton's 'Batman'. As far as homages go, this is a hell of a tribute to the superhero/comic book genre.

This film is so refreshingly entertaining because it's so different to the usual comic book movie, but then, the source material itself is so entirely different to the usual comic cook fodder, hence why 'Kick-Ass' is making the impact it is, much in the same way 'Watchmen' did just a year ago. Aaron Johnson as Kick-Ass is a great fit for the role, he really is convincing as the awkward, all-American geeky teenage boy, showing his versatility as an actor after his great performance as John Lennon in 'Nowhere Boy' just a few short months ago.

As I'm sure you all know now, this film is all about Big Daddy and Hit Girl aka Nicolas Cage and Chloe Grace Moretz. From their introduction in the film, where Cage shoots Moretz twice in an abandoned swimming pool, to their giddy excitement about receiving a jet pack with 2 Gatling guns attached, they absolutely steal the show. Nicolas Cage puts in a great performance as Big Daddy, a performance I haven't seen from him since 'Matchstick Men'. He just seems genuinely pleased to have such a great role and delights in it after appearing in so many run-of-the-mill films like 'The Wicker Man', 'Bangkok Dangerous' and 'The Knowing'. You can see a lot of Elvis in his performance, as well as a lot of Adam West's Batman - another hark back to the superhero homage of the film itself.

Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman have done a great job of adapting the comic book onto the big screen whilst also making it approachable for all sections of the audience - You cover the chick flick fans with the romance between Dave and Katie, you cover the action fans with the big, violent fight scenes, you cover the comic book fans with the cool super heroes and you cover everyone else with the witty dialogue and fantastic action scenes. To me, it almost feels like you're watching an extended, super hero version of 'Freaks and Geeks', a cult TV show from 1999, especially during the final battle when Hit Girl is at D'Amico's headquarters battling with D'Amico's henchmen with Joan Jett's 'Bad Reputation' playing in the background.

Overall, I say believe the hype. This is a really good, engrossing, hilarious two hours that's well worth the price of admission. It's not as good as 'Watchmen', which I believe to be the ultimate superhero film, and it's a shame because it was always going to lead to comparisons to 'Watchmen' with both of them being so anti-establishment comic books, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable. A few years ago, this would have been seen as a perfect superhero film. Unfortunately, 'Watchmen' raised the bar so high, 'Kick-Ass' can only ever be seen to try and match it. Don't get me wrong though - This is still the best film of the year so far.

Rating: ****1/2

The Blind Side

Michael Oher, a teenager placed into foster care at an early age, gets a chance to improve his life by gaining entry into an exclusive Christian school due to his size and athletic ability. Whilst there, he's noticed by Leigh Anne Tuohy, whose kids go to the same school. Leigh Anne recognises Michael's poor predicament and takes him in, giving him a place to stay, new clothes, and eventually begins to turn his life around by helping him improve his grades and training to become a world class American football player.

I'll admit, going into this movie, I was already biased. I'm an American football fan, and in particular a Baltimore Ravens fan, and thus I was already well aware of the Michael Oher story, and so I was more interested in seeing how it was depicted on screen, as well as interested in seeing how accurately they would tell the story. I wasn't at all disappointed, and to be completely honest, I was impressed at how much it stuck to the real story.

One question comes out of this film, though, more than any other - Where the hell did Sandra Bullock produce a performance like that from? We've spent years being subjected to films like 'The Lake House' and 'All About Steve' and then, all of a sudden, she pulls out a performance of such depth and emotion like this. It seems almost surreal watching Sandra Bullock deliver a truly great performance, but there you go, the Academy weren't wrong.

The story itself is a really great heartwarming tale of redemption and the film plays it out at exactly the right pace, never letting it get too gooey or schmaltzy, letting it tell itself without having to force it. The opening scene establishes the telling of the story in flashback form which seems a bit wrong, it seems as though they could have just let the film go from start to finish without putting it into a somewhat different context: Leaving the audience wondering why Michael Oher is being interviewed about his 'weird situation' and leading into it like that.

Quinton Aaron plays the role of Oher almost perfectly, moving from "Big Mike" to the world class offensive linesman he became during his time at Wingate Christian School and eventually the University of Mississippi. He doesn't go over the top playing on the emotion which is induced by most of the scenes (and be careful, apart from a few select comedy scenes starring Leigh Anne's youngest son SJ, it is a powerful, emotional film) but still manages to portray Michael Oher in an extremely accurate light. The casting of Tim McGraw as Sean Tuohy links this film directly to Friday Night Lights, the ultimate (so far) portrayal of American football on film, and it's clear to seen Lights' influence on the actual football scenes, in particular Oher's debut game where he faces the opposition's number 66 - It's arguably the film's most memorable scene, and it's a scene that involves American football, not emotional back story. I believe that goes to show just how engaging this film is on all levels.

Overall, this film is a great, uplifting story, but it was always going to be due to the source material it comes from. The main question was always going to be how well the writers and director, and they've done incredibly well translating this fascinating story onto film, and making it accessible to everyone, from football fan to drama fan. The performances are good, which is essential in carrying the film, and although the film is about Oher's story, Sandra Bullock's Leigh Anne Tuohy really steals the show and the limelight, though the question remains: Should Sandra Bullock have stolen the limelight away from Michael Oher's incredible story? Don't get me wrong, it works, but Oher's story should probably have been given the foreground, though that's not to take away from Tuohy's incredible act of kindness. You will, however, probably appreciate this film more if you either have prior knowledge of the Oher story or if you're an American football fan.

Rating: ****