Archive for April, 2010

IRON MAN 2

Posted: April 28, 2010 in Uncategorized

IRON MAN 2 ****

Sometimes, though rarely, rich movies yield even richer sequels, and such is the case with IRON MAN 2, easily the best superhero sequel since THE DARK KNIGHT, and instantly one of the best films ever made within the genre. Unlike the Batman sequel, however, which revelled in its titular darkness, IRON MAN 2, even more so than the original, is played for laughs – literally. There are very few scenes in the film that aren’t essentially comedic; very few people die, there is very little violence, and indeed, even the action scenes are kept to a minimum. Instead we have Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark / Iron Man, and we get way more of Tony than Iron Man – indeed the suit doesn’t come out very much in this outing, and certainly less than the original. This is a brilliant move, for while Iron Man is one of the least interesting superheroes (essentially a flying, fire-spitting metal suit), Stark is one of the superhero world’s most fun alter-egos, and Downey plays him for all he’s worth. The kicker here is that Stark revealed that he was Iron Man to the world at the conclusion of the first one, and as the new one begins we find Stark revelling in the world’s adulation – an extremely Branson-esque figure that the world adores for bringing about world piece. All the love is going to Tony’s head, however, and the fact that he’s slowly dying from the very thing that gives him and the world such joy is bumming him out. Also, the US military wants to get their hands on the suit, and he’s not having that at all.

Director Jon Favreau, returning for another round, is extremely wise in playing to his lead actor’s strengths – and to our delight in watching Downey enjoy himself immensely as this arrogant but lovable billionaire (see what I mean about Branson)? Favreau is smart enough to know that we’re sick of seeing CGI characters fight it out endlessly (the worst offender of this being THE INCREDIBLE HULK, which had an epic “cartoon” battle as it’s extremely boring climax) and, indeed, the final battle in this film is practically over before it starts – to the audience’s great relief. Favreau knows that, ultimately, its all about human relationships, and to that end Downey gets to play off Gweneth Paltrow’s Pepper much more – and much more intriguingly – than he did in the first one, as well as having a much more interesting relationship with Jim Rhodes (Don Cheadle, replacing the original’s Terrence Howard). Sam Rockwell gets great comic mileage playing a villainous rival billionaire, Scarlett Johansson looks sexier than ever (and gets to kick some butt) and Micky Rourke is perfectly cast as the film’s only serious villain, a Russain physicist with a serious grudge against Stark. His snarls and looks create a terrific character of very few words. But its Downey’s show, and he makes the most of it, getting tons of laughs along the way. Stuffed full of in-jokes, visual gags and extremely witty lines (the excellent screenplay is by Justin Theroux), IRON MAN 2 is a superhero comedy without every taking the piss. If you want to get a sense of its cleverness – the evil senator is played by Gary Shandling!

HOT TUB TIME MACHINE ***1/2

There are some movies which wear their premises in their titles (SNAKES ON A TRAIN, SHE’S OUT OF MY LEAGUE) – and Hot Tub Time Machine joins this league admirably (and is a better movie than those mentioned). As silly as a movie can get, the film is surprisingly funny, as one would expect by the participation of the always classy John Cusack, who produces as well acts in the film. Essentially, four guys approaching middle age, and disappointed with their lives, try to revisit their youth by going to their old favourite haunt – a ski resort. They find it sad and run down, but then discover a hot tub time machine and really get to revisit their youth by being zapped back to 1986. Of course, if you’re seeing this film for its plot, you’ve come to the wrong place. Anything goes for a gag is the rule here, and eighties fashion, amputation, poo jokes and lots of sex and drugs all get the comic treatment. An easy, enjoyable waste of time.

THE ROOM

The hardest movie to review – or at least to star. I’m giving it no stars, but that shouldn’t deter you from seeing it, because you don’t go to see The Room for its quality – you go for its lack of it. Writer / director / producer / star Tommy Wiseau – a weird, strangley-accented, long-haired, muscle-bound EuroFreak – had created what truly might be the worst feature film ever released, and late-night hip audiences have been lapping it up all over the world. A true example of “so bad it’s good,” The Room is actually so bad it’s unbelievably brilliant. Go see it at the cinema, where a cult has arisen out of the audience brutally and relentlessly making fun of every minute of this total celluloid disaster.

DATE NIGHT ***

Tina Fey and Steve Carrell in a New York comedy directed by Shawn Levy should offer great delights. Instead, it offers a very amusing first third before descending into an 80s-style “action comedy”, complete with multiple car chases, handguns, and black-leather-clad villains. Why it was decided that these two classy comedians needed whiz and bang to complement their excellent skills is beyond me. If only they’d stuck with the talent and given away the stunts, guns, and villains, this would have been a much funnier film. Amusing cameo roles from Mark Wahlberg, James Franco and Mila Kunis help, but not nearly enough scripting – or screen time – is given to Ray Liotta and William Fichtner, both brilliant actors who are completely wasted here in extremely generic “bad guy” roles. Manhattan locations are very well used and the film looks and sounds great – but you just get the sense that it could have been so much funnier with a bit more script work.

BENEATH HILL 60 ****1/2

Jeremy Hartley Sims’ film of David Roach’s extraordinary script is a new Australian classic war film detailing an extraordinary – and largely unsung – period in WWI history. As the western front got bogged down into a horrendous stalemate, a new war began – beneath the trenches of the front. This film gives an insight into this insanely treacherous – and, from a modern perspective, ludicrous – method of warfare, through the prism of ten Australian soldiers, lead by the real-life figure Oliver Woodward, a mining engineer from Tenterfield who followed his nation’s call and proved himself to be a surprisingly remarkable soldier and leader of men. In the role of Woodward, Brendan Cowell gives a revelatory performance – easily the best of his still-blooming career – and he is matched in similar career-best performances from Steve Le Marquand, Alan Dukes, and an almost unrecognisable Anthony Hayes (playing against stereotype in a major way by actually being clean-shaven, neat and well-spoken). Also popping up are veterans Chris Haywood, David Ritchie, and – surprise! – John Stanton, who has not lost an ounce of gravitas in the years he’s been away from our screens. A truly gripping film, the incredibly well-wrought script makes the seriously brain-straining concepts of “tunnel warfare” not only possible to follow, but actually exciting – which is a massive achievement, given that it is quite possibly the slowest and most labourious method of warfare in history. If the movie occasionally strains to make such a bizarre form of combat “minute-to-minute” exciting, it completely makes up for it with compelling and believable production design, sound design and truly stunning cinematography. A brilliant film, and a film that will delight all ages and tastes. It should carve up the AFIs, in all categories.

Me and Orson Welles

Posted: April 15, 2010 in Uncategorized

ME AND ORSON WELLES ***

For a movie geek like me, a film of Orson Welles’ seminal 1937 Broadway production of Shakespeare’s JULIUS CAESAR – echoing the rise of Hitler – could not be more appealing. I’ve read about the production in four different biographies of Welles and also in John Houseman – Welles’ producer’s – autobiography. This stage production was seminal – a reduction of Shakespeare to 90 minutes, played with no interval, in modern dress, and utilising a political metaphor, with stark, modern lighting and a style of acting as rich in emotional truth as in declamatory strength. The concept of the excellent director Richard Linklater bringing this story to the screen was as enticing as anything. Unfortunately, by focusing the story on a seventeen-year-old (played ably by Zac Effron) who stumbles into the arms of the production, we don’t get nearly as much of Welles (Christian McKay) as we would like. McKay, a British actor who has seemed to come out of nowhere to play Welles, is, literally, perfect in the role, and we just want the movie to be about him, rather than Zeffron’s slightly tepid Richard, an “everyman” character with no discernable backbone. The film is a lovely – and loving – evocation of an era, a man (Welles), and a truly important moment in theatrical history – but it struggles, unfortunately, as filmic drama. The more you know about Welles himself, the more you’ll enjoy this ambitious, but flawed, movie.

Posted: April 13, 2010 in Uncategorized

KICK ASS ****1/2

Matthew Vaugn’s film is not only a revelation but a revolution. It completely re-defines acceptable terms of on-screen violence. Whether you like this film or not will depend pretty much entirely on how much you can enjoy seeing an eleven year old girl in a “batman-style” suit killing bad guys by knifing them in the neck. I loved it. This film is an exciting, visceral fantasy-fest of the highest order. Director Matthew Vaughn has crafted a revenge fantasy that uses all the tricks and trades from Tarantno, Scorcese and Rodriguez to craft a beautiful, alluring, and desperately fun flick – a total roller-coaster ride of nihilistic excess. It ain’t for my Mum, or even my Dad – but for certain friends, this film is like Pulp Fiction – the cinematic equivalent of a great new drug, and worth seeing again. Brilliant.

COCO CHANEL AND IGOR STRAVINSKI ***1/2

Has ever a film been titled worse? For those who have always wondered about the copulatary possibilities of these two masters of their artistic domains – this film is a must. For the rest of us – it is actually an incredibly beautiful, and often incredibly boring, film. Mads Mikkelsen makes the most of Stravinsky through long glances an Christopher Walken-style stances, while Anna Mouglalis as Coco Chanel is alluring, sexy, independent – and boring. A film for those who want it, it is certainly not a film for the general public – because who could stand it? That said, it is beautifully shot, supremely acted, and the sex rocks. A great, terrible, film.