Friday, 26 April 2013

Ant Reviews: Iron Man 3 (2013) -->

While the previous two Iron Man films were great money-makers, and the first in the series having reinvigorated and redefined the superhero film genre, the decision to replace Jon Favreau with Shane Black (at Robert Downey Jnr’s suggestion) was the best decision made for the franchise. Iron Man 3 stands as the freshest, funniest and most interesting Iron Man, and Marvel film, made thus far.

Shane Black worked with RDJ on a film called Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) at a time when RDJ was still considered a risk to hire. The modern-day noir was very well written, had a lot of spark and great performances, and was something of a minor classic (at least for me). It set the tone for RDJ’s return to form, and his performances in all subsequent films, that is to say the use of the lovable, charming arsehole. While it may work for some characters (Tony Stark) it doesn’t work that well for others (Sherlock Holmes) but never the less KKBB is where it all began, and is the best example of this RDJ character in use.

With Drew Pearce as co-screenwriter, Black brings back some of that charm to RDJ’s Tony Stark, and contains some of the most successful dialogue moments the character has ever utilized in any film appearance. It’s good to watch this film with a good crowd as it only enhances the experience, and the jokes really work. The jokes aren’t that obvious and that’s a great thing for a film for kids involving kids. The film contains the most surprising and cringe-inducing opening song I’ve heard in a film (you’ll know what I mean), which was a great experience to sit through.

It is a fine choice to show the effects the Avengers film had on Tony Stark’s psyche, and the effects and interesting and convincing. One of the major problems I had with Iron Man 2 is that even after all of the character development of Stark in the first film Stark was still arrogant as hell. This film dials that down significantly, where he is a bit more subdued but not out-of-character, showing more progression than previously. The focus on Stark being a mechanic and a tinkerer helped in making him more like an individual and not just a flashier Bruce Wayne as well.

Guy Pearce is great as Aldrich, a sinister former employer of Pepper, played by Paltrow, who’s as solid as Rebecca Hall and Don Cheadle, who is now known as Iron Patriot. If there is one major complaint about the film is that these characters are sidelined for most of the film, and their appearances are almost an afterthought. The great Stark stuff is more than worth it, but I wish Iron Patriot got more of a better run. Ben Kinglsey is a revelation as the villain Mandarin, one of the most memorable villains of all of the Marvel Films. William Sadler is an odd choice to play a president, as he usually plays villains. This leads to some of the interesting political content the film contains.

The film seems to contain some kind of Bush-era criticism, which while still relevant to an extent seems a little out of place. Pearce’s character makes mention of Sadler’s president pulling strings for rich industrialist friends; a criticism levelled at W. Bush. In addition to this fact that Sadler looks a bit like Bush adds to this comparison.
Cheadle’s War Machine is re-branded Iron Patriot. War Machine makes no appearance in the film, despite what the merchandise will tell you. At one point in the film Iron Patriot has been tasked with hunting down Kinglsey’s Mandarin in Pakistan. The film presents an image of a living weapon, coloured like an American flag, kicking in doors and aiming space-age weapons at Muslims. The obvious Bin Laden comparisons to Mandarin aside, and you find yourself with a 2013 film that has themes and images that seem to reflect a pre-death-of-Bin-Laden War on Terror film, only with less criticism that films from that era would provide. Even the comic book The Ultimates (by Mark Millar) questioned the use of Captain America in Iraq, a living WMD wrapped in an American Flag. The invading ‘knight in shining (American) armour’ idea is presented with very little irony, which is a shame.

I find it interesting that Iron Patriot occupies such a role in this film. The image of a Captain America-esque Iron Man came about from someone tinkering with a Marvel Civil War cover of Iron Man holding Cap’s shield. This inspired the villain Iron Patriot, which was worn by Norman Osbourne, a Spider-man villain. The role suits Rhodey and like the design in the film, I just wish there was a bit more of it in the film.

So an interesting film, well made, even if some of the themes seem out of place or a little dated in a contemporary mindset. The supporting cast get little to play with (comparatively) but the overall experience is satisfying and all make great use of their time. It also contains the greatest third act of the franchise (I love all the extra armours!). And if you’re wondering why this film takes place at Christmas: Black wrote Long Kiss Goodnight, The Last Boyscout, Lethal Weapon and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, all of which take place at Christmas. It’s his thing.


Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Ant Reviews: Iron Man: Rise of the Technovore (2013)

The OTHER Iron Man movie of 2013 is a straight-to-DVD anime that may or may not take place between The Avengers (2012) and Iron Man 3 (2013). The story centres on mysterious new villain Technovore, who targets Tony Stark with his strange and unstoppable bio-organic technology. This forces Stark on the run from S.H.I.E.L.D. and features non-super-powered heroes Hawkeye, Black Widow, Nick Fury and, surprisingly, The Punisher.

I had watched the Iron Man Anime series, which shares a few similarities with this film in that there is a link to the live-action Marvel Universe, with the series taking place after Iron Man (2008) and featuring characters from that film. Iron Man is a character well suited to a Japanese audience, and that series saw Stark setting up a shop in Japan with a Japanese scientist counterpart fulfilling the role that Pepper Potts normally would. The series was OK, it had a better pace and was more interesting than the snail-pace X-Men anime and had an art style more consistent than the uneven Wolverine Anime.

The animation is fine; mixing what I think is traditional animation with digital representations of his armour for the action sequences. Some of the action flies by too fast, and no real sense of geography is offered. The character representations are pretty, and the villain’s method of killing people is visually interesting, so overall the art is solid if frenetic.

In terms of voices, the series had the star power of Adrian Pasdar, which the film replaced with Mathew Mercer, a fine replacement who sounds a lot like Nolan North when in Tony Stark mode. Troy Baker, known for being Nightwing in the new Injustice: Gods Among Us game, is Hawkeye while Seth Green’s wife Clare Grant is Black Widow. All do fine work, though the guy who plays Nick Fury is a little off. They also draw him as if he’s stoned throughout the whole thing, bizarrely. He’s not calm and collected like Samuel L Jackson’s version, just sedate.
The celebrity draw of the film is Norman Reedus, who plays Frank Castle, the Punisher. He gets top billing, and I think they designed the Punisher to look more like Reedus then any Punisher that has been on-screen before. He ads a cold calmness to the role, and lacks the southern accent I became used to hearing out of Darrel Dixon. I always enjoy hearing a familiar voice in a cartoon; half the fun of watching contemporary DC cartoons is to pick out the celebrity voices and see how well they suit the roles.

He is a surprising and welcome addition, and his absent is strongly felt. He’s only in the film for a little bit, in the first half. And it is in this first half where the film has any interest and innovation. Once he leaves the film devolves into boring and uninteresting clichés, many of them associated with Japanese animation.

The villains are children who haven’t grown up, and who live in one big room. One of them is weird, catatonic, and sits in a chair. The whole sequence reminds me of Akira (1988) when we are introduced to the superpowered children. There are a few visual cues from the location as well as how the villain’s physical damage towards the end resembles Akira’s Tetsuo. And, like Tetsuo, the villain takes control of a satellite. The final 20 mins of the film deal with the villain’s powers in overdrive, and a lot of this visually looks like some Neon Genesis: Evangelion in both design and action. The Technovore, in human form, waxes lyrical in a very wordy, unrealistic fashion, which is common of Japanese animation and is a staple of the form, I suppose.

Safe to say that in this second half I lost the most interest, and wasn’t paying enough attention to what was going on. Rhodey was injured but came back OK, the villain took over the Helicarrier and then a whole city and it was all very confusing, and to be honest, boring. The whole affair is an OK way to spend your time, but it ultimately isn’t the most original piece nor is it the most exciting. The Marvel Anime have always been hit-and-miss, and at this point I’m not sure if it is a problem with the quality of the productions or all the moments I have issues with are simply conventions of a medium I’m not all that familiar with. That is to say that I’ve asked myself “would I enjoy this more if I was Japanese and understood anime?” So…I’m hanging out for Iron Man 3 tomorrow. That should be fun.


Sunday, 7 April 2013

Ant Reviews: Welcome To The Punch (2013)

Eran Creevy’s Welcome to the Punch centres on Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) and his feverish pursuit of master thief Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong), who returns to London to help his son who’s caught up in a nasty conspiracy. Fans of British television would recognise a vast majority of the cast, made up of David Morrissey, Peter Mullan (currently kicking arse in Top of The Lake) Daniel Mays, Andrea Riseborough (who’s starring alongside Tom Cruise in Oblivion) among others.  

Ed Wild’s cinematography is slick, cold and sharp, and presents an unrecognizable London, with its lights shining in the dark under a blue hue. The look is very alien and very modern European. While rendering familiar places unrecognizable is a cool thing to do (see Leon The Professional and how New York looks like the Parisian underbelly) this does little to make the film stand out as a British version of Heat (1995); many shots look like the film could have been shot in Sweden.  

And that would not be that bad, though, if not for that glaring Heat comparison. This film is another action crime epic, like Michael Mann’s masterpiece, with the central protagonists being cops and robbers playing cat and mouse. This time there is more of a third party threat than there is in Mann’s film, but the comparison is unmistakeable. Going back to the problem of it not looking too much like England: the film could have been shot in the US without much of the dialogue being changed, and as a ‘British Heat’, I feel the film needed just a bit more to make you associate it with the UK. 

But perhaps a British audience with receive the plot better than I did, as the conspiracy that ties all major events together involves guns, and the issue of providing guns to UK police in a standard capacity a la the US. This may be a big issue in the UK post-riots, but in the film to me it lacked a certain kind of relevance, and felt fake and un-British as a conspiracy idea. 

The whole thing feels just too American to me. I suppose that’s a trapping of the genre, as action films of this type originated there and as such the plot and character conventions feel too American. The film is peppered with these clichés here and there, and as such the film feels like Brits trying to make an American movie. It feels odd as all the actors on display are top-shelf and at times the story and the dialogue feel amateurish. 

I say amateurish as I recognise the film in a certain way, its very familiar to me. Not to say that it is; the script won third place in a competition regarding unproduced screenplays, and found itself with Ridley Scott as one of its executive producers. I’m just saying that at a young age I felt like I could make a ‘smart’ action movie, more of a drama with shooting in it, and had many ideas of writing a film that would have probably turned out very much like ....Punch. Maybe I will write something like that someday, and it feels sometimes like the film is cramming American ideas and scenarios into a British setting, and that feels to me like something a teenager would write. 

Which brings me to the film’s misleading title. It feels like the title of a sassier film, and while there actually is a plot-based reason as to the name of the film (the words ‘welcome to the punch’ are blink-and-you-miss-it, but there) the film overall lacks the kind of energy that the title suggests. There is one great scene, however, where three heroic characters hold a villain’s grandma hostage, and shootout ensues. This scene crackles with energy and innovation, and is shot brilliantly. It makes one wonder why the rest of the film is rather flat, and one must assume that this scene was a ‘this has to be in the movie’ kind of scenes that the director must have dreamt about making, as it is the only one with a discernible amount of care put into it. It’s the most exciting and certainly the most memorable scene in an otherwise unmemorable film. 

The performances are ok. The cast are made up of UK TV favourites of mine, with some of their great film actors thrown in for good measure. The problem is they’re not given much to work with. In a short amount of time the two main characters are dealt great personal blows, and both reactions aren’t given the right amount of time or gravitas they deserve. It’s easy to determine who the bad guy is behind it all (it rhymes with ‘flavid florriesy’) and the reasons and motivations for such criminal acts are hastily sped through. 
The problem is we’re not given much of a reason to care what happens to any of the characters, really, which leaves us with a cold film that goes through the motions at times, save for the before mentioned hostage scene. It at times feels like the actors filmed this on the weekends while they worked on bigger, better productions during the week; Daniel Mays looks liked he walked straight off the set of Ashes to Ashes. But it is good seeing McAvoy with a ginger beard (my friend Andrew has the same problem) and being more like a tough man than the grown teenager he looks like in Wanted. He turns in a good performance, but Strong’s scenes needed a bit more oomph. He’s a bit too cold and calculated, and needed more life. 

In all Welcome to the Punch is ok. It’s certainly not the worst film in the world, but it is by no means the most memorable or the most original. It’s also a surprisingly long film, so if you’re in the mood to watch quality UK actors do an ok job in an predictable American style heist revenge film, give it a look. But I had a better time watching The Sweeney (2012).