Category Archives: Films

“Iron Man 3” review – Ol’ Shellhead’s Finest Hour?

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Rest assured, would-be viewers of “Iron Man 3” , post-“Avengers” fatigue has not set in.

Rather than find ways to go bigger and invest millions of dollars on a futile, tail-chasing exercise in upping the intensity of the stunts and action, “Iron Man 3” refreshingly realises that less can be more and paces itself accordingly, finding time to fill the screen with both retina-dazzling sturm und drang and funnier, more low-key character moments for the cast.

This is, be under no illusions, quite the funniest “IM” movie so far – the quips, bits of business and situational absurdity are gloriously integrated into the film, balancing the tension and central mystery of the main plotline with moments which let just about every major cast member crack wise at least once or twice (even Tony Stark’s personal A.I. construct Jarvis gets a fantastic, scene-capping one-liner).

It wouldn’t do to spoil the plot for you too much, so let’s just say that the events of the battle of New York have taken a toll on Robert Downey Jnr’s Tony Stark and sent him into a spiral of stress, suit tinkering and general bubble-dwelling which sees him picking fights, seeing the trappings of his life stolen away from him and having to go back to his engineering roots to try to salvage something of value from the wreckage he finds himself wading through.

Going back to basics can be a risky strategy but it really pays here off for writer/director Shane Black and his cowriter, Drew Pearce.  Stark’s gadgets and armour are the main attraction for some, but Black and Pearce choose crucially to focus on Downey Jnr’s quick wits and energy, making this the first “Iron Man” entry that I can recall where the hero spends more of his time out of the suit and employing his ingenuity to solve problems and save the day.  Think the opening 30 minutes of the first movie – but this time, that’s the focus of what Stark has to do this time.

No bleeding-edge, gadget-strewn lab, adorable robot helpers or suit which can blast the bad guys into next week to make things easy – just a fast-talking, goatee-bearded Einstein with no filter between brain and mouth and an abiding desire to sort a particularly thorny terrorist issue who goes by the name The Mandarin.   I particularly enjoyed a sequence during this stretch of the film where Stark has to use the supplies available at a Big Box DIY goods store to cobble together a suitable collection of toys for a smash-and-grab mission – it’s like “Mission: Impossible” if Adam and Jamie from “Mythbusters” were running IMF…

You’ve seen Ben Kingsley as the character if you’ve watched the trailers for the movie, but you probably don’t have any clue as to just how good the British actor is in this film – Kingsley gives a magnetic, compelling turn here and demands your attention whenever the plot compels him to appear on-screen.  It’s best to approach the film on as much of a self-imposed media blackout as you can, so as to avoid some of the plot reveals and spoilers out there in the great digital aether  – certainly, the Mandarin should be seen with as little foreknowledge as possible.

If there’s one member of the cast who didn’t register as well for me, it’s Guy Pearce – his mysterious Aldrich Killian is initially fascinating but soon becomes rather humdrum when his motivations are revealed.  The script falters here a little, too, when dealing with Killian’s mysterious tech think tank, A.I.M.  We veer away from a world where the technology is futuristic but somewhat believable to a world where characters are suddenly doing stuff which is more in the realm of sword-and-sorcery fantasy than the techno-thriller territory of the rest of the film.  And as the film has established that there’s no Asgardian players on the field for this adventure, the disconnect is rather too abrupt.

It’s a minor misstep, though – the film barrels along with verve and that aforementioned embedded funny bone, even chucking in a world’s first, by buddying up Stark with a fatherless kid and making their relationship charming and enjoyable rather than Hollywood saccharine and unbearable.   It all ends with a climax which draws a neat line under the trilogy and Tony Stark himself, allowing Marvel and Downey the freedom to whatever they want with the character – it might mean no more solo Stark movies, it could mean that we just see him in “The Avengers” sequel but it’s a great way to round things off and give both audience and actor a neat grace note for the character to (temporarily) ride off into the sunset…

 

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Besson dreams of “Lucy”

“I’m very silently judging you”

Suddenly, “Nikita” seems very far away…or does it?

The Hollywood Reporter’s “Heat Vision” blog today reported on director Luc Besson’s next actioner, “Lucy”, which has a plotline so deranged as to makes Besson’s “Taken” series look like the work of Michael Haneke.

Johansson’s character is a drug mule whose exposure to the illicit substance she’s transporting turns her into a one woman take-down machine, impervious to pain and telekinetic to boot.

If you read that log line and said to yourself, “I’d sooner eat my crusty toenails in a sandwich than watch that”, I fully sympathise – but you’re reading the blog of the man who willingly exposes himself to “Resident Evil” movies and counts the “Underworld” franchise as one of his favourite movie jams.

Don't Look Down...

Don’t Look Down…

Taste, or my lack of thereof, somewhat suggests that I’ll be turning out for this movie on opening weekend.  I’m not sure when Besson went from the enfant not especially terrible of French cinema to the guy behind goofy actioners like “The Transporter” films or my favourite of his obscurities as a producer, “Yamakasi”, but I’m not about to deny that I love many of his – shall we say – more lightweight endeavours…

 

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Putting the Hammer down

A hairy man sorts out his foes...

A hairy man sorts out his foes…

Screencaps? Faffing about with my video software?  Must be summer movie trailer time.

Behold!  It’s “Thor: The Dark World”, with a teaser glimpse for your perusal and edification!

I've heard of protecting Alt Kids from society's abuses, but this is ridonkulous..

Loki is Emo – confirmed…

Expect to see his Norse Godliness in modern-day London, hints at a romantic triangle, lots of action and a last-minute cameo appearance by Loki-chops, with Tom Hiddleston apparently channelling Dani Filth from CoF for reasons best known to the costume department.  Me likey.

“Thor: The Dark World” opens in good, bad and indifferent cinemas on October 30th in the UK and on November 8th in the US.

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Very Metal “Thor The Dark World” teaser poster drops

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So, when did Thor join Sabaton?  Just wondering.

The second cinematic adventure for the exquisitely coiffured son of Odin will be with us in November, and to whet your proverbial whistle for Tuesday’s teaser trailer, here’s a Marvel-supplied poster of the Norse God bringing his own, oddly-accented brand of thunder and bad assery.

As the first “Thor” outing was probably my favourite of the stand-alone “Phase One” series of Marvel films, I’m truly on board for what the House of Ideas’ cinematic brains trust delivers with this movie, even if I’m going to miss original director Kenneth Branagh’s love of a ‘Dutch’ angle.

Still, most of the other principals are back, Christopher Eccleston is bringing his own brand of Mancunian melancholy to the villain role and it’s being helmed by a regular “Game of Thrones” director (I suspect that there’s rather less scope here, however,  for non-stop pillaging, politicking and the other less salubrious fantasy stuff for which that HBO show is becoming increasingly famed…).

I expect good things…

 

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“Star Wars” – Attack of the production line?

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Honestly, you go away for a couple of days – a work trip, not exactly exciting – and things get all confusing for any self-respecting member of the “Star Wars” generation.  It’s as though you’ve been out of the game for a while and people get delusions of grandeur or something…

The sci-fi franchise’s new overlords, the Walt Disney Company, this week unleashed dark, Sithian portents of wholly predictable corporate malevolence by announcing that films seven, eight and nine in the new trilogy will open two years apart in 2015, 2017 and 2019 , with spin-off movies featuring “Star Wars” characters filling in the gaps between new instalments of the main saga (“Salacious Crumb – Lust for Glory” – make it so).

So, the House of Mouse is borrowing a note or two from the thus-far successful Marvel Studios play book and pitching their comic book movie business against the biggest name in cinematic sci-fi in a playground battle to win all of the marbles in the yard.  Greedy, much?

I confess to be alarmed by the proposed timeline – is two years between movies really a realistic schedule which would allow for quality to be maintained?  It doesn’t seem as though director J.J. Abrams could realistically turn around movies on this scale in that production line fashion – could any director keep to that kind of workload and deliver something which didn’t feel like a product tooled to meet a release date line in the sand?

Is the plan, then, to alternate directors on each Episode? Curiouser and curiouser…

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White House Redux

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No sooner has Gerard Butler saved 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue from wholly plausible and in no way absurd destruction at the hands of terrorists in “Olympus Has Fallen” than another screen hunk is up to the same patriotic larks.

Hollywood does love high concept duplication of effort, after all: we’ve had duelling volcano, asteroid, CGI Insect fable, Robin Hood and even Alfred Hitchcock films since 1990, so it’s no surprise that 2013 sees not at least two movies set amidst the smouldering ruins of a White House under terrorist attack.  Puzzingly, schlockbuster DTV studio The Asylum have been entirely remiss by not cranking out a Z-budget, franchise-aping homage to this trend.  Perplexed ain’t the half of it…

The aforementioned “Olympus…” is now out and garnering decent notices – as much for saving Gerard Butler from the inglorious rom-com movie jail he was seemingly doing time in.   The redoubtable Den of Geek even dubbed it a better “Die Hard” movie than the apparently dire “A Good Day To Die Hard“, which probably suggests that multiplex audiences might have preferred to see John McClane duking it out in the Oval Office than in Red Square.

Late June, then, sees the arrival of Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Channing Tatum (and Channing Tatum’s omnipresent nipples) in serial White House mangler Roland Emmerich‘s “White House Down” and a new trailer for said action opus has arrived, bringing with it amazing scenes of America under siege, panicky news people reporting on artfully staged chaos and Mr Tatum’s sweatily exuberant protuberances bewitching all who encounter them (I understand that Channing’s bits have their own three picture deal at Fox).

I’m intrigued to see what Roland Emmerich does with an unabashed action movie for a change – his stock in trade is the contemporary disaster movie and whilst he’s an old hand at laying waste to global monuments and iconic buildings, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’ll be able to deliver on the tropes that fans of earnest blokes in increasingly dank vests wielding sub-machine guns seek from their Friday night frag fests.

The film opens on June 28th in the US, and in September in the UK.  It’s almost as if the subject matter won’t resonate quite so much with us cynical Brits…

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The Fast and the Furyon

After months of drip-fed stills, we’ve finally got a first look at the new “Riddick” movie in motion.

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It’s a teaser trailer in the truest sense of the word, clocking in at a brief 22 seconds, but no doubt acts as the outrider for a longer glimpse at What Vin Did Next – perhaps due in front of an audience primed and ready for the vehicular smack-down of “Fast Six“?

Whilst many an online movie outlet has been downright sniffy about the low-key publicity campaign that Diesel and longtime collaborator David Twohy have been engaged in – most updates on the project have come directly via Diesel’s Facebook group – I can’t help but feel that this strategy is a smart one which might be copied by any new media-savvy star.  Why not convert that millions-strong Twitter following into engaged consumers storming the box office come Friday night and the release of your new flick?

Films increasingly cost an absurd amount of money to make, and any way of engaging and reaching out to people who will get the word out to their friends and family about a new release can only help a film’s opening weekend in a marketplace which is more competitive than ever.  This third outing for “Riddick” is, after all,  a more stripped-down effort than the second film’s budget-straining, Sci-Fantasy universe building, so surely any attempt to intelligently engage with an audience who want to see the film has to make more sense than blanketing television channels with adverts that Tivo owners just zip through?

We’ll see who has the last laugh when the film opens in the US on September 6th.

 

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Cumberbatched Into Darkness

It’s a Thursday, there’s precious little on TV – why not take in the latest trailer for “Star Trek Into Darkness”?

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This would be the “Empire Strikes Back” of the reborn “Star Trek” movie franchise, then?  I’m guessing so, what with the doomy tone, Benedict Cumberbatch‘s messianic sociopath running amok and blowing up half of the planet and the gloriously blatant shuttle craft/Millennium Falcon riff showing up in this two minutes and 15 seconds of face-melting, nerd glee.

Oh, and if you’re into that kind of thing, Alice Eve‘s character apparently can’t afford clothes.  Hollywood double standards, how do they work?

Have a new poster for the movie whilst you work that one out…

"Star Trek Into Darkness" - none more dark, squire...

“Star Trek Into Darkness” – none more dark, squire…

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“Tomb Raider” – Lara’s Renaissance

To quote Lady Croft herself, "I can do this..."

To quote Lady Croft herself, “I can do this…”

TL;DR verdict? “Tomb Raider” is a fantastic game.  Buy with confidence.

Whether or not Lara Croft‘s latest Crystal Dynamics game is a true entry in the series or such a departure that it constitutes an adjunct spin-off is worthy of further discussion, but the title stands on its own.

It’s a little too early to start shouting about ‘game of the year’ considerations but this latest Lara adventure is a cinematic adventure of such quality that it rivals generation-defining PS3 titan “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves” for sheer thrills, visual splendour and storytelling.  Given that the second Nathan Drake game is probably in my top two games of this generation, that’s no small complement.  I’d hope to see this title get it’s due come the end of the year, but I suspect that “Bioshock: Infinite” has game of 2013 all wrapped up unless the shipped product has been somehow inadvertently swapped out in the disc-pressing stage for a tie-in “Smurfs” shovelware effort.

Katniss who?

Katniss who?

Having listened to this week’s episode of the “Weekend Confirmed” podcast, I know that redoubtable host Garnett Lee will disagree in particular with my estimation of the story, and he’s entitled to feel misgivings towards it, but I really feel that this tougher survival story achieves the difficult balance of giving equal importance to character and plotting, pitching a younger Lara Croft through the proverbial mill whilst sketching out some of the elements of her persona in a way which should please long-term fans and players who’ve never picked up a “Tomb Raider” game before.

No game is perfect and often bears the hallmarks of influence . This game at least has the taste to be influenced by really good stuff. As well as the aforementioned Naughty Dog‘s awesome PS3 adventure series, you can pick out gameplay mechanics popularised by Rock Steady’s “Batman”games (Lara has a ‘detective vision’-like ‘survival instinct’ which highlights useful equipment and environmental tools), a gear and skills upgrading system which recalls latter-day “Call of Duty” multi-player perks and the foreboding dread of classic survival horror title “Resident Evil 4” as well as a scene in a charnel pit which is right out of Neil Marshall‘s magnificent horror film, “The Descent”.

The gore and combat can get a little overwrought, it’s true, and might put off some long-time fans who’ve felt that Lara is better when she’s exploring and traversing than when she’s sneaking up on some misogynist cult member and sticking arrows in his gullet but I see this as a real step forward for the character and a tantalising glimpse at what Crystal Dynamics might do with next-gen hardware – the PS3 version that I’ve been playing is utterly beautiful to behold.

Lara’s next game (and the inevitable “Uncharted 4”) might just be the reasons that I pick up a PlayStation 4.

 

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Neptune HS Pirates B-ball Rules!

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 Watch your noses, 09ers – Veronica Mars is back.

Yep, the erstwhile snarky private eye, mama of Backup and SLR-wielding bad ass was reborn yesterday when series creator Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell took to crowd-funding site Kickstarter to raise funds for a low-budget “Veronica Mars” movie to wrap up stories from the show left hanging so egregiously when the CW dropped it after the third series.

In a result which perhaps points the way forward for beloved geek properties felled in a untimely fashion by uncaring corporate masters, the hoped-for $2 million baseline budget for the project was joyously reached in a mere ten hours.   Creative people being able to take their niche wares to an audience who wish to back them?  It’s Beethoven-era artistic patronage rendered feasible by digital connectivity, so it is!

Somewhere, a Browncoat’s ear has begun to twitch…

 

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