Cinema Review: Iron Man 3

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DIR: Shane Black • WRI: Shane Black, Drew Pearce • PRO: Kevin Feige • DOP: John Toll • ED: Peter S Elliot, Jeffrey Ford • DES: Bill Brzeski • Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, Jon Favreau, William Sadler, Rebecca Hall

After making his name with his ground breaking screenplay for 1987’s Lethal Weapon, Shane Black went on to achieve writing credits on films such as The Last Boy Scout, The Last Action Hero and The Long Kiss Goodnight. He then disappeared off the Hollywood radar for close to a decade, before returning in some style with his 2005 directorial debut, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Despite not being a major player at the box-office, this film re-established Black’s standing in the industry, and gave its stars Robert Downey Jr and Val Kilmer roles to die for. While Kilmer has only occasionally threatened to build on his performance under the stewardship of Black, the previously troublesome Downey Jr has seen his career going from strength to strength, to the point that he is now the face of two major franchises, Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes.

Along with last year’s Marvel Avengers Assemble, and his brief cameo in The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 3 marks Downey Jr’s fifth appearance as Tony Stark and his alter-ego, and with Black returning to the director’s chair instead of Jon Favreau, it is clear that the careers of both men have come full circle.

Having helped his fellow Avengers to defeat Loki and the Chitauri in New York City, Stark is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) when a mysterious terrorist leader known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) announces himself to the world by committing a number of atrocities across the globe. His relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) becomes strained as a result, and with figures from his past re-surfacing in the shape of Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian and Rebecca Hall’s botanist, Dr Maya Hansen, matters quickly become complicated for Stark and those close to him.

Taking its cue from the ‘Extremis’ (a highly advanced virus created by Killian) story arc developed by Warren Ellis, Iron Man 3 has a tough act to follow after the overwhelming success of Marvel Avengers Assemble. In addition, the last stand alone adventure for the wisecracking superhero (Iron Man 2) was somewhat disjointed, despite being enjoyable in the most part, meaning that there were some necessary adjustments to be made this time around.

With all that in mind, it is pleasing to report that the latest chapter in the big-screen adventure of Tony Stark is consistently entertaining and gripping, making it arguably the finest film of the Iron Man series thus far. As ever, the chemistry between Downey Jr and Paltrow is right on the money, and Don Cheadle now looks fully comfortable in the combine roles of Colonel James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes and War Machine.

Upon taking control of the film, Black talked about taking a step away from the premise of Iron Man facing off against another giant robot, and certainly the threat this time is an altogether more human and real-world based kind of threat.

It is also significant that Stark is taken out of comfort zone for a large section of the film, as circumstances mean that he is stranded in Tennessee (when he is presumed dead), where he has to rely on all his ingenuity to repair damage of his own making.

With one $15 million dollar film to his name before taking on this task, there were some question marks about how Black would handle the pressure of a film with such a major budget. His handling of the major set-pieces is extremely efficient, though, and in unison with co-writer Drew Pearce, he has maintained the sharp wit that has been synonymous with his work over the past couple of decades.

This framework was established by Favreau (who reprises his role as former bodyguard turned head of security Happy Hogan) in the earlier films, and blossomed under Joss Whedon in last year’s superhero team up, which makes the decision to hire Black for this film all the more obvious.

If there was a criticism to be labelled at the film, it does become slightly overblown in the extended finale, but considering all that gone before it, the filmmakers had more than earned the right to turn outlandish during the final act.

Stepping up to the plate alongside reliable regulars Downey Jr, Paltrow and Cheadle, Pearce and Kingsley offer plenty of menace, while the often under-appreciated Hall also makes the best of the screen time she is afforded.

With a sequel to Marvel Avengers Assemble (those who are intrigued by that prospect should wait around the end credits) very much in the pipeline, this will not be the last we see of Tony Stark in his iron suit, and on the basis of this film, that can only be a good thing.

Daire Walsh

12A (see IFCO website for details)

130 mins
Iron Man 3 is released on 25th April 2013

Iron Man 3 – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Contagion

don't touch me I'm matt-damon

DIR: Steven Soderbergh • WRI: Scott Z. Burns • PRO: Gregory Jacobs, Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher • DOP: Steven Soderbergh • ED: Stephen Mirrione • DES: Howard Cummings • CAST: Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Jennifer Ehle, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow

Premiered at the recent Venice Film Festival, there’s a huge amount of buzz around Contagion
– so much so that the US release date was brought forward to the weekend of 9/11, a time when people are remembering a terrifying event that affected – and killed – thousands of people.

This marketing tactic might be a lucky coincidence, but either way, does Contagion – a story about the fictional MEV-1 virus that wreaks havoc across the world – live up to the hype? It certainly starts at a breakneck pace with scary scenes that’ll ensure you wash your hands more often and stop touching your face (you do it about 3,000 times a day).

Contagion actually begins with the sound of a cough. It’s Day 2, and in a Chicago airport Beth Emhoff (Paltrow) is calling her lover. She’s been away on business in Hong Kong and is now going home to her husband and kids. Within a day she’s having seizures, and soon after she’s on the slab. They buzzsaw her skull open, check out her brain, and the Medical Examiner says those classic words: ‘Call everyone’.

Her son dies right afterwards too, leaving somehow-immune husband Mitch (Damon) and his daughter Jory (Anna Jacoby-Heron) separated by a temporary quarantine and unwilling first witnesses to the fury of an unknown and deadly virus.

Others are falling like flies in London and Hong Kong, and soon the hunt is on to find what’s killing everyone. At the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, head honcho Dr. Ellis Cheever (Fishburne) is trying to stay in control as Homeland Security starts getting twitchy, and Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) is beginning to organize what the mounting numbers of sick and dying are going to need.

As the virus slowly infects the planet, World Health Organization doctor Leonara Orantes (Cotillard) is trying to find Patient Zero: who they were and where they were infected on Day 1, while back in Atlanta in the CDC lab, Dr. Ally Hextall (Ehle) is trying to isolate the virus and find a vaccine.

Out on the streets in San Francisco is Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law, sporting a ridiculous pair of gappy front teeth and showcasing an Australian or possibly South African accent), a blogger and conspiracy theorist who believes the Government and chemical companies are all in cahoots, and that there might be another antidote. He fuels the fire of panic, and soon State borders are closing and the National Guard are on the streets… yet still the death toll rises.

Director Soderbergh brings his slick, crowd-pleasing Ocean’s 11 skills to bear here, setting up a cracking premise quickly and laying the path for a story that promises to have everything; an unseen enemy, a hopeless situation, a cast of heroes fighting for their fellow humans (even if it means their own sacrifice) and a race against time.

We’re in classic disaster movie territory, yet Contagion falls short of the mark because it fails to give anything emotional for the audience to connect too. Sure, people are dying by the truck load – including cast members – but with so many of them in so many places, there’s never enough time to get to know them.

With barely any idea of what’s at stake for them – and what decisions they might make as a result – it’s hard to care that much. Also, sometimes it’s so long before you come back to a character that you’ve not only almost forgotten about them, but didn’t see how they reacted to the escalating disaster: they weren’t frozen in amber, were they?

In attempting to raise the level of tension and make this a film that appeals to everyone across the world – infectious diseases are no respecter of boundaries or oceans – it actually distances the audience, seeming too often to be more of an extreme environmentalist video about ‘what might happen one day.’

The chronic lack of action – it’s all about boardrooms – is a problem too, and at times the film really drags. That’s not a good thing when there’s a parasitic time bomb exploding, soldiers on the streets and people looting and killing – the bubble around the cast needed to be broken.

The much-trumpeted desire to be scientifically accurate but not boring (screenwriter Scott Z. Burns and Soderbergh worked for several weeks with Dr. Ian Lipkin, a scientist renowned for his work on SARS and the West Nile Virus) is something the film accomplishes well, but sadly it isn’t enough to compensate, and instead ends up diverting the human focus even more.

Finally, it stretched credulity beyond the borders of belief when, throughout the film, Matt Damon’s family home always seemed to have electricity, his daughter her mobile phone, and Jude Law his website. In the US at least, hot weather regularly causes power cuts, and everyone knows how often their internet access crashes or their mobiles suddenly cut out, yet in the midst of disaster the Emhoff lights were blazing. Really? With society in chaos and disarray?

It was just another thing that made Contagion far less thrilling – and believable – than it clearly meant to be (and probably really is), so overall it’s an entertaining but forgettable diversion, one that – I admit – did have me shifting in my seat every time someone in the cinema coughed…

James Bartlett

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Contagion is released on 21st October 2011

Contagion – Official Website

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Country Strong

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DIR/WRI: Shana Feste • PRO: Tobey Maguire, Jenno Topping • DOP: John Bailey • ED: Carol Littleton, Conor O’Neill • DES: David J. Bomba • Cast: Garrett Hedlund, Gwyneth Paltrow, Leighton Meester

Country & Western music lends itself to clichés, and movies about Country & Western music suffer from the same triteness and predictability. Even when based on ‘truth’, as with Walk the Line, they cannot quite escape the grips of melodrama and over-emotionalism. Country Strong is no different – every tear-inducing trick in the country-book is hauled out and dusted off. There is something strangely compelling, though, about this genre of music and way of life – it echoes a dying past filled with ballads, Stetsons and desert winds. Hackneyed and elementally corny it might be, but rough-diamond cowboys and resilient country women resurface again and again in America’s stories. In this case, it is the tale of a broken country star, intent on redemption – a story as old as the chords of in one of the many songs.

It’s rumoured that the writer/director Shana Feste based the lead character, Kelly Canter (Gwyneth Paltrow), on Britney Spears – building on the idea of a girl who has become a woman without ever learning what it is to be an adult. Certainly comparisons can be easily made, and it is in Kelly’s weaknesses that the story has its greatest moments of clarity and depth. We begin with cowboy singer Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund) playing in some battered honky-tonk – from which he goes back to his day job in a rehab centre. Clearly smitten with the incumbent star, Kelly, they sing together before her husband James (Tim McGraw) arrives to check her out of rehab a month early, in order to begin a three-city redemption tour. Kelly is clearly not ready for her exit, and a loved-up Beau advises against it, posing as her sponsor. James is adamant, assuring Kelly that he has found a perfect back-up singer in the guise of beauty-queen Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester), though he also concedes to Kelly’s request that Beau be brought along. (Yes, these names are all real.) Beau despises Chiles’ ‘country-barbie’ style, as he writes his own songs and music – putting heart and feeling into every one. Her innocence and foolishness begins to wear him down, however, especially in the shadow of Kelly’s continued alcohol and personal abuse on tour.

Paltrow has been working towards recognition as a songstress for quite a while, her present work on the horrific High-School-Musical-for-adults show Glee being a case in point. Country Strong seems be another valiant attempt to showcase these abilities, but what the film really provides is the reason why she is on our screens in the first place. Not for her voice, but for her considerable prowess as an actor – an aspect of Mrs. Coldplay that might have been recently overlooked. Playing a fractured ex-country star, fresh out of rehab and dealing with demon upon demon, she excels in both the occasional comedy and persistent drama of the role, giving some direction in an otherwise cliché-ridden flick.

With multiple tales of love and loss, and redemption as well as sorrow in every bittersweet set-up, this is storytelling at its simplest. Injections of humour aside, it runs a course obvious from the get-go, and there are no surprises in script to keep you guessing. What is nice about the movie, though, and what holds it together, is the exposition given to the central four characters; there are no demons or saints in the basket, and each one is given depth and emotion. In the end, they are the only tangible gratification in an otherwise thoroughly guilty pleasure: melodrama at its best, but then the ‘best’ of melodrama is rarely all that good.

Sarah Griffin

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Country Strong is released on 125th March 2011

Country Strong – Official Website

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1N5TonwXVio[/youtube]


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