Film Review: Iron Man 2

30/04/2010

Suspend your disbelief (as is called for by all comic book films), and Iron Man 2 is a thoroughly enjoyable film. Make no mistake, however, as sequels go, Iron Man 2 is no Dark Knight.

Following on from Iron Man, the sequel focuses on Tony Stark as he faces a new nemesis in the form Ivan Vanko. Coupled with this is the issues the protagonist faces in his personal life, particularly with his health…

Iron Man 2 is very much a typical comic book film sequel, albeit a good one. Themes from the first film are carried through, characters gain more depth, and the narrative is built to an exciting climax. However, in one sense, it is very much like the first film; new characters are introduced and obstacles are generated to form an archetypal narrative arc. In this way it differs from The Dark Knight Iron Man 2 lacks the depth and creativity of Nolan’s Batman sequel.

Most of the genre’s sequels concentrate on the story of the villain, whilst also developing the motives and trials of the superhero. The origins of the hero are inevitably covered in the first film, thus the back story element must be fulfilled by another character. Iron Man 2 follows this lead, as we are almost immediately introduced to Ivan Ranko. The film bucks the trend somewhat by later sidelining this character and firmly focusing on the hero. Tony Stark is in many ways the antithesis to Bruce Wayne; outrageous and arrogant, he revels in his superstar/superhero status.

Robert Downey Jr. once again gives a charismatic performance as Tony Stark – one of the highlights of the film. Mickey Rourke is suitably cast as antagonist Ivan Ranko, offering just the right level of over-the-top-ness required for the role. Scarlet Johansson is slightly more enigmatic as Natalie Rushman; it is unclear whether her slightly stilted performance is intentional, or due to the actresses’ limited range.

Kudos to Jon Favreau for directing an entertaining action film. The special effects are excellent, and the action scenes are what fans have come to expect from the big-budget genre. A welcome addition comes in the form of the AC/DC soundtrack, providing the perfect accompaniment to the high-octane visuals.

There is no doubt that Iron Man 2 will do good business. A third film seems inevitable, however like this sequel, it is unlikely to match the critical acclaim enjoyed by the original.

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Film Review: The Joneses

25/04/2010

Demi Moore stepped away from Twitter for long enough to star in Derrick Borte’s film about consumer culture. Whilst the premise of The Joneses is really quite interesting, the film fails in its execution.

Four salespeople pretend to be the perfect family moving to a new neighbourhood. With the aim of promoting expensive items to their neighbours, members of the unit realise the effect the pretense is having on themselves and others…

The main problem of The Joneses is that it takes a good idea and does not do a lot with it. Instead of a satirical appraisal of our obsession with consumption, the film concentrates on a love story between the pretend husband and wife. Which would be fine, except the characters are not developed enough to make the audience really root for them.

David Duchovny gives a good performance as the new salesman getting to grips with his pretend life. Production values are solid all round; the production design in particular is effective in creating the perfect upper-middle class setting.

The drama is littered with comedic moments throughout. The problem is not in the dialogue, but in the general direction the film takes. More could have been made of the façade, and The Joneses could have been an excellent and entertaining commentary on consumerism. As it stands, a wasted opportunity.


Film Review: Cemetery Junction

24/04/2010

After Ricky Gervais’ last co-written, co-directed and co-stared feature, The Invention of Lying, you would be forgiven for being a little skeptical about this latest offering. However, Cemetery Junction is an enjoyable picture, combining an adequate amount of laughs with a genuine emotional depth.

Freddie Taylor is the son of a factory worker, living in the dead-end town Cemetery Junction in the early 1970s. Wishing to make more of his life, Freddie thinks working for a big insurance company will help achieve his goal of leaving his old life behind. But things rarely work out as simple as this…

Christian Cooke is bright as the protagonist Freddie; his blossoming friendship with Julie (played by Felicity Jones) is a delight to watch. Ralph Fiennes, Tom Hughes and Jack Doolan are all believable in their roles. The star turn, however, is delivered by Emily Watson, who gives an understated yet strong performance as Mrs Kendrick.

The relationship between Freddie and his friends Bruce and Stork seems very natural. The film is well written; the dialogue and circumstances appear very believable. Gervais and Merchant have succeeded in producing a well-crafted drama with a sufficient amount of comic relief. Aesthetically, the film seems authentic with its depiction of a small British town in the 1970s; the soundtrack is bursting with hits of that decade.

Ricky Gervais has a role in Cemetery Junction, but given his reputation for playing very similar characters, it is thankfully small. Overall, the film should strike a chord with audiences all too familiar with the small-town mentality; the theme is broad enough to be identifiable where ever in the world you watch it.


Film Review: Date Night

23/04/2010

The lure of leads Steve Carell and Tina Fey is undoubtedly the biggest draw of Date Night. Sadly the film does not live up to expectations, despite good performances from the popular comedy actors.

The main problem with Date Night is that it simply isn’t that funny.  There are good one-liners and funny incidents, however it is not the laugh-a-minute extravaganza you would hope for. Likewise, there is not much wrong with the actual narrative, but the film is let down by poor writing.

The plot itself is incredulous, but that is to be expected from a film of this nature. After taking another couple’s reservation on their weekly date night, Phil and Claire Foster land themselves in a whole heap of trouble after a case of mistaken identity. The pair must go to substantial lengths in order to get the criminals off their backs…

Fey and Carell have good chemistry, and are believable as the married couple stuck in something of a rut. Furthermore, with a supporting cast that includes Mark Wahlberg, Kristen Wiig, Mark Ruffalo and Taraji P. Henson, it is a shame that good performances are let down by a lacklustre script.

The action sequences are orchestrated with some aplomb by director Shawn Levy. Likewise, the more serious conversations between Phil and Claire add some earnest to an otherwise far-fetched story. But for all the craft that has gone into making Date Night, it cannot escape from the fact that the film fails as a comedy. Not worth the price of admission.


Film Review: Hot Tub Time Machine

21/04/2010

Perhaps the biggest achievement of Hot Tub Time Machine is that it cements Back to the Future as the quintessential time-travel movie. That’s not to say it is a bad film, merely that the influence of Robert Zemeckis’ 1985 classic is abundantly clear.

Oh, the 1980s. Such a wonderful decade. Adam (played by John Cusack) and friends inadvertently time-travel back to 1986, seemingly a year that fundamentally altered the course of their lives. The film follows the gang as they attempt to return to the present day without causing too much upset in as they run into old flames, friends, and enemies…

Hot Tub Time Machine is a very enjoyable film; the trailer does not illustrate some of the funnier moments in the film. The humour is a mix of parody, knowing references, and the gross-out comedy of films such as Animal House or American Pie.

Director Steve Pink does a good job of balancing this humour with more poignant moments that progress the film’s narrative. The allusions to other films are unmistakable, and Hot Tub Time Machine does the right thing in overtly mentioning some of them. The references stretch as far as casting, with Chevy Chase making an appearance, as well Crispin Glover, who appears in both the present and the past, in another nod to Back to the Future.

With an intertextual film that pays homage to the 80s such as this, it is surprising there is no covert reference to the fact that its leading man became a star in this very decade. Nonetheless, Hot Tub Time Machine works well to produce a feeling of nostalgia for those who remember the decade, and to offer a kitsch depiction to younger audience members well versed in 80s-retro  culture. Special kudos for the soundtrack too, which features an array of both well-known and cult 1980s tunes.

Sure, Hot Tub Time Machine is a corny film. The plot is predictable and the dialogue sometimes crass. But it is also extremely entertaining; surely the sole aim for a flick such as this.


Film Review: The Infidel

20/04/2010

David Baddiel’s foray into feature film writing is what one might expect of him; ok, but nothing remarkable. The Infidel has some humorous episodes, however it falls short overall.

Omid Djalili plays Mahmud Nasir, a moderate Muslim who, following the death of his mother, finds out he was adopted from Jewish parents. The film follows Mahmud as he comes to terms with this shock, befriending a Jewish cab driver, whilst also hiding it from his family, who are preparing for his son’s upcoming wedding to the step-daughter of a radical Islamic cleric.

Perhaps a key problem with The Infidel is the casting of Djalili in the title role. A well-known comedian, Djalili seems to be playing himself in the film. At times he is over the top, giving him less credence when the situation calls for sympathy, or genuine emotion from the character. Furthermore, coupled with Archie Punjabi, the pair look unconvincing as husband and wife, though Punjabi is a talented actress in her own right.

Whilst the premise gives the film license to be controversial, The Infidel errs on the side of caution. Any ribbing of religious and cultural traditions is light, and weighed out in equal measure to the Islamic and Jewish faiths. It seems a deliberate act as to not cause offence to anyone.

The scenes in which Lenny (played by Richard Schiff) schools Mahmud on how to act more Jewish are quite humorous. The film is let down, however, by the big reveal in its finale. Eagle-eyed viewers would be able to spot it a mile off, and it adds little humour to what could have been played out as a hilarious climax.

Whilst The Infidel does provide some laughs, it has the tendency to become rather preachy in places. It is fine for a film to convey a message; however in fictional films this tends to work best when it is delivered lightly, and the film still offers a worthy narrative. The Infidel fails on this count. Thus, at times the film overbears with its moral whilst underwhelming with its story.


Film Review: Repo Men

17/04/2010

If you are looking for a fast-paced violent thriller, and do not mind too much about originality, Repo Men is probably the film for you. If, however, you are expecting something more than this, you will most likely be disappointed by the end of this film.

Set in the near future, Remy, played by Jude Law, is works for a company that creates artificial organs. Along with partner Jake (Forest Whitaker), Remy repossess the organs of those who default on their payments. It is only after Remy has a heart replacement himself that he starts to have a conscious about what he and his partner do for a living…

The premise of the film is really quite interesting, until you realise how close it is to Repo! The Genetic Opera. Furthermore, elements of a number of other films appear to be present. Shots of the futuristic metropolis are immediately reminiscent of Blade Runner, whilst some of the technology can be likened to Total Recall.

Overall, the film imbues a feeling of technophobia. Like the aforementioned Blade Runner, as well as The Terminator and Brazil, there is a real sense of the ‘evil corporation’. Repo Men would, in fact, not be out of place with these mid- to early-1980s films. With a 2010 release, however, the ideas the film projects seem a little outdated.

Repo Men is an entertaining enough film, if it is not taken seriously. The action scenes well executed by director Miguel Sapochnik, and the performances are adequate. Furthermore, the soundtrack works well, using a range of songs from different eras to accompany at times disjointed scenes. The main problem with the film is that it is very much a case of ‘seen it all before’.