Film Review: The Iceman

The Iceman

Ariel Vromen’s The Iceman is a fantastic crime drama with an exemplary central performance.

When Richard Kuklinski unwittingly encounters some gangsters, he catches the eye of a mafia boss who sets him to work. Kuklinski becomes a hitman, responsible for the a vas number of executions. But Kuklinski is also a family man, and they are oblivious to his notorious career…

Director Ariel Vromen, who also co-wrote the screenplay, delivers a memorable crime drama with The Iceman. The outcome of the story may be known to some, but this does not matter as the film is finely crafted to make it compelling viewing.

Based on true events, The Iceman does not shy away from violent depictions. Given its setting, themes, and indeed the casting of Ray Liotta, the film has definite allusions to Goodfellas. However Vromen distinguishes his film from Martin Scorsese’s classic by putting his own stamp on the direction.

The central character Kuklinski is cold, and responsible for such brutal crimes. He is not a character who audiences should find endearing. Yet the skill of Vromen and co-writer Morgan Land is that viewers end up rooting for Kuklinski. Some references to his background are made, but the film chooses to focus on the present day affairs. This makes the filmakers’ achievements all the more pivotal. The Iceman does not rely on a difficult backstory to generate feeling towards the protagonist; the way the story unfolds ensures that he is an absorbing figure.

With a number of great performances under his belt, Michael Shannon is a tour de force as Richard Kuklinski. His performance is both compelling and convincing. Shannon is ably supported by the rest of the cast. Winona Ryder is great as Deborah, while Chris Evans also delivers a strong performance.

Michael Shannon exhibits why he is one of the best actors in contemporary Hollywood with The Iceman. Highly recommended viewing.

Trailer Round-Up

This week saw the release of the first trailer of Frankenweenie, one of my most anticipated films of the year. Also included is the new Avengers Assemble trailer, Neighbourhood Watch and The Dictator.

Frankenweenie

I used to be a huge Tim Burton fan. I even wrote  a dissertation on his films. More recently, like many, I have found the proliferation of remakes a little tiresome. Although it is also a remake, at least Frankenweenie is Burton remaking his own work. The original short film can be found on The Nightmare Before Christmas DVD. From the above trailer, Frankenweenie looks like quintessential Burton, with a noticeable reference to the Universal Frankenstein films. Frankenweenie is released on 5th October 2012.

Avengers Assemble

The Avengers has had a name change; it is now Avengers Assemble. The full trailer was released earlier this week, and gives us an insight into the film’s plot. Avengers Assemble features Mark Ruffalo as Hulk, the third actor to play this role in the last nine years. Nevertheless, there is continuity with Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson all returning. Avengers Assemble is out on 26th April 2012.

The Dictator

This trailer has been floating around for a while, but with Sasha Baron Cohen’s Oscars appearance I thought I would share it. The Dictator features Baron Cohen doing his usual caricature thing. This time, however, the subject matter is more resonant with current affairs. No doubt there will be thematic parallels with the Middle East uprising. The Dictator is released on 16th May 2012.

Neighbourhood Watch

Neighbourhood Watch is a new comedy starring Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn. Not sure where Owen Wilson is on this one. Instead, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade round up the leads. The film is the first major Hollywood role for Ayoade. The film is about a neighbourhood watch group seemingly overstating their importance in suburbia. Neighbourhood Watch is out on 24th August 2012.

Film Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America: The First Avenger ticks all the boxes as far as comic book movies go. Whilst the film does not elevate itself above other good movies in the genre, it is at least distinguishable for its setting.

Despite his slight frame, plucky Steve Rogers is determined to enlist in the US army to fight the Nazis in Europe. Rogers is turned down four times, but still has his heart set on serving his country. At his fifth attempt, an army doctor sees the potential in Rogers and invites him to take part in an experiment to make him a super soldier…

Captain America: The First Avenger follows a fairly standard formula, in terms of Marvel origin stories. Sufficient time is allowed for the protagonist to develop before any super powers are introduced. A familiar narrative then follows, as the hero fights to save the day. The emphasis lies firmly on Rogers, his antagonist and other characters are undoubtedly secondary to his story. Unlike many other superhero films, little time is spent cultivating an origin story for the villain. Instead, Johann Schmidt’s story is told by brief flashbacks and expository dialogue.

Setting the film during World War II works exceptionally well. The patriotism angle is very effective, in a way which would not have been in a contemporary-set film. Captain America is after all the quintessentially American superhero, so it makes sense for him to appear at the most patriotic of periods. This is captured well by the wartime posters and stage shows, as well as his appearance in comic books, which is self-reflexive to say the least.

Joe Johnston directs Captain America with the fluidity it needs. Action sequences are bold and a lot of fun. The more serious or emotional moments are handled with care, but thankfully these are never dwelled upon too much. The film posits a very straightforward battle between good and evil at the centre, which is what this hero is all about.

Special effects in the movie work well, as does the sound. The soundtrack is also very in keeping with the 1940s setting. The use of 3D in the film is appropriate. It serves a purpose, balancing between overly gimmicky and hardly noticeable.

Chris Evans makes a great Captain America, fitting the bill of how this superhero should appear. Hugo Weaving is uncompromisingly bad as Schmidt, while Toby Jones is great as assistant Dr Zola. Tommy Lee Jones makes a convincing colonel, and Hayley Atwell looks perfectly of the period. Sebastian Stan is a welcome addition as Bucky.

It will be interesting to see how the character functions in The Avengers movie, but Captain America: The First Avenger is very entertaining as a stand alone film.

Film Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World did not deserve to bomb as badly as it did at the US box office. However, neither did it deserve the exorbitant amount of hype it received prior to release. The film itself falls somewhere in between worthy of the hype and box office dud.

Scott Pilgrim’s life is turned upside down when he meets Ramona Flowers, literally the girl of his dreams. In order to be with Ramona, he must defeat her seven evil exes…

Based on the graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O’Malley, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is much like a live-action cartoon. The combination of computer game graphics with comic book imagery gives the film a fun and interesting look. Director Edgar Wright has excelled in creating a visually pleasing picture.

What the film gains in aesthetics it lacks in depth. The central character, Scott, is not exactly the most endearing protagonist. Cheating on his innocent girlfriend Knives with Ramona does not illicit much sympathy for him in the more emotional moments of the film. Nonetheless, the film puts emphasis on fun rather than drama, so the superficiality does not detract overly from the enjoyment.

A good portion of the humour is derived from Scott Pilgrim‘s references to popular culture. Whilst this will probably resonate with twenty-somethings, it may fall flat with younger or older audiences. The reference to ‘Mega Scott’, for example, will only be amusing to audience members versed in the classic video game Sonic the Hedgehog.

Whilst Scott himself isn’t the most likeable of protagonists, there are several entertaining characters featured. Knives Chau (played by Ellen Wong) is delightfully over excitable. Kieran Culkin is suitably cacophonous as Scott’s roommate Wallace, whilst Anna Kendrick is excellent but underused as his sister Stacey. Among the exes, Chris Evans stands out in his parody of a Hollywood movie star.

In addition to the lively graphics, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World features a great soundtrack. The film isn’t simply a case of style over substance. The film is an enjoyable watch. However, it appears to have a limited appeal. This is part due to its leading man. Michael Cera seems to play a very similar character in all his films. Unfortunately it is a character which a significant sector of filmgoers find annoying. This coupled with the video game and hipster references result in a film that will not attract a wide demographic.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is an enjoyable and amusing movie, but one that does not attain the level of ‘epicness’ it clearly strives for.