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4/12/18

IRON MAN - REVIEW


Directed by Jon Favreau, Iron Man was released in 2008, only a month before The Incredible Hulk, and it marked the official beginning of Marvel's Cinematic Universe. After some time away from the limelight, Robert Downey Jr. was cast as Tony Stark and the rest is history.

This was a big, expensive gamble for Marvel and, had it not paid off, it's unlikely that much would have stemmed from it. Luckily, Iron Man was a significant hit that, not only kick-started one of the biggest cinematic franchises ever, but revived Robert Downey Jr.'s career fully, pushing the actor's popularity to stellar levels. While the story in the film is pretty self-contained, it does plant a few major seeds (S.H.I.E.L.D., Phil Coulson, Nick Fury) and, of course, Tony Stark would later cameo in The Incredible Hulk so Marvel were already very determined to build towards an Avengers movie and Iron Man certainly set the standard. The plot of the film sees Tony Stark, the cocky owner of defense contractor Stark Industries, get kidnapped by a terrorist group in Afghanistan where he is forced to face a few uncomfortable truths about his company while trying to survive. Along the way, he develops an arc reactor to keep himself alive and power a state-of-the-art Iron Man suit, as you do.

The storytelling throughout is straight-forward but effective: Jon Favreau balances character development, action sequences and humour in an effortless way, giving the film a refreshingly breezy and light-hearted yet clever and witty tone plus inspiring subsequent Marvel outings, with the exception of The Incredible Hulk which had the misfortune to be shot at the same time. Robert Downey Jr. is simply perfect as Tony Stark. He embodies the nonchalant genius aspect of the character with ease and he balances Stark's inherent flaws with so much charm that you can't help but be on the billionaire playboy's side no matter what. Gwyneth Paltrow is very likeable as Stark's assistant/love interest Pepper Potts and Jeff Bridges clearly has a ball as the intimidating, and rather amusing, villain Obadiah Stane. Terrence Howard was also well cast as Stark's friend Rhodey but the role was eventually handed to Don Cheadle. This is one of those few superhero movies where everything gels to create not just a worthy comic-book to film adaptation but a genuinely good blockbuster as well.

Iron Man was, and it remains, a slick, funny and hugely entertaining action film with tons of charm and personality, some pitch-perfect special effects and a ground-breaking approach to the superhero genre in cinema. This is one of Marvel's all-time best movies and it still very much holds up.

Excellent.

4/10/18

INDIANA JONES 5? - PODCAST


We discuss the prospect of a fifth Indiana Jones movie on The Big Rewind.

THE AVENGERS - REVIEW


After a significant build-up consisting of several movies introducing various iconic characters, Marvel finally delivered The Avengers, their big superhero crossover and the most ambitious comic-book movie adaptation at that time.

Directed by Joss Whedon, with an all star cast portraying the likes of Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth), plus a long hinted-at plot that gets to the point right away, the film quickly broke a billion dollars at the box-office and it remains one of the most popular movies of all time. Marvel's bold, expensive move paid off, to say the least, and comic-book movies are still just as big as they were back in 2012, if not more so, with DC currently assembling their own universe. Seeing all these characters together in the same film was certainly a main draw for audiences but without such a talented and dedicated cast, it's arguably unlikely that the film would have spawned as many sequels and spin-offs as it did and led to the continuation of Marvel's (and Disney's) comic-book movie domination. The story sees Loki (Tom Hiddleston) use the Tesseract to open a space portal thereby allowing all sorts of villainous creatures into the world as Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) assembles his team of Avengers to stop him.

Keeping the plot simple was certainly a good move as anything more convoluted than that could have gotten pretty messy. On the other hand, having the film just be about a one-dimensional villain we've already seen in another movie use a macguffin for some vague megalomaniac end game he doesn't even seem all that devoted to, makes The Avengers a little slight depth-wise. Loki himself isn't quite as interesting as he was in Thor but Tom Hiddleston keeps him charming and fun throughout. Most of the enemies the Avengers face, however, are faceless no-names and are only there to be disposed of. One third of the film is dedicated to introducing characters old and new like Bruce Banner/The Hulk, played by a perfectly cast Mark Ruffalo, the middle part follows Loki's escape and the Avengers having to deal with that, while the finale is just one big New York City-set battle. The film is long but it's paced well with key action beats and whenever the heroes are interacting with each other, even if they're just standing around discussing exposition, it's a joy.

The Avengers isn't a perfect film. As I mentioned earlier, it isn't exactly a challenging watch, which is both good and not-so-good but altogether understandable. It has quite a few ropey moments, especially near the beginning when Loki shows up to brainwash Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), or whenever some alien thing we don't know is talking next to a glowing staircase somewhere on a space rock, or when a joke doesn't quite hit the mark. And it's a shame that Loki never gets a final fight against all the Avengers or at least his brother Thor. Instead, he just basically gives up about halfway through. This is a slick-looking movie with some impressive CG effects (Hulk looks great, mostly) and it's never dull but the cast really is the glue that holds the whole thing together: Robert Downey Jr.'s wit, Chris Evans' earnest heroism, Black Widow's (Scarlett Johansson) super-spy antics, all of that comes together beautifully and it effortlessly fleshes out characters you wouldn't necessarily expect to care this much about, let alone at all.

There's no denying what a huge achievement The Avengers was. The fact that Marvel planned out such a ridiculous project so meticulously and it somehow all led to a genuinely solid, entertaining blockbuster is worth celebrating. The film itself is slightly uneven but it's so full of charm and cleverly put-together set-pieces that, for any comic-book fan especially, this is simply a treat.

Excelsior!

4/7/18

SPECIAL CORRESPONDENTS - REVIEW


Based on French comedy Envoyés Très Spéciaux from 2009, Special Correspondents stars Eric Bana and Ricky Gervais as a radio news journalist and his sound technician who fail to turn up to Ecuador to report on a story so decide to invent a bigger one while hiding out back in the city.

Released on Netflix in 2016, Special Correspondents didn't receive the best reviews and it failed to make much of an impact. One of the film's biggest assets, its cast, certainly did appeal to a lot of people as fans of Ricky Gervais' previous work were understandably interested in seeing something new from the comedian, who also wrote and directed the film. This was also the same year that David Brent: Life On The Road came out so it made sense to piggy-back on that, although that movie would only be released a year later in the US and was not a commercial hit either. This film certainly has a promising concept: two guys making up an escalating war abroad without even going anywhere, going as far as to create a fake hostage situation. It's a funny idea but French humour doesn't always translate all that well to Hollywood and, more often than not, a clever setup ends up not working with a much different style of filmmaking or storytelling, and this is the case here.

There are definitely some enjoyable aspects to Special Correspondents. Bana and Gervais clearly have a great time throughout, the over-the-top growth of the made-up story and the impact it has makes for some amusing gags and the script gives the cast some fun banter to play around with. Unfortunately, while the fake Ecuador-set plot becomes bigger and sillier, the film itself stagnates quite a bit before seemingly running out of ideas altogether. A subplot involving Ian's (Ricky Gervais) wife Eleanor, played by Vera Farmiga, should have been much funnier and less needlessly convoluted, especially near the end. Farmiga herself feels a little miscast as, while she does capture how intimidating and fame-hungry her character is, Eleanor is too one-dimensional to inspire anything beyond a cold demeanor. It would have been good to see Ian and Frank (Eric Bana) really get a taste of their own medicine at the end but, although they do get their comeuppance in some way, they're never likeable or charming enough to make the happy ending all that satisfying.

Some good ideas, most of which can also be found in the original film, and a handful of funny moments and sharp lines but, ultimately, Special Correspondents is an underwhelming comedy that never truly gets off the ground and ends up feeling just as hollow and unconvincing as the story Ian and Frank come up with.

Not-so-special.

4/4/18

ASTÉRIX THE GAUL - REVIEW


The first animated film based on René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo's iconic Astérix French comic-books, Astérix The Gaul was made in 1967 and was based on the first of the books. Roger Carel voiced Astérix while Jacques Morel voiced Obélix.

Set in an alternative version of history in which Julius Caesar managed to conquer all of France save for one small village where the Gauls have stayed safe thanks to a magic potion, the comics follow Astérix and Obélix, with their dog Dogmatix, on their adventures. This first film sees nearby Roman camp Petibonum send one of their most dim-witted soldiers disguised as a Gaul to Astérix's village in order to find out the source of their power. Caligula Minus, the spy in question, finds out the Gauls' secret and shows off the power of the magic potion to his superior Caius Bonus' camp. This prompts the Romans to kidnap the druid Getafix, who makes the potion, and it's then up to Astérix to find him and bring him back. This being the first story, it's mostly a showcase of how clever and fearless Astérix is as he single-handedly outsmarts the Romans using only his wits. Obélix isn't really a big part of this particular story but he pops up again with the rest of the village near the end.

The creators of Astérix were not satisfied with this movie, especially since they only found out about it once it was being screened for them. After this, they decided to be significantly involved in any further projects. Their disappointment was understandable as the film is infinitely more slight than the book and it only captures some of what makes these comics so loveable. The animation throughout is patchy and the voice acting is occasionally a bit off but, on the plus side, the film does have a lot of charm. The characters are instantly likeable, we're introduced to the most classic of Astérix themes, there are quite a few funny, memorable moments and you definitely recognize key aspects from the book. You do get the feeling, however, that the making of the film was perhaps a bit rushed and, had a lot more work and supervision gone into the project, it could have been a lot better. It doesn't make the best use of all the characters and, watching it now, it does feel quite dated.

This first Astérix movie may be a bit of a mixed bag but it's still an enjoyable little film and a decent enough place to start if you're not too familiar with the comics or the characters. This is a fun, if slightly clunky, animated film with enough good humour and charm to make it worth it.

Enjoyable.

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