Iron Man 3: snappy, fast-paced, and surprisingly vulnerable

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you will, no doubt, be aware of Hollywood’s latest obsession with superhero movies. Almost every second month, another one hits the big screen. But despite this now regular occurrence, cinema-goers have yet to tire of the genre, with each new creation raking in the mega-bucks. Iron Man 3 is no different.

Enter Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr); the witty, self-deprecating, bad-boy billionaire anti-hero. First introduced to the masses five years ago in the blockbuster Iron Man, Tony is as charismatic as ever, but, character-wise, is a long way from the carefree hero we once knew.

In Iron Man 3, Tony is still reeling from THAT final scene in The Avengers. (If you have’t seen it, I won’t ruin it for you. You can read my review of The Avengers here and decide whether or not to rent it).

Referring to it as the “New York” incident, Tony’s basically suffering from a bad dose of post-traumatic stress disorder — the sort of psychological damage that’s generally denied most superheroes and, in my opinion, what sets Tony apart from the others on this occasion.

The symptoms, which include panic attacks, insomnia, and night terrors, all take their toll on his relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) causing Tony to spend most of his time creating more Iron Man suits and leaving civilian-saving duties to Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle).

But when new threats are revealed in terrorist leader The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) and bitter scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), Tony must figure out a way to save himself, and the World, from the powers of evil.

Throughout the movie, Director Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), takes full advantage of Downey’s gift for snappy one-liners and fast-talking banter. He also does something not many other superhero directors attempt to do; he spends a lot of screen time focusing on Tony’s anxiousness and vulnerability. We see him as a man with real emotions, and a man who realizes what’s important — the people he loves.

All in all, a great movie that does nothing to make me tire of the superhero genre. Exceptional cast, breathtaking special effects, and many a laugh-out-loud moment. As with all the Marvel movies, stick around for the credits and you’ll find a final scene… which promises to tie in nicely with 2015’s sequel to The Avengers. I, for one, cannot wait.

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DVD Review: The Cabin in the Woods

Out on DVD Next week we have The Cabin in the Woods, the horror genre hybrid of writer-turned-director Director Drew Goddard and co-writer/producer Joss Whedon.

On a surface level, the film follows five friends Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Holden (Jesse Williams), Jules (Anna Hutchison), Marty (Fran Kranz) and Dana (Kristen Connolly) as they go on holidays to a country cabin for a weekend of drinking, skinny-dipping, and other suitably scandalous antics.

As their journey comes to a close, the fivesome encounter an ill-tempered gas pump attendant who, despite his disdain for college kids, warns the group about their destination and asserts that visitors regularly disappear up in them there woods. Dismissing the warnings, the group reach the cabin where, surprise surprise, things quickly turn sour.

In the same way that Scream winkingly riffed on the slasher film template, The Cabin In The Woods is aimed at audiences who are already familiar with haunted house movies. Wry nods to The Evil Dead, Hellraiser and A Tale Of Two Sisters, among others, will delight fanatics. But it’s also an admirably reflective send up, and readily questions the horror film industry’s ritualistic obsession with specific stereotypes.

A surprisingly entertaining effort, The Cabin in the Woods strikes a smart balance by embracing, as well as rejecting, the viewer’s expectations and knowledge of the horror genre.

The set-up is executed with a tongue-in-cheek attitude but presented with a straight face that could be off-putting for viewers who are expecting a straightforward slasher film or a “gritty” and serious scare-fest (such as The Descent or Hostel).

The final product, however, succeeds in paying homage to the movies that inspired it, poking fun at the often static state of the horror genre, all while simultaneously delivering a few fresh surprises. Anyone willing to suspend a bit of disbelief and not get too bogged down in the film’s logic will likely be ready for an entertaining and worthwhile experience. Definitly worth a rental.

Dark Shadows: where it belongs

Dark Shadows, the latest Depp/Burton/Carter collaboration, hit cinemas nationwide last week. You’d be forgiven for missing this, however, as the release was very much swallowed up by the all-encompassing hit that was The Avengers.

Despite an all-star cast and impeccable credentials, the movie never left the dark shadow cast by The Avengers which continues to break records in its second weekend in theatres. The Tim Burton helmed film was expected to open in the $35 million to $40 million range, but only  earned a disappointing $28.5M.

The film itself is based on a long-running TV show that ran in America in the 60’s and stars Johnny Depp as handsome socialite Barnabas Collins. Barnabas, the lothario that he is, has an affair with his housmaid Angelique (Eva Green) but spurns her for another woman. This being the town of Collinswood, where creepy things happen, Angelique turns out to be a witch, and takes her revenge by killing Barnabas’ other woman and dooming him to an eternity as a vampire. Soon exposed for a creature of the night, the local townspeople set upon Barnabas and bury him deep in the woods. Two centuries later, Barnabas is accidentally disinterred and sets about restoring his family’s fortune.

Despite having all the right ingredients, Dark Shadows turns out to be nothing but a kooky, half-baked film that is entirely devoid of not only plot but of any meaningful character development. The story is as predictable as it is weird and its only redeeming qualities lie in the visual.

Exquisitely shot by French cameraman Bruno Delbonnel (Amelie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) and beautifully designed by Burton’s regular collaborator, Rick Heinrichs, Dark Shadows is indeed a visual delight. Sadly, that’s all it is.

The Avengers: an absolute Marvel

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With Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises and Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spiderman still to hit cinemas, it’s looking like a definitive year for superhero movies as The Avengers storms the big screen and wins over critics across the globe.

The premise of the movie is simplistic – bad guy Loki hatches world-domination scheme, petulant but kind-heated good guys swoop in to save the day, Scarlett Johansson in leather looks damn hot. But somehow, somewhere along the way, it becomes a lot more than that.

Six gifted and special people, Iron Man (Downey Jr), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), have to come together despite their differences to stand against Loki, a Norse deity hell-bent on ruling the earth with an iron fist.

Usually, movies that feature an abundance of big name stars are not to my taste. Take, for example, New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s Day – lots of stars, not a lot of substance. The Avengers, I’m happy to report, is nothing like either of those films.

The cast, which features Hollywood A-listers such as Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Samuel L Jackson and Gwyneth Paltrow, meld fantastically with each other and with the storyline.

Prior to The Avengers, we saw Iron Man 1 and 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America. Each of these films, while not to be seen as prequels, did indeed do the job they were created to do – they gave the main Avengers depth, backstory, and character while being box office success stories in their own right. Granted, Black Widow and Hawkeye were left out of this process and, as such, weren’t developed as much as they could have been, but I see that as an unfortunate casualty of an otherwise fantastic development process.

Though I do genuinely love this new method, I have to note that some of the previous Marvel Movies weren’t quite up to scratch. It seemed as if the Captain America installment was not as thought out as either Iron Man or The Hulk and that it was only there to fill the gap until the 2012 release of The Avengers. I also thought that Thor, though it was a joy to behold 114 minutes of Chris Hemsworth, was a bit of a let down in places.

But whether it’s down to the previous films, the stellar cast, or Joss Whedon’s scriptwriting prowess, The Avengers itself is clearly the best
Marvel Movie to date. The acting is near impeccable, the action is raw and the jokes are hilarious. Stark is his usual cheeky self, Bruce Banner is broodingly deep and Thor is just as beautiful as he ever was. There’s also something disturbingly attractive about terrifically entertaining Asguard bad boy Loki played by the fantastic Tom Hiddleson who, according to many critics ‘steals the show’.

Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk was also a breath of fresh air in this sneakily unique heavy hitter. He gives his character more depth than either Eric Bana OR Edward Norton (something I never thought I’d admit) and is both endearing and heart-wrenching in his portrayal of Bruce Banner. Instead of going for the “woe is me, I get angry and smash things” angle, his manner and acting style hint towards a deeper, more depressing self-loathing.

What I like about the film, is that it deviates from the traditional ‘Good vs Evil’ trend just the right amount. There’s the bad guy, obviously, and the quest to save humanity… but there’s also some interesting in-fighting and tension between avengers. It’s clear that they all come from different moral standpoints, and I think Joss Whedon did a great job using that to his advantage.

I also like the fact that it does exactly what it says on the tin. Here’s a Marvel Movie for people who like action movies, for people who like Marvel Comics, for people who always played the “Who would win in a fight…” game and, of course, for people who want to drool over Chris Hemsworth and Scarlett Johansson.

If you see nothing else this month, go see this. You won’t be disappointed.

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