Tag Archives: Robert Downey Jr

2013 in review – What’s up? Docs!

Where did 2013 go? It seems just yesterday we were gearing up for Spielberg to walk away with all the Oscars; and like that, it was gone.

2013 was a mixed bag of tricks. The young masters of world cinema and the heroes of the American indie scene did not disappoint their fans, but Hollywood choked on a phlegm of sequelitis and rebootulosis and dumped the worst serving of misguided blockbusters and bland comedies we’ve seen for years. You can’t have your cake and film it.

But you ignore the lows, because you forget about them; your Star Trek Into Darknesses and your final acts of Man of Steel. You remember that this is the year the Coens brought out Inside Llewyn Davis, that Woody Allen made Blue Jasmine, that Martin Scorsese released his best film since Goodfellas.

Gravity showed us that there is still spectacle in cinema, and things we have never seen or experienced are out there to enthrall us. Elsewhere, Oblivion proved that sometimes it’s nice to see all the things you’ve already seen but rearranged in different orders.

More than any in recent memory, 2013 was the year of the documentary. Largely due to Netlfix Instant and HBO Go, docs have become common viewing for a much wider range of audiences, and in many ways the form is developing away from the cheap manipulative techniques that reality TV has coveted and coopted. From The Act of Killing and Stories We Tell, to simpler but affecting films such as Blackfish, the documentary has proven itself the genre (is it a genre? Is it a medium unto itself?) of 2013.

Television changed also. Netflix reinvented the boxset by releasing whole seasons of brand new shows at a time, starting with House of Cards, before bringing out Hemlock Grove, Orange Is the New Black and the lazarused Arrested Development. Thankfully the big players kept up, with the year’s biggest show, Breaking Bad, drawing itself to an all-too-tidy but utterly satisfying conclusion. As rumours flit that Steven Spielberg is to turn the unrealised screenplay of Napoleon begun by Stanley Kubrick into a TV miniseries, the question of how quality television and cinema separate themselves may become the key one of the next few years. Although compare Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD to Iron Man 3 and you can see we’re still not quite there yet…

Twice this year I found myself aboard an airplane bound for dramatic new adventures in cinephilia. The first came in May, when I attended the Cannes Film Festival on behalf of Film Ireland (full reenactments of that event can be found here). There I forged some new friendships (and solidified formerly Twitter-based ones) and bathed myself in film and espresso. If that was a life-defining trip, my next was a life-changing one. Packing my bags once again for America, I returned to New York City where I enrolled (and according to my grades remain) in the Moving Image Archiving and Preservation programme at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. I have committed myself now to my passion for film and its history, and the maintenance of its cultural and historical relevance. And here I stay. On the side I kept up my work for Film Ireland while expanding my writing by scribbling for NextProjection.com. I also increased my podcasting presence with several more recordings for The Film Show. OK, so maybe the Cannes thing was the highlight…

In terms of my non-contemporary film viewing, 2013 was not my most successful year. Certainly I finally watched some greats, including Kwaidan, Los Olvidados, Sansho the Bailiff and Short Cuts, while finally finishing off the Dekalog and binging on the entirety of the Fast & Furious franchise, which had utterly escaped me until this year. On the big screen I caught The Age of Innocence, Les Amants, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, and The Great White Silence, as well as a joyous screening of Miami Connection. I discovered a heretofore-unknown passion for seeing films in cinema theatres with names related to the film – catching Julie Taymor’s Titus in MoMA’s Titus 1, and Creature from the Black Lagoon in Film Society’s Gilman Theater. On Ozu’s 110th birthday (and the 50th anniversary of his death), I ripped some time out of a bloated schedule to see Equinox Flower on the big screen. It’s the little things, really.

Making my top 20 was difficult this year. As in previous years, my splitting my time between two sides of the Atlantic complicated matters in terms of release schedules. Cannes also complicated matters given the number of often excellent films I saw there, although I have chosen not to include any of these films that did not see release in either Ireland or New York before December 31st. Big films I missed include Fruitvale Station, Her, The Grandmaster, and Museum Hours.

As an aside, whereas the last three years I have awarded 5 out of 5 to a strict average of four films, this year six made that list, making my top six very easy to iron out. The rest was complicated. Near misses include Reality, Wreck-It Ralph, Prisoners, McCullin, Nebraska, Jiro Dreams of Sushi and Beyond the Hills. Special note should be given to a number of formally impressive or experimental films that impressed hugely but let themselves down too greatly in terms of acting, dialogue or coherence, particularly Spring Breakers, Stoker, Escape from Tomorrow and Upstream Color.

Now, on with the show.

20. Caesar Must Die

The grand old brothers of Italian cinema, Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, have produced one of the most troubling docudramas in recent years with Caesar Must Die. Blending fly-on-the-wall documentary techniques with reenactments of rehearsals and performance of Shaespeare’s Julius Caesar, but within a maximum security prison and by the inmates, Caesar Must Die looked at life imitating art and the healing powers of performance and creativity. Lines blurred between reality and fiction, and natural angers and sadnesses leaked from these terrible men in a manner you could hardly expect to witness elsewhere.

19. I Wish

Not the last film on this list by Hirokazu Koreeda, perhaps the most talented filmmaker working today, I Wish looked at the world through the eyes of two young boys, played by real-life junior comedian brothers Koki and Oshiro Maeda, who each choose a different parent to live with when their mother and father separate. Simple, but utterly to the point, it revelled in the joys of childish dreaming.

Full review

18. Drug War

A truly unexpected gem of a movie, in the style of classic Michael Mann, Johnnie To’s Drug War teamed a do-anything-to-survive meth manufacturer with an impossibly resourceful top cop to take down a drug empire. The resulting stings and double-crosses, combined with shoot-outs that were so oddly choreographed they felt chaotically believable, made for a tight, twisty and utterly entertaining thriller.

17. Iron Man 3

The only summer blockbuster on this list, Iron Man 3 finally got the right balance for the character of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jnr.). This time we found him in the aftermath of the superb The Avengers, suffering PTSD from his near-death experience in its finale while also falling victim to an enormous ego-crushing at realising all his science smarts were nothing in a universe of gods and aliens. The villain was relatively typical, although in Ben Kingsley’s the Mandarin writer/director Shane Black found a hugely inventive number 2, the girl got to wear the super suit for a change, and Stark had to deal with being just an ordinary (brilliant) man in the second act with some superbly judged comedy and drama. The final action sequence was messy, but the ideas were all in the right place.

Full review

16. Blue Jasmine

Woody Allen, working of late in critical peaks and troughs, hit the highs again with this crafty reworking of A Streetcar Named Desire for the post-psychiatry age. Cate Blanchett dominates the screen as the tragic Jasmine, whose bipolar personality echoes the two poles of her life, as she falls from Manhattan socialite Bay Area unemployable when her unfaithful husband (Alec Baldwin) is revealed to be just as big a financial cheat. Allen’s script was loaded with delicious ironies delivered by Blanchett, while also creating a host of juicy supporting roles for solid character actors such as Sally Hawkins, Louis CK, Bobby Cannavale and Michael Stuhlbarg.

15. Gravity

A pulse-pounding disaster movie like none other, Gravity took inspiration from 2001: A Space Odyssey and recent first-person video games to create an out-of-world experience that was truly thrilling and suitably dizzying. With a remarkable sound design and (mostly) unobtrusive score, Alfonso Cuarón’s film used the most astonishing special effects (and 3D effects) ever seen on screen before to invoke the terror of a storm of metal ripping through orbiting space stations. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney gave fine performances as the unfortunate space travellers, but it was the script – its clumsy dialogue and infantile religious metaphors – that denied this incredible production the title of modern classic. A near masterpiece, but a remarkable film nevertheless.

Full review

14. Le Passé (The Past)

Following on from his sublime A Separation, Asghar Farhadi’s Le Passé looks at the drama that arises in the years following a similar divorce and emigration case. Here an Iranian man returns to France to finalise proceedings with his soon-to-be ex-wife, where he becomes embroiled in her relationship with a new man while reconnecting with her children, his one-time step kids. It’s an untraditional tale of familial secrets and lies, told with remarkable restraint and with a knock-out ending. In the lead roles, Ali Mosaffa, Bérénice Bejo and Tahar Rahim all elevate the material to greater heights.

13. To the Wonder

Lesser Malick is still better than most. The Texan philosopher brought his lens from the overcast steps of Mont St. Michel to the sunlit fields of Oklahoma, taking in suitably stunning imagery in airy, sweeping movements. Drawing an excellent performance from Olga Kurylenko as a woman torn apart by love, the film failed to reach the heights of Malick’s earlier works. While it neither bore the dramatic punch, nor laid out the same emotional depth of say The Tree of Life, it remains a startling and beautiful work to behold. It made spinning look as wondrous as Gravity made it look terrifying.

Full review

12. Cutie and the Boxer

Some times documentary filmmakers get lucky with their subjects as events shift the focus of the story, but this can hardly count against the filmmaker. Zachary Heinzerling got very lucky with this film about New York-based Japanese artist Ushio Shinohara and his underappreciated wife and unknowing muse Noriko. Being able to tell the story of their tragicomic relationship through Noriko’s art, which is newly reemerging just as Ushio enters his autumn years. A retrospective of his work allows for introspection of their selves and their relationship, as Noriko is given a coinciding exhibit of her own. Astonishingly personal and poignant filmmaking, featuring perhaps the greatest scene played over by the closing credits ever.

11. Before Midnight

Richard Linklater’s romantic odyssey continued the tale of Jesse and Céline another nine years after we last saw them probably turning their lives upside down to be with one another. Now together, with two children, and with his success overshadowing hers (recommended double-bill with Cutie and the Boxer), the couple has a make-it or break-it day during a holiday in Greece. The writing is as natural as it was in Before Sunset, with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy once more giving superb, believable performances. It doesn’t hit with quite the same punch as Sunset, largely due to an inconsistent visual aesthetic, but it’s a wonderful and powerful follow-up that shows that romance doesn’t die as couples get older, but it becomes much, much harder to fight for.

Full review

10. Inside Llewyn Davis

One of my worst experiences of 2013 was waiting in a press queue at Cannes to see the Coens’ latest, only for us to be denied access to the over-subscribed show. The heat and sweat and crushing were unbearable, but worse was the thought of not getting to see the film. OK, in fairness I saw it two days later and the U.S. didn’t get it for another five months, but anyhow. A melancholy mixture of many Coen themes shot in haunting, dispiriting winter greys, Inside Llewyn Davis is somewhat of another masterstroke by the brothers. Oscar Isaac gives a remarkable lead performance, backed by a fine assemblage of Coen oddballs, and the character’s introspection is carried beautifully, accompanied by music perfect for capturing that spirit of early ’60s Greenwich Village. Only the semi-successful literary flourishes stand against it, and even then only barely. A bleak but powerful drama.

Full review

9. The Wind Rises

“The wind is rising, we must try to live.” Hayao Miyazaki’s supposedly (and undeniably suitable) final film is an ode to the reasons the artist creates, in the mold of Andrei Rublev. The film animates the real life story of Jiro Horikoshi, a flight-obsessed young man whose weak eyes would never let him fly, so he turned to plane design, ultimately creating the Zero fighter, the pride of the Japanese airforce during World War II. A film as much about love and loss as it is about art and war, The Wind Rises is a gentle, gorgeously drawn film that never patronises its audience or its characters. It overstays its welcome in the closing 20 minutes, but it remains a tremendous feat by the greatest living master of animation. In addition to the visuals, the sound design is astonishing – when an earthquake tears through Tokyo the soundtrack is of a guttural chant, as if the earth itself was groaning an assault on the people of the city. A remarkable work.

8. Frozen

Teaming Tangled’s director Chris Buck with Wreck-It Ralph’s writer Jennifer Lee proved a glorious victory for Disney, who have suddenly snatched back the animation crown from their underlings at Pixar. Retelling Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen with remarkable flair, superbly composed (and lyricised) songs, rich humour and a female-dominant storyline, Frozen was one of 2013’s biggest (and most successful) surprises. The animation was not always flawless, but when it looked its best (during the unsurpassable showstopper ‘Let it Go’, for example) it was beautiful to behold, and the film’s energy was electrifying. It also managed to make an animate snowman not only work dramatically and comically, but actually warm the heart too. Some movies are worth melting for.

7. The Wolf of Wall Street

Hitting harder than Ushio Shinohara at a canvas, Terence Winter’s screenplay, based on the autobiography of Jordan Belfort, is an hysterical and terrifying ride through the corridors of financial scheming and market manipulation. At times fuelled as if by the drugs its antiheroes consume, this Martin Scorsese picture may lack the visual flourish we expect of the director, but he has rarely handled a cast this efficiently, and never been so assured in his use of Leonardo DiCaprio, who gives the performance of his career thus far. At times unbearably nasty and perhaps a little enamoured of its subject’s gusto (if not his actions), it has a hell of a lot to say about American greed and the cruelty of the capitalist system at its very worst.

6. A Field in England

One of the most exciting and consistently surprising filmmakers around today, Ben Wheatley brought out his most challenging work to date in 2013, an English Civil War drama that went right through the looking glass. A demonic Irishman forces a motley crew of Englanders to dig for unspecified and uncertain treasure, only for reality and minds to split to asunder. Startling monochrome cinematography, viciously black comedy, and utterly game performances made for a psychedelic whirlwind of a picture. Screenwriter Amy Jump created a ferocious villain in O’Neill, and in the character of Friend, one of the greatest idiot savants in modern fiction.

Full review

5. The Gatekeepers

“In the War on Terror, forget about morality.” This is the defeatist mantra by which the former heads of the Shin Bet, Israel’s counter-terrorism unit, barely excuse themselves. This incredible documentary probed the founding of the Shin Bet and its execution of some incredible assaults on terrorist cells (including some monumental failures). Interviews with six former heads of the agency, each clearly affected by their time with the finger on the button, gave unprecedented insight into the difficulties faced by these men, and assertively questions the decisions they have made. Accompanying footage of atrocities, riots and counter-terrorism methods in action are more troubling than anything Hollywood has yet produced on the subject.

Full review

4. 12 Years a Slave

The story of Solomon Northup, an educated black man in the 1840s kidnapped and sold into slavery in the American South, was brought to life with the extraordinary visual assuredness of Steve McQueen and his cinematographer Sean Bobbitt. The period detail falls secondary to the extraordinary camerawork, gently filming the lakes and cotton fields that surround the plantation, or making a steamboat’s paddlewheel appear more threatening than any imaginable horror. An unending hanging is shot from a restrained distance, and life is seen to carry on as normal behind it; an astonishing comment on the system that existed in the South. Eschewing explosive Hollywood drama in favour of natural terror and human cruelty, 12 Years feels as painfully real as it looks beautiful. In the lead role, Chiwetel Ejiofor proves himself a remarkable talent, but it is McQueen’s judgement of each scene that truly propels this film towards greatness.

3. Like Father, Like Son

Hirokazu Koreeda’s most recent inspection of a family in crisis is perhaps his most melodramatic, with a plotline that could be taken from a made-for-TV movie. Two families, one upper-middle class, the other working class, discover their six-year-old sons were switched at birth; spurned on by traditional Japanese values they agree to swap boys on a trial basis. The film views the whole gentle tragedy from the point of the middle-class dad (Masaharu Fukuyama), torn between biological assumptions and shame at the breakup of his family. Koreeda judges every scene to perfection, revelling in the spontaneous performances of his child actors (Keita Ninomiya and Shôgen Hwang), gently tracking his camera alongside the painful human drama. As touching as any film could hope to be.

Full review

2. The Act of Killing

Perhaps the most formally inventive documentary ever shot, director Joshua Oppenheimer dared to challenge the perpetrators of war crimes during conflicts in Indonesia in ’65-’66 to make short films based on their experiences. These hero gangsters, icons to many contemporary Indonesians, are exposed to be deeply haunted by their acts 50 years ago, no matter how steely their dispositions. Blending camp fantasy with gory reenactments, the film is never better than when it films Anwar Congo, sitting with his grandson in the comfort of his own home, watching a film of himself playing one of his own torture victims, and revealing the collapse of an ideal in the lines of his face and the tremors of his voice. What it says about the conflict, the victims and killers, is unfathomable. But what it says about cinema and its ability to heal and bruise and cleanse is somehow even deeper still.

1. Blue Is the Warmest Colour (La Vie d’Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2)

Nothing hit harder this year than the life of young Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos), whose doe-eyed and trepidatious questioning of her sexuality in her teens leads her into a long-term relationship with confident lesbian artist Emma (Léa Seydoux). Through Abdellatif Kechiche’s astonishingly sensitive direction, we see the blossoming and embittering of this young woman, her pains and simple dreams lightly drawn on her barely-an-adult face. Exarchopoulos excels beyond any lead performance one could hope for, while the camerawork and pacing create an epic of simple humanity, first love and sexual awakening. Kechiche understands that the moments when life seems to slow down are when the camera should hang in the air, only watching, incapable of intervening. No coming-of-age tale in a generation has been this exceptionally well-measured, this powerful or this gorgeous to behold.

Full review

Vive l'Adèlevolution!
Vive l’Adèle-volution!

—————————

OK, and now what you’ve really been waiting for, my five worst films of 2013. I missed many supposedly awful films this year, such as Movie 43, Getaway or A Haunted House. But I certainly saw my share of poor movies. There were many I disliked or even hated, such as Django Unchained, Star Trek Into Darkness and Only God Forgives, that despite the ire they raised in me were far too competently made to be numbered amongst these bottom of the barrel films. Which are…

5. The World’s End

No film in 2013 was as appallingly misjudged as this struggling comedy from Edgar Wright. Closing a trilogy comprised also of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, The World’s End failed to do anything new with the sophisticated humour and cutting of those films, rehashing visuals and delivering predictable gags that felt like they were coming off a conveyer belt. Irredeemably nihilistic (it revels in the exploits of humanity’s most disgraceful member) and haplessly genre-meshing, it failed to be any of the many things it wanted to be. It can only be applauded for its ambition.

Full review

4. 21 & Over

The writers of The Hangover team up to direct a campus comedy full of racism, disregard for mental health issues and accidental circumcision. Enjoy!

Full review

3. A Good Day to Die Hard

The fifth installment in the once-unmatchable saga of John McClane became a muddied mess of James Bond cliches and anti-Russian propaganda. A dire villain, nonsense dialogue and absent chemistry between unstoppable dad and superspy son made this humourless entry in the series an agony to watch.

2. After Earth

Will Smith pimps his charisma-struggling son in a shockingly bland action movie that features killer monkeys, instantaneous plummets in temperature and giant eagles that comprehend human sacrifice. It may often look good, but the dialogue and drama are so haphazard and clumsy that not even a spear that can be reassembled into different shapes with the push of a button can save it. Perhaps M. Night Shyamalan’s worst film.

Full review

1. Hyde Park on Hudson

After being masturbated by his cousin, President Roosevelt proceeds to solve a political storm in a teacup with the use of a hotdog. Features perhaps cinema’s most insipid narration. This film is exploitative dirt.

Full review

Until next year…

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Iron Man 3 – Suit yourself

Casual wear: Iron Man at home

Casual wear: Iron Man at home

The crushing weight of expectation rests on Iron Man 3, but like the target of a rampaging Hulkbuster suit, that weight is lifted, thrillingly and amusingly, for its 130 minute running time.

The first Marvel Cinematic Universe adventure since the face-explodingly successful The Avengers, Iron Man 3 reunites Robert Downey Jr., as Tony Stark/Iron Man, with the man most responsible for his getting the role in the first place; Shane Black. Black, who rose to fame as the writer of the first (ostensibly only) two Lethal Weapon movies, had very much come to Downey Jr.’s rescue in the mid-noughties when the actor was finally recovering from a harsh decade-plus of substance abuse and finding guest roles on Ally McBeal insufficient in revitalising his career.

The film they made together, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), a satisfying meta-noir, showed what the actor could do with his own persona when put on the right kind of leash. Jon Favreau, director of Iron Man 1 and 2, held the leash loosely on his first go around, before letting the barking dog loose for the sequel, with disastrous, rambling consequences. It wasn’t until The Avengers that we saw what good Downey Jr. could truly do with Tony Stark when a writer like Joss Whedon fed him material that was more fun than the shtick he could make up in his head. Shane Black, who Marvel have pitched this gamble on, is a similarly talented, smart and cool writer, and the result is the most satisfying Iron Man film to date.

Sometime after the Battle of New York in The Avengers, Tony Stark is struggling. He can’t sleep. He can’t stop building suit upgrades. He suffers panic attacks. He fears for the end of his relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), the only thing he really cares about now. Suffering from PTSD and having taken a serious ego-bruising at realising that there are beings outside his world far smarter and more powerful than he, Stark shuts himself off to his tinkering, leaving the superhero duties to James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), formerly War Machine, now jingo’d up in red, white and blue as the ‘Iron Patriot’.

But when warmongering machiavelli the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley on a healthy dose of fun pills), the (un)acceptable face of terrorism, comes to challenge Stark, revenge becomes the name of the game. A crippling first strike by the Bin Laden lookalike leaves Stark stranded, friendless and temporarily suit-less, at a time when he is needed most, to take on twisted biological weapons expert Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce, finally back on form) and his band of suped-up military vets.

All you need is glove: Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark

All you need is glove: Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark

Bookmarked by a witty narration by Downey Jr. that plants us firmly in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang territory, Iron Man 3 kicks along at a solid pace, focusing far more on character development and interaction than exploding robots. Enough references are made to the events of Avengers to make it clear we remain in that universe, but the personal vendetta aspect (set up from the opening flashback scenes) makes it clear that this is a Stark only venture, and for good reason.

There’s a moment in Iron Man 2 where Iron Man takes out almost every villain with one laser attack, making the character all too powerful and much of the action redundant. What Iron Man 3 focuses on is how the more sophisticated Stark’s designs become, the more risks he takes, and thus the more vulnerable a character he is – Stark’s kryptonite is hubris. One of the film’s finest action sequences sees Stark suit-less, and forced to MacGyver himself a small arsenal. An aerial escape battle culminates in a finer gag than any the series (including The Avengers) has delivered thus far. The final showdown, which starts off sloppy with far too much happening on screen at once, boils down to a face-off between hero and villain that features the finest weapon-switching duel since the catfight in Crouching Tiger.

The character-building is truly commendable, although the script is not without fault. The Christmas setting, a Black staple, forces the morals home a little too heavily. The story’s link to White House intrigue feels utterly redundant and unfortunately echoes the recent G.I. Joe 2. The second act, with Stark stranded in wintry Tennessee, is too much of a diversion with too little of a payoff, although child actor Ty Simpkins deserves applause for holding his own against Downey Jr., and for not being irritating.

Back on the leash, Downey Jr. is as much fun as he’s ever been, with Paltrow and Cheadle remaining strong support. Favreau, relegated to cameo appearance, seems almost delighted to have the pressure of directing taken off his now much larger shoulders. James Badge Dale is impressively intense as a fire-powered henchman – the first such role in the MCU thus far. Rebecca Hall, as a morally concerned scientist and former Stark fling, gets the short end of the stick in a frankly underwritten and largely unnecessary role.

Aftershock: Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts

Brian Tyler’s decent but repetitive score begins to grate after a while, but the film looks sharp throughout, and Black’s script, co-written with rising talent Drew Pearce, makes this one of the most original blockbusters in recent memory. The Mandarin’s speech about American bastardisation of Eastern culture, using as his example the fortune cookie, is one of the finest villainous rants ever. He similarly targets Hollywood’s famous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre as an Americanised evil, taking a nice little pot-shot at the studio system while also blowing up one of the few landmarks Roland Emmerich had not gotten around to yet.

The film’s ending is far more concerned with concluding an Iron Man Trilogy than with perpetuating the MCU, but there is still a lot of places these characters can go, and if audiences can adjust to this film’s more sardonic tone, a future beyond Avengers sequel appearances should be assured.

As an MCU film, sticking around until the end of the credits is a must for fans, although those excited for previews of coming attractions may be disappointed to hear the witty scene is more “shawarma” than “Thanos”, if you take my meaning.

4/5

(originally published at http://www.nextprojection.com)

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The Avengers, by Marvel, who Assemble – Review

Thor and Captain America watching the box office returns

It is now four years since Iron Man was released, a decent superhero movie that still felt a bit like any other. The big difference came once the credits had rolled, and Samuel L. Jackson appeared as comics spymaster Nick Fury to foreshadow The Avengers. This was an unprecedented move on behalf of Marvel, the comics powerhouse behind this almighty band of heroes. Actors crossed over between the ensuing films, and unlike the contradicting X-Men films, continuity was maintained – when one character is called away from the events of Iron Man 2, he shows up in the events of Thor.

And now the superheroes are brought together; Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, the Hulk, Iron Man 2 support Black Widow and Thor cameo star Hawkeye, all under the watchful eye (singular) of  Nick Fury; to battle Thor’s nemesis, and brother, Loki. And while that sentence is a mouthful, and the idea seems over-ambitious, it works. It really works.

You see this? This works.

Because this isn’t just sandwiching some characters together like Freddy Vs Jason or the proposed Batman and Superman movie of the 1990s. Despite their enormous differences these characters have, they have already been set up to exist within the same universe, so the film can cut to the chase without the slightest hint of being patronising.

The film opens with Loki, now an intergalactic outlaw, being given a chance for revenge by a shadowy otherworldly figure, provided he can summon an alien army to Earth. To do this he needs the Cosmic Cube (the macguffin from Captain America: The First Avenger, a further link), which is in the hands of Nick Fury’s agency SHIELD. Once he has achieved that, Fury has no choice but to call in the big guns, summoning superheroes from around the world to take down the impending threat. Thor, the god of lightning, returns to Earth to help take down his brother.

“Kneel before Zodki.”

And that’s pretty much all there is to it. The characters gel, the dialogue snaps back and forth for the most part, and when things explode they explode in style. Writer/director Joss Whedon, best known for creating Buffy the Vampire Slayer and countless prematurely cancelled TV shows, brings his comic book fascination and expertise to the table, creating a superhero movie that is as silly as can be while also remaining utterly confident in itself.

The incredible star cast are solid across the board. Robert Downey Jr. does what he does best as Tony ‘Iron Man’ Stark; it’s a role he has down to a T. Mark Ruffalo takes over the maligned role of Bruce Banner, the rage-riddled man behind the Hulk, and makes a strong effort with it. Chrises Hemsworth and Evans show the same committed passion for the roles of Thor and Captain America that they did in their solo adventures. Scarlett Johansson makes a case for a solo adventure of her own as the super-lithe assassin Black Widow, and Jeremy Renner has some fun as bow-and-explosive-arrow expert Hawkeye, even if he does get Cyclops’d off for half the film (X-Men 2 fans will get that one). Tom Hiddleston continues to charm as the Machiavellian Loki, although his character lacks the Shakespearean drama here that he had in Thor. The side are let down, ever so slightly, by Samuel L. Jackson, who invests every line with the same shouty drama that he did the infamous punchline in Snakes on a Plane. His scenes, by and large, steal energy from the film.

“Quick, this is our only dramatic scene in the whole movie, say something powerful and memorable.”

Fortunately this film has plenty of energy to spare, and much of that is down to Whedon’s witty script. While the drama drags in the first and second acts, there are enough one-liners and moments of superb comic timing that make up for these pitfalls. One gag about the getting of and not getting of pop culture references, involving Captain America and Thor, deconstructs the very idea of pop culture references in the same way that Whedon’s other current release, The Cabin in the Woods, deconstructs the entire horror genre.

Whedon is also careful not to let any two heroes hog the spotlight, à la that regrettable other “superhero” team-up, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. In the central action sequence that closes the second act, two of the heroes with the potential to steal the film, Iron Man and Captain America, are given the least exciting task, while Thor and Hulk spar, Black Widow and Hawkeye get their martial arts on and even fan-favourite Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) gets to blow stuff up!

The final act, in which the Avengers fend off an invasion of New York City, visually calls to mind the endless finale of Transformers: Dark of the Moon, but it is so less cluttered and more focused, giving each character a set objective and a limited space and time to achieve them in. Surprisingly, it is the Hulk who makes this sequence his own, rampaging across the screen in gleeful bounds of carnage. You’d be hard-pressed to hold in a raucous cheer as the Hulk smashes everything in sight!

HULK AWESOME!!!

The Avengers is far from perfect, but it is so much greater than what it might have been. Setting itself up nicely for both a sequel and a return to the solo films, this will be one of the most fondly remembered and rewatched blockbusters of the decade.

Avoid the 3D if you can, and please, stay for the bonus scene in the credits. Because why wouldn’t you?

4/5

(originally published at http://www.filmireland.net)

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The 82nd Academy Awards – Live!

My return to the blogosphere has been nicely timed to coincide with this year’s Oscars. As I did last year, I will be keeping my thoughts rolled out here as the night develops. Hopefully it will be a fun one, there’s definitely more room for controversy than last year. The double hosting act of Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin is an interesting one; Baldwin is at the top of his comedic game right now and Martin has managed to stay away from bad comedies sufficiently of late to be forgiven his trespasses. Although one can’t help but feel they may have missed a big chance to win a larger audience for their modestly received It’s Complicated, released a few months back.

My money is unfortunately on Avatar to take Best Picture, although there is still hope that The Hurt Locker might unseat it. Other worthy contenders such as Up, A Serious Man and Up in the Air, and indeed District 9 (hardly amazing but certainly a more worthy winner than Avatar) seem to have hardly any hope at all of winning the top award. That said, if Kathryn Bigelow can at least take Best Director the night will not be a complete disaster should Avatar win Best Picture and prove you can just fire as much money as possible at the screen and eventually people will give you prizes.

Indeed, a contest of similar intrigue has emerged in the Best Foreign Language category, where the frankly haunting The White Ribbon goes up against the outstanding A Prophet. While Hollywood may not care, it will be the big one for cinéastes to watch, aside from the battle of the mainstream behemoth and the indie upstart waged by exes James Cameron and Bigelow.

Up has Animated Feature in the bag, and will hopefully at the very least take home Best Score. The beautiful and charming film’s five nominations very much speak for themselves.

As for actors, Jeff Bridges, Sandra Bullock, Mo’Nique and Christoph Waltz seem to have their four categories all cornered. Only a surprise upset in Best Actress looks at all probable, and not very at that.

Proper commentary will resume later this evening, in the meantime I must feed and prepare for the all-night event.

In the meantime, bask in the glory of this wonderful pisstake trailer for every Oscar-winning film ever from Cracked.com…

The following takes place between 3.30pm and 9pm

Events occur in real Pacific Standard Time.

3.38pm – James Cameron is selling his wife’s dress as “Na’vi blue”. Wonder what colour Kathryn Bigelow is wearing…?

3.39pm – Vera Farminga looks amazing, although her dress looks like it might come alive an devour her.

3.44pm – E! Entertainment TV are carrying considerably less obnoxious coverage of the red carpet than Sky, so looks like I’ll be following them for the next 90 minutes or so. Just in case you needed a point of reference.

3.49pm – Is Sigourney Weaver wearing a blood-red toga?

3.51pm – Lots of nice dresses, nothing mind-blowingly stunning or godawful yet though. And no outlandish variations on the tux either. The next hour could well be hell. Why am I even live-blogging the red carpet at all?

3.57pm – For the record, the following films are the main contenders tonight that, for a number reasons (including at least one that has yet to come out in Ireland) I have yet to see: Precious…, The Blind Side, An Education, The Last StationA Single Man, Julie and Julia, Invictus. Just so that we’re on the level here.

4.01pm – A part of me is hopeful for Sandra Bullock, as she’s one of those actresses who has always been likeable but you just assumed she would never win an Oscar. I mean The Net, Two Weeks Notice, All About Steve. She’s so feisty that no matter what trash she makes you can’t quite bring yourself to hate her.

4.03pm – Amanda Seyfried is still the perfect woman. I know I said it last year, but seriously, who in the last year has challenged her crown?

4.05pm – So what, Crazy Heart gets a few nominations and suddenly every country/western singer gets an Oscar invite?

4.06pm – Miley Cyrus’s dress appears to be made out of bra.

4.08pm – Antonio Banderas appears to be preparing for his role as Saddam Hussein. In… a film I just made up?

4.13pm – Who the hell is Elizabeth Banks? Why am I only discovering Elizabeth Banks this evening? And by this evening, I mean it’s long after midnight…

4.15pm – Sarah Jessica Parker is wearing a beautiful silk… sack. It’s a sack.

4.17pm – How tall is Kathryn Bigelow? As a talentless male I like to think that an Oscar-nominated director would be as unattractive as she is talented. But nope, she’s just a bit yummy. There, I said it.

4.19pm – Charlize Theron looks like a delicious frosted cake. Her dress invites far too many suggestive jokes. I’ll keep quiet.

4.25pm – I wonder was Nelson Mandela invited… and what did he RSVP?

4.28pm – Damn you Colin Firth, so darn charming!

4.29pm – Can someone clear this up for me, is George Clooney grey or not? He looks like he’s half-dyed his hair sandy.

4.31pm – Meryl Streep’s dress looks like it’s made out of cream, smoothly flowing cream. It’s good.

4.39pm – Poor Keanu Reeves, he’ll never win an Oscar. Tonight Sandra Bullock leaves him behind.

4.43pm – Robert Downey Jr is the first major black-tie breaker, wearing a teal bowtie. Yes, that’s right, I know the colour teal!

4.52pm – As ever, Kate Winslet looks enchanting. Nothing I say here can add to how wonderful she looks in that dress.

4.58pm – Ha! Remember Cameron Diaz.

5.09pm – Anna Kendrick looks like a pink Grecian goddess. Where did she come from this past year? And how our lives have been made better. Well, not counting that Twilight nonsense.

5.12pm – Zoe Saldana’s dress looks like someone ate a Na’vi then threw it back up on her.

5.27pm – Good lord who let Nicole Richie in?

5.30pm – And we’re off! So the last two hours were pointless then?

5.32pm – Eugh, the stars are a bit pointlessly on display here. Why are the Oscars always looking for new means to make sales pitches?

5.33pm – Yay! Neil Patrick Harris!

5.34pm – Singing a solo number about the need for duets. Irony!

5.35pm – Jeff Bridges does not look impressed.

5.35pm – Here come the boys…

5.36pm – A few light stabs at Hollywood now. Fun times.

5.38pm – Meryl Streep threesome gag, they’re totally going for an It’s Complicated DVD push.

5.39pm – Alec Baldwin’s delivery is way off. Not a good start.

5.40pm – Martin and Baldwin are harassed by Avatar forest creatures. What is this, Family Guy?

5.44pm – Penelope Cruz presents the first award. My those two were quite embarrassing. Penelope’s dress looks like fire. In all the best ways.

5.46pm – Christoph Waltz came from nowhere this year with knowing but a broad knowledge of languages and a knife and fork with which to devour scenery. If he doesn’t win, then this whole night could go in any direction.

5.48pm – Phew. Thought we were going to have a night of surprises there.

5.49pm – That’s an über-bingo.

5.52pm – Wow, ads already? We’ve only had one award. Have I missed something, what’s will all this (fake?) animosity between the hosts and George Clooney?

5.56pm – Cameron Diaz and Steve Carrell, make a mess of it all. Ouch. Animated characters talk about being nominated. Fun stuff!

5.58pm – Yay! Dug is licking the camera. I love the Oscars!

5.59pm – Up wins! Thank goodness. My word that film was sheer delight.

6.00pm – Pete Docter makes a very quick but pleasant speech. Is it just me or is his head tiny?

6.01pm – Seyfried and Cyrus present the nominees for Best Original Song and slip over their lines again. A lot of teething pains this year.

6.03pm – Could a Colin Farrell-sung song win the prize?

6.04pm – Yes, ‘The Weary Kind’ takes it – first win for Crazy Heart.

6.06pm – Ouch, Chris Pine has to introduce District 9, which essentially nabbed the nomination from Star Trek. Who on earth thought that was a fair idea?!

6.11pm – Best Original Screenplay could call the rest of the night. Hurt Locker seems a lock, but Inglourious Basterds is a contender.

6.12pm – “Great movies begin with great writing,” says Tina Fey. So why is Avatar not in this category again…?

6.15pm – The Hurt Locker takes it. Interesting…

6.17pm – Mark Boal’s speech was simple but to the point. Molly Ringwald and Matthew Broderick talk about John Hughes. Don’t they usually do all the obituaries en masse?

6.19pm – This seems like an odd way to make the Oscars seem more mainstream. He made some fun films though.

6.22pm – And the stars of his films all come out. I wonder who else will get an homage like this?

6.23pm – Samuel L Jackson presents Up – no, don’t show the sad bits, I’ll cry!

6.28pm – Zoe Saldana and Carey Mulligan to present Best Animated Short Film.

6.31pm – No Pixar this year, though the fun Irish short Granny O’Grimm is worth a mention.

6.32pm – French short Logorama wins. Looks fun. Hope it’s up on YouTube…

6.33pm – Documentary Short now. I said it last year, I’ll say it again: where the hell can one see these?!

6.35pm – Music By Prudence get shuffled off stage by the orchestra pit. Poor them.

6.37pm – Danish short The new Tennants wins Best Short. That’s those three knocked down swiftly…

6.38pm – Ben Stiller as a Na’vi. Better idea than last year.

6.39pm – Best Makeup; here’s hoping for Il Divo. And Ben Stiller is rapidly becoming unfunny.

6.41pm – Na’vi tail joke = win! Win for Star Trek too. Guess it was deserved.

6.43pm – Jeff Bridges introduces A Serious Man. It is oddly under-represented at this year’s awards.

6.47pm – Best Adapted Screenplay. Lot of options. Up in the Air is the likely winner. In the Loop would be fun though.

6.48pm – Thank god they keep calling Precious just Precious. That is one exhausting title.

6.50pm – Precious (which I believe is based on the novel Push by Sapphire) wins.

6.52pm – Queen Latifah and Steve Martin have a bit of a flirt.

6.53pm – The… Governor’s… Awards? What’s going on?!

6.54pm – Hooray for Lauren Bacall!

6.56pm – Robin Williams presents the Award for Best Supporting Actress. Alas, it’s got Mo’nique scribbled all over it, despite the two charming ladies from Up in the Air.

6.59pm – Mo’nique. Bo’ring.

7.00pm – A nice speech that one, shameless plug for BET though.

7.02pm – I’m sure I’ll see it eventually, but nothing about An Education made me want to rush to the cinema.

7.06pm – Sigourney Weaver presents Best Art Direction. Surely Avatar will dance home with this.

7.07pm – Avatar wins. The presenter kinda gave that away, no?

7.09pm – Tom Ford and Sarah Jessica Parker present the costume award. It’s like beauty and the bitch. Ha, I went there!

7.10pm – This is probably the most open category yet – The Young Victoria wins!

7.17pm – Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin do a Paranormal Activity skit. Brilliant.

7.18pm – Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner give a little talk on respect for horror films. If only we could respect these two worthless upstarts.

7.19pm – My word these are some obvious clips they’re showing.

7.23pm – Morgan Freeman talks about sound editing and mixing. I could listen to him all day.

7.24pm – Sound Editing – surely a win for Avatar?

7.25pm – Wow, The Hurt Locker takes a techie award. Shocking!

7.26pm – Sound Mixing, another for Hurt Locker perhaps?

7.26pm – Yes it is. If Revenge of the Fallen had won an Oscar I would have hunted every one of you down and killed you all.

7.27pm – Elizabeth Banks! Who are you?

7.29pm – Know what the problem with Inglourious Basterds was? The Inglourious Basterds – they were the worst part of their own film.

7.35pm – Sandra Bullock presents Best Cinematography. She’s already acting like she’s won Best Actress.

7.36pm – Avatar wins! Seriously? How hard is it to point a camera at a green wall?

7.38pm – Demi Moore is here for the roll call of the lost. Actually, there were few huge deaths in Hollywood this year. James Taylor sings The Beatles!

7.39pm – Dom DeLuise. Now I’m sad again.

7.41pm – Karl Malden, Patrick Swayze, Jack Cardiff?! I take it back, this was a terrible year!

7.43pm – Best Special Effects coming up. Thank god, finally, an award Avatar genuinely deserves!

7.46pm – First, Jennifer Lopez (oh dear) and Sam Worthington (oh lord, his accent is death) introduce the best scores, with dancers!

7.47pm – Never thought I’d see someone dance the robot to The Hurt Locker score.

7.48pm – Eugh, The Fantastic Mr Fox music sounds like Deliverance for kids.

7.49pm – The Up score is just enchanting. Oooh, ballet.

7.52pm – Yes! Michael Giacchino wins for Up. Such gorgeous music.

7.54pm – Gerard Butler and Bradley Cooper present the Avatar Award for outstanding Avataryness.

7.55pm – One of these guys is Irish. Should I care? Which one? Can the Irish guy say something now?

7.56pm – Jason Bateman introduces Up in the Air. Finally, someone actually involved in the film!

8.01pm – Matt Damon is here to present the Best Documentary Feature award. Once again, I suspect I’ve seen none of these.

8.03pm – Ok, at least I’ve heard of The Cove and Food, Inc.

8.04pm – The Cove wins! Three great reasons to see it now, dolphins, Hayden Panettiere and now an Oscar!

8.05pm – And Fisher Stevens. I love Fisher Stevens!

8.06pm – Wow. Editing explained by a sexist simpleton. Now I know everything!

8.07pm – The Hurt Locker wins! Damn straight. Sublimely edited thriller that there Hurt Locker was.

8.13pm – Back to the hosts. My they’ve been dull.

8.14pm – Pedro Almodovar and Quentin Tarantino present Best Foreign Language Film. Why is this a separate category again? I suspect The White Ribbon will take it. Haneke’s film is damn haunting.

8.17pm – Wow, a surprise win – Argentinian film El Secreto de Sus Ojos takes the gong. Didn’t see that coming. “Thank you for not considering Na’vi a foreign language.” Nice.

8.18pm – Cathy Bates is here to masturbate Avatar. Thank goodness, we didn’t have anyone else doing that already.

8.22pm – Down to the last four. Here come the big ones! Acting gongs seem pretty predetermined.

8.25pm – Former co-stars come out to sing the praises of the Best Actor nominees. A much better idea than last year’s former idols approach.

8.27pm – This is almost too sweet. Finally, George Clooney doesn’t look miserable any more.

8.29pm – Poor Morgan Freeman, he’s really not supposed to be there.

8.30pm – Colin Farrell and Jeremy Renner spooned. Right. There’s the quote of the evening.

8.31pm – Why can’t Kate Winslet give me awards?

8.32pm – Jeff Bridges wins, utterly expectedly. Good for him!

8.33pm – Oh dear. He’s channelling the Dude just a little…

8.35pm – Wow, Jeff Bridges is really being allowed to talk!

8.39pm – Best Actresses now. God Sandra Bullock’s accent in that film is grating.

8.40pm – Oprah? Seriously?

8.40pm – Curious. Jeff Bridges went first, now Sandra Bullock. I see a pattern forming…

8.42pm – Helen Mirren: Royalty with a tattoo.

8.43pm – Carey Mulligan is so cute it makes me want to bite off my own arm. “We’re lucky she’s so young,” says Peter Sarsgaard. Which means: “You’ll win another year, dear.”

8.46pm – Oprah did not annoy me there. Maybe it’s time for to learn how to spell Gabourey Sidibe. Thanks Wikipedia!

8.47pm – God I hate Sean Penn. What is he prattling on about?

8.48pm – This is the first Academy Award and nomination for Sandra Bullock. What, she didn’t get one for Speed 2: Cruise Control?

8.51pm – She’s crying! Tears! Finally! Several hours, we finally got there!

8.53pm – Barbara Streisand is here to remind us that an African American and a woman are nominated for Best Director. Aw, bless.

8.54pm – Kathryn Bigelow takes it! Incredible stuff, and a huge upset for Megabucks Cameron. Not very important history is made, but history nevertheless.

8.57pm – Who’d have thought the director of a piece of piss like Near Dark could win an Oscar. Still, most deserved. Cameron looks none-too-pleased.

8.58pm – Tom Hanks gives Best Picture to The Hurt Locker! Amazing stuff. What a night! That’ll teach Avatar a lesson about actually waiting til the script has been finished to make the damn movie.

9.00pm – Well that’s a delightful surprise. Kathryn Bigelow is giving her final thanks and holding back the tears, dedicating her award to men and women in uniform the world over.

9.01pm – That ran over time a little. Very disappointing show but great awards, mostly deserved. Another fun night at the Oscars. Here’s to next year!

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Satan’s Alley – Review

There is a lot to be said for Satan’s Alley, the new ever-so-slightly over-the-top drama starring Kirk Lazarus. Lazarus is by now notorious for his repeated shots at Oscar fame, and this film is, in a pleasant, crowd-pleasing and pretentiously boundary-pushing manner, the sort of film that does well at award ceremonies around the world.

Filmed in a world of shadows pierced by light, this tale of two infatuated priests in medieval Ireland involves itself in showing how the prejudices in our past still haunt the way we see the world today. The film often borders on the erotic, but always steers clear of it, intent on revealing how religious practices can indeed be more pornographic than any sexual encounter.

The film of course is clearly buying into that “homosexual films for straight people” genre that was popularised first by Brokeback Mountain, and the casting highlights it; Lazarus is the blonde and brooding Australian, Tobey Maguire is the innocent-faced Jake Gyllenhaal lookalike (the two will in fact play brothers in Jim Sheridan’s upcoming film Brothers). The duo have a surprising amount of onscreen chemistry, as the older and more world-weary Father O’Malley (Lazarus) takes the younger under his wing and teaches him things that priests aren’t supposed to know. There hasn’t been this much sin in a monastery since The Name of the Rose

Ok, fine, I’m going to have to stop that there. I am, as many of you will already be aware, reviewing a fake film.

However, there is method to my madness; the above enjoyable diversion was designed to highlight the fact that while some films peak too soon, Tropic Thunder is a film that peaks before it even actually begins.

Tropic Thunder was expected all summer to be a comedy highlight of the year, and it doesn’t quite disappoint. In order to sell to us its would-be mockumentary behind-the-scenes style, it opens with a selection of trailers for fictional films starring Tropic Thunder’s fictional stars. The trailer for Scorcher VI: Global Meltdown presents Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller) as a star who, despite the audience having grown up with him, has outlived his own greatest character and now fails to impress. The Fatties: Fart 2 conjures horrific memories Eddie Murphy’s Nutty Professor sequel, and is by far the weakest of the three trailers, presenting Jeff Portnoy as the sort of actor that shouldn’t be given work. The same could be said for his portrayer, Jack Black.

But as I’ve already highlighted it’s Robert Downey Jr’s Kirk Lazarus’s Satan’s Alley that steals the prologue and indeed the whole film, not just for its inspired innuendo but also for tapping into a very real and evident trend in modern melodrama; it’s ok to be gay provided you’re the underdog – audiences can relate to that.

The actual film itself is a sloppier affair than we might have hoped for. It’s never quite expressed what sort of film Tropic Thunder (that is, the film being made in this film) is supposed to be – its diverse cast (including the “5-time Oscar winner” Lazarus, method acting as a black man on and off camera) would seem to imply a large-budget Hollywood action film, rather than the artistic sort of war movie suggested by its writer and British director. For a film that we’re meant to think is meant to be Apocalypse Now, it never quite stops looking like Michael Bay’s Vietnam. The parody is diluted, if not utterly washed away.

Indeed, the revelation that the author, Vietnam vet Four Leaf, is actually a phoney, is meant to make us laugh at the thought of this farce not being true; but then none of the great Vietnam War movies claim to be based on true events. The audience is left at a loss for who to root for.

Anyways, when the film goes over-budget a more reality TV method is attempted, which in turn goes horribly wrong (in an awfully predictable gag – though a blessing since Steve Coogan hasn’t been this dreadful since Marie Antoinette). The actors are left in actual danger in the jungle and have to remain in character. Some genuine hilarity ensues – the infamous sequence in which the word “retard” is used repeatedly to discuss mentally challenged characters winning Oscars owes a lot to its predecessor in Extras (which had Kate Winslet make the same declaration to Ricky Gervais) but deserves credit, particularly for coining the now essential expression “going full retard”.

But there’s a lot that’s not funny. The one smart character, new-comer Kevin Sandusky (played by Jay Baruchel – getting confused yet?), is repeatedly ignored. Jeff Portnoy wants drugs (and does little else for two whole hours). A panda gets killed for the second time in a comedy in a year – ok, admittedly that was pretty funny this time!

As the film wears on its structure turns into the sort of rescue action picture that we were meant to assume this was not; a Missing in Action instead of a Platoon. There are again inspired moments, Lazarus’s “I’m a lead farmer” is perhaps one of the great one-liners of the decade. Speedman’s “I’m a rooster illusion” is the sort of wonderful non-sequitor that made Will Ferrell famous, but which he can no longer pull off.

What might have been a spectacular moment of comedy, Speedman’s adopted ethnic child (because all celebs must have one!) stabbing him in the neck repeatedly, was pointlessly, and one might argue unethically, spoiled in advertising for the film. Some jokes work a lot better unexpected and in context.

And while all of this is happening in the jungle there’s a whole subplot going on in LA. Tom Cruise, wearing prosthetics and a fat suit, plays Les Grossman, a vicious Hollywood executive and producer of the film-within-the-film. It’s an impressive turn for Cruise, who is surprisingly funny and carries of the grotesque excesses of the Hollywood execs and actually makes Grossman the monster we would expect him to be. But he is no doubt not the film’s highlight, as was assumedly anticipated by Stiller (who by the way co-wrote, co-produced and directed this film). The decision to have Grossman continue his hip-hop dancing throughout the film’s closing credits was a disastrous one that left the audience I saw it with cold and silent, uncertain if they were even supposed to laugh, let alone being tempted to.

There is a lot to like in Tropic Thunder, and it is certainly one of the best American comedies since Zoolander. But too many mistakes have been made. For example, Matthew McConaughey’s character, Speedman’s agent, is so entertaining that we might feel cheated we didn’t get to see the respective agents for Lazarus (assumedly a quivering wreck) and Portnoy (which might have given this waste of space something to do other than moan all film long). It holds together in the end, but only just, and largely because of inspired moments such as Satan’s Alley, Simple Jack and Lazarus (channelling Russell Crowe) and Speedman’s breakdown near the finale. Jon Voight deserves special mention for his brief cameo – he just looks so damned disappointed!

Tropic Thunder is a fun and clever action comedy, but it fails to be the one thing it wanted to be most: a satire. And failing that is the greatest sin of all.

3/5

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