Thursday, 30 May 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Iron Man 3

Directed by: Shane Black

Produced by: Kevin Feige

Screenplay by: Drew Pearce
Shane Black

Based on: Iron Man by 
Stan Lee
Larry Lieber
Don Heck
Jack Kirby

Starring: Robert Downey, Jr.
Gwyneth Paltrow
Don Cheadle
Guy Pearce
Rebecca Hall
Stephanie Szostak
James Badge Dale
Jon Favreau
Ben Kingsley

Original Score by: Brian Tyler

Cinematography by: John Toll

Editing by: Jeffrey Ford
Peter S. Elliot

Studio(s): Marvel Studios
DMG Entertainment

Distributed by: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Release date(s): April 18, 2013 (London premiere)
April 25, 2013 (United Kingdom)
May 3, 2013 (United States)

Running time: 130 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $200 million

Box office revenue (as of publication): $1, 149, 135, 928

Well, as they say, the ball is well and truly rolling, and with no expenses on any illegal substances of any sort, you're flying Air TTWD on account of just out and out grit. Frankly, I've surprised myself that the metaphorical glove still fits, as I thought it'd be a royal pain in the ass to get the ship out of the docks, but we are coasting on. Here's hoping I just don't hit an iceberg (I can make that joke being from Belfast by the way. Side note: at work I've had to tell people off for singing "They built the ship and the ship sank" to the tune of The Clash's I Fought The Law, as it's now considered 'offensive' to make Titanic jokes in Belfast)! So, for more inane rambles, hopefully in the vein of the opening of Woody Allen's Manhattan but coming across instead as banal, and the occasional movie review, keep your eyes posted!

Alrighty, so, today's film up for scrutiny is the latest instalment in the ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man 3. Now, just for a bit of background, I liked the first Iron Man a lot, thought the 2008 Incredible Hulk with Ed Norton was a good flick, and I thought the Captain America: The First Avenger was decent enough. I haven't seen Iron Man 2, Thor or The Avengers, but what Marvel have done with their movie-making ventures since the first Iron Man is something that was quite unique to comic books, having other characters cross over into each others' films, much like they do in the comics, so that the characters all inhabit the same world. In this the first film since The Avengers, what Marvel have described the start of a second phase for their Cinematic Universe, we have Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) suffering from anxiety attacks after the events of The Avengers. He and Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) are squabbling, and an emerging leader of The Ten Rings terrorist organisation, The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), causes all sorts of problems and having the US government put Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), the former War Machine re-christened Iron Patriot on the case. Amidst all this, we have the ambiguous founder of the Advanced Idea Mechanics Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), a figure from Stark's past and whose position in the proceedings we are uncertain of. Let's take a look!

Starting the pros here (as we always do), I was happy with Marvel's decision to hire Shane Black onto the project. Black has always been an entertaining screenwriter, and his directorial debut, starring Robert Downey, Jr., 2005's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, was a hilarious Chandler-esque raucous and one of the funniest buddy-comedies I'd ever seen. However, the film didn't do great at the box-office (more people really need to see Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), and Black hasn't seen much in the way of theatrical releases since. It's hardly a gamble getting him to helm the director's chair (Iron Man 3 was going to make money regardless), but his presence gives Iron Man 3 a freshness that same of the other movies in this universe are lacking. Also, as far as a film goes, it is without question the most distinctive picture of the franchise. Downey, Jr., a magnetic screen presence as ever, begins the film gibbering on, not unlike the narration of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and the film is very much tongue-in-cheek. Also on the acting front, I was impressed Guy Pearce, who carries this controlling silence around the character of Killian. You get this real sense of underlying tension with the subtlety that Pearce injects into the character. He's a fine actor who deserves meaty roles, and this proves it. Unquestionably the show-stealer this time round is Ben Kingsley. It's been an interesting process with Kingsley and my good self (if I'm so bold as to address myself as such. Yes I am!), given that for a time he was oh-so-serious and strangely overbearing. However, since 2008's Fifty Dead Men Walking, he has become a generous actor, putting over a lot of young talent, and with this film, he does a complete about-turn on his onscreen persona. I'm going to try and not spoil this, but on the one hand, he does a suitably menacing job of playing The Mandarin, with a commanding power in his voice, but on the other, he does the complete opposite, a purposeful regression into degeneracy, the juxtaposition of these two different aspects having an almost meta effect. It's a performance of marvellous trickery, and Kingsley does it flawlessly. I know a lot of people are angry with this direction of The Mandarin character, but I personally thought it was executed rather well. As to be expected with a Marvel superhero film (and a $200 million budget), it looks fantastic, with the visual effects in the action sequences, most especially the Stark mansion, Air Force One and climatic scenes, being spot-on. Things fall apart in a believable fashion, but are able to get across the sheer magnitude of what's unfolding. Finally, John Toll's crisp, tonal cinematography a nice addition to the film, giving it a unique look while still maintaing control in the midst of the action sequences.

Now, while Iron Man 3 does have a good few things going for it, the film is also deeply flawed, and not just when it comes down to the script (admittedly, my usual source of grievances), but also when it comes down to the editing and the music. While many of the fanboys are losing their shit over The Mandarin, my issue is that despite it containing Black's obvious way with dialogue, it's still a bloated film that has too much exposition and ended numbing me. Also, some of it moves in predictable ways, in that I knew where some of it was going (not The Mandarin, granted) before it happened. This problem is also down to the editing. Many of the scenes go on way too long where they simply should have been cut. Even a mere couple of minutes could have been cut if expository 'ooh, look at that!' actorly glances were omitted. Another aspect of the film that took away from the film was the original score by Bryan Tyler. Although nowhere near as horrendous as Steve Jablonsky, Tyler has developed this trademark of honking histrionics that attempt to give the film's he scores a power and legitimacy. In the past it has worked (Frailty, Bubba Ho-tep, The Hunted, Bug, Rambo), but here as with a number of his recent compositions it comes across as overly grandiose, full of pomp and circumstance that just isn't necessary. I like some of Tyler's work, but here it was just too much, and marks 2013's return of the Emotional Heartstrings Orchestra (EHO).

Alright, so here we go, concluisio on Iron Man 3. Shane Black is a welcome addition to the Marvel franchise, giving the film an energy, Downey, Jr., Pearce and particularly Kingsley deliver strong performances and it has tremendous special effects, mise-en-scene and cinematography from John Toll. However much it has going for it, Iron Man also has significant flaws in the script and editing departments, which make it baggy, over-expository and too long, and Brian Tyler's score is full of too much unnecessary pomp and circumstance, marking the return of the EHO. More good than bad, but still a bit a mixed bag.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.5/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Hot (unusually warm weather in my neck of the woods)

P.S. If this movie is set around Christmas, surely it should come out during the 'Holiday Season' as they call it in the States?

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Evil Dead

Directed by: Fede Alvarez

Produced by: Rob Tapert
Sam Raimi
Bruce Campbell

Screenplay by: Fede Alvarez
Rodo Sayagues

Starring: Jane Levy
Shiloh Fernandez
Lou Taylor Pucci
Jessica Lucas
Elizabeth Blackmore

Original Music by: Roque Banos

Cinematography by: Aaron Morton

Editing by: Bryan Shaw

Studio(s): Ghost House Pictures

Distributed by: Sony Pictures Entertainment (International)
TriStar Pictures (United States)

Release date(s): March 8, 2013 (South By Southwest Film Festival)
April 5, 2013 (United States)
April 18, 2013 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 92 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $17 million

Box office revenue: $81, 993, 674

Told you so! With regards to the reviews, in my short time back I've already been keeping pretty busy in getting up to scratch with the whole shebang. A window for cinema listings in Belfast is constantly open on my computer, and in the past couple of days, I've got down to seeing Iron Man 3 and The Hangover Part III (sequels abound!), and expect to see more along the lines of The Great Gatsby, Fast And Furious 6 and Star Trek Into Darkness in the next week. So, for all the latest yadda, keep your eyes posted!

The second of two films I saw during my leave of absence was this one, Evil Dead, the 2013 reboot of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy. For those of you don't know, I'm generally against the concept of remakes as a whole, for I feel that although they claim to be doing something different (more gore, nudity, drug use, blah blah!), they more often than not retread the same waters as the original and do nothing that they hadn't done already better. Take for instance that wretched Nightmare On Elm Street from a few years ago, the best thing to come out of that being that Rooney Mara had her first major lead role and has went on to be a fine actress. For Evil Dead, Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and Rob Tapert (producer of the original films) are on board, and relatively unknown director Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez, who has made a number of short films in the past, was hand-picked to helm this project. Story wise, Evil Dead takes the central premise of the original, a group of young people out in a cabin in the woods (most recently subverted by last year's terrific The Cabin In The Woods), and works from there. Shall we dance?

To start with the good, I must say that I admire and respect the direction that Fede Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues have taken with this Evil Dead. The cabin in the woods premise is just that, a premise from which to build the picture from the ground up, as much of the proceedings evolve from taking this well-tread story into new places. The staging of this location as a borderline intervention for the character of Mia (Jane Levy), whose character has a history of drug addiction, automatically puts to question what is unfolding before the audience, making an interesting dynamic, given that Mia is the character whose perspective we see the picture from. In a tremendous star-making turn, Levy goes through a complete assault of the senses, physically, psychologically, literally, metaphorically, and carries the legitimacy of the piece on her shoulders. She plays a fine twist on the conventional 'scream queen' trope, depicting the conflict of Mia, confident in her plight and yet vulnerably prone to withdrawal symptoms, with an intelligence that goes beyond what one would generally expect from even the best of horror films. Lily Collins was originally signed to play the part, but frankly it would be hard to imagine anyone else doing the part of Mia after this performance, more proof that horror films are still a bastion for great performances for emerging young actresses, as opposed to the radical feminist critique of them being cast on the basis of exploitative titillation. Total unadulterated savagery is the name of the game here, and boy is it done with gravitas. Aaron Morton's cinematography is toned appropriately in terms of lighting, capturing the murky grime and dirt of the film's central location. Also, the editing by Bryan Shaw takes a page from some of the toughest films identified with the movement in French horror cinema known as New French Extremity. Shaw seems to take the part of Michael Myers in this process, approaching the editing as though he is stabbing through reels of film at the prospective audience. The original score by Roque Banos is another marvellous bit of work attached to this film. It takes traditional melodies and rhythm, but perverts them with a brutally heavy score that at once invokes the likes of Ministry's industrial force, Piere Schaffer's musique concrete experiments and the Messa De Requiem of Guiseppe Verdi. The vocals used throughout the film in particular have an in extremis feel, pushed to the nth degree of human possibility. The quieter pieces also have a very Trent Reznor sound in terms of the piano being used as a harmony of the heart rising to the cloud of foreboding tension that envelops the film's characters. Finally, Raimi and co have most definitely made the right choice in having Fede Alvarez nurture their baby. His decisions, such as following the original's effects consisting primarily of physical make-up, give the film a genuine sense of cerebral power. The make-up of this film is realistic and does everything to help make us 'believe' in what is going on, flesh and bone severed with suitable aplomb, and just the sheer amount of dirt on the characters, who go through hell (something often invoked in reviews, but here appropriate) during the course of the film. It's an enterprise of physical horror the likes of which is not often seen in mainstream films. Alvarez directs the picture with the natural confidence of a genre veteran and follows through with conviction on his artistic intent, delivering one of the finest and flat-out vicious examples of recent horror cinema.

Now, much as I loved this incarnation of Evil Dead, there is one particular problem (relatively small, granted) that deny this great film the status of outright masterpiece. The raison d'etre? Well, as far as characters are concerned, unlike the well-developed complexity of Mia, the rest of the characters unfortunately serve as fodder for some of the film's plentiful gruesome scenes. As such, while what they go through is unquestionably horrible, it lacks the weight necessary for us to empathise and get beyond the 'Holy Shit!' gut reaction. I remember when I saw the film with my esteemed colleague over at Danland Movies at one point trying to figure out how many lines Natalie (the blonde one) spoken or if indeed she had vocalised at any point before her proverbial 'scene of focused depravity.' We are unable to view these characters beyond this level, and I've taken to preferring to view them as manifestations of Mia's chaotic psychological state as opposed to anything physical, whether or not that is the filmmakers' intent.

Above and beyond four of the main characters being the caricature of Davy Jones' "chameleon, comedian, corinthian and (you get the point)...," Evil Dead is one of the strongest outings in recent horror cinema. It takes the central premise and goes completely in it's own direction, with the character of Mia having a lot of complexity, with Jane Levy delivering a terrific star-making performance. The savage aestheticism of the film is complimented in the departments of cinematography, editing, production design and original score, all of which contribute to the hellish atmosphere of the picture. Finally, Fede Alvarez was the perfect choice for directing this picture, his decisions, particularly going ahead with the tough physical make-up effects, give the film a real cerebral quality, and this, his debut film, is directed with confidence and conviction. As mentioned, I saw this with ma big homie over at Danland Movies, and, being big fans of the original, we were given a more than pleasant surprise and one of the most fun times I can remember having at the cinema. Both of us were reacting in a way most movies can never dream of having their audiences do, so, under the pretence that we represent the greater public of cinema-going (when I for one exist in a vacuum!), Evil Dead works. In a word: groovy!

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.4/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Groovy! (I'll shut up now!)

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Good Vibrations

Directed by: Lisa Barros D'Sa
Glenn Leyburn

Produced by: Chris Martin
Andrew Eaton
David Holmes
Bruno Charlesworth

Screenplay by: Colin Carberry
Glenn Patterson

Starring: Richard Dormer
Jodie Whittaker
Michael Colgan
Adrian Dunbar
Liam Cunningham
Dylan Moran
Karl Johnson

 Original Music by: David Holmes

Cinematography by: Ivan McCullough

Editing by: Nick Emerson

Studio(s): Canderblinks Film and Music
Revolution Films
Northern Ireland Screen
Irish Film Board

Distributed by: The Works

Release date(s): May 31, 2012 (Belfast Film Festival Premiere)
March 29, 2013 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 103 minutes

Country: Northern Ireland

Language: English

Production budget: N/A

Box office revenue (as of publication): N/A

I'm ba-aaaaaaaaaaaaa-ck! After my annual leave of absence (which was absolutely necessary this year, as opposed to born out of laziness. Finished University, warranted Scout Leader, First Response/First Aid trained, NCFE qualified and pending-SIA licence, ran a leg of the Belfast Marathon a lot has happened), despite there being a bit of rust, there's nothing a good few movies can't do to grease these gears and get them grinding again. Many of the big film festivals (including Cannes and Berlin of 'The Big Three,' and the US's Sundance, among others) have been and gone, and we open up this year of reviewing right in the middle of Summer Blockbuster Season, so, for all the latest in movie news, reviews and my own personal spews, keep your eyes posted!

So, today (and perhaps tomorrow: who knows? More to the point, who cares?!) we'll having a look at Good Vibrations. During my leave of absence, I saw only two films, this and The Evil Dead (more of which soon), and this was one of my many intrepid endeavours to The Strand cinema. Good Vibrations isn't a bad place to start, as it's a movie rather close to home. Growing up in post-Troubles East Belfast and being a fan of punk (more post-punk in truth) from the period in which this film is set, I thought it would be a good challenge as to whether or not I'd look upon the film with rose-tinted glasses. Set in Belfast during the 1970s, a turbulent period for the city and the country as a whole, we follow Terri Hooley (Richard Dormer), a rabid music lover who decides to open up a record store, the eponymous Good Vibrations, on Great Victoria Street of all places, and he unwittingly becomes a figurehead for the emergence of punk and an alternative Ulster.

To start with the good about Good Vibrations (terrible phrase there, I know), I must compliment the lead acting performance by Richard Dormer. The actor's history in the theatre lends itself to the 'character' of Terri Hooley, elevating him outside of the realm of the average biopic. It's a wise move, working to the film's benefit and serves as a kind of self-mythologising of the story. Dormer has this manic charisma that is very charming and engaging, his Hooley being an almost evangelical preacher in his endeavours to promote the local flavour with his record store. You nearly from the get-go accept him as his part, and when you watch him ramble on with glee about these young bands, Dormer plays it down the line so you're not sure if he's a genius or genuinely insane. From the supporting standpoint, Jodie Whittaker is very good as Hooley's wife Ruth. Whittaker carries much of the same spirit of Dormer, but plays things a bit more subtle, befitting her pragmatist character. To me, she is the real heart of the film, at least philosophically, and Whittaker does a fine job of depicting the conflict between dreams and reality. Of course, with it being a movie about music, you'd expect to sound good, and that it certainly does. You've got work from local bands of the moment, such as Rudi, The Outcasts, Stiff Little Fingers and, of course, the monumental Teenage Kicks by The Undertones. One of the things that the movie does rather well is capture the power of music, in a strong sequence depicting in real-time the original John Peel Radio 1 broadcast of the track. You also have appearances from The Shragri-Las (one of Hooley's favourite bands), David Bowie and the mighty band from the other side of the Atlantic during New York's No Wave scene, Suicide, whose Dream Baby Dream is the basis for a strong montage. Most films would benefit having Suicide on their soundtracks, so, yes, it's music and it's subjective, but I was very happy at that particular inclusion. Also, for a low-budget period film, it certainly captures a period feel. I can tell that Belfast City Centre looks a lot different from how it looked ten years ago, never mind thirty, but the filmmakers haven't let that hinder them. It's also a well-shot picture, Ivan McCullough capturing the drabness of the environment, giving it at it's best moments an almost noir feel in terms of atmosphere. Good Vibrations is a mostly solid picture that's at times heartwarming, but also humorous and entertaining.

Now, while I feel Good Vibrations is a largely solid film, there are a couple of issues I'd like to flag up, a number of which emerge from the script. Written by Colin Carberry and prominent Belfast author Glenn Patterson, the script is pretty consistent for the most part, but dovetails as we reach the third act. Strangely, Carberry and Patterson decide to pack all of the conflict and trials into the third act, giving Hooley a borderline cult of personality that doesn't work. Constant partying and extravagance don't make up for the fact that the character is being a bit of a bastard to his wife and child, an arc which given little to no room to breath, and completely glosses over any semblance of three-dimensionality. As a result of this packing of material into a relatively short space of time, the climax does not work. It made me think of the climax of Purple Rain, but what made the climatic scenes of that film work was that Prince's character The Kid has an emotional development from start-to-finish. Here, it just comes across as rushed and sloppy pasted on after the film's true emotional climax of Teenage Kicks. 

Well, it seemed like I was able to objectively look at this without the rose-tinted glasses alright. The third act of Good Vibrations is deeply flawed and threatens to see the movie commit an act of self-cannibalisation. However, I found that ultimately it has more good than bad going for it. Richard Dormer delivers a terrific lead performance, with Jodie Whittaker buttressing the film's emotional conflict(s). The film's soundtrack is excellent, not just a capsulation of the times but also placed appropriately, serving as much than simple historical standpoints. Despite the low-budget, the filmmakers have managed to establish the 1970s Belfast period look, and cinematographer Ivan McCullough captures the atmosphere, giving it almost noir feel. Good Vibrations has it's flaws, and is by no means Northern Ireland's This Is England or NEDS, but it's a mostly solid film that's worth watching and pretty entertaining.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.0/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Feeling the buzz (going for a double-bill at The Strand later!)

P.S. Check out my new QuickMemes page at