Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 (2013), directed by Shane Black

Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the Summer Movie Season.

This is it, Iron Man 3 has officially kicked it off. From now until the end of August we will see nothing but explosions, CGI, crude comedy, Hollywood stars and huge opening weekends, all in 3D.

Some people live for summer movies. Quite frankly I prefer the treasure hunt of spring or the limited release tsunami of winter, but there’s still the child inside of me that does get pretty stoked about the prospect of seeing that perfect Hollywood blockbuster; that film which brings together the star power with the dazzling action sequences, the hot romance, the one-liners and just plain all-out thrills me.

And I have to say, as the first potential candidate, Iron Man 3 nearly gets there. Nearly

By my count there have now been seven Avengers-related movies, with the eighth, a Thor sequel, coming up later this year. And then there will be a Captain America sequel. And an Avengers sequel.

The truth of the matter is, though, that some of them are pretty darn good and in terms of the Summer Movie Season, these films have been a highlight for the past five or so years.

Iron Man 3 is no Iron Man, but it’s heads above Iron Man 2. That basically sums it up.

But we’re here for criticism so I’ll try to figure out why.

First of all, there’s Robert Downey, Jr. playing Tony Stark as a man damaged by the events of the Avengers movie, which adds a nice layer to the plot and brings some much-needed complexity to the character. He has panic attacks and hasn’t been the same man since he, what was it?, almost got sucked into a wormhole trying to jettison some sort of missile out of the earth’s atmosphere? Is that right?

Anyway, sure, it’s a pretty shallow portrayal of psychological health issues (his panic attacks are primarily humourous), but at least the film takes the character in a different direction and it honestly benefits from that.

Then you have Guy Pearce and Ben Kingsley stepping in for the villain roles, and they’re both rather excellent. I firmly believe campy is the way to go if you’re playing a Marvel villain and these two thespians clearly agree.

Kingsley especially is fabulous as The Mandarin, an Osama Bin Laden-like baddy who manages to turn what looks like a stereotype-riddled plot device into something much more interesting and fun.

The main thing I enjoyed about the film was its parred-down approach. There isn’t an action sequence for at least the first half hour, Downey spends far more time out of his suit than in it, and the film puts most of its efforts into building compelling characters the audience will be interested in. It’s quite a novel approach.

It’s like the Bond films that get back to basics by getting rid of the gadgets and focusing on story and character. They’re usually the best ones.

If the film has flaws, and I believe it does, it’s that it fails to duplicate its somewhat unique take on the Iron Man story and transplant it to the action. Some of the sequences are thrilling, but the less Downey dons his iron duds, the better the film works, which is a problem for a film titled Iron Man.

Its finale is a high-octane, no-holds-barred cluster, ahem, that stands out as a disappointment compared the restraint the rest of the film showed. Sure, it has to build to something big, I understand, but the film kind of goes from, let’s say 60 to a 160 km/h, and it spoils it all a bit. I would have been happy at 120.

But it’s a summer blockbuster and it’s meant to be extreme. People don’t go to Iron Man movies for interesting character studies, they go to watch stuff get blowed up.

I believe this is a standout in the series which could have been even better with a little bit of restraint towards the end. I also believe this is a worthy kickoff to the Summer Movie Season, which will hopefully maintain this level of quality.

We’ll see about that though.

Iron Man 3 is in cinemas now.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2010), directed by Troy Nixey

Confession time. I rented this movie when it first came out on DVD a year or so ago. But I couldn’t bring myself to watch it. I don’t remember what was going on but I was feeling lousy or something and wasn’t in the mood for death, horror and scares. So I returned it unwatched.

Right now, dwelling in the basement of horror that I am, I hit the play button without pause (not the pause button without play…?).

It turns out that Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark isn’t as intense as I thought it would be, but it’s certainly more original than I anticipated.

Aside from the first scene, that is. I’ve seen some pretty intense stuff over the last week as I’ve gone on this little jaunt into the dark corners of cinema, but nothing has made me squirm as much as the opener to this one. It’s kind of misplaced, because it’s easily the most horrific part of the movie and the rest of the film doesn’t have the same violent edge, but still, it’s one hell of an opener. Had me rubbing my teeth for the rest of the night.

The movie is about a couple moving into a new estate to fix it up and flip it. Alex (Guy Pearce) is divorced and his daughter moves in with him and his girlfriend Kim (Katie “No Cruise” Holmes). The daughter, Sally (Bailee Madison), isn’t thrilled with this arrangement. Anyway, a secret basement is discovered, an ash pit that someone has bolted up is unbolted and Sally starts hearing voices in the house. Things are getting weird.

I’m not going to be able to go on without spoilers, so if you’re like me and couldn’t bring yourself to watch this one the first time around, maybe stop reading. Or don’t, whatever.

The horrors in this movie are certainly original. I had no idea what to expect and when these little rat creatures turned up I was sort of confused. I thought it was a ghost story for some reason, but I should have figured that with Del Toro involved it would be something a little more weird.

It’s hard to have a movie with little creatures and not have it fall into a comedy. It makes no sense, because a pack of domestic house cats could probably kill you if they only knew how to organize (through a union, of course. Silly cats). But still, something big and strong and infallible is scary, a little rodent creature with a fur shoulder wrap is…not so much.

Which is why films like Gremlins and Critters are more comedy than horror. I have to say, I admire them going for it, but as soon as the little dudes came on the scene, there was no longer any chance this movie was going to scare me. Don’t get me wrong, it was still entertaining, I enjoyed watching it, seeing how it all unfolds, but it didn’t send any shivers up my spine.

For one thing, they never kill anyone on screen. People get dragged to their doom, but we never really see these creatures take someone out. So as far as I know all they’re capable of is stabbing some with scissors or poking them in the eye through a keyhole.

I think it would have gone a long way to see how vicious these things really are. Maybe the idea was to entice our imaginations into going for the worst but that approach left me still feeling like I could probably just drop-kick a bunch of them and problem solved.

I enjoyed Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark as an entertaining, exciting movie. But aside from one disturbing scene, I don’t think it’s great horror. Still, it has a nice atmosphere, a great credits sequence, points for originality and some talented storytelling. And lots and lots of rat dudes.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is available on home video.

 

Lawless

Lawless (2012), directed by John Hillcoat

I’ll tell you what, if ever there was a movie made for me it’s Lawless (well, and Drive). It’s got it all: Hill people. Bluegrass soundtrack. Fast cars and hooch running. A campy Guy Pearce law enforcement character. A screenplay by Nick Cave, a favourite musician of mine. A grunting Tom Hardy. Jessica Chastain doing anything at all, ever.

What could go wrong?

Well, certainly not everything. But some things.

I did have a good ole time watching Lawless but it never hit the campy, Bonnie and Clyde-type feel I think it was going for. Actually, I’m surprised the film even got made. I wouldn’t have thought there would be much call for a moonshining story. I mean, I’m interested, but then again I have a friend who moonshines and I play the banjo, so, you know.

Anyway, I had hoped that with Cave involved and the weird premise that the film would be a little off the wall. Pearce certainly is, with his shaved eyebrows and penchant for gloves, and the soundtrack has this great Cave take on hill music thing going on. On that level the film does revel in its hillbilly-ness.

But on the other level the story is pretty standard. And really, even having the weird law enforcement agent is nothing new. The film felt like an extended episode of Boardwalk Empire at times, in that regard. And then you have characters that sort of appear once in a while and then are put aside for awhile, like Gary Oldman’s Floyd Banner. Even Pearce, the nemesis, disappears for long stretches, which makes us care less about him.

Pacing is the primary issue. A film like this needs to be tight, because it really doesn’t have that much for the audience to grab on to other than the action and development of the story. It needs to move along like a bootlegger running from the law. And I think it really could have benefitted by working more with the Hardy versus Pearce aspect.

Some of the time-passing moments are awkward and it has some sections that meander like the lazy sections of the Mississippi River rolling by the cotton fields. Or something like that. There’s far too many characters to keep track of. Too many things happen that aren’t directly related to one another. It’s just kind of muddle.

Here’s the thing, if a film is going to be a tight, action, story-driven movie then it needs to keep things simple. One creepy lawman. The brothers as a tight unit. One love story. A tight timeline. A definitive finale. Make it the best Hollywood film it can be.

Or it needs to go the other way and totally mix things up. It needs to take itself less seriously, get a little out there, drink some ‘shine and let loose. Maybe go for a Terrence Malick-type thing, but only if you let him get drunk with Malcolm Lowry and Hunter S. Thompson.

Lawless tries to be both and ends up neither. Which is really unfortunate because it started with a good idea and had the talent behind it to make it into something special. It’s a fun watch at times, and, in case I didn’t mention it, Jessica Chastain is in it, but it could have been so much more.

Lawless is in theatres now.