Thursday 8 May 2008

Review: Iron Man

Year: 2008

Director: Jon Favreau
Screenwriter: Hawk Ostby, Mark Fergus
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow

The moment I knew I enjoyed Iron was when Tony Stark (Downley jr) and Rhody (Howard) are drunk while a glitzy hip hop video is playing behind them. This will mean fuck all to many people but those who love The Wu Tang Clan will know that Ghostface Killah (my fave member joint with RZA) has the nick name Tony Stark and named one of his albums Ironman after his love of the comics. The tiny fact that they place Killah in the film shows it's sense of fun. With this said Iron man has an interesting more realistic (in a comic book/film sense) approach to it's proceedings than say The Punisher.

Directed by Jon Favreau Iron manages to balance a laid back sense of fun with an origin story that comes close to competing with Christopher Nolan's Batman's Begins. I say comes close because Iron man manages to get me interested into a story and character I've never shown any real interest in. With a character such as Batman I knew all I needed to know, I just wanted it done right. With Ironman I didn't even know which war fucked him up royally (It was Nam) let alone supporting characters.

That for me was always the first hurdle that the film had to cross and it cleared it well. Iron man as a character is charming, funny and engaging. The story also manages to be as entertaining, keeping itself from being a bland retread of other general origin stories despite having all the similar plot points. A lot of this comes from Favreau wish to give the film the same easy going feel that inhabited Doug Liman's Swingers (written by Favreau). Ironically Liman's awful Jumper could have done with the same sense of fun (as well as story structure and better acting).

I expected this from Favreau who clearly likes the idea of keeping things loose (see working with Will Farrell). Nothing about the film is rigid at all, the dialogue has an obvious amount of improvisation, the humor doesn't come across as staged, and the actors feel like the built upon their characters as opposed to just merely reading from the script. In doing this the film feels more organic, more plausible and generally more entertaining.

The masterstroke in keeping this all together is of course casting Robert Downley jr as the lead. It worries me that in the next ten years we'll see less of actors like this and more good looking cardboard cutouts. Downley jr IS iron man, just like he WAS Wayne Gale or Harry Lockhart. His performance is full of energy, charm and cheeky improv. He encapsulates the playboy feel of Stark perfectly. At times he outshines Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne but only at times. Paltrow is an interesting (although a little flat) choice for the "love interest" while Terrence Howard provides a stable performance as Stark's Army Buddy. Bridge's has a ball as Obadiah Stane and avoids the easy option of completely hamming his character up.

What Bale (and Batman Begins) has however, is that psychological edge that is not seen in many of the Marvel Comic book adaptations. You still know where you stand with Brucie and friends. Iron man's lighter balance of comic material at times skips over a very intriguing aspect of the story: The war mongering. I'm still not sure if Favreau's light touch should have glossed over the talk of weapons, wars and legacy. Stark at the beginning is the epitome of American patriotism in the beginning, before seeing what happens on the other side. The double dealing and grey areas give an interesting conflict not seen in the happy go lucky violence of The Punisher etc. But the conflict doesn't last long enough to truly question the polemic views that will always stand in America. The film clearly leans left but before "getting serious" the film gets to what everyone is watching it for......the set pieces.

The action sequences are well executed and fun. Nothing we haven't seen before but still exciting. This is mostly down to the background work done by the screenplay.
Iron man is a better start to the blockbuster movies than Jumper. It has a story with an actual conclusion and structure, much better acting (my little blurb doesn't give the actors their due at all), and has a greater sense of fun. At the end of the film I found myself looking forward to a sequel if one ever appears. The likelihood of this looks good due to the box office figures so here's hoping the the sequel will expand on the good work done here.

Review: In Bruges

Year: 2008
Director: Martin McDonagh
Screenwriter: Martin McDonagh
Cast: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Clémence Poésy, Jordan Prentice, Thekla Reuten

Three great central performances, captured in a beautiful city (trust me I've been) combined with a deviously dark wit and a well paced story (until some messy plot issues at the end) make up Martin McDonagh's In Bruges. The film took me by surprise owing more to No Country for old men than say Lock Stock or Snatch. McDonagh's film demonstrates that the bad guys become even more interesting when they have a crisis of fate.

After an a botched assassination hit, Ray (Farrell) has headed to Bruges with a fellow hitman named Ken, to hide out. The grumpy Ray ponders his fate while the gentler Ken spends his time sightseeing and tiring to reassure his younger assassin that everything will be fine. Unfortunately Harry (Fiennes), the boss that ordered the hit has other ideas.

While No Country for Old Men took an old school Mcguffin and turn that aspect of plot into a grand epic revisionist western. In Burges is more introspective keeping the focus purely on it's leads. When the film wasn't hitting me with punchy dialogue and one liners, there are brief moments of poignancy that stayed with me longer than the comedy. McDonagh develops his characters well, allowing them to stew in their situation bring forth characteristics slowly and allowing the chance for the characters to evolve into well rounded individuals. Ray and Ken feel like an Irish odd couple during the first half of the film, the banter comes in thick and fast, and you get to know them as they evolve and shift roles. At one point the two feel like an old married couple, two scenes later a spoilt brat and mother. The interaction is feels almost like a buddy cop movie, In Bruges comes across as Lethal Weapon for the other side.

The two leads give off two very different but effective performances. Farrell, in his most mature performance in ages, is brilliant. His comic timing and visual tics are hilairious and his acting range throughout the film is broad and engaging throughout. Glesson on the other hand uses his screen prescene to mass effect. His performance is gentle and fatherly, two things he's done before with ease but not with this much resonance. It's great to watch, as the two role complement each other so well it's constantly engrossing. You can't wait to see what the next guy is going to say next.

To round it off we are given brute energy of Ralph Fiennes as a fiendishly loutish cherry on top of the main duo. Fiennes role is like a tornado, with chaos happening everywhere he goes. Be it at home with the family (delightfully awkward Xmas moment) or when he finally appears in Bruges. Not only has he some of the best lines in the movie, his delivery gives them more punch and humor. A character that can easily be forgotten is given a wonderfully animated touch. The support range from the thankless (Clemence Poesy) to the memorable (Jordan Prentice)

The screenplay written by McDonagh (who is also theatre playwright) is one full of cracking one liners and amusing, un-p.c moments. These moments are forced to meld with moments of poignancy. However McDonagh clearly understands context, these are despicable characters and their moments of offensiveness only illustrate and highlight their phobias and isolation (expect for Fiennes who is clearly just an 'orrible cunt). The story overdoes it's ending, in particular a death which goes on for too long and ends with a very unconvincing plot moment. But up until that point the story moves at a steady pace and redeems itself after a few missteps.

In Burges doesn't have massive set pieces or the now familiar traits of the new wave Brit gangland movies. Howevcr its story is ten times stronger then most of the Guy Richie imitators/nick love films and for the most part the film is laugh out loud funny. I was almost embarrassed with how loud I laughed at some of the jokes. To add to this In Burge reminded me of how much I love small films when I get the chance to see them. The general jaded feel that can happen with some of Hollywood's bigger movies is lost when going into something like this. The laughs come naturally, the drama works well and the story is fulfilling. While it may not be remembered in those big books of blockbusting box office stats, In Burge is more likely to remain in the memory of those who were lucky to see it.