Monday, April 29, 2013

Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3

Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.)

Film Frame

©Marvel Studios 2013

  • Released Internationally on 24/04/13
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 01/05/13

Preview (as published 01/05/13 in VIDA Magazine)

If you thought Iron Man’s exploits ended with the multi-hero love-fest that was last summer’s Avengers, then you might be pleased to know that that was apparently only chapter one. Most of the superheroes in question will continue to have their own individual outings, and we can probably assume that this gigantic cash cow will be milked well into the next decade. Personally, I thought Iron Man was the most entertaining of the related films so far, although the period setting of Captain America added some class to that character. Most of Iron Man’s credit goes, of course, to Robert Downey Jr., who managed to combine effortless panache and good acting to make him likeable, but in a ‘roll your eyes’ way.

His new antagonist, because there must of course be a bigger and badder one each time around, is ‘The Mandarin’, portrayed with interesting hair arrangements by Ben Kingsley (Elegy, Gandhi). So Downey Jr. might have met his match in the class and acting departments too. Gwyneth Paltrow returns as the hero’s steadfast partner, and Don Cheadle (Ocean’s Eleven) returns as his sort of sidekick. Guy Pearce (Memento) and Rebecca Hall (The Town) are other high-profile additions to the cast. It remains to be seen how much of what happened in The Avengers will be referenced here, since this film is set after those events. So why exactly is he back working solo?



Review (29/04/13)

3-word review: Better than 2.

The song that kicks off this highly entertaining film wasn’t exactly a good start, but it did the job of transporting me back to the turn of the millennium, for an amusing flashback sequence set during one of the many overhyped New Year’s Eve parties that ushered in the year 2000. It reminds us of the Tony Stark of the first film, and also shows us how easily he made friends and enemies.

Fast forward to the present day (at Christmas-time, which is odd for a summer blockbuster), and Tony Stark is having a bit of a delicate moment. The epic events depicted in last summer’s Avengers have taken their toll, and he doesn’t exactly like to talk about them. Which might be why he doesn’t meet his superhero friends for drinks (or a shawarma). Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts gets a bigger, meatier role this time around, and she is clearly one of the few things holding Tony Stark together.

A sort of forced timeout helps Stark regroup, rethink and get his act back together, which is helpful, since the new nemesis, The Mandarin (a wonderful and surprising Ben Kingsley), is proving to be too much for the authorities to handle. The action unfolds with enough twists and surprises to keep it entertaining, and the science-fiction element is taken to even greater heights than it was in Avengers.

As expected, the various Iron Man suits Stark has built over the years feature prominently, and this film provides a sort of greatest hits of all his past models. The film cleverly highlights the man himself, however, clearly showing the suits as mere tools, and ones which can be used and abused as necessary. Once the aura that used to surround the suits is dampened, Stark himself can emerge as the true hero, and hopefully a more stable one than he was in the previous film.

The trilogy is nicely wrapped up by the end of proceedings, and whether or not Iron Man or Downey Jr. return, this chapter is most definitely closed. Everything is rounded off by a wonderfully stylized and scored end credits sequence, and the by now obligatory post-credits scene. I left smiling, and much more entertained than I thought I’d be.






"Marvel's Iron Man 3"

Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow)

Ph: Film Frame

© 2012 MVLFFLLC.  TM & © 2012 Marvel.  All Rights Reserved.

Rust and Bone


  • Released Internationally on 17/05/12
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 30/04/13
  • French, with subtitles

Review (29/04/13)

3-word review: Visceral and beautiful.

Love is not always pretty. Some might argue that love is never pretty, but after many decades of romantic comedies full of good-looking, smartly-dressed people with toothpaste smiles, it’s not surprising that many of us roam around expecting knights on white horses or proposals during summer rainfall. Thankfully, every so often a love story comes along that manages to convey the ugly, compromising side of relationships, but which also manages to show how the resulting emotions are no less genuine or intense. I have been lucky enough to come across a few such films, but this is definitely one of the best I can remember.

Directed by French director Jacques Audiard, who received mountains of praise for his last film - 2010’s A Prophet - the film stars Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard (La Vie en rose, Inception) and relatively unknown Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts as the central roles. The two characters have very little in common, but both have been dealt a rough hand in very different circumstances. A chance chivalrous encounter leads to future meetings, but in the meantime both their lives have changed significantly. He is a single father who struggles to make ends meet and ends up using his brute strength to support his son. She is a killer whale trainer who suffers an accident at work that changes her outlook on life.

This is a very emotional film - I went from fear to tension to anger to sadness in quick succession, but the emotions and salient points are not spoon-fed to the audience. Audiard has the courage and skill to get his message across with very few words and with many missing pieces needing filling in. He is aided immensely by the powerful yet subtle performances from both main actors, as well as the unobtrusive visual effects where needed. The film has its graphic moments, but no amount of bloodied fists can compete with what’s going on inside. Very different and very impressive.





            Tuesday, April 23, 2013



            • Released Internationally on 10/04/13
            • Released in Malta by KRS on 24/04/13

            Preview (first published 01/04/13 in VIDA Magazine)

            Oblivion hasn’t been released anywhere yet, so it’s hard to gauge whether it lives up to expectations or not. Expectations are understandably high, however, since it looks like a smart, futuristic action thriller and it stars Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman.

            Set 60 years in the future, the post-apocalyptic backdrop is apparently the result of a huge war which resulted in the destruction of most of our planet. Although the war was won, everyone had to be evacuated. All that remains is a few individuals who keep the planet secure and maintain all the drones. So it’s a sort of Wall-E-type scenario, although instead of a cute little robot we have Tom Cruise looking serious despite his tight white outfit.

            Of course, things are not all as they seem, and shortly before his shift on earth is about to end, he uncovers an underground community of humans, led by a grungy-looking Morgan Freeman. They try to enlighten him, and he starts to question the political manoeuvres behind the current situation, and whether all is as it seems on desolate planet Earth.

            The film is the second directorial effort by Joseph Kosinski, who was at the helm of Tron: Legacy, and it is based on the graphic novel he wrote. To help him polish the screenplay, they roped in Michael Arndt, who was previously slightly famous for writing Little Miss Sunshine and Toy Story 3, but who is currently the man entrusted with the behemoth task of writing Star Wars: Episode VII. The film also stars Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace), Melissa Leo (The Fighter), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones) and Zoë Bell (Death Proof).



            Review (23/04/13)

            3-word review: Quite cool overall.

            Oblivion looks great from start to finish, and during the main titles manages to convincingly ‘sell’ us the post-apocalyptic world it is based in, with impressive and beautiful shots of a desolated Earth, in which Jack (Tom Cruise’s character) is a very isolated maintenance guy. The scenery is even more notable as it is showcased in broad daylight, largely avoiding the visual effects tricks of clouding scenes in shadows. The main title sequence sounds great too, although it’s a bit too similar to Tron: Legacy, which was the director’s previous project.

            The plot, although engaging on a human and technological level, doesn’t try to be too original, and feels like a healthy mix of many previous science-fiction landmarks - anything from 2001 to the above-mentioned Wall-E, with an overall coating of the classic ‘man reaching the end of his mission’ plot device. The settings are a mix of spotless, white, designer space-stations and vehicles, and the grungy, Tatooine-like dirt of the underworld down below. Sitting up in the spotless control centre is Jack’s supervisor, partner and lover, who for some reason insists on wearing lovely dresses and high heels even though she sits at a screen all day. Back at the orbiting mothership, everyone is happy about what a great team they make.

            As is usually the case in these sort of films, Jack stands out because he is curious about the past, and this stems from a series of dreams and flashbacks that he can’t shake off. One hour in, we hear the instantly recognizable voice of Morgan Freeman, and Jack’s journey of discovery gets the necessary catalyst for him to defy orders and seek the truth. To go into too many plot details would be a disservice to the filmmakers, but suffice to say that there’s a reasonable amount of human drama for an effects-driven film, and not since Moon a few years ago have I enjoyed a stand-alone science fiction film so much. The sheer scale of the finale is also impressive, with some Independence Day influences making a welcome appearance. The epilogue is a slight cop-out, where in my humble opinion the script loses the chances to be truly different, but otherwise I found this to be highly enjoyable, irrespective of whether it is a Tom Cruise ego-trip or not.





            Safe Haven

            SAFE HAVEN

            • Released Internationally on 14/02/13
            • Released in Malta by KRS on 24/04/13

            Preview (first published 01/04/13 in VIDA Magazine)

            Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook, My Sister’s Keeper) has a solid reputation for writing moving human dramas, and Lasse Hallström (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Chocolat) has an equally solid reputation for directing moving human dramas. So here they are, together again (after Dear John a few years ago). Julianne Hough, who made the move from dancing to acting when she starred in the remake of Footloose, stars as a woman escaping an abusive husband, who finds solace in a small town, where she meets a widower with two children (Josh Duhamel, Life As We Know It). Based on past experience, I’d suggest you bring tissues.


            SAFE HAVEN

            Review (23/04/13)

            3-word review: Safe is dull.

            There are very few characters in this film, and they are all pretty two-dimensional and clichéd. I guess the overall effect works if you’re looking for an undemanding thriller/romance, but I felt that the thrills were few and the romance was quite tepid. Julianne Hough portrays the woman on the run, who decides to stop in a tiny fishing village in the middle of nowhere. Her decision may or may not have been affected by the handsome man who runs the local store, but if she has any doubts that they’ll end up an item, I’m pretty sure the audience won’t. The reason why she is on the run is the only real secret of the film, and once that is revealed there’s nothing much more to do but watch the inevitable unfold.

            Maybe if you’ve had a long, emotionally draining day, or your favourite pet just died, you might get a bit teary-eyed during the blatantly manipulative scenes at the end, but I guess my day was going just fine. And this is someone who can unashamedly admit to having shed a few tears during My Sister’s Keeper. I’m not sure whether that was a better Nicholas Sparks novel, but they certainly made it into a better film than this.





            Wednesday, April 10, 2013

            Cloud Atlas


            • Released Internationally on 26/10/12
            • Released in Malta by KRS on 10/04/13

            Preview (first published 01/04/13 in VIDA Magazine)

            The is definitely the release I’m most interested in this month. The film has all the makings of an epic, but was less-than-enthusiastically received across the Atlantic. It is the difficult adaptation of the multi-award winning novel from 2004 by David Mitchell (not the comedian). The book follows six separate stories which are eventually shown to be related to each other in various ways, despite being set in various corners of the globe and often many centuries apart.

            This must have made it a bit of a nightmare to bring to the screen, but the task was undertaken by Lana and Andy Wachowski (The Matrix Trilogy) and Tom Tykwer (Perfume, Run Lola Run). Tykwer is one of those rare directors who also composes music for his films, and here he teamed up with Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek to compose what was undoubtedly one of the best and most beautiful film scores to come out of 2012.

            The film also boasts a stellar cast, with Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon, amongst others, portraying multiple roles in the various story segments. Despite all this, it failed to make huge waves at the US box-office, although the general impression is that those few who did enjoy it, think it’s a masterpiece. Let’s see what Europe thinks.



            Review (10/04/13)

            “All boundaries are conventions.”

            There's a point, roughly two hours in, where this fast-paced film takes a breather, and a new piano melody appears. It slowly builds to a gorgeous march, playing out perfectly in sync with the montage on screen. The shots skip nimbly between different eras and different locations, and the voiceover from one of them carries over into the others, perfectly accompanying what we are seeing on screen. It's a rare moment of movie perfection, with sound, music, narration, emotion and imagery melding perfectly. I wished it could last hours, but it was over in a couple of minutes - a sublime crystallization of all that is wonderful about this film.

            “What is an ocean but a multitude a drops?”

            This is, in fact, the single most daring and ambitious decision taken by the filmmakers - to constantly cut from one story to the other, rather than lay them out in lengthy chunks like the novel does. From the very beginning of the film, in a whirlwind opening sequence, we are transported between an 1849 sea voyage, 1936 Cambridge and Edinburgh - where a fledgling composer somehow completes his finest work, 1973 California - where a young reporter daringly tries to uncover an environmental time-bomb, present day UK - where a publisher is tricked into entering a mental asylum, 2144 Korea - where a daring escape is underway in a Coruscant-type city, and a post-apocalyptic Hawaii where technology is only held by the few. It seems like a mammoth task, but from the very first shots the frames are carefully set with props and clues, as well as costumes and makeup, to orient the audience to time and place. Somehow, it works, and it allows for a few breath-taking sequences like the one mentioned above.

            “From womb to tomb we are bound to others, past and present.”

            The point, of course, is that everything is linked. As the film unfolds, we see how not-so-random acts of kindness in one era resonate in the next, and how places and people are clearly affected by others. Some of the links are obvious, but others had me thinking and reading up online well into the night after leaving the cinema, wide-eyed. The crossover narration mentioned above is a key feature, and it’s not everyday you see such seamless collaboration between script and editing. The other way the filmmakers chose to link the eras is by having the same actors portray various roles in each segment. This is one change I was less enthusiastic about, although it does help stress the point of linkage. The makeup and prosthetics are generally excellent, but there were a few characters that I felt ended up looking too odd, and being a distraction.

            “That’s it! The music from my dream!”

            The other common thread throughout the six segments is the music. Rather than try to compose music typical (or expected) of each setting, the music acts as a timeless thread between them all, also forming part of the plot, and of course enhancing key moments and carrying the story forward in other pulsating sequences. There are some moments of sheer gasp-out-loud joy, such as a comical escape, and others moments of shocking violence or futuristic action. The sheer variety and complexity of what we see on screen during these nearly three hours is staggering, and no wonder three directors were needed. I believe it was quite an oversight for the Oscars to shut this film out completely, especially with regard to original score. I can only imagine the logistical nightmares that art direction, makeup and costume design teams faced.

            By the time things are brought beautifully to the boil, and all six segments rush towards their individual, but inevitably shared, conclusions, you’ll either be completely befuddled and uninterested, or else be sitting there with your mouth open, wondering how anyone had the guts to make this film, and make it so beautifully.








            Cloud Atlas Trailer

            Wednesday, April 03, 2013



            • First Released Internationally in 2011 
            • Showing at St James Cavalier, Valletta, from the 3rd to the end of April, to commemorate International Dance Day (April 29th)
            • Showing in 3D 

            Review (03/04/13)

            I approached this critically-acclaimed film in the knowledge that I know very little about the world of dance, and next to nothing about the “dance theatre” style for which the late Pina Bausch is mostly famous. This unconventional documentary by the celebrated German director Wim Wenders (Buena Vista Social Club, The Million Dollar Hotel) showcases her dance company’s major works, and looks back on her artistic work through the eyes of her dancers.

            The format is fairly simple – there is no obvious narrative, but rather a fluid and sequenced trip through her four major works, recreated for the film. The film is punctuated by brief, intense and original interviews with her dancers, who come from all corners of the globe, and evidently miss her a great deal. There are also numerous brief dance sequences set in various gorgeous locations, making wonderful use of 3D and giving an all-round better picture of her style of dance. Pina herself appears in numerous older clips, but unfortunately she passed away when the film was still in its early stages.

            There’s no denying that this is vivid, beautiful and very different cinema, but whether you actually enjoy it or not as a film experience will probably depend highly on your relationship with dance. And on whether you view Pina’s quotes as inspirational nuggets to cherish, or vague statements that could really mean anything. But ultimately, I’m quite sure that everyone leaving the cinema will have a very good sense of who Pina was, at least professionally, and what an indelible mark she has left. Which is a testament to Wim Wenders and his observant and thorough approach here.






            St James Cavalier have recently installed new digital projectors and a larger screen. Upcoming highlights which will make use of this technology include showings of Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds and many more. For more info visit

            Monday, April 01, 2013

            Past Perfect: Being John Malkovich (1999)

            Home movie gems from the past few decades that need some dusting but never get old.


            This odd but wonderful gem was the big screen debut of two of the most original minds in filmmaking - writer Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze. To even come up with the concept of this film is impressive enough, but to bring it to the screen in a way that is understandable, funny, emotional and highly entertaining is the stuff of genius. John Malkovich (Dangerous Liaisons, Empire of the Sun) stars as himself, of course. The film centres around a puppeteer (an untidy-looking and pitiable John Cusack, who is excellent here), who discovers a doorway in his office which is actually a portal into the mind of Malkovich. Anyone can slide in, and be Malkovich for around ten seconds. With time and experience, he uses his puppeteering skills to gain more control over the actor, but others also want a piece of the action. The film also stars a nearly unrecognizable Cameron Diaz and the ever-sultry Catherine Keener, and is a joy to watch again and again.