Sunday 13 October 2013

Letterboxd: IRON MAN 3 (2013); THE TALL MAN (2012); BYZANTIUM (2013)

Sunday 13 October 2013
★★★ (out of five)

It achieves the intended improvement over IRON MAN 2, while being undeniably more satisfying than THE AVENGERS in terms of narrative (if not spectacle), but IRON MAN 3's in the odd position of being the best of its own trilogy and yet riddled with frustrations.

One of the biggest annoyances is how writer-director Shane Black bolts so many of his overused tropes onto this film (a sarcastic narrative, 'buddy dynamics', the Christmas backdrop), and yet Black's exalted dialogue fails to light up the screen. KISS, KISS, BANG, BANG is more quotable. Robert Downey Jr's fed the odd zinger along the way, but those expecting LETHAL WEAPON levels of verbal bliss will be sorely disappointed.

IRON MAN 3 latches onto the fun idea of taking away Tony Stark's riches and technology, to fight this instalment's villains using intellect and improv. This means the film's even more reliant on RDJ's smart-ass personality than ever before... but that's no bad thing. Stark's become one of the few superheroes where his everyday identity's infinitely more compelling than when he 'suits up'; and the franchise has about a zillion Iron Man substitutes anyway. Beyond Stark's best friend Rhodey (Don Cheadle) as War Machine/Iron Patriot, this entry introduces a whole menagerie of remote-controlled 'bots. It actually makes you wonder why Stark bothers risking life and limb by climbing into one of those tin cans.

Christopher Nolan's DARK KNIGHT trilogy has been influencing blockbusters since 2005, and IRON MAN 3 seizes on both the idea of a determined terrorist who can outmanoeuvre everyone (THE DARK KNIGHT's Joker), and the idea of sending the hero back to square-one after a defeat amidst domestic destruction (THE DARK KNIGHT RISES). It doesn't do either as brilliantly, however. In particular, there's a twist involving this film's villain The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) that, while very surprising, deflates the story and takes things in a less thrilling direction. If I was a fan of the comics, I would probably be outraged with what Shane Black and co-writer Drew Pearce (NO HEROICS) did to this megalomaniac.

Best to enjoy IRON MAN 3 for what it does best: RDJ remains a compelling screen presence (even if there's a feeling he's close to self-parody, a la Johnny Depp in the PIRATES saga), and the special effects are just extraordinary. Of particular merit is arguably the best ever skydiving stunt sequence, which completely avoids the usual issues of obvious greenscreen. It's a real white knuckle moment.

Away from the fancy window-dressing, IRON MAN 3 actually touches on issues of global terrorism, control of the world's media, absent fathers, suicide bombers, love rivals, disabled war veterans, PTSD, and the dangers of technology, but it never really goes anywhere interesting with it all. It pays lip service to the big themes, without having the courage or ability to explore them deeply.

There's more going on in IRON MAN 3's noggin than THE AVENGERS' and it's a notable step-up from its haphazard predecessor, but those facts have likely clouded judgement about this movie. It's occasional fun but also rather empty when you're not distracted by the $200m-worth of explosions and loud noises.

★★½ (out of five)

I was sickened, astonished, and mesmerised by Pascal Laugier's excellent French-language horror MARTYRS a few years ago. It's quite simply one of the greatest scary movies ever made; lingering in your memory months after viewing. As golden boy of the so-called 'New French Extremity' movement, I was excited to finally watch Laugier's English-language debut in THE TALL MAN... but that was was leavened by the direct-to-video-sounding title and fact it slipped completely under most people's radar back in 2012.

The sad fact is that THE TALL MAN is a far less satisfying and memorable horror-thriller than MARTYRS, but retains some of Laugier's trademarks as a writer-director. Most notably, how most of its scenes play out is surprising (swerving clichés and expectations every second), and half the film proves to be a trick. It's almost impossible to reveal more without spoiling things, but suffice to say THE TALL MAN isn't at all what one might expect from the blurb on the back of the DVD cover.

Ostensibly the tale of a widowed nurse (Jessica Biel), living in an impoverish former mining town (which has seen many children kidnapped by a mysterious 'Tall Man' figure), this film managed to avoid going down the expected path. And, for awhile at least, this made it a breath of fresh air.

However, as a film of two distinct halves after a twist presents itself, Laugier's script struggles with a second-half that rapidly feels like a let-down. In that respect it reminded me of Victor Salva's underrated JEEPERS CREEPERS (which started as a DUEL-style road movie nightmare, before becoming a generic monster movie), only in reverse.

You'll see what I mean if you watch THE TALL MAN, which I hope more people do, but don't be in too much of a rush. I'd much rather you summon the courage to watch this filmmaker's MARTYRS, which is a genuine masterpiece. I sorely wish he'd been given HELLRAISER to remake.

★★★★ (out of five)

I loved Neil Jordan's third vampire movie, even if the word "vampire" is rarely mentioned. It's usually insulting when a film avoids using 'the v-word', as if the film-maker is so pretentious they can't admit they're making something that involves monstrous blood-drinkers.

Thankfully, that's not the case here. It's justified to avoid the word, because these "sucreants" are very different creatures.

A large part of the fun with BYZANTIUM is seeing the sucreant's lore gradually explained (including their fantastic method of creation, which is very weird and surprising), and the cool back-story of free-spirited whore Clara (Gemma Arterton)--who essentially stole this 'male power' in the 19th-century, and has been on the run with her protégé Clara (Saoirse Ronan) ever since.

There's a great atmosphere to BYZANTIUM (filmed around the English seaside town of Hastings) which evokes the deep mysticism of Great Britain. It feels like this should have been made by the recently-revived Hammer Films (a classic of theirs appears on a TV), as this is exactly what you'd imagine a modern Hammer to be. Sexy, mysterious, engaging, chilling, and with thematic roots that burrow into your soul. The mother-daughter angle alone is a triumph.

It's full of great performances too--from the prodigious Ronan (HANNAH), naturally, but this will hopefully make a few of Arterton's detractors reconsider their opinion. Sam Riley (CONTROL) and Jonny Lee Miller (TRAINSPOTTING) lend strong support, too; plus there's a fun uncredited role for Tom Hollander (PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN II).
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