Iron Man

Iron Man ⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2

DirectorJon Favreau. Cast: Robert Downey Jr.Terrence HowardJeff Bridges

14 years after its original release, it’s easy to think of this just like another Marvel film and possibly forget just how pivotal this film is. If the cinema landscape of today looks like the way it does, for better or worse, we may have to thank Iron Man – or possibly blame it, depending on the point of views: this is a complex subject, but I’ll just say that if it weren’t for these big Marvel films, even more cinemas would be closed today… Food for thought.

I know I usually don’t put any “half stars” in my reviews, but this one really deserves to be placed above many of the others, even if it does lose a little bit of its steam towards the last twenty minutes as it becomes a rather too conventional good guy vs bad guy fist battle. But aside from that, this is as close to a perfect action movie as they come… Anyway, it’s my page, so I’ll do whatever I want 🤣

It made Iron Man an icon (as far as I’m concerned I could not care less about Iron Man before this film) and Robert Downey Jr. one of the most bankable actors in Hollywood. Let’s face it, this is really his show and today it’s impossible to see anyone playing Tony Stark, just as it is impossible to see Han Solo, without Harrison Ford or the Godfather without Brando…

His vibrant charm, his charisma and his witty sense of humour and are infectious and the main reason why this film works so well. Let’ s remember at the time, with Ghost Rider and Fantastic Four still fresh in people’s minds, this was really not a sure thing at all.

Watching it with my 9 years old at my side, I was a bit thrown back by how dark and scary the first half was (though highly effective), but once we’re back from Afghanistan and we are also back into “origin territory”, the real comic-fun begins: with some wonderfully humorous scenes and some great special effects which actually have not aged and raised the bar for not just all the comic- inspired movies that followed, but action movies in general.

This is the best mainstream popcorn action entertainment can be… and with it, history was made.

Belfast

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BELFAST ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Director: Kenneth Branagh. CAST: Jude HillLewis McAskieCaitriona Balfe

Kenneth Branagh has got a real ‘eclectic’ filmography under his belt… From his Shakespearian masterpieces (Henry V, Hamlet), to superheroes (Thor), to pointless mediocrity (Murder on the Orient Express), as well as some real ‘stinkers’, like the infamous (and rather embarrassing) “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein”, or Sleugh (You’re probably asking yourself “What is that?”, to which I say “Exactly!”) and the recent terrible series Artemis Fowl, for Disney Plus. 

“Belfast” signals a real return to form for the director, possibly because you can clearly tell his heart this time is in it. 

In fact this a semi-autobiographical film about his own childhood in Northern Island, living through the violent clash between Protestants and Catholics.

But the film is not what you might expect. Branagh chooses a rather counter-intuitive approach right from the start when we are treated by a sleek montage sequence of modern Belfast drenched in sunshine, in all its beauty, cut to a song by Van Morrison (in fact his songs are playing throughout the whole film). It’s scene which seems to be produced by some council-driven tourist shop, but as unexpected as it is, it is also clearly meant to put us in the right frame of mind for the story we are about to watch. This is a love letter to the city: a film dedicated to “the ones who stayed, the ones who left…. And all the ones who got lost…”.

Even beyond the surprising start, once the film dips into black and white, Branagh maintains a lightness of touch throughout, deciding to give us the point of view of a child for most of the film: a rather sentimentalised and sanitised version (or recollection) which resembles more like a picture postcard than a historical piece. The streets are pristine clean, the people in it are looking beautiful and happy: poverty is something they talk about but it doesn’t seem to weight too much of the life of the boy who still gets his present from Santa at Christmas and he’s allowed to spend time playing in the streets and gets lost in the beauty of theatre plays and movies (in fact the only colours in the film are the ones seen through the TV screen or in the cinema). Knowing what’s going to become of Branagh, this makes perfect sense (as well as one brief shot of the kid reading a comic of Thor).

His alter-ego in the film, little ‘Buddy’ is surrounded by a whole series of characters whom he loves: the pretty (and almost unreachable) girl in school, the wise grandfather who helps him out with maths (a real scene-stealer Ciarán Hinds, charming as ever), the grandmother (Judy Dench who manages to give huge depth to a massively underwritten character) and of course mother, always depicted looking gorgeous and wearing perfect make-up and father, singing and dancing “like Fred Astair” (a line from the film). And yes, there are some violent clashes too and looting going on in shops, but most of those are either played almost for laughs or bare no weight to the life of the child. 

It is a charming film and even if rather predictable, a bit simplistic and way too flashy in a few places (like carefully constructed shots of people standing in impossible positions so that their silhouettes can look perfect against the moody sky, while other characters are talking to each other, but straight down the camera lens, for no apparent reasons), it’s still highly entertaining film, funny and heart-warming at the same time and beautifully filmed (a bit too beautiful some people have argued, missing the point). A real crowd-pleaser, and a very possible contender at the Oscars this year. 

Out this Friday (21st January)



Spider-man: No Way Home

Spider-man: No Way Home ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: Jon Watts. Stars:Tom HollandZendayaBenedict Cumberbatch 

The fact that this film even exists is not just the closest thing to a ‘miracle’ for any superhero fan (and for a Spiderman freak like me, this is pretty much a childhood dream come true), but it also shows the power that the Marvel Machine has these days: basically they can do anything they want.They had already proven themselves with the humongous “Avengers: endgame” in 2019 in which they were able to put together one of the greatest cast ever assembled, raking them up from more than 10 years of previous films, into a very satisfying epic finale.As it happened, it ended up being the most successful film in cinema history with a massive $2.8 billion gross worldwide (only to be beaten again by James Cameron who, like a sore loser, decided to re-release Avatar in China, thus adding enough money to get to 2.85 billion and pass its adversary). Wherever you stand on the “Marvel franchise” debate, one has to bow to such numbers. With this latest Spider-man (latest, but certainly not the last: mark my words, this is going to make a fortune and we’ll see more of Tom Holland in the suit) they went even further by creating a real crowd-pleaser which celebrates twenty years of the Spiderman legacy at the movies and brings this trilogy to a great conclusion.Needless to say, your appreciation for “No Way Home” will very much depend on how fond (and knowledgeable) you are about ALL the previous films: there are so many “call-backs”, “Easter eggs” and “winks” that the geek inside me was on over-drive and was just having the time of his life. It is of course one that plays to the fans, and one wonders what it’ll do to the average moviegoer, but hey, how many of those are left these days anyway?If this is what’s needed to get people back in the cinema, well please, give me more of this! It’s very hard to talk about this film without giving away some BIG spoilers (even if some of those are possibly the worst kept secrets in movie history), but it’s a film that starts on top gear and hardly slows down. However, beyond the spectacular fights, the astonishing visual effects, the vertiginous swings across New York and overall sense of fun that bursts from every frame of this film, the moments that I will remember more than anything else were actually the most intimate ones. There are some truly heartbreaking scenes in this film, including a poignant ending which will leave you wanting to see Spiderman 4 as soon as possible. Tom Holland is once again a very likeable presence, showing not just his charisma, but also his vulnerability and playing on the fact that he is actually very young superhero (in fact the youngest of all the actors who previously played the character). In the end, while this might not be the best Spiderman movie out there (That trophy still belongs to Raimi’s 2nd film with Tobey Maguire in my view), this was certainly the most enjoyable experience I’ve had in the cinema in years. And apparently I wasn’t the only one to feel that: there were a couple of moments in the (packed) auditorium where I was, when the whole crowd exulted and screamed with happiness, clapping and cheering at the screen, like I have hardly ever seen or heard before. If this isn’t the joy of watching a film with an audience in the cinema, then what is?4 stars as a film, but 5 (and more) as an experience with a crowd of people (hopefully Covid-free)

The Matrix Resurrections

The Matrix Resurrections ⭐⭐

Director: Lana Wachowski. Cast: Keanu ReevesCarrie-Anne MossYahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris, Jada Pinkett Smith

First of all I should say right ahead that I regard the original Matrix as one of those rare game-changers in sci-fi and in cinema history: a genre defying which only comes once in a decade (or even two decades!). A smart and beautifully crafted film which combined spectacular visuals, cracking action and groundbreaking special effects and left and endurable mark on cinema and pop culture to this day.And because, like everybody else, I was obviously let down by the frankly inferior sequels from the noughties, the news of the a new film, had filled me with a sense of trepidation but also hope that it would be able to do justice to the legacy left by the original.“

Matrix: Resurrection” is naturally very aware of what came before and spends most of the first half retreading moments from the first film, copying them (though I guess, they would prefer if I said “paying homage to them”) desperately trying to re-evoke that atmosphere that made the original so special.This is of course just the latest (and surely not the last) of a series of recently released films that seems to be fueled by that sense of nostalgia for the source. Just in the last few weeks we’ve had “Ghostbusters: Afterlife and Spiderman: No way Home”.

Director Lana Wachowski (this time directing solo, without the sibling Lilly) knows too well why we are here and what we are craving for. She’s aware of our feelings towards the previous sequels too and she even tries to admit their inferiority by having people actually saying it in the film: “They took something that was so dear to people and turned it in something trivial” somebody utters at some point. After all “Nothing comfort anxiety like a little nostalgia” (another line from the film, yes, it is that meta!), so who cares if all this feels a bit redundant?Unfortunately while the latest Spiderman showed the whole world how you can take that nostalgia and love for what came before and ride with it, without taking yourself too seriously and produce one of the most entertaining popcorn-film of the last few years, this Matrix reboot (or re-hash…or sequel… or whatever you want to call it), doesn’t quite know what to do with that legacy, other than constantly quoting itself, making sure we know it’s doing it in a very self-aware way, just to avoid criticism. But this over-referencing and meta nature of the film is obviously a double-edged sword, which only served to remind me how fresh, mysterious and original the first film was.

And so, Lana Wachowski gets lost in endless scenes where people are literally sitting in front of each other trying to explain the film to us in a series on semi-unintelligible Mumbo-Jumbo dialogue. And yet, despite all those efforts, I have to confess I still don’t quite understand what happens in the film or how was it possible that Neo (Keanu Reeves) was still alive and why some people are played by other actors (other than the fact that some of the actors just did not want to return: something even more disappointing coming after the huge reunion from the latest Spiderman, once again). All that convoluted, unintelligible, and frankly rather uninteresting exposition, drenched in clichés and pompous lines, delivered with an air of self-importance (and a little bit of “echo” to make sure it could resonate even more), wouldn’t be the worst thing in the film if at least the action made up for it. But that’s where I found the film even more disappointing.

The lack any original ideas was staggering. Aside from the constantly recycled imagery and concepts from the previous films (blue/red pill, fluid mirrors, bull-time shots, lots of shooting ), the film does really nothing new.As for the action itself, I was astonished by how pedestrian it felt, both it its choreography, its staging and its film-making techniques: the messy and frenetic editing, some shaky-camerawork and dark lighting tried to hide some of that, but not very successfully and so the result was apparent.

This was just not as innovative or interesting and crucially not as exciting it should have been to justify its existence.

On a positive note I have to say that I had really missed Carrie-Anne Moss and she can still hold her presence, though Keanu seemed to sleepwalk through it…

In the end The Matrix Resurrections, while it doesn’t ruin the memory of the original, it came across to me just as a desperate attempt to revive something that should have been left alone.No more please.

Ghostbusters – Afterlife

Director: Jason Reitman. Stars: Finn WolfhardMckenna GraceCarrie Coon, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Logan Kim, Paul Rudd

Ghostbusters – Afterlife ⭐⭐⭐

I was a teenager when the original film was first released (I know, that gives away my age, but in my defence I’m still Peter Pan at heart). Even back then then I was aware of how silly it all was, but also that it was doing something quite unique for the time: mixing (very funny) comedy and (quite scary) horror on a large budget. And while that film was clearly a product of the 80s (gender inequality, montage scenes cut to famous pop music, obligatory crowd clapping the heroes moments, “what-the-hell-were-we-thinking” haircuts and so on) 38 years later it’s impossible not to feel sentimental about it.And it’s exactly that sense of nostalgia that is the main force driving this new version: I could fill pages with all the nods and winks spread across the film, some more subtle than others.

And beyond the fondness towards the original film itself, “Afterlife” is also latching onto the 80s revival that’s been riding strong over the last few years, from the way the film is paced (rather slow for an action/adventure film), the way it’s structured, the look of it, even going as far as casting one of the leads from “Stanger Things”, the ultimate 80s Love-fest.

The main plot itself is also complete rehash of the original (literally the same beats, especially during the second half), but it has to be said that without Bill Murray‘s impeccable comedic timing and deadpan face at the centre of it, many of the laughters have now been replaced by a lot of “teenage mystery”, which makes the film looking more like some sort of “Goonies” mixed in with “Lost Boys” (again, more 80s stuff) rather than an actual Ghostbuster film. That’s not necessarily a bad thing and to be honest I don’t think the film is as bad as critics are making it, but if you are looking for what winning formula of sparkling comedy and creepy horror which made that first one so enduring, you may get disappointed.

Other than that, I can promise you this film just as silly, preposterous and over the top as it’s always been (Go and re-watch the original again if you don’t believe me and only vaguely remember it). Kids will love it, and so those who are emotionally attached to the first film… All the others will probably go “meh…”-Also, whether audiences will take the last act as a homage to the first film (and poignant tribute to the late Harold Ramis, one of the 4 original members of the Ghostbusters) or just a terribly shmaltzy and misjudged cash-in exercise, will remain to be scene. As far as I am concerned, I’ve got a big heart and I really didn’t mind it.

Cheesy yes… But sweet too.And finally, do stay in right to the end of the credits, for the obligatory post-credit extra scenes. Two in fact, if you’ve got any will left in you. A pointless first so-what scene and then another which hints at more mayhem to come in the inevitable sequel which might just happen is if there is enough appetite for it.

Ghostbusters – Afterlife is out in the cinemas from today

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