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The Avengers: Believe the Hype
Fling a bunch of superheroes together and you either get the New Year’s Eve of superhero films or you get a slice of unbridled awesomeness. Thankfully, The Avengers, which crams Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Black Widow and Hulk into one film without short-changing any one character, falls squarely into the latter camp. In fact, it’s mayor of that camp.
Exhibit one of its awesomeness: Scarlet Johansson’s Black Widow gets an introductory scene that is more badass than her entire Iron Man 2 arc and in fact, she’s one of the most awesome characters in the film. Exhibit Two: Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts, with her entire three minutes of screen time, manages to come across as smart, hilarious and generally super cool; three things that can’t be said about her roles in both Iron Man films put together. Exhibit Three: Hulk, who was previously so mistreated by Hollywood that he needed a reboot instead of a sequel, is the most badass superhero in the line-up. Although Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, in all his power hungry, revenge seeking insanity, is a joy to watch.
The film’s plot is rather simple. Loki (Hiddleston), Thor’s (Hemsworth) brother, is out to take over the world and has assembled an alien army to do so. All he has to do is get his hands on the Tesseract - a super powerful energy source - and use it to open a portal through which his army can join him. Nick Fury (Jackson), director of S.H.I.E.L.D. decides to reactivate The Avengers initiative and calls on the world’s superheroes - Iron Man (Downey Jr), Captain America (Evans), Black Widow (Johansson), Hulk (Ruffalo), Thor and Hawkeye (Renner) - to counter this extraterrestrial threat. Despite the fact that they can barely stand each other, they’re forced to put their planet-sized egos aside to save the world from Loki’s dominion.
We could go on and on about everything that makes this film far superior than all the other superhero films that came before it, but it can really all be summed up in two points: the dialogue, and the visuals. The dialogue here has Joss Whedon written all over it. Seriously, anyone who’s watched one episode of Buffy, Angel, or Firefly will recognise his voice from the very first one liner. The relentless onslaught that follows only solidifies his status as the king of quips. This film is so hilarious, that you’ll frequently miss jokes because you’re laughing too hard at the one before. And no, they don’t all come from Iron Man. It also has to be said that the actors really prove their comedic skills here whether with outright jokes or more wry material.
As for the visuals, they’re Transformers good. It rivals anything Michael Bay has put out in sheer thrill factor alone. The main difference though, is that there’s space to breathe. In between all the mayhem and destruction, the characters get time to take a moment, get back on their feet, trot out an epic one liner then throw themselves back into the fray. It’s awesome! The combination of The Avengers’ skill sets makes for really interesting fight scenes where the characters’ personal fighting styles and weapons of choice come together in really exciting ways.
You don’t need to have seen each character’s films before seeing The Avengers but a basic knowledge of the superheroes is actually recommended - Thor and Loki in particular as it’s their relationship that drives the story. While not technically a sequel, it does tie all of the characters’ previous story arcs together and relies to an extent on the fact that the characters have all been established already.
Based on Edgar Allan Poe’s chillingly and satirical short story, The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether, Brad Anderson’s madhouse thriller serves up a star – studded cast frolicking in plenty of morbid fun in the unnerving but equally flimsy, Stonehearst Asylum.
Written by Joe Gangemi, Stonehearst Asylum is set in late 1899 and is centred on Edward Newgate (Sturgess); a recent medical school graduate of Oxford University who is looking to gain clinical experience at the titular mental institution. Arriving there on Christmas Eve, Edward soon meets the establishment’s mad superintendent, Dr. Silas Lamb (Kingsley), whose unorthodox way of providing care bemuse Edward. Lamb’s methods – which allow for his patients to seek their own healing methods and do whatever they see is a fit – doesn’t sit well with the fresh grad and he finds himself in more than one awkward situation with patients.
All soon becomes clear, however, when Eddie discovers hostages locked in the basement and a grave secret that he must admit no knowledge of in order to help rescue the imprisoned.
Shot in Bulgaria, the film carries an unnerving energy. Sadistic electroshock treatments, violent rapes and random patient sedations are just some of the tools of torture which Stonehearst Asylum is using to induce fear and horror and for the most part, it does accomplish its goals.
However, although its costumes and set-design – not to mention its sprawling landscape – are a nice example of a period-piece done well, there is a problem with the suspense and this nagging little feeling that it could have been all a little bolder and a little scarier.
Luckily though, its A-list cast which includes the scenery-chewing Ben Kingsley and Michael Caine help elevate the film and it’s only the over-the-top antics of Kate Beckinsale and the fragile performance of Jim Sturgess that let the side down.
Adapting Edgar Allan Poe is no easy feat, but Stonehearst Asylum uses a very particular type of British black comedy well, providing a fun, if underwhelming, viewing experience. On the back of cult successes like Session 9, The Machinist and The Call, Anderson carries a reputation for creating eerie and subtly sinister worlds in his films. He achieves this here, to an extent, but beyond the aesthetics exists an occasionally flat film.
Channelling his inner-Liam Neeson, if you will, multi Oscar-winning actor and occasional humanitarian, Sean Penn, dips his toes into what is a new type of emerging genre: geriaction. While it’s unlikely that Hollywood executives and actors will be using it anytime soon, the term refers to action films starring ‘aging actors’. At 54, Penn is no spring chicken, but the California native is in tip-top shape for Pierre Morel’s surprisingly flavourless and action-less thriller, The Gunman.
The story follows special operative Jim Terrier (Penn); a mercenary stationed in Congo who provides security services for mining operations. During his time there, he meets and falls in love with a humanitarian-aid doctor, Annie (Trinca), who is also there offering medical support for those in need. However, when asked to liquidate the local Minister of Mining by his shady bosses, Cox (Rylance) and Felix (Bardem), Terrier must oblige. Soon after carrying out the hit, he flees the country without as much as a goodbye to Annie.
Eight years later, Jim is once again in Congo and soon becomes the target of an unknown hit squad. Barely making it out of there alive, he makes his way to London in order to seek out his old partners and see if they can help him figure out who is behind the mess. However, Jim’s digging and snooping is not entirely welcome and after finding his way to Annie once more, the wanted couple has no choice but to go on the run together to Barcelona where they hope to come up with a plan to get themselves out of the chaos.
One of the most surprising things about The Gunman is how its final onscreen realisation is nothing like what its trailers suggests. It’s painfully slow, very chatty – the dialogue is filled with political gobbledegook – and, in terms of action, well, there isn’t any. Apart from a couple of shockingly brutal and bloody exchanges, the rest of the story is pretty lifeless and uninspiring. On the upside, the film’s aesthetics – courtesy of cinematographer Flavio Martinez Labiano – is effective and its use of sharp and vibrant imagery adds the much-needed pizzazz to the story.
As for Mr. Penn, he spends most of the time trudging around looking bored, tired and oh yes, shirtless. His broodiness rarely translates into more than just looking plain expressionless. Then again, his stunt work is pretty impressive and there is a certain sense of gravitas that he brings to the table; unfortunately, just not enough energy to make us all care.