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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.
Written and directed by the Syrian-born director, Sam Kadi, The Citizen sets out to highlight the hardships faced by Arab settlers in the US during the aftermath of 9/11. Despite appearing at several international film festivals, the film unfortunately falls short in both complexity and spirit.
After winning the green-card lottery, Lebanese immigrant, Ibrahim Jarrah (Nabawy), arrives in New York City on September 10, 2001. Determined to leave his troubling past behind, he is ready to live the American Dream.
Soon after arriving, Ibrahim checks into a Brooklyn motel where he finds himself saving a young woman from an abusive boyfriend. The girl in question is Diane (Bruckner); a pretty, young waitress who is instantly taken by the soft-spoken stranger and offers him a tour of the city as a way of saying thank you. The pair is quick to bond, but the next morning, their worlds change forever.
Almost immediately after the tragic events, Ibrahim is apprehended by US government officials and is held for questioning - for a total of six months - about his ties and connections to a mysterious cousin he mentioned on his arrival. However, with no substantial evidence, he is set free, only to face prejudices at every corner.
Painted with a soulful and a sorrowing mettle, Egyptian actor, Nabawy, proves to be a fairly likable lead. Quiet, courageous and mannerly, Ibrahim’s character is easy to connect to as a gutsy underdog who is putting everything on the line to better himself. And although his execution lacks bite and passion at times, he still manages to sustain the geniality of his character throughout. Bruckner, on the other hand, falls back on her television soap-opera experience and stands out like a sore thumb in what is generally a solemn and hushed tone.
The real issue with The Citizen, however, is that it plays out like shoddy TV-movie, especially in terms of aesthetics. The plot moves along with a sense of urgency, but is never really fleshed out and is dramatically uneven. Though the central character’s rocky road is one that any empathetic person should engage with, the audience is told how to feel and is never given the chance to recognise the wider issue of immigration and equality.
By anchoring itself so lucidly to the events of 9/11, The Citizen never really gets to fully develop; its ready-packaged message is delivered in the most inorganic of ways and ends up being conventional in its sentiments.
With many Americans still picking Thanksgiving turkey out of their teeth and others already embarking on Christmas shopping, Jimmy Hayward’s Thanksgiving-themed, animated comedy, Free Birds, is the first of what will almost certainly be a production line of hastily put-together films capitalising on the festive season.
Meet Reggie (Wilson); a nonconformist turkey who has always been viewed as an outsider for his ‘radical’ thinking. The idea of having himself – and the rest of his fellow-turkeys – fattened up for the upcoming Thanksgiving festivities, is a notion that doesn’t sit too well with Reggie. He continuously tries to warn everyone of their imminent slaughter, but his warnings go unheeded. That is until they realise the stark reality of their situation and throw Reggie under the bus to save their own necks.
However, much to his surprise, Reggie ends up being the White House’s ‘pardoned turkey’ and is soon sent off to Camp David to live the good life; lots of TV and a great deal of junk food.
One night, he’s approached by Jake (Harrelson); a cheeky and rebellious turkey who informs him that there’s a way of travelling back in time to the very first Thanksgiving, where they can take Turkey off the menu for good.
Intrigued and fascinated by the possibility, the duo soon find themselves jumping into the secret government machine, named S.T.E.V.E (voiced by Takei), and travelling back to 1621. They quickly learn, however, that becoming ‘free birds’ is going to take some serious work.
While the idea behind Free Birds might sound solid on paper, the final result is not. Essentially, this is not a film that holds the wide appeal of the likes of Toy Story and Finding Nemo. Kids will love it, though adults will probably find the cutesy humour and inattentive storyline difficult to engage with. Moreover, the endless-parade of product placements and tiresome references to other, unquestionably better, films only serves to undermine it.
The film’s only redeeming feature lies with its two leads. Owen, in his usual carefree and offhand style, injects the character of Reggie with enough likeability, while Harrelson approaches his character with conspicuous willingness and excitement. The rest of the cast is equally deserving of praise, especially Poehler – voicing Reggie’s love interest – who brings zesty and feisty personality to her role.
Despite Free Birds’ good intentions, this underdog story – or in this case an underturkey, if you will – would have been a lot better if it spent a little bit more time in the oven.