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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.
Love him or hate him, one thing is for certain; Nicholas Sparks always delivers. What exactly it is he delivers is another story altogether and the critics will have a field day taking shots at the latest film to be adapted from the American writer’s pages, The Best of Me; a sappy and an overly sentimental drama that plays with the notion of fate and destiny in the most ridiculous of ways.
Jumping head-first into what has become an extremely tired formula, The Best of Me is centred on Dawson Cole (Marsden); a rugged Louisiana oil rigger who, after learning of the death of a close friend – and surrogate father - Tuck Hostetler (McRanney), is summoned to return home to fulfil his friend's last dying wishes.
Dawson, who is still recovering from a near-death experience, is surprised to learn that Amanda Collier (Monoghan) – his teenage sweetheart whom he’s been pining for the last couple of decades – has also been asked to tend to Tuck's last requests. Stumped and completely thrown by this chance encounter, the pair soon head off together to Tuck's old lake house, an enchanting home that he once built for his late wife, to pack up what is left of his things and spread his ashes.
Naturally, it doesn't take long before the sparks begin to fly and memories begin flooding back; will the long-lost lovers find their way back into each other’s arms or will fate have something else in store for them?
One of the film’s biggest problems – and distractions – is its questionable casting. Marsden and Monoghan share very little chemistry and fail to come across as a couple madly in love while the younger versions of their characters – played by Bracey and Liberato respectively – shared little-to-no physical resemblance to their older-selves. Granted, any film demands a certain degree of suspension of disbelief, but how about we get some help with that one in a while?
Ineptly adapted by J. Millis Goodloe and Will Fetters, the story – in true Nicholas Sparks fashion – runs in two simultaneous timelines and, while the cinematography is pretty decent – plenty of sun-kissed scenes to keep the romantics in the audience content – there are just too many clichés and too much insufferable dialogue.
All things considered, The Best of Me is ironically, one of the worst Nicholas Spark’s adaptations to date; it’s corny in the sloppiest of ways and seems a little too desperate please.
Liam Neeson’s ‘special set of skills’ are once again put to good use in Scott Frank’s latest neo-noir thriller, A Walk Among the Tombstones; a dark and a gritty spy-thriller that takes a rather a brutal approach to the notions of revenge and redemption.
Set in 1991, the story – adapted from the pages of Lawrence Block’s popular series of novels of the same name – centres on Matt Scudder (Neeson); an ex-cop turned unlicensed investigator, whose love for booze has forced him to retire early and join an alcoholic anonymous support group.
During one of their regular meetings, Scudder is approached by fellow alcoholic, Peter Kristo (Holbrook), who informs him that his drug-trafficking brother, Kenny Kristo (Stevens), requires his services. After being summoned to Kenny’s lavish home, it’s revealed that Kenny’s wife was kidnapped and, despite paying the hefty ransom, was killed and returned to him in pieces.
Scudder befriends a homeless but seemingly intelligent boy, TJ (Bradley), while conducting research and, despite his young age, becomes a close friend and an informal assistant. The road to revenge soon leads them to creepy cemetery groundskeeper, James Loogan (Olafsson), and Scudder, whose past still haunts him, soon learns that there’s more at play than just a kidnapping.
Directed and adapted to the screen by Scott Frank, A Walk Among the Tombstones doesn’t exactly fall in line with Liam Neeson’s recent filmography and those expecting more of the bravado in Taken, might be a little disappointed. This is a slow-burning picture which requires a certain amount of stomach – thanks to its graphic violence – and staying power due to its longwinded and lengthy plot. The cinematography paints the New York setting in tones of grey which contributes to an engaging overall sinister tone.
Neeson carries the story like a true Hollywood pro as the enigmatic lead and he comes across as unbending, kind and utterly ruthless all at the same time. Unfortunately, the villains – played by Harbour and Thompson – are a little cartoonish, while Olafsson’s character deserved a little bit more screen-time.
Taking everything into account, A Walk Among the Tombstones is a solid film that owes most, if not all, of its charisma, so to speak, to Mr Neeson.