April 2015 Film Viewing Round-Up

Herewith some brief thoughts about films I saw in April which I didn’t review in full. It includes a couple of films I actually saw in March but had thought I’d write up in their own posts (I didn’t).

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015, USA)
The Book of Life (2014, USA)
En duva satt på en gren och funderade på tillvaron (A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence) (2014, Sweden/Norway/Germany/France)
Insurgent (aka The Divergent Series: Insurgent) (2015, USA)
Notting Hill (1999, UK)
Pitch Perfect (2012, USA)
Premium Rush (2012, USA)
Wild Card (2015, USA)

Continue reading “April 2015 Film Viewing Round-Up”

Marvel’s The Avengers (aka Marvel Avengers Assemble, 2012)

There have in recent years been a lot of comic book-based superhero action films, most of them ‘reboots’ of older film series, but with a few new characters brought into the filmic fold. With this film, called Marvel Avengers Assemble in the UK, four of the Marvel superhero film series were brought together, along with a few extra characters who hadn’t had their own films, in a blockbuster which was much trailered and anticipated (indeed, many of the most recent individual films had included a post-credits teaser for just this collaboration) and surely all-but-guaranteed to do well at the box office. The surprise, then, is that it’s quite a jolly enterprise, even if, as expected, it’s far too long.

All these superhero films run a range of styles from the dour (take a bow, Man of Steel) to the, well, comic book, but it’s fair to say that Joss Whedon has done what he knows best from his previous TV work, which is to say self-knowing media-literate jokiness. It’s an angle that probably works best for Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man character, who has now had three of his own films, and who stands out in this ensemble piece too, if only by virtue of being most in tune with Whedon’s script.

That’s not to say that the other characters aren’t honoured, with Captain America (Chris Evans) retaining his mien of humourless patriotism and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) his petulant anger, though Hulk impresses in his dual persona thanks to new recruit Mark Ruffalo as harassed scientist Bruce Banner (the Hulk films never did well at the box office, which may account for Edward Norton’s absence). Added to the mix is a rather superfluous Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, and Scarlett Johansson returning from Iron Man 2 (2010) as the persuasive Black Widow, neither of them superheroes exactly (at least, not ones with superpowers).

Perhaps I’m not the best person to review superhero movies, which in the past decade or so have taken on a lot of the characteristics of the action movie. I do like a good action film, but the bigger and louder and more pummelling the action setpieces — and there are plenty of these in Marvel’s The Avengers — the more the film needs to be grounded in real human characters you can care about and identify with, and that’s always been a problem for me with superhero movies. Whedon does his best to humanise these characters, and there are lots of nice quiet scenes — by far the best in the film — when they are around each other, sharing jokes, and making fun of some of the absurdities of the genre. And yet, it’s never quite enough to make me care for those long stretches when yet another major American city is being destroyed by monsters sent from an alternate plane of existence by a shadowy evil overlord.

It’s a good film, though, and for those who count themselves fans of the superhero genre, there’s a lot to enjoy in it, not least just the simple fact of having all these disparate characters interacting with one another. This, after all, is at the heart of the movie (as the British title recognises) and Whedon’s script shows great affection for all of them. But at times, as the film ticks on into its third hour, I do find myself getting a bit misty-eyed for the olden days of the superhero film, when villainous plans could be foiled with rather less sound and fury.

Marvel's The Avengers film posterCREDITS
Director Joss Whedon; Writers Zak Penn and Whedon; Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey; Starring Robert Downey Jr., Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson; Length 143 minutes.
Seen at Vue Islington, London, Sunday 29 April 2012 (and at home on Blu-ray, London, Thursday 27 June 2013).

Much Ado About Nothing (2012)

It is undoubtedly a lamentable sign of my own ingrained snobbery to have low expectations going into a film based on the work of Shakespeare which is largely populated by actors from US television. I’d read plenty of good reviews of it, and I have respect for director and adapter Joss Whedon: he made an entertaining film version of Marvel’s The Avengers last year, and has had some success on television since Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And yet I still didn’t trust that this film, made in a two-week break between the filming and post-production on the aforementioned comic book blockbuster, could really succeed. Well it has — better even I think than Kenneth Branagh’s bigger budget and starrier 1993 adaptation — so I am pleased to be proved wrong.

Of course I can’t claim any special understanding of Shakespeare myself — adaptations of his work quite often go over my head — so the key is having actors and a director who are really passionate about the text, who work well together and understand one another, and this is very much the case here. The passion they show as an ensemble means that it’s never at any point unclear what is going on. Of course (and this is in the text itself, too) you do sometimes wonder why it’s going on, though Whedon has subtly integrated plenty of alcohol consumption: these are characters brought together in a single place for a wedding, after all. There is a certain level of stir-craziness to their actions, and the omnipresence of glasses of wine and shots of tequila (not to mention a crafty joint at one point) motivates some of the more overt slapstick that goes on.

Much Ado is, after all, a comedy, both in the grand sense (it leads to a harmonious ending) and in the details — there is plenty in Whedon’s film that is laugh-out-loud funny, not least the aforementioned slapstick. Stealing the film in this regard is Continue reading “Much Ado About Nothing (2012)”