Sunday, 26 April 2015

The Ciné File Vol. 28

I feel like I'd been waiting for this week for months.

I booked tickets to the first showing of the day on the first day of its release of Avengers: Age of Ultron months ago, and I've been waiting in giddy anticipation ever since. To say it lived up to my expectations would be a massive understatement, and writing a spoiler-free review was very hard indeed (but it is, so if you aren't as sad/keen as me and haven't seen it yet then you can read on in the knowledge I won't be spoiling anything for you, except that it's brilliant!).

I've also braved French gardening romance A Little Chaos and Russian espionage 'thriller' Child 44 and was extraordinarily disappointed - sadly, they're just awful!

* *
2015 // In U.K. cinemas now

"Two talented landscape artists become romantically entangled while building a garden in King Louis XIV's palace at Versailles."


I wanted to like A Little Chaos so, so badly; and while I didn't fall asleep like the two other people in the cinema with me I don't think I would have missed much if I had. It's not exactly dreadful or unwatchable, but more like 117 minutes of missed opportunities.

While there are aspects that are good - the acting, the costumes, the sets - everything could definitely be much, much better. Kate Winslet manages to display an emotional depth and complexity as Sabine, and Belgian man of the hour Matthias Schoenaerts escapes unscathed as the dashing head gardener André le Notre, however neither of them - along with pretty much the entire supporting cast including Stanley Tucci, Helen McCrory and Alan Rickman - really try. Scenes which could be gut-wrenching, touching, or beautifully romantic sadly all fall a little flat. The same can be said for the costumes, which are stunningly detailed but don't seem to fit the actors properly. Add to that clunky and clearly embarrassing dialogue, odd editing and an unclear plot, and quite frankly it's a little chaos indeed.

Essentially A Little Chaos enormously lacks focus and falls at the last hurdle, which is such a shame give how excellent all the individual elements are in theory! The saddest part, though, is that it was released to coincide with National Gardening Week, and the marketing campaign clearly hoped to tap into a gardening-loving older demographic by joining up with the RHS for competitions and advertising. I may be horticulturally challenged but I was still looking forward to beautiful sweeping shots of the gardens at Versailles and maybe close-ups of colourful flowers. Instead it's all mud, hedges and scenes inside large country houses, and although the final garden is undoubtedly beautiful, it takes 110 minutes to actually experience the main selling point...

* *
2015 // In U.K. cinemas now

"A disgraced member of the military police investigates a series of nasty child murders during the Stalin-era Soviet Union."

Remember when you were younger and you'd try out different accents either on the playground or in drama class? They were always awful, stereotypical and more often than not left everyone in fits of giggles, but the joy lay in the fact that they weren't to be taken seriously. Astonishingly, one of the greatest ensemble casts I've ever seen ridiculously spend the entire duration of Child 44 trying to act through thick, terrible Russian accents, and clearly expect to be applauded for their efforts. Whoever thought that'd be a good idea needs their head testing...

It's not that Child 44 is just bad - it's laughably bad and unintentionally funny - but it's even worse as it had the potential to be such an excellent, tense thriller. The premise is good, particularly as it's based on a best-selling novel, and from the onset it has all the trappings of an exciting period-piece. However the serial-killer thriller aspect - which should have made the movie soar - is lost in amongst numerous other horrendously slow, unnecessary plot lines and hidden by appallingly bad acting. The cast are wonderful and ludicrously talented, but they're all utterly wasted and woefully directed here. Gary Oldman, Paddy Considine, Vincent Cassel and Charles Dance are carefully casted in small roles but leave no lasting impression; and Tom Hardy will undoubtedly be praying future casting directors forget he was ever in Child 44. His over-the-top accent and awkward, thuggish demeanour give him absolutely no depth and make him hilariously unwatchable.

Child 44 comes across as a piece of thinly veiled anti-Soviet propaganda that should have been released during the Cold War for it to actually have the desired effect. Instead it just looks silly, outdated and like a bunch of boys blindly playing espionage with faux-Russian accents and pretending to be tough: not exactly a winning combination.

* * * *
2012 // DVD

"Earth's mightiest heroes must come together and learn to fight as a team if they are to stop the mischievous Loki and his alien army from enslaving humanity."

The Avengers is the film that shouldn't have worked, but it did and wonderfully so. Joss Whedon deserves all the praise in the world for successfully uniting several major franchises and giving each superhero ample individual screen time while simultaneously melding them together as a believable yet misfit team. It's nerdy, quotable and endlessly entertaining, and if anything it gets better on repeated viewings.

Is there anything more satisfying than watching the Hulk manhandle Loki and smash him repeatedly into the ground like the Puny God that he is? No. Absolutely not.

* * * * *
2015 // In U.K. cinemas now

"When Tony Stark tries to jumpstart a dormant peacekeeping program, things go awry and it is up to the Avengers to stop the villainous Ultron from enacting his terrible plans."

Since Age of Ultron came out on Thursday I've already seen it twice - once in IMAX 3D and again in 2D - and for a full disclaimer, I plan on seeing it a couple more times at least while it's still in cinemas. I'm an unashamed Marvel fan so my assessment of the film will obviously be biased, but even with that in mind there's no getting away from the fact that it's a truly brilliant film. If you can't stand the sight of another superhero then do yourself a favour and give Age of Ultron a wide berth: it's quite literally packed to the rafters with superpowers, master assassins, Norse Gods and capes. Also, it's worth catching up on the previous films (especially Captain America: The Winter Soldier) before venturing to the cinema as I doubt it'll make as much sense going in essentially blind. It's obviously watchable without an extensive knowledge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I really think rewatching a couple of the films (most of which are available on Netflix or Sky Movies if you don't want to buy them) would help.

Director Joss Whedon once again expertly turns his hand to Earth's mightiest heroes, delivering the closing chapter of Phase 2 with a confident, action-packed and utterly stunning flourish. After both viewings of the film I couldn't work out if he'd focused more on individual character development or action sequences, but I've finally come to the conclusion that there's just more of everything, and Age of Ultron is all the better for it. Following on from The Winter Soldier the MCU has experienced a tonal shift, and Age of Ultron continues in the same vein: it's much darker and more serious than its predecessor, but Whedon's razor-sharp wit ensures that it never falls too far the other way. It's littered with Whedon's humour - a highlight for me being the running joke of Captain America's aversion to strong language - and while the principal cast have endless moments to shine the smaller, background actors are given equal opportunity to prove their comedic credentials often pulling larger laughs for throw-away but perfectly timed lines.

Uniting so many superheroes in one film was no mean feat in The Avengers, but here it seems even more impossible with the addition of James Spader's villainous A.I.-gone-wrong Ultron; victims of HYDRA experimentation, twins Wanda and Pietro Maximoff (Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, respectively); mysterious and significant black market dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis); and probably the coolest superhero I've ever seen on screen and the sole reason I gave Age of Ultron 5 stars, Paul Bettany's Vision. I refuse to spoil anything about Bettany's character (I went in having avoided every single spoiler and enjoyed it all the more because of it) but rest assured he's just brilliant and astonishingly cool. It's hard to describe why I enjoyed his performance quite so much without giving huge plot points away, but he earned that extra star for a reason! Somehow Whedon intertwines individual backstories with fantastic group pieces, giving all the characters much needed depth and making their exploits as a friendly team much more believable.

The action scenes here are extraordinarily exciting and thrilling beyond measure. Opening on a raid of a HYDRA base while searching for Loki's sceptre, the brilliantly edited scene serves as both a recap of each individual Avenger's skills and as an example of how much they've gelled as a team since the previous film. Age of Ultron hits the ground running and merely picks up speed as the film progresses. Even those unfamiliar with the comics would find it hard to to be unimpressed by the introduction of Veronica, Iron Man's specially designed suit to deal with the Hulk, and the explosive fight between the two 'Science Bros' leaps straight off the pages of a comic book. It's visually thrilling, and ridiculously funny to boot. The climatic action sequence at the end of the movie may rehash familiar superhero/action film territory, but the numerous tableaus of the team working together make it more than worth it. Marvel has a formula and it works wonderfully, so why deviate from the plan too drastically?

As it's probably already abundantly clear, I simply adored Age of Ultron. Like Loki before him, Ultron provides a well-developed and morally questionable villain; the backstories of Hawkeye and Black Widow - in particular - are welcome and surprising; and it neatly ties up loose ends from this Phase while laying the foundations for the next one. Plus, cameos from beloved characters, numerous Easter Eggs for comic book nerds, and a quintessentially Whedon ending make this a truly excellent offering from Marvel, yet again.

Don't judge me if I see it again tomorrow!

So what have you seen this week? Were you disappointed by A Little Chaos and Child 44 too or were you a fan of them? Was Age of Ultron as much of a hit with you as it was with me? Do let me know in the comments below!

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