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Movie Review: Iron Man 3

Iron Man surpassed expectations, while Iron Man 2 hovered below them. Just when we thought the Iron Man saga needed a bit of oil, The Avengers knocked any signs of rust off the rocket-powered Tin Man with Robert Downey Jr. stealing the show once again (with the Hulk's permission). So the excitement around the May Day release of Iron Man 3 has been building and with Robert Downey Jr. starring, what could possibly go wrong?

Iron Man 3 fuses a number of Iron Man comic book storylines together to create a plot in which Tony Stark is forced to rely on Tony Stark and less on Iron Man. After a moment of sheer arrogance almost destroys the gifted billionaire's empire, Stark's forced to rely on his wits and intellect to gather momentum against the machinations of a terrorist order led by a tyrant known as the Mandarin.

In Iron Man 3, Stark has shied away from the public to focus on his work and Pepper, leaving less time for rock stardom and AC/DC. The biggest change must surely be that Iron Man and Iron Man 2 director, Jon Favreau, has made way for a comeback from renowned Lethal Weapon and Last Boy Scout screenwriter, Shane Black. It's a surprising but welcome move. Black brings his chemistry from directing the unpredictable Downey Jr. in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang with a wealth of buddy action movie experience. There appears to be no bad blood, as Jon Favreau made himself available to advise Black on the Iron Man universe, whilst reprising an integral role as Happy Hogan.

Robert Downey Jr. is back to his usual tricks as Tony Stark, toying around with his new Iron Man suits, while wielding his massive ego. Gwyneth Paltrow finally gets an actual role as Pepper Potts and Don "War Machine" Cheadle is back as James Rhodes. The new supporting cast includes: Rebecca Hall, who could be Gwyneth Paltrow's sister, Guy Pearce - an underrated actor who deserves more cult credit and Sir Ben Kingsley in a sinister role as The Mandarin.

From bringing the Iron Man suits to life to simulating the annihilation of Stark's mansion, the visual effects are literally a character in Iron Man 3. Shane Black uses CGI extensively, yet there's a good balance of real vs. unreal to keep the environment within reach. Add the third dimension and you've got a truly immersive experience that pushes the boundaries of what's possible with an array of complex characters played by actors who are able to anchor the reality of the Iron Man universe.

This sequel is an extension of Tony Stark's personality... it's charming, entertaining, funny, surprising and somewhat unpredictable. Fortunately or unfortunately, it's not as smart as him. The emphasis is on entertainment, the good ole popcorn blockbuster kind. Thanks to lightning pacing and regular laughs, you only really get a chance to assess the size of some of the plot holes after the explosive 130 minute odyssey is done.

Iron Man 3 falls somewhere between Iron Man and Iron Man 2, you could even say it was a blend of the two. The superhero's trajectory mimics Iron Man from having to use some MacGyver ingenuity to rise from the ashes, while the villains, setbacks and showdown have some parallels with Iron Man 2.

The cheeky wink-wink comedy makes fun of the genius billionaire's flaws, while giving him the opportunity to let some great one-liners fly. Having Iron Man 3 land post-Avengers does have its problems, but the writers have done their best to acknowledge Stark's involvement without having to call in a favour from the team... come on, it's Christmas time.

So there are some gaping plot holes if you take a step back, but Iron Man 3 is too fun to get sidetracked by story discrepancies. The surprise twists are half the fun, as Shane Black taunts the audience, without a trail of breadcrumbs. While first-rate visual effects power the action and solid performances keep us locked into the saga as Stark recharges and avenges. It's one of those blockbusters that teeters between a 7 and 8... without the 3D experience it's a 7.

The bottom line: Entertaining

Movie Review: Trance

"You're back in the room." What happens when are our eyes are closed and our subconscious has the run of the place is a mystery in itself. Whether we're dreaming, hypnotized or in a state of deep relaxation - we seem to be vulnerable to the power of suggestion by the voices around us. Trance explores this state with a similar edge to Inception, Memento and even Fight Club.

A fine art auctioneer (McAvoy) becomes the missing piece to a gang's recovery of a stolen Goya artwork. After a knock on the head... the task becomes much trickier as a hypnotist (Dawson) tries to foil the gang leader (Cassel) and puzzle altogether.

Danny Boyle is a versatile director, having delved into an array of genres with great aplomb. Who would imagine that someone could shoot a film in-between orchestrating the opening of the Olympics? He's an energetic force, and while he agreed to direct the Olympics opening, he prefers smaller scale projects in which he has more control. Trance is one of those projects, teaming up with John Hodge (Trainspotting) again to adapt a 2001 TV movie script into something with more panache.

Trance stars James McAvoy, although to be fair, this is a three-headed creature with Vincent Cassel and Rosario Dawson flanking the likable actor. This role reveals a much darker side to McAvoy, who recently played MacBeth on stage. It seems that the cheerful upstart is a type McAvoy is trying to shake with a series of performances with a much more sinister edge. Perhaps he's just trying to give X-Men's Professor Xavier more mystique?

In Trance, McAvoy delivers Simon in a complex performance that harnesses equal measures of light and dark, shifting his flawed character with demented sincerity. Vincent Cassel seems destined to play another typical Vincent Cassel villain as Franck, but all notions of this are shattered as Boyle bends the crime genre's rules from a straight art heist thriller into a swirling and surreal mystery drama.

Then, Rosario Dawson almost hijacks the lead as Elizabeth, as the psychological puzzle locks in place. Dawson wants to fall in love with her roles and she immerses herself in the world of Trance, giving a beautifully controlled performance.

Trance is a sleek film with a fragmented reality and sensuality based in the subconscious, which gives the director free range. Danny Boyle doesn't shy away from nudity or violence making the journey visceral and thrilling in every sense of the word. He uses a trail of breadcrumbs to lead you into a space, where several realities exist.

While as mesmerising as a kaleidoscope, the narrative does get a little messy. Boyle likes to feel his way through a film to journey with the audience and the set is an extension of him. He uses mirrors and interesting angles to represent these altered states, casting us in the deep end of the maze and making the process of getting lost deeply affecting and fascinating.

As they say in the film "No work of art is worth a human life." Trance is not a masterpiece and it isn't as good as its Nolan and Fincher contrasts, but it is a work of art. Boyle has crafted a film with artistic flair that will: evoke emotion with a selection of solid performances, enchant viewers with dazzling visuals, immerse us in another dimension with a surreal score and lose us in a maze of mirrored realities.

The bottom line: Mesmerizing

Movie Review: Oblivion

Tom Cruise has now done three science fiction films: Minority Report, War of the Worlds and Oblivion. The first two under blockbuster juggernaut, Steven Spielberg, were well-received with Philip K. Dick adaptation Minority Report winning approval from critics and audiences alike, with War of the Worlds making a less convincing case.

Oblivion, however, is a Joseph Kosinski film. While not nearly in the same league as Spielberg, Kosinski showed promise at the helm of Disney's recent remake/sequel of TRON: Legacy. So much promise that he was able to adapt what was originally intended as a graphic novel into sprawling sci-fi adventure, Oblivion.

TRON: Legacy was essentially a sound and lights show with a strong premise. As audio-visually impressive as it was, the script, story and characters lacked impetus - making it a matter of style over substance. Unfortunately, the same can be said for Oblivion. While we're treated to science-fiction eye candy of the same magnitude as I Am Legend and Dune, Oblivion fails to ignite its appealing and talented cast with depth of character and defined storytelling.

We're airdropped into a beautiful yet barren wasteland with Jack Harper (Cruise) as our scout leader. The drone technician patrols a quadrant relying on the help of Victoria (Riseborough), a dispatcher and home base colleague. Harper's real mission comes into sharp focus when a crashed pod containing precious cargo is scheduled to be terminated by his superiors.

You get the impression that Joseph Kosinski was shooting for Duncan Jones' Moon and landed among theTwilight stars instead. While the story is laden with potential, it flat lines... relying too heavily on its clinical atmosphere and surreal imagery instead of its capable cast and promising storyline. The languishing pacing and orientation is more Twilight than Vanilla Sky and the performances are stunted by two-dimensional characterisation.

What we have is a stagnant yet beautiful piece of science-fiction, which like its original graphic novel form, defaults to appearance. The CGI is excellent, really creating a world for the mystery to exist with drones that have a real sense of weight. The production design is also top-notch, delivering sleek minimalistic back drops with tokens from a forgotten age as a throwback to our time.

What starts with great promise in the vein of Pitch Black, slowly regurgitates a number of science-fiction themes from better films. The cold, clinical atmosphere is alienating, making Tom Cruise's typical steely disposition distant to robotic. Morgan Freeman's mere presence adds dramatic weight, but he's under-utilised. Then, while it's great to see fresh faces in Olga Kurylenko and Andrea Riseborough, their parts seem to embody the film's bias towards style over substance.

While Oblivion definitely looks and sounds like an epic science-fiction action-adventure, it's ultimately a disappointment. It relies on borrowed themes from films including: Moon, I Am Legend, Twilight, Vanilla Sky, Pitch Black, Dune with some echoes of Top Gun. Unfortunately, the continual focus on style over substance undermines the performances, limits the audience's emotional investment in the story and turns a two-hour science-fiction artwork into a visually-arresting yet dull and detached experience.

The bottom line: Thin

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