Previous Joints

Friday, 24 May 2013

Did the purple dragon slay Enchanted?

A villain is as important as the hero in a film.

Can one scene ruin an otherwise brilliant movie? I didn’t used to think so – it would have to be one hell of a god awful scene of Ed Woodian proportions.

But I fear that the otherwise wonderful Enchanted has one of those scenes.

The majority of Enchanted is fantastic. I remember being dragged to the cinema to watch it with Mrs Bear expecting nothing short of a ‘chick-flick’. To be honest, I only agreed to go along so not to ruin my chances of coitus (word to Sheldon Cooper).

Although I love Disney movies, before Enchanted I wasn’t interested in the ‘Princess’ films. It was over the course of watching Enchanted that I totally changed my stance. Enchanted is laugh-out-loud funny, heart-warming and surprisingly intelligent. Importantly, the film doesn’t take itself too seriously and it it’s “cartoons turn to life” concept isn’t ran to the ground.

The music in Enchanted are some of the best Disney has to offer; they are annoyingly catchy (just try to forget the ‘Happy Working Song’ once you’ve heard it) and they put stupid smiles on your face (the old people dancing to ‘How does she know’ gets me every time).

This is also the film where I utterly fell in love with Amy Adams – she is absolutely wonderful in this film. I simply can’t see any other actor doing what Adams did with Giselle. It may look easy playing an absent minded typical Disney princess, but the growth she had to show throughout the movie is bloody impressive.

Enchanted is great because it immerses you into its world. You believe that Amy Adams is the same cartoon princess that appeared at the start of the film, you believe that she has fallen in love with Robert instead of Prince Edward. All of the special effects work very well and the set pieces (the songs) lift this film from being just good to great.

But then Queen Narissa turns up and ruins it all. The problem with the Susan Sarandon’s villain in this film is that she doesn’t pass the Jafar test. She brings no fear factor, no sense of revolution or dread at all to Enchanted. She’s a very 2D character that feels out of place in this film and this is made obvious in the ball room scene.

The ball room scene is the only time when the special-effects look terrible. Not forgivable terrible, but WTF terrible. For some reason, Enchanted loses its (sorry) magic and it’s frustrating to watch. Did the film-makers just get lazy? What happened?

I mean, look at the purple dragon? Listen to the dialogue during that scene?

Enchanted could have been another Disney classic. It was so close, but for some reason it fell over at the last hurdle. They just didn’t put enough thought into the villain and the ‘boss fight’ at the end of the film. It’s a real shame.


Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Perfect Aladdin

Aladdin would be my favourite film if it wasn’t for the little known Godfather movies. What I love most about The Godfather, The Godfather part 2 and Aladdin is that every time I watch them, it feels like the first time.

Aladdin is one of the first English speaking films I saw and the very first one to leave me open jawed - I couldn't believe what I was seeing. It was the first film I started to rewind, re-watching scenes in amazement (I still do this... yes, I maybe sad).

Also, Aladdin was one of the very first movies that I actually felt happy watching. It is a pleasure to watch this film: the laughs are still there after so many years and they haven’t quietened one bit; the ‘wows’ still surface and they haven’t been dimmed (the Genie reveal scene gets me every time); and there are genuine fearful moments throughout the film that haven’t stopped being scary ("A snake I'm I?").

I use the word love a lot, but I absolutely love this film with all my heart. I’ve owned it god knows how many times and to this day I am waiting for Disney to bring it out on Blu Ray so I can buy it again.

I am convinced that this film is magic. The film-makers did something during the production of this movie that will never be replicated. The problem is, I can never pin-point what that magical element is.

The theme of being truthful to yourself is probably the biggest reason why Aladdin still hits home with me. For far too long in my childhood and teenage years I was so busy trying to be what I thought my friends wanted me to be or what I thought would get me rich and famous. I didn’t realise that those versions of Choco almost often got into trouble, didn’t achieve much and, importantly, didn’t feel right. It took me a long time to take the message of this film to heart, but I got there in the end and I'm a much better person for it.

(Note to bullies: Hi Tec trainers are not a reason to beat up on a kid that barely speaks English.)


Putting the emotional gravitas of the film aside, Aladdin is a bloody imaginative and fun film to watch. Magic carpets, all-singing and dancing blue genies and pet tigers? To a little African boy trying to make sense of his new and strange world, that is a lot of things to take in. This film was the first ever to transport me to a world utterly different to my own, and believe me I was looking for escapism.

The thing is, now that I am a grown up and I have an English accent and love football, fish and chips and all that – I still find this film and all it has to offer extremely fun to watch. This film still wows me and still transports me to Agraba. This film has lost nothing of what made it special to me when I was younger – nothing.


And then there is Jafar. My favourite villain of all time. I judge every bad guy by the standards of this great and evil character. Not many make the threshold.

It seems like the older I get, the more terrifying I find Jafar, simply because I see him less as a characture and find real life examples of him – especially in the work place. Here is a man that is utterly focused on obtaining power, by any means necessary. He would fit right in working at a multinational company or a bank in today’s world.

For the younger me it was his numerous transformations within the film that scared me – be it the old man propositioning Aladdin in the prison, the obedient servant to the Sultan or the snake scene at the end. I found him terrifying. That damn snake scene gave me so many reoccurring nightmares throughout my life, it’s unbelievable.


This is one of those films that I can’t wait to watch with my daughter. I’m worried that I may ruin it for her, or I may be disappointed with her only being interested in the love story. But I am eager to share with her something that got me through my childhood. Something that made me happy and fall deeper in love with cinema.

To me, Aladdin, along with the first two Godfather films are perfect.


Oh... and Jasmin was my first cartoon crush.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Chocolate's Top Five Disney Songs

“It is time” – Rafiki

I can't think of a better way to end the second season of this blog than by paying tribute to the company that has influenced my love of film most. Disney.

Disney practically ruled over my childhood with a gloved fist. They made (and still are making) films which will stay with me until the day I die. 

I have wonderful memories watching Disney films with my whole family (immediate and extended), friends, girlfriends and in school – Disney and their films have been everywhere in my life.

One thing that makes Disney standout against any other film studio is its unconditional love of music and musicals. The songs that accompany their films are songs I take to heart. They became more than just songs to me - they became (cliché alert) anthems.

To kick off Disney week I’m going to be ranking my top 5 Disney songs – something that sounds easy but proved to be hard as hell. There are a lot of classic songs that didn’t make the list: Can You Feel the Love Tonight, When you Wish Upon a Star, Kiss the Girl, Circle of Life, You got a friend in me, The Bear Necessities.

When you leave steller songs such as the above out, you begin to understand what you are dealing with. Disney's catalogue is amazing

So, anyway, here they are. My top 5 Disney songs.

5 – Almost There (Princess and the Frog)

I’ve already written about how much I love The Princess and the Frog. It’s an absolutely wonderful film with a soundtrack to rival any of the Disney classics. Every single one of them. The crown jewel of all of the songs is Anika Noni Rose’s Almost There.

Maybe this song has resonated with me more ever since I became a father to my own (milk) chocolate princess, but the messages of working hard and, most importantly, listening to your daddy are messages I can get behind.

Despite the semi-serious and inspirational content of the song, Almost There is a fun song to sing very loudly. That is probably the biggest complement I can give to a young Disney song.

4 – A Whole New World (Aladdin)

This is one of the very first English speaking songs I remember and probably one of the first songs I learned the words to (don’t judge me) – so it has a very special place in my heart. It is a great stand along song, but where it truly shines is when you put it into the context of the film. 

This song, more than anything else in Aladdin, sells the world of the film. It's also a film that drives home how much Aladdin and Jasmine need each other to escape the realities of their current lives.

Also, A Whole New World has been the soundtrack to many interesting moments in my life (wink).

3 – Hakuna Matata (The Lion King)

I don’t judge many people based on their tastes, but if you don't love this next song I personally think you're dead inside. Absolutely soulless.

This is my ‘f**k you world’ song. When I’m down in the dumps, I don’t listen to heavy metal or gangster rap, I listen to Timone and Pumba.

And another thing, I'm I the only one that's obsessively in love with the little jazz riffing from the singers at the end of this song? 

2 – One Jump/ One Jump Reprise (Aladdin)

It’s hard to summarise how much this song means to me. More to the point, it’s hard to summarise what this song meant to a 7 year old Choco, who had a very African accent, wore the wrong trainers (Hi-Tec) and felt useless, as well as out of place in England. I used the term anthem deliberately earlier and that is exactly the right way to describe this song – it was and still is my personal anthem.  

1 – So this is love (Cinderella)

This song is buried on the third CD and track 9 of ‘Now that’s what I call Disney’. It is criminally underrated and I consider it to be one of the greatest love songs of all time, never mind being the greatest Disney song.

What I love about it is its outrageous simplicity – it’s just less than 1 minute and 30 seconds long. But in that short space of time Mike Douglas and Ilene Wood perform a hauntingly beautiful duet which gets at describing that incomprehensible feeling of love.

They are perfectly describing the way I felt the very first time I saw soon-to-be Mrs Bear. They are describing the way I felt the first time I laid eye on my little cub. They are describing my feelings for Arsenal Football Club. This song is describing how I felt when I first saw Halle Berry in Swordfish.

It’s a gem of a song that has stayed with me from the first moment I heard it.


So, as you can see my list is very personal. Every song has a reason for being there. I’m not big headed enough to think that this is the definitive list. The great thing about Disney films and their song is that they are so widely loved that everyone seems to have their own personal reasons to why they prefer a certain movie and tune.

Friday, 17 May 2013

In defence of The Hangover... 2

I am not embarrassed to say that I like The Hangover films - both of them. I am equally unembarrassed to admit that I probably prefer the second film to the first. I truly believe both Hangover films are misunderstood – especially the Wolf Pack’s adventure in Thailand.


The conventional wisdom is that Part 2 is a total rip-off of first Hangover film. I get the argument, you get the same film by just replacing one element with another: substitute Doug going missing in the first one for Stu’s future brother in-law being missing in the second film; the baby in the first film with a monkey in the second; and Heather Graham’s Jade in the original for the transvestite prostitute in sequel.

The problem with this theory is that it misses the point of why films like the Hangover exist and why they are so popular. I am also convinced that this theory was drawn up by film critiques, such as myself, that feel like they are better than the people that clearly enjoy such films. Enjoy – that’s a very complicated word in the ‘film critic’ vocabulary. It is very hard not to look for a meaning in a film and it’s equally as hard not to belittle a film when you don’t find a meaning in it. Sometimes it seems like critics forget that the majority of people go to the cinema or watch a film at their homes for pure escapism and fun. They don’t want to think, they don’t want to ponder about some great philosophical theory presented in the film – they just want to forget about their everyday lives for an hour or two. This is doubly the case when it comes to comedy films and the Hangovers are a perfect example of this.

The Hangover films are pure escapism – you just can’t take them seriously and that isn’t a bad thing what-so-ever. What is also important is that both films carry their unbelievability with great confidence. Basically, the films don’t care how outrageous they are and that abandonment sells the set pieces such as the boys having to take Mike Tyson’s pet tiger back or the car chase which was initiated by a smoking monkey.


Another thing about comedy films which I have grown to realise is that they are very difficult to get right. Comedy is one of those things that is very personal and everyone has an opinion. I have people in my life that prefer their comedy light-hearted with a hint of slap stick and others who like it dead-pan.

A lot of commercially successful comedy films are aimed at a family audience. I can’t think of a comedy in recent years which had a 15 certificate that has done as well as both Hangover films and that can’t be disregarded.

Now, I personally like my comedy outrageous with sprinklings of sexual humour and I guess it’s for that reason why these films sit so right with me – especially the second one. I admit that the second film follows the blueprint from the original very closely, but what makes it stand out is its scope and ambition. It almost feels as if the second film is the one Todd Phillips actually wanted to make but couldn’t quite get it cleared by the Hollywood executives the first time around. The stunts are bigger, the jokes ruder and ... (*sigh*) the transvestite...


I have never heard a crowded cinema gasp in shock and disbelief during a comedy film until The Hangover 2 and the scene in the Thailand strip bar.


Who hasn’t been on a wild-bender? As a tee-totaller, I haven’t. But, what I mean to say is, who doesn’t want to go on a wild-holiday with their closest pals? 

The most important thing about these films is that the characters are so likeable. That is the Hangover film’s biggest selling point. The Wolf-Pack’s exploits may not be believable, but every single character (apart from Alan) is down to earth. You almost want to be friends with these people – including Alan.

I guess the reason why I prefer the second to the first film is down to the fact that I know the characters better by Part 2 – it’s like revisiting old friends getting up to their old tricks.


Thursday, 16 May 2013

Never forget about Cast Away

There are very good films that get forgotten, never to be thought of again until they reappear on television brutally ruined by adverts.

Cast Away is such a film. It’s not only very good, but for me it changed my opinion about what films and great acting can achieve. I have always been in love with the movies but until I watched Cast Away they rarely moved me. They rarely put me in the shoes of the character on screen and made me ask serious questions about myself. Cast Away changed all of this.

I live in a world where everyone around me is obsessed with being busy and leave no time for their close ones. The problem is that I have had to conform to this world in order to support my young family and barely get a chance to even find out how their day has been. Re-watching Cast Away raised the uncomfortable question of whether this busy life is worth it.

The answer is no. Not by a long shot, but what choice do you have.

Cast Away also asks another uncomfortable question, ‘could I survive on a desert Island?’ The question is pretty much asking what type of man am I and the truth is, not manly at all. There is no way I could survive what Tom Hank’s Chuck goes through in this film – I’m not nearly resourceful enough.

Importantly, I don’t think I have the mental capacity to deal with the suffocating loneliness in the film. I couldn’t deal with the thought of Mrs Bear and the little cub moving on, probably with another man, while I was stuck on the Island. As selfish as that is, it’s the god honest truth.

If I was in the same situation as Chuck, I would have given up. And for someone as proud as myself, that is a scary and embarrassing thought.

I’m not the biggest fan of Tom Hanks, but what he does in this film is nothing short of an acting master-class. Hanks has to sell the majority of this film by himself and he is damn near awe-inspiring in this film. The scenes with him and his imaginary friend Wilson are bitter-sweet and lends a lot of humanity to a character that was very unlikable at the start of the movie.  

I originally watched this film when I was an cocky teenager, when I thought I was invincible and could take on anything that the world threw at me. It took a film, this film, to finally drive home to me how bloody vulnerable life is; it took this film to make me realize that the privileges I enjoyed (and still enjoy) could disappear at any minute. If you knew me as a teenager, you'd understand what a feat this was. 

Cast Away is a fantastic film that should be celebrated a lot more than it is. In a time where we are taking our offices home with us via our mobile phones, it has a very clear warning to us all – don’t take your loved ones for granted. 


Wednesday, 15 May 2013

No Silver Lining

As early as two weeks ago, I was belittling enraged comic book fans for what I believed to be their unreasonable attitude toward Iron Man 3. I feel like Karma has well and truly bit me up my chocolate tasty backside.

Game of Thrones has gotten so much outrageously positive reviews that I have tried very hard to stay away from it. So I made a silly rule that I will not watch any television program, or film for that matter, that has been based on a book without reading the said book first.  Again, this was all in the effort to avoid Game of Thrones because I knew it would take me a while to get round to reading those long ass things.

So along came Silver Lining Playbook.

I only got round to reading Silver Lining Playbook because it was recommended to me by my Kindle after I finished Jon Ronson’s Psychopath Test. Ronson’s book was kind of an eye-opener; it laid out in layman’s terms how fragile our understanding of mental illness is. Western society’s understanding of mental illness isn’t as concrete as I thought and it turns out that there maybe psychopaths wreaking havoc in high ranking public positions.

If Ronson’s book was an eye-opener, Michael Quick’s Silver Lining Playbook was an absolute revelation. I have never cried while reading a book in my life. Not only did Silver Lining Playbook make me cry, I was sobbing by the end of it. 

SLPB is a fantastic book for one clear reason – it’s very hard to read. I don’t mean that in terms of language and prose, I mean that in terms of how it deals with the subject matter of mental illness.

In the book, Pat People’s is a devastated man hanging on by a thread and that thread happens to be his wife - a woman that cheated on him and a woman that will never be part of his life ever again. Pat is such a fragile character - he is a broken man to the point where he isn’t even a man anymore. The book does a fantastic job of demonstrating this by the way it uses Pat’s narration and speaking style – Pat speaks as though he is a child. He has lost all sense of time (he has no clue how long he’s been in the mental hospital) and reality.

SLPB is essentially a story about how Pat builds his life up again, brick by heavy brick, with the help of American football, his friends and his family, especially his mother. His mother is a god-damn-hero in the book. She struggles every bit as much as Pat and is such an inspiring character. She not only looks after Pat, but she also looks after her husband who may also have a mental illness (it's only hinted at in the book).

The reason why this book doesn’t turn into a depressing orgy is because of Pat’s relationship with Tiffany. Reading about how their relationship develops is heart-warming, but I also feel like a sadistic voyeur watching two wounded animals trying to patch themselves up.

At the end of the book, Pat and Tiffany acknowledge that they needed each other (this is when I started to sob). And it’s that acknowledgment, after the hard graft of everything else that happens to them in the book, what makes Silver Lining Playbook special. The realisation that love isn’t like the movies and things don’t just sort themselves out with luck – love is a lot to do with luck and having someone there that is willing to stand by you, warts and all.

The problem with the film version of Silver Lining Playbook is that it almost ignores everything that made the book so special. In fact, the film plays out like the romantic film’s Pat fantasizes about in the book. There are no difficult explorations of mental illness and how it effects Pat's family. There is no real in depth look about how Pat has lost his grasp on reality and how he is struggling to battle his demons everyday. Even the subject of his marriage to Nikki is practically glossed over. Yes, all of these things are mentioned and hinted at but they are also quickly forgotten.

And as great as Jennifer Lawrence’s Tiffany is, she is just as woefully under developed as Bradley Cooper’s Pat. There is no real weight to any of the characters, no sense that they have been on a journey.

I’m not here to argue that SLPB isn’t a good film. It clearly is. It’s funny and very well acted, but it’s almost entirely forgettable.

Silver Lining Playbook is a hollow disappointment of a movie. I can almost hear Hollywood executives telling David O.Russell not to make the film too depressing, or too difficult for the audience. And importantly, I can hear the Hollywood machine making sure that this film has a clear cut happy ending.

Silver Lining Playbook should have been a 3 hour film, but I’m not sure it would have done so well if it was that long. We’re living in a time where America is blaming the mentally ill for the extreme public violence in their country; maybe a film that dealt with the subject matter more acutely could help the country’s understanding a bit more.  


Thursday, 9 May 2013

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang: One of the best films I have ever seen

So, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.

There are films that reach your attention but for some reason you never get a chance to watch them. Film watching is a tiring game, there are so many to see, yet so little time. Also, film watching is an expensive hobby - in 2005, the year ‘Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang’ was released, I was a broke ass student with very little money. In that year Batman Begins, Sin City, V for Vendetta and the third new Star Wars film (which I loved, so shut your mouth) were released. If I’m honest, KKBB was just a blip on my radar. I just didn’t pay it any mind.

Well as the years have gone by, the blip became larger. I would hear word of mouth reviews from friends who’d seen the film and strongly recommended it. Yet I still ignored the film. Think about what has come out in the past 7 to 8 years. How could this film, from a director I’d never heard of (who had something to do with the one Lethal Weapon film I actually enjoyed), staring the druggie who also happened to be from Ally McBeal have anything on The Dark Knight, Avengers, The Departed and all those awesome films. It couldn’t compete.

Well, that’s what I thought before I realised this unknown director got the gig to direct Iron Man 3 and that druggie cleaned up his act and became... well, awesome. I finally watched 'Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang' and it blew me away.

I’ve already admitted on this blog that I get overly excited about films, but I have watched KKBB three times over the past month alone and every single time it just gets better. I brought up the Dark Knight earlier for a good reason – the last time a film left me utterly flabbergasted and in awe was The Dark Knight. Let’s be clear, I consider The Dark Knight to be nothing short of a classic and one of the most important films of the past 20 years – but my heart tells me the very same thing about ‘Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang’.


‘Kiss’ is a lot of things, but if you wanted to distil it into a single element then you would have to say that it is a detective film. But I am doing the film a great disservice by breaking it down to this one point and even on this point, KKBB is a complicated detective film.

Everything in this film is a mystery, no matter how small and they are all important - from Downey Jr’s character, Harry, to the minor purple wigged character that get killed half way through the movie. The way all of these mysteries unfold and reveal themselves is one of the reasons why it is such a joy to watch. I’ve seen so many film that have tried to do the film noiry thing and have failed miserably (I’m looking at you, Brick), but ‘Kiss’ had my undivided attention from the first to the last scene – truly.

Everything I have read about KKBB gives a lot of praise to Downey Jr and Fat Batman (Sorry Val Kilmer, I couldn’t resist – now I feel cruel) and rightly so, they are incredible in this film – but Shane Black should have demanded all of the praise. I have to keep reminding myself that this was his first film.

The single biggest reason why ‘Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang’ works, why it doesn’t implode with so many different genres mixed into its pot is because of Shane Black and the confidence he instils in this film.  This film is like that gorgeous girl back in school that knew she was sexy as all hell and that you wanted to sleep with her.

It’s that confidence that makes the film hilarious and the jokes stay funny after every watch. It’s that confidence that makes the actions scenes exciting and they stay exciting after every watch. It is also that confidence that makes the detective elements of this film work and it’s that confidence that makes the puzzles intriguing.

This film does not second guess itself what so ever and it’s better for it.


‘Kiss Kiss’ also struck a chord with me because of its central theme around regret. Like I hinted at earlier, this is a relatively complex film and the characters are also very complex and each of them have done (or are doing) something in their life that they regret.

It’s funny, the amount of times I’ve heard someone say “I live my life without regret” or “I’ve never regretted anything” and I've wondered what an utterly stupid thing to say. How is that even possible? Have these people never made any mistakes in their lives? Are they saying that they are flawless?

And it is these complicated flaws in the central characters I find most fascinating. Our heroes aren't even heroes and the Princess in distress isn’t so pure.


Ultimately, The Dark Knight rightly gets lauded for not only being an incredible film, but because it has had a massive cultural impact. I’m not here to argue that ‘Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang’ rivals TDK on cultural impact – it clearly doesn’t. What I will argue is that ‘Kiss Kiss’ is as ambitious, as well made and maybe more confident than The Dark Knight. ‘Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang’ is a very special film which is rightly gaining cult status.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that it’s one of the best films I have ever seen.

Iron Man 3: Entertaining, but...

Everyone please welcomed back Dr Batman - my go to guy for all things comic book related. Today he takes on Iron Man 3, a film which has sent comic book experts crying out of the cinema for disrespecting a much loved character. *Kanye Shrug*

I've read a lot of negative to hysterical reviews from comic book experts, which quite frankly were hilarious. But, the good Doctor Bats has done a good bit of service for the comic book community here - he's written an intelligent explanation to why he found Iron Man 3 disappointing. It's actually the best semi-negative Iron Man 3 review I've read to date.

How did I feel about Iron Man 3? I loved it. Unreservedly loved it. I thought it was better than the first. Shane Black has big iron balls and I salute him for it.


Iron Man 3 had a lot to live up to. After the initial critical and commercial success of Iron Man, Iron Man 2 (although commercially successfully) did less well with the critics, many stating that it paid too much attention to building up The Avengers thus taking away from Robert Downey Jnr’s (RDJ) brilliant Tony Stark. Then last summer Avengers Assemble and The Dark Knight Rises were released, two of the best superhero films to ever come out - one with ol’ Shell Head being in a starring role. 

Iron Man 3 had the difficult task of jump starting phase two of the Marvel film universe and in this respect in particular I personally feel it fails, producing a film with many highs but also many lows.


The story follows Tony Stark as he recovers from the events of Avengers Assemble. A cyber terrorist known as The Mandarin is attacking America. Before long The Mandarin makes it personal with Stark. Stark vows he will get revenge as little does he realise just how personal this war has become. 


Directed by Shane Black the plot loosely follows the seminal Extremis storyline where a virus that can give you superpowers is injected into you. There are many subtle moments that will bring a smile to any comic book fan such as the President being called Ellis: Warren Ellis wrote Extremis. Further the emotion that RDJ gives to his portrayal of Tony Stark is excellent. He adds a depth to the character that is rarely seen as he struggles with the aftermath of what he had to go through in New York. Tellingly Stark is armourless for the majority of the film as he has to fight his own inner demons. This is when the movie, and the Iron Man franchise as a whole, is at its best, allowing RDJ to truly flex his acting muscles. The fight scenes and special effects work well. Yet the 3D lacks that extra punch you expect it should. 


In the comic books, The Mandarin is Iron Man’s greatest villain. He has ten power rings that each have a different power. Black stated before the release that this was a liberal translation of the character as he would have no power through the rings. He would still wear them though. The film cleverly modernised The Mandarin from the racial Chinese stereotype that he once was to a legitimate threat closer to Osama Bin Laden. The ten rings nicely make up his terror flag, embodying a link with their importance. I really found this grounded interpretation of The Mandarin interesting and would have loved to see more of it. The little we see of the character made me feel that he did not get the airtime he deserved. Ben Kingsley plays the character brilliantly as the menacing voice from the shadows.

Further Black and co writer Drew Pearce (who wrote the incredibly funny No Heroics) develop the concept of The Iron Patriot, making it work in a sharp fashion for the film audience.

There is a major plot twist in Iron Man 3 that everyone will be talking about once they have seen it. I left with mixed emotions. In some respects I loved it feeling that it was a brilliant idea that really showed a cleverness in the script as well as adding a real twenty first century flavour to it. Yet on the other I did feel that this idea has been done before in other franchises such as James Bond and strayed away from the comic books. I am still on the fence about this.


One of my main problems with this film is continuity or rather lack of. After Iron Man 2 was seen as having too many links to the Marvel universe (something I disagree with), Iron Man 3 seems to go completely in the opposite direction. Stark and America as a whole is being attacked by a cyber terrorist. Stark is left fighting on his own with no power source yet he neither considers ever calling any of his super friends, explains why they are not coming to help him or are even mentioned. Even more baffling is that SHIELD are never seen let alone mentioned. In reality if we were being threatened by a cyber terrorist I think America’s secret superhero service might have something to say about it. The closest we get are mentions of ‘New York’, reiterating what happened in Avengers Assemble. We also get is a bonus scene at the end of the film; something that we have come to expect from Marvel. Even the bonus scene serves no real purpose for the greater continuity. Yes it is entertaining and yes I honestly feel this one scene adds a lot to the film but it would have worked just as well if not better at the beginning of the film. 

Further and more importantly, these bonus scenes have become known as the thing that furthers the continuing plot of the Marvel universe as a whole. In Iron Man we saw Fury recruit Stark for The Avengers. In Incredible Hulk we saw Tony Stark be interested in The Hulk. In Iron Man 2 we saw the discovery of Thor’s hammer. In Thor we saw Loki take over Doctor Selvig‘s body and in Captain America, we saw Fury explain to Cap that he had been frozen followed by The Avengers trailer. Here we get nothing linking to Thor: The Dark World and more importantly nothing linking to Guardians of the Galaxy, a film that is rumoured to have Iron Man appear. All we are told is that Tony Stark will return. I am aware that Marvel might have not wanted to shoot another scene with RDJ as this might be his last hurrah in the armour but it still makes the film feel alien to all of its other Marvel cousins.


Overall Iron Man 3 struggles because it could never live up to the success of last year’s Avengers Assemble and The Dark Knight Rises. Shane Black directs an entertaining film that lacks the substance of its younger brothers. If this is the final time we see RDJ in the armour it is a nice way to end it but it is not the swan song that a film like Avengers Assemble could have been nor what RDJ deserves.



Tuesday, 7 May 2013

A British Gem: East is East

Back in the day, there was this drama teacher who I still consider to be one of the biggest positive influences of my life. Let’s not mention that she may have been stark raving mad, but she taught me to have an unshakeable belief in myself. I’ve never forgotten this lesson.

It was also this drama teacher that introduced me to East is East; a film I’ve recently re-watched and I’m now convinced was ahead of its time.

East is East is about a British-Pakistani family struggling to overcome several cultural differences.


 The most surprising thing about East is East is how it doesn’t turn into a disaster of a movie based on the different themes and ideas it is trying to juggle. There is a hell of a lot of things going on in this film and I’m pretty sure that the 15 year old Bear missed quite a few back in school.

Before I get into the heavy emotional stuff, it’s important to make clear that East is East is a very funny film. Stomach achingly funny. The humour may get drowned out when the film gets dark and serious, but it always finds away to seep through the cracks of the heavy stuff. It is surprisingly and consistently funny.


With that said, it’s this consistent humour which makes the film’s drama elements feel pitch black. It’s strange, because I have watched this film a number of times and it feels like it has gotten a lot more sinister. I think about what has happened in the world since this film came out and it’s not surprising I feel that way.
The father’s inability to come to terms with the fact that his children will not accept the strict Muslim traditions of his native Pakistan is a subject matter that is more relevant today than it was back in the late 90’s.

I can’t remember how I felt in drama class, but watching the father arrange the marriage of his children is hard to take and hard to comprehend - especially through the eyes of an ethicist African Brit. What is devastating about the way the film depicts arranged marriage is how routine it appears to be within the community, how offended the potential bride’s parents are by George's son's rejection and how this ‘disrespect’ by his own flesh and blood sends George into an almost homicidal rage. 

It’s horrible how real George feels in this film, I wanted him to be a caricature – credit to Om Puri, he’s terrifying.

Like I said earlier, the comedy is always bubbling underneath the surface and the film uses it to address the culture class issue further - whether it’s the children eating pig products or the youngest son needing a circumcision.


What makes this film ahead of its time is how it deals with the subject matter of religion and clashes in culture. It doesn’t overplay the religion card and I wonder if this would have been the case if it was released three years later. Islam is an important factor within film, but it isn’t the only factor to consider. It isn’t Islam that is the driving force to George’s madness, it’s his desire to exert control over his family and regain some respect.

I also think the ghost of George’s gay son sends him deeper down the rabbit hole than any other issue in the film.

What it does with Islam is use it to ask very interesting questions. Are the circular British culture (the sexual revolution culture) and  the Pakistani/Muslim culture compatible? It doesn't bail the audience out and answer the question either.


This cultural compatibility question was asked of me and my family when we moved to the UK. I chose to wholeheartedly accept British culture, warts and all, but my parents wanted me to be as devoted to Christianity as they were back in the motherland.

I guess the difference is, my parents didn't violently try to make me conform. Fair enough, I still had to go to church and if I resisted I caught a wooping, but when I was old enough they simply accepted that it wasn't for me and we moved on.


You can’t watch this film without thinking about what 9/11 has done to the reputation of the Muslim family in the western world. What is most telling about this film to post 9/11 eyes is its complex depiction of family life in the Pakistani community. It is unburdened by the black and white broad strokes of the post 9/11 era. Things are very grey indeed.

It’s a very complicated film, and for me that is refreshing. Like I said earlier, there are a lot of things going on here; I forgot to even mention interracial relationships and racism as themes in this film.

This is a gem of a movie that I hope we don’t forget in a hurry.