TIFF 2012 – The Iceman Review (Dustin SanVido)

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The Iceman (2012)

Starring Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Ray Liotta, Chris Evans, David Schwimmer, and James Franco

Written by Morgan Land and Ariel Vromen

Directed by Ariel Vromen

MINOR SPOILERS

Boy, did I have high expectations for this film. I’m a big fan of true crime stories and I had The Iceman in my festival top ten. The story of Robert Kuklinsky is one that’s interested me for the better part of ten years. Kuklinski was notorious for the killings he carried out over his adult life and lauded by those who worked with him for his innovative ways of disposing of his bodies. His story has a very cinematic quality which I thought could make for an exciting film adaptation if handled by the right filmmaker. As it turns out, Ariel Vromen is as capable as any first time director I’ve seen, but the decisions in the script to abandon certain aspects of his life and over-dramatize others as well as an overall blandness and sterilization of the factual violence that happened in reality severely hinder The Iceman. This coupled with some inexcusably bad performances from actors that have no place in the film leaves this as one of the more disappointing films of the festival.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

The Iceman is the true-life story of Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski, one of the most notorious hitmen in the history of the American mafia. The film chronicles the early beginnings of Kuklinski’s adult years, from his time as a sound technician in the adult-film retail distribution business to his rise as a reliable problem-solver for the Gambino crime family, all the while keeping a seemingly squeaky clean image as a loving father who provides for his family as a market trader. I will spare the inclusion of any additional plot breakdown as it would spoil the sole reason to watch this film, and that being the titular character’s story is and remains interesting. Viewers who are unaware of Kuklinski’s history in American crime will find the story interesting and entertaining, but those who know the true story will be frustrated.

The most damning aspect of The Iceman is the script. Important moments in his criminal life are never mentioned. In no single moment is there a sense of terrifying dread that was present in every interview and account of his life I had researched in the past. Aside from one or two total lines of dialogue in the entire film, the subject of the Gambino crime family, even their name, is never mentioned. Characters are the film equivalent of cardboard cut-outs. The murders portrayed are few and far between and are shown in bunches in a series of montages, with the exception of a few. The pacing is severely flawed as any tension that is built dissipates thanks to attempts at creating domestic drama. The filmmakers obviously didn’t care for the family aspect of the story and it’s surprising they went back to it during the one or two times the plot was actually moving smoothly.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

The acting wasn’t as bad, but it was ultimately disappointing and didn’t do the filmmakers any favours. Michael Shannon was an inspired choice to play the titular character, but I feel as though he missed his mark and perhaps just couldn’t fully realize the demands of such a two-sided sociopathic killer. I applaud him for trying because of the appeal of such a role, I just didn’t find him scary at all. For such an imposing character I found his performance rather nonthreatening, however I feel these problems for the most part were due to the script and not the actor. Surprisingly, I really liked Winona Ryder in this film; she plays off of Shannon’s emotions perfectly as his loving wife Deborah Kuklinski. Ray Liotta as Roy Demeo is his usual bad self, doing nothing better or worse than he’s done for the latter part of his career. The rest of the performances are as poorly written as everything else, but what makes them even worse is the inclusion of a group of actors that bring zero to the table and leaves one to wonder why they are even there. First is David Schwimmer as a soldier working under the guidance of Demeo. His performance is awful and is only surpassed in its awfulness by his porn star moustache and the performances of the other two in question. One of those is Chris Evans, who plays Robert Prongue, a fellow killer who befriends Kuklinski. Evans plays his character much like his earlier performance as the dumb jock in Not Another Teen Movie. Lastly we have James Franco, who makes a short cameo, the likes of which have been deservedly chastised by a fellow writer at Entertainment Maven in a review of Aftershock. Portraying Marty the scumbag, his character is only onscreen for a brief time before meeting his end in one of the better moments of this messy film.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

There isn’t much else to say except that this was a greatly unsatisfying film that had all the elements in hand to tell an interesting and fresh story and were squandered and lost almost solely thanks to poor decisions in the script process. I can only hope the director finds a better script for his next feature, while this is the second straight poor choice for Michael Shannon. I think I just may avoid him until Superman returns to fight him in next year’s The Man of Steel.

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The Avengers Review (Matt Hodgson)

Three months in France and 10 days in Italy; I can’t even remember the last time I had an opportunity to see a new release in a movie theatre that wasn’t the victim of a coldly indifferent dub job. Luckily, Rome seems to be a little more conscious of preserving film experience, and this past Thursday I had the opportunity to check out one of the most hyped and successful films of recent memory – The Avengers.

Now being in Europe the theatre experience was a whole different beast than I was accustomed to – in fact I could probably write a review just on Italian theatres! For example, seats were assigned for each ticket holder, and at roughly the middle-point of the film the projector was shut off and the overhead lights unceremoniously turned on to make way for an intermission accompanied by a popcorn vendor trolling down the aisle. But I’m not here to review the Italian cinema experience, rather one of the most enjoyable action blockbusters to come out of Hollywood in a long, long time.

In case you’ve been living in a pre-Y2K underground shelter, The Avengers is the cinematic version of the comic book of the same name. The Avengers is comprised of some of the most popular superheroes in the Marvel universe, and the film version casts similarly popular Hollywood actors in the roles of these heroes: Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Chris Evans (Captain America), Mark Ruffalo (The Hulk), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), and Samuel L. Jackson as Samuel L. Jackson Nick Fury.

As a boy and an avid comic book fan I was certainly aware of who The Avengers were, but in the 90’s they hardly seemed like a hot Ticket. The X-men dominated the marvel universe, while the skin-deep coolness of the Image universe was temporarily stealing fans from ‘classic’ superheroes like The Avengers. Since then we have had a plethora of superheroes movies, and despite being a previous comicbook fan, I have to admit that Nolan’s ‘Dark Knight’ version of Batman was the only one that seemed to resonate with me. This has definitely changed with the release of The Avengers.

Joss Whedon the writer/director of the film has chosen and depicted the perfect subject matter for a superhero film; the fate of the world is threatened by an alien god (Hiddleston), threatening an alien invasion – nothing more, nothing less. The heroes, earth’s only hope for surviving this ordeal, are introduced throughout the beginning of the film, and the issue quickly becomes whether or not these extraordinary individuals can overcome their differences and work together as a team. A simple concept, one that could even work on TV’s ‘The Office’, but when you have a egomaniac-playboy-billionaire with a nearly indestructible suit of armour, a super-soldier from the 40’s, a Norse God, and anger management’s least successful participant, getting along and working as a team seems barely short of infinitely impossible.

The Avengers can be charged with some sloppy dialogue at times, not the fault of the Whedon, but of Jackson and Johansson early on in the film and some of the secondary actors. However, after about 30-40 minutes the script and the actors begin to work wonderfully together and there are some truly hilarious lines and moments, not to mention REAL superhero dialogue. Also, the action sequences will leave you sitting on the edge of your seat, your support firmly behind one of the combatants, but still worried about their fate despite their superhero status. A particular action sequence in the first half of the film with Thor, Ironman, and Captain America is as close as Whedon could have hoped to approach perfection.

Robert Downey Jr. is an absolute scene stealer with his deadpan delivery of comedic dialogue that we’ve become so accustomed to. Also, it may sound strange, but the filmmakers really nailed the appropriateness of the special effects. The effects rarely seem to be too much for the subject matter (an issue that I think many Hollywood movies are struggling with nowadays, studios often blowing viewers away resulting in stimulus overload), that said, the film is still packed with some crazy visuals!

Finally, the reveal at the end of the credits left me wanting to walk out of The Avengers and directly into Avengers 2. Rarely have I been this satisfied with a Hollywood movie. The Avengers is a must see for anyone with a sense of adventure or a desire to meet some of earth’s greatest heroes.

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