How often have you been asked to watch a costumed beefcake saving the world by totally trashing it? Well, it's that time again – only this time he's brought his friends. OK, Scarlett Johansson is no beefcake, but this week’s blockbuster, The Avengers still has plenty of beef to spare. After endless solo outings for the Marvel and DC heroes (Hulk, Iron Man 1 & 2, Thor, Captain America, etc.), the aim now is clearly to assemble enough superheroes to trigger a critical mass of muscles, mayhem and sassy one-liners.
A film with a very different purpose is the Brazilian Girimunho, which transports the audience to Minas Gerais to explore the rhythms and lives of the people there. With stunning, impressionistic cinematography and an atmospheric score, it offers a soothing, richly textured alternative to blockbuster adrenalin-fests. Another option for those seeking to avoid The Avengers is My Week with Marilyn, in which Michelle Williams takes a turn as one of the greatest – and most problematic – sex symbols in cinema history.
The current wave of comic book film adaptations could, arguably, be split into two distinct phases. The first began about ten years ago, with films by acclaimed – or at least respectable – directors, like Sam Raimi (responsible for the first three Spiderman movies), Bryan Singer (the first two X-men) and Ang Lee (of the underestimated Hulk, released in 2003). With at least solid films, they turned this sub-genre into a very profitable niche, paving the way for the second-wave of films, a series of cash-grabs that vary between bad (The Punisher) and intolerable (Catwoman), with god-awful shades of grey in between (Green Lantern, Captain America, Daredevil).
The Avengers falls into the latter category, with Joss Whedon of Buffy and Angel fame turning in a formulaic script (he also directs) that is leavened, in places, by his trademark pop culture dialogue. The best moments are to be found in the witticisms of Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and Mark Ruffalo's moving portrayal of the Hulk (making him the third decent actor to play the role in less than a decade, after Eric Bana and Edward Norton).
As for the plot? The title’s team is assembled by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), director of an international agency named SHIELD, to save the Earth from a supervillain and his army. And somebody earned a boatload of money to draft such Oscar-worthy material.
Dir. Joss Whedon, USA, 2012. Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Clark Gregg, Stellan Skarsgard. 142 mins.
The screenplay for Girimunho was penned by Felipe Bragança, the Brazilian filmmaker behind intriguing films such as A Fuga da Mulher Gorila and A Alegria. Part of a new generation of filmmakers creating quasi-fictional documentaries, his style is similar to that of Solaris director Andrei Tarkovski’s in that he views cinema as a way to sculpt time.
Happily that notion has been retained by directors Helvécio Marins Jr. and Clarissa Campolina's depiction of life in the arid landscapes of Minas Gerais. The film demands a willingness to slow down the way we look, listen and even think. In return for our patience, we're rewarded with the stories of real people like Bastú, a widowed woman who searches for solace in her dreams and grandchildren. The landscape is the other star of this film, serving as a metaphor for these quiet, gentle yet unmissable stories.
Dir. Helvécio Marins Jr. e Clarissa Campolina, Brazil, 2011. Maria da Conceição, Luciene Soares da Silva, Wanderson Soares da Silva, Izadora Fernandes. 90 mins.
The Ages of Love (Manuale d'Am3re)
This film is split into three parts (‘Youth’, ‘Maturity’ and the ‘Age of Reason’) and, as the English title gives away, it concerns how love affects us at different stages of our lives. It’s this week’s ‘beautiful’ release, with an uplifting plot, breath-taking settings and characters following their hearts in order to (re)discover life and love. With that in mind, we offer you a free tip and a suggestion. Tip: life probably isn’t going to get any better than this. Suggestion: get used to it.
Dir. Giovanni Veronesi, Italy, 2011. Robert De Niro, Monica Bellucci, Riccardo Scamarcio, Michele Placido, Laura Chiatti, Donatella Finocchiaro, Valeria Solarino. 125 mins.
My Week with Marilyn (Sete Dias com Marilyn)
As we're on the subject of love and sex, it is perhaps fitting for our next subject to be Marilyn Monroe, who was, for a while, the reluctant embodiment of both passions. Here we see her embarking on an unlikely, week-long long romance with Colin Clark, the young assistant to Sir Laurence Olivier, whom she met on-set whilst in London shooting The Prince and the Showgirl. With a powerful performance from Australian Michelle Williams (who received an Oscar nomination for her efforts), the story does a decent job of recreating the beautiful, troubled icon.
Dir. Simon Curtis, EUA, Reino Unido, 2011. Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Julia Ormond, Kenneth Branagh, Pip Torrens. 99 min.
Dancing Dreams (Tanzträume)
In 2008, just a few months before her death, Pina Bausch decided to stage a new version of her spectacle Kontakthof. Instead of using her own company’s dancers, she chose to recruit youngsters from ages 14 to 18 with no prior dancing experience. Sonhos em Movimento is a record of those efforts and the final performance. A precursor to the extraordinary Pina by Wim Wenders, it is another fitting homage to the extraordinary German choreographer.
Dir. Rainer Hoffmann, Anne Linsel, Alemanha, 2010. Pina Bausch, Bénédicte Billet, Josephine Ann Endicott. 92 min
Slovenian Girl (Slovenka)
Alexandra, an ambitious Literature student, is abandoned by her mother and raised by her father, a drunkard and manual labourer, with predictably complicated results. She decides to become a prostitute and, for a while, all goes well. Events take a sinister turn, however, when her work causes her to get tangled up in the death of an important man – and deal with the consequences.
Dir. Damjan Kozole, Eslovênia, Sérvia, Alemanha, Croácia, 2009. Nina Ivanisin, Peter Musevski, Primoz Pirnat, Marusa Kink. 90 min.
The script for Lockout, mostly rehashed, puts us immediately in mind of much better films, such as Escape from New York and The Running Man. Sadly, this lacks the deranged exuberance of John Carpenter. Here, in an undetermined future, the American President’s daughter is taken hostage in a rebellion at a top security facility in outer space. A man unjustly accused of conspiring against the Government becomes her only chance of rescue. A typical action antihero, he's sarcastic and self-destructive, seemingly engaged on a suicide mission. The sketchy signature of the co-writer Luc Besson (director of La Femme Nikita and The Fifth Element) is all over the place.
Dir. James Mather, Stephen St. Leger, França, 2012. Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace, Vincent Regan, Joseph Gilgun, Lennie James, Peter Stormare. 95 min.
Mark Wahlberg stars and co-produces in another thriller which depends on a series of tired clichés to keep its feet. Nothing against that: recently, Nicolas Winding Refn gave us a masterclass in reappropriated cliché with his stupendous Drive. Sadly, Contraband falls short of these heights, featuring a protagonist who is driven back to his old criminal life to save his brother-in-law. To have such a hackneyed premise so joylessly produced is particularly puzzling when you consider that this remake of the stylish Icelandic thriller Reykjavik Rotterdam wasdirected by the main actor of the original.