IRON MAN 3 ***1/2 (130 minutes) M
In many ways, the third - and silliest - Iron Man film is a prime example of brainless popcorn entertainment. Sporting a few too many references to the super-hero block party The Avengers, it succeeds in its mission of providing a super-sized dose of super-dumb, time-killing FX-driven adventure.
The crack cast help sell the nonsense: wise-cracking Robert Downey Jr is back in the suit as Tony Stark; Gwenyth Paltrow ramps up her role as his PA/girlfriend Pepper Potts; local boy Guy Pearce almost chokes while chewing the scenery as the corporate bad guy; and Ben Kingsley pops up as an Osama bin Laden-type terrorist with a very funny secret. It's a performance made all the more fun when you remember that this guy once played Gandhi.
Most importantly, though, the film's army of digital artists deliver big servings of neuron-numbing spectacle. Anyone who thinks that's not important should avoid this film.
The scatter-gun story is pure gobbledegook, a mega-mash of colliding storylines and half-baked high-concept cliches primarily designed to produce excuses for some huge action sequences. Of these there are many, with one sequence showing an unusual spurt of originality as Iron Man tries saving a bunch of people who have been sucked out of a stricken jet.
Downey is in fine form, pulling off some nice moments as he bonds with a neglected kid. These quieter scenes underscore an obscure virtue of the film, that amidst the mess of its multi-layered story, it is at least careful to keep the evolution of its main character consistent. It's one of the reasons this particular branch of the Marvel movie franchise was able to survive the mediocrity of 2010's Iron Man 2.
Still, while director/co-writer Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) needs you to feel just enough about Tony Stark to want to see more of him, he clearly doesn't want audiences thinking too closely about all the metallic mayhem.
This is especially apparent in the film's impressively staged climax, a battle that fills every square centimetre of the screen and gives new meaning to the term "overkill".
THE OTHER SON **** (105 minutes; subtitled) M
This moving, emotionally concise human drama is easily one of the most remarkable films about the unending conflict in the Middle East.
Two families - one Israeli, one Palestinian - discover that their 18 year old sons were accidentally switched at birth.
The news utterly changes their lives and perspectives about themselves and each other as politics gives way to a fresh - and decidedly forced - understanding of those living on the other side of the wall.
Performances throughout are terrific: Pascal Elbe and Mehdi Dehbi play the fathers as boastful alpha males; as the mothers Emmanuelle Devos and Areen Omari show a slightly deeper understanding of their circumstances.
But the stand-outs are Khalifa Natour and Jules Sitruk as the boys. Their trouble-bound bond as new-found brothers is touching in the way it avoids cliche.
The Other Son is a film anyone with even a passing interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ought to see. (Listen to our interview with the film's producer Raphael Berdugo.)
ANTI-VIRAL * (108 minutes) MA
In the near future celebrity culture will be so bloated that people will be able to catch the diseases of their favourite stars as well as eat steaks cloned from their fat cells. Yet this film is not a comedy.
The film uses its disease-based story for a few neat gross-out moments, but they can't make up for the film's inertia.
As pretentious as it is boring, writer/director Brandon Cronenberg has unfortunately followed the lead of his father David's later, less interesting films rather than those earlier, fun frolics where people turned into insects, merged with machines and their heads exploded.
And a question: why do directors think that quiet scenes set in clinically designed rooms in which men in suits mutter in barely audible whispers will dupe audiences into thinking something profound is going on?
SONG FOR MARION *** (95 minutes) PG
Utterly predictable, utterly charming British comedy weepie in which a curmudgeon (Terence Stamp, now 74) learns deep values about life and love when he joins a local choir at the behest of his dying wife (Vanessa Redgrave, 76).
The choir specialises in singing modern songs and, as conducted by their sprightly, old-people loving leader (Gemma Arterton), they enter a talent contest where their eccentricity is celebrated rather than dismissed.
A modest joy to behold, the film also clicks into the recent high-quality spate of movies aimed at and starring seniors, such as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Quartet, Performance, Amour and Hitchcock. Here's to more.
HAUTE CUISINE ** (93 minutes; subtitled) M
Heaven help us. More food porn. This one's about a provincial French chef (Catherine Frot) whose grub is so good she gets a call from the president (Jean d'Ormesson) to spruce up his menu. There's some inter-kitchen tension, but there's little intrigue or, indeed, plot to this ho-hum, helium-lite offering.
The film is fine for those who count themselves part of this cook-crazy world we seem unable to escape from, but those who have frankly had it with movies and TV shows that spend an inordinate amount of time set in kitchens and looking down at plates, this will fray your nerves and test your patience.
And make you hungry.