Robert Downey Jnr returns as Tony Stark, the eponymous hero-machine, but Tony is suffering existential angst after his last adventure exposed him to aliens and Norse gods. Can the man behind the mask gird his loins for a good old-fashioned slug-fest with global terrorist The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley)? And if he’s not up to the task, should he hand over responsibility for Iron Man to the politicians and war-mongers? The fear of mankind being subsumed by the machines it creates is as old as the sci-fi genre itself, but Iron Man 3 offers an entertaining spin on the conundrum by focusing on Tony Stark’s human frailties. On the one hand a slickly produced superhero flick with its fair share of explosive action sequences, the movie is also a very personal tale of one man’s battle with his demons. Downey Jnr is excellent in the lead role, not least because the script provides him with some deliciously self-mocking barbs about how preposterous the Iron Man scenario really is. Gwyneth Paltrow, Rebecca Hall, Don Cheadle, and Guy Pearce survive on crumbs in the support roles, although Kingsley steals the garlands as The Mandarin, providing the movie with some of its best laugh-out-loud moments.
Jack Black stars as Bernie (12A), a funeral director who is universally admired in the small Texas town of Carthage until the moment he shoots dead the hated banker and wealthy widow Marjorie Nugent (Shirley Maclaine). Enter district attorney Danny Buck (Matthew McConaughey), who discovers that no one cares whether Bernie is innocent or guilty — the entire town wants him to walk free, and no jury of his peers will convict him of murder. Richard Linklater’s latest film is compelling on a number of levels, its mock-documentary style — which fictionalises a historical event — incorporating interviews with the real inhabitants of Carthage. That quality of verisimilitude gives the already strange story an added twist, but Jack Black’s performance as Bernie is a revelation. Best known for his irreverent, shambolic on-screen persona, Black is brilliantly precise as the effeminate, overweight, church-going Bernie, a character so flawed by contradictions that he would be scarcely believable were he not based on a real person. Bernie also includes a perverse twist on the nature of justice — how can a victim be assured of a fair verdict when the killer is so beloved by his peers?
Set in Derry on New Year’s Eve, Jump (15A) opens with Greta (Nichola Burley) about to commit suicide by leaping from the Foyle Bridge. When she is rescued by Pearse (Martin McCann), the pair strike up a fragile friendship — and then discover that Greta’s despised gangster father, Frank (Lalor Roddy), is responsible for the disappearance of Pearse’s brother. A revenge robbery of Frank’s nightclub follows, which results in squabbling criminals Ross (Ciaran McMenamin) and Johnny (Richard Dormer) setting out to track down those responsible. From these beginnings director Keiron J Walsh (When Brendan Met Trudy) fashions a pacy comedy crime caper, although the story suffers from a sub-plot too many. The support players compensate, however, with the hapless antics of Ross and Johnny, and the nightclubbing Marie (Charlene McKenna), providing plenty of blackly comic moments.
Directed by Michael Winterbottom, The Look of Love (18s) stars Steve Coogan as Paul Raymond, the man who rose from humble beginnings to become Britain’s richest man by more or less inventing the British ‘adult magazine’ industry. The film is most interesting in how it charts British attitudes towards sex from the 1950s onwards, but Raymond — ostensibly a tragic figure, whose Midas touch in business was in sharp contrast to his failed personal relationships — remains a rather distant, impenetrable figure throughout. Perhaps this is a deliberate ploy by Winterbottom and Coogan in order to convey the truth of Paul Raymond, but despite all the acres of naked flesh on show, very little is actually revealed.