Starring: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Jeffrey Tambor, Bobby Cannavale, Burt Young, Melanie Lynskey

Director: Thomas McCarthy

Writer(s): Tom McCarthy, Joe Tiboni

Cinematography: Oliver Bokelberg

Original Score: Lyle Workman

Running Time: 106 Mins.

Starring: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Jeffrey Tambor, Bobby Cannavale, Burt Young, Melanie Lynskey

Director: Thomas McCarthy

Writer(s): Tom McCarthy, Joe Tiboni

Cinematography: Oliver Bokelberg

Original Score: Lyle Workman

Running Time: 106 Mins.

Thomas McCarthy is a director who thus far has stuck to a formula, it is a formula that works for his films as they are the kind of film that favours character over story though never at the expense of an involving one that comes from said characters. His first film, The Station Agent had Peter Dinklage as a man who was afforded a great deal of screen-time to give the audience a fully rounded man, all elements were explored be it for good or bad, then into this mans life came a selection of (often eccentric) friends, or soon to be friends. So why would we expect a change in tactic from such a tried and tested plot (it garnered Richard Jenkins an Oscar nod forThe Visitor), which means that this time we have perpetual hangdog and all round great actor Paul Giamatti, stepping up to play another put upon man who has good intentions but has a tendency to let “life” get the better of him.

This,  like The Visitor and The Station Agent before it, is not a film for everyone, that isn’t to say it is particularly taboo breaking but rather it plods very closely to that fine line of “indie comedy”, of which Juno and Little Miss Sunshine purportedly stand tall amongst. The key here is character and that characters quirks, of which bring about the films driving force (plight). Here Giamatti is Mike Flaherty, a failing lawyer who only works cases to help people out and, in his spare time, coaches a wrestling team with buddies Stephen and Terry (Cannavale and Tambor). By way of a fluke Mike comes into some money in attempting to aid a senile pensioner, and this is where it becomes complicated…Mike and his wife end up taking in a troubled teen (is there any other type) who is said man’s grandson.

So the wheels are set in motion for Mike to bond with teen Kyle who, it turns out, has something of a skill for wrestling…and whaddya know the men bond and rediscover themselves. Okay so it isnt all that twee and stymied, McCarthy knows his material too well, he nows how to coax a great turn from all of his cast. Some elements do shout “mainstream Hollywood comedy” more than the director may have like but to in an effort to provide sufficient laughs in balancing out the drama you need the eccentric support characters (Cannavale and Tambor). Thankfully both of them are great, and as is yet another skill of the director, having the kind of easy chemistry that Giamatti shared with Hayden Church in Sideways. Similarly the family dynamic is very well handled, Amy Ryan is a believable spouse for Mike and the scenes of the two of them together are fun and dramatic in equal weighting.

Sadly the great actors can’t mask a slightly jarring tone, the eccentric friend characters are something you can get over but the film veers wildly from some really hard hitting and touching issues to some rather silly jokes that seem below the talents of the cast and crew. As the finale looms the drama is naturally ramped up and allows the actor playing Ryan to shine (reminding me of a young Edward Furlong circa. American History X) but by this stage too many subplots have been thrown into the ring, as it were, with varying degrees of success. Had we just stuck with Mike and the a more simple narrative that allowed him to bond with family and friends without too much in the complication this could well have matched McCarthy’s previous efforts, as it stands we just have yet another Comedy Drama purporting to be “indie” with a heart of gold at its centre by way of the ever reliable Giamatti.

VERDICT

Win Win isn’t quite up to the directors usual standards as he strives for something a little more mainstream, both failing that crowd and distancing his usual followers. Never-the-less it has its moments and the great cast over-ride the overly complex dramatic thrust.

Starring: James Purefoy, Paul Giamatti, Jason Flemyng, Derek Jacobi, Brian Cox, Kate Mara, Mackenzie Crook, Charles Dance

Director: Jonathan English

Writer(s): Jonathan English, Erick Castel, Stephen McDool

Cinematography: David Eggby

Original Score: Lorne Balfe

Running Time: 121 Mins.

Gritty, grimy, brutal, bloody and battered…all adjectives that can easily be applied to Ironclad, and with damn good reason for it fully embraces how you would have imagined medieval times to have been and in particular medieval battles with their ridiculously big swords, spiked staffs and swinging metal “things” for lack of a better word, no these are not euphemisms they are and d exactly what you would expect in hacking at limbs, carrying out multiple beheadings and taking out eyes. Picking up where Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood left off giving us a lot of the brutal realities that Ridley’s effort dare not show for fear of anything higher than being a 12a or a PG13…but as we know from the recent crop of under-achieving medieval romps, Black Death and Centurion, they are so much more fun when there is no cap of the gore and pestilence…of which Ironclad gives us in spades.

The similarities to Robin Hood are more than simply cosmetic (ramped up significantly) however, plot-wise this could almost be the sequel…minus Robin, where our new spiritual replacement for Robin is Marshall, a shamed Knight who breaks his vow of peace and silence after his brethren and guide are killed following King John going back on the Magna Carta which as we are told during the opening crawl gave the commoner as much right s as the king…but royalty as we know doesn’t like being dictated too meaning John hunted down and killed each and every signees, which is where Marshall comes is. Holed up in Rochester Castle ( a strategic holding point we are told) the Knight and his band of “merry men” which includes Cox’s Baron, Mara’s damsel in distress and Crook’s archer, fend off the onslaught by King John and his thugs for hire (the Celts of course).

Yes there’s a romantic subplot, yes there is an “immortal” line uttered by our hero about what you do in battle..blah blah blah,  and yes we have seen it all before but I will be damned if it isn’t one hell of an enjoyable two hours to spend in a cinema, and more than that it stands up to repeat viewings proving as gloriously entertaining every time. This is down to two things essentially, firstly a game cast who largely play to type, the thug, the noble one, the coward etc. but they are all having so much fun you would be a very hard person not to feel the enjoyment be catching, thankfully though James Purefoy (building on a great turn in Solomon Kane) offers a solid grounding for all the heaving bosoms and lopping of limbs, he has that all important gravitas that makes the film more than a slightly more serious (and bloody) elongated Monty Python sketch.

However topping each and every other actor, and Brian Cox is hard to beat for pure OTT entertainment, is Paul Giamatti and King John, he is a downright dastardly villain and possibly an early contender (and winner?) for villain of the year. It isn’t often Giamatti gets to overdo it, in fact his talent always tends to be about how he undersell a performance with nuance and subtle tics, far from this is John, there really seem to be no lengths this man will go to get what he wants whether it be massacring members of the church (of which he frequently claims he is of yet shows little to suggest as much) or firing people from trebuchets into walls, oh did I say it was bloody? It is in Giamatti’s all out rants that you will be transfixed to the screen, he is at once comedic and scary…that is some feat!

There are flaws, perhaps inevitably in a film as flimsy as this in terms of plotting, though none of them will ebb your enjoyment in the slightest, albeit for the misjudged romantic subplot and some lame attempts to give a couple of characters a third dimension prior to their death but in a film more concerned with bloody spectacle and histrionics the success rate is damn high and character stereotypes really just become a byproduct with the  plus side being that they are all played by men who know they are there for the limb-lopping and to look sufficiently grubby, on which front they score an A*!

VERDICT

Ironclad is fun, bloody good fun, in the literal sense of course, with battles aplenty and a solid clutch of clichéd performances all round, Giamatti is the standout but very rarely does the film miss a step on it’s intentionally brutal but enjoyable crusade…it’s like Robin Hood but, y’know, with added blood and trubuchets’!

Director Peter Farrelly was in Boston this weekend and gave The Boston Globe a little tidbit of news about his planned Three Stooges film: namely, that Paul Giamatti will be stepping into the role of Larry, originally set for Sean Penn.

The Three Stooges (Larry, Curly and Moe), oh readers under 65, started off as a vaudeville act who graduated to movies, making their living out of slap-happy farces, quick one-liners and ridiculous storylines. A plan to bring them back to the screen has been under development for years, with Benicio del Toro attached to play Moe for quite some time, and now Giamatti repacing the departed Penn who left for “personal reasons”.

Still to be cast before the film can proceed is someone to play Curly, and that someone will not be the once-rumoured Jim Carrey, according to Farrelly’s comments this weekend. Suggestions please: who’d fit well with Giamatti and Del Toro in this tribute to the Stooges?