Category Archives: robert downey jr.

The Secret of Iron Man Three

Iron Man Three ~ This movie is not what you think it is. The trailers give you something that is compelling, but it’s not the film, not really. We’re not talking about false advertising, no, what you see in the previews you get in the movie, it’s just Iron Man 3 (or Iron Man Three as it’s actually called in the credits) is a different kind of superhero film, hell, it’s a different kind of film, period.

Now I’ve already talked about that fact and more about director Shane Black’s approach to Iron Man Three in my spoiler-free review over at Biff Bam Pop! some months back (read it here). But what I’m going to talk about here is very spoiler special heavy. It’s the big secret of Iron Man Three, we’re going to talk about the Mandarin. Spoilers away, be warned.

Now this is not new territory for me either, I talked about the Mandarin before in my article about the forgotten foes of Iron Man, but this will be very specific to bringing Mandy to the big screen, and in the year 2013, that is not an easy job. Let’s face it, the Mandarin is a piece of history, and a rather nasty piece of history, both outdated and racist.

In the comics, the Mandarin is an Asian villain in the tradition of other such masterminds like Sax Rohmer’s classic, but racist stereotype, Fu Manchu. He was created in an age when in the comics every hero fought against the Red Menace, the Communist threat, and yes, the Yellow Peril. We as a nation were recovering from the Korean War, entering into the Viet Nam War, and in the midst of a deadly game of mutually assured destruction in the Cold War. The Asian race was a direct threat.

The Mandarin was a schemer, a manipulator, a mastermind. He worked behind the scenes, he controlled multiple villains, and sought to overthrow not only America, but our entire way of life. But that was the 1960s, and it was racist. That crap don’t play now, and quite honestly the Mandarin, although Iron Man’s archenemy from early on, has not weathered the storm, one of political correctness, well after all these years.

Enter the phenomenon that is the Robert Downey Jr. and the Marvel Cinematic Universe it started. After two Iron Man movies, and a billion dollar blockbuster Avengers film, where do you go? Is it time for Iron Man to finally face his greatest foe on screen? Yes, but in our politically correct world, with a mainstream audience who may or may not have a background in the comics source material, how do you pull it off.

Easy answer? You lie, you dazzle them with trickery. You get your cake, and you eat it too. Sir Ben Kingsley, first, is inspired casting for the villain. And in the previews, the image he gives us is both Marvel Comics Mandarin and Middle Eastern terrorist pimp daddy, an updating to be awed. This new Mandarin is one who both strikes by surprise like the 9/11 bombers, and announces his attacks like the monsters who have beheaded hostages on video on the internet.

An early interview before the film came out asked if Sir Ben had done any research on the Mandarin character, and he said that he had not, and that he did not intend to. This sent fanboys into a frenzy. The fact is that Sir Ben didn’t need to. His character was not really the Mandarin – in fact, the whole concept, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, was a fake, a deception, a farce.

The Mandarin didn’t exist, he was just an actor, a puppet of the real villain. Sir Ben never needed to know anything about the source material, his character was a construct, and one lovingly performed with the proper fierceness, and comedic flair once revealed (loved the Ringo Starr-esque affectation). Kingsley’s performance was golden, in so many ways, he was menacing, and ridiculous, and done right. That’s right, I said, ‘done right.’

There were fanboys who fumed about this as well, but the truth is – it was impossible to transfer the comics character to the screen in our world of political correctness. Sorry, folks who just don’t get it, but wake up, the Mandarin is a racist stereotype. And also be aware, there are folks who think the villain as he appears in the movie is also a racist stereotype, one of our current Middle Eastern terrorist enemies.

And therein lies the problem, as much good will as Iron Man, the Avengers, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe have engendered with mainstream audiences, it would all fall apart tragically if the Mandarin were portrayed as a sneering Asian madman bent on world domination. In my opinion Iron Man Three does it right, giving us the best of both worlds.

Hobo with a Shotgun

Hobo with a Shotgun ~ Yeah, so I finally saw this. The number of times this film has been recommended to me by friends whose opinions I respect, and even those I don’t, is countless. Many of those friends have even nagged me with occasional “Did you see it yet?” inquiries.

The title revealing subject matter and the way sometimes I was recommended or asked about the flick has made me wonder about the sincerity of these friends. Ya know how someone will take a bite of something terrible, and then, not wanting to be the only one who is suffering, will offer you a taste? Yeah, that’s the vibe I have gotten in the past from Hobo with a Shotgun.

Right off the top, I have to give props to the director Jason Eisener and the cinematographer Karim Hussain. The color of this flick is insanely vibrant, no doubt a thematic choice to cash in on the 1970s action exploitation vibe that drives the picture. Even the movie poster reflects that homage, sans the Technicolor of course.

Based on the originally fake trailer from Rodriquez and Tarantino’s Grindhouse, the movie delivers its particular brand of hyperviolence almost from the start. Rutger Hauer is the hobo in question, and runs afoul of The Drake, the warlord who rules Hope Town. yeah, that’s the name, or in light of events and graffiti, it’s now called Scum Town.

Hauer is good here, playing apathetic at first and more than a little crazy, much better than his recent turn in “True Blood” as a subtly and hilariously similar character type. Actually had Sookie’s gramps been more like the hobo, it might have saved this season. When a shotgun eventually makes it into the hobo’s hands, he decides to become a crazed force for good, battling the bad guys and inspiring the frightened townspeople.

Trust me, this hyperviolent tale of good vs. evil set in a hellish Technicolor suburban wasteland sounds much better than it actually is but its misshapen heart is in the right place. Hauer watches and reacts for the most part, but for the rest of the cast it’s an over the top acting massacre that would make Lloyd Kaufman of Troma positively jealous.

Speaking of which, if you love Troma Films, you will love Hobo with a Shotgun. On the other hand, if you don’t, this movie is not for you. And neither is it for the squeamish. Either way, the color is fabulous. And maybe Robert Downey Jr. can fight The Plague in Iron Man 4

The Avengers

Marvel’s The Avengers ~ I think I need to inform folks where I’m coming from on this one. One could say I’ve been waiting for this movie for over forty years easily. I learned to read on comic books, thanks to my cool big sister. First there was Batman, obviously influenced by the 1960s TV show, then I started reading my brother’s Flash and Justice League. I was solidly a DC Comics guy as you can see, and then I discovered the Avengers. It would be quite some time before I became a regular Marvel reader but I knew instantly this was a different kind of comic. Avengers became one of my favorite comics, even today. So much so did I love the Avengers that for almost a decade I regularly reviewed the title online. Yeah, I’m a hardcore Avenger-phile. This movie is a little kid’s dream come true.

In another sense, you could say I’ve been waiting for this movie realistically, and hopefully, since the end credits of Iron Man. Can I express my elation the first time I saw those few seconds when Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury wanted to talk to Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man about the ‘Avengers Initiative’? No, I can’t. I am as speechless now as I was in 2008.

Who would have thought Marvel Comics/Marvel Studios could have pulled this off? Not only have they created a cinematic continuity, a movie universe as tight and intriguing as their comics universe, they also changed the way we watch movies. Does anyone (at least anyone who knows) not stay until the final credits any more. This is something that John Hughes used to do for a gag. It’s something the James Bond films used to do to reveal the title of the next installment. Marvel has made it a genre-wide trick of the trade. You stay until the screen has no more light, period.

Speaking of James Bond, the other achievement Marvel has taken on is the building of a successful movie franchise – the Marvel Cinematic Universe, of which The Avengers is the seventh, or the sixth, depending on whether you count Ang Lee’s Hulk or not. I think all of this would have been impossible without Iron Man, and especially Robert Downey Jr. Downey is the secret weapon, the gateway drug, if you will. Without Downey, I doubt that this film would be as mainstream as it is. It’s not just comic book folks who are seeing this movie, it’s everybody. Comics aren’t just for nerds anymore, or at least comic book movies aren’t. This weekend’s box office, threatening to become the biggest opening ever, is proof of that.

Besides Downey as Iron Man, and Jackson as super spy Nick Fury, Chris Evans returns as the title role from Captain America The First Avenger, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, along with Oscar winner Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye from that same film, and Scarlet Johansson returns in her role as the Black Widow from Iron Man 2. Unfortunately, negotiations broke down with The Incredible Hulk‘s Ed Norton, so the role of Doctor Bruce Banner is more than adequately filled by Mark Ruffalo. As much as I like and liked Norton in the role, I like Ruffalo even more. This is a good thing.

Also returning from the previous Marvel Cinematic Universe flicks are Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson, Stellan Skarsgard as Erik Selvig from Thor, Gwenyth Paltrow as Pepper Potts and Paul Bettany as Jarvis in the Iron Man films, and of course the big bad, Thor’s brother Loki, as played by Tom Hiddleston. Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster from Thor is mentioned but unseen. Cobie Smoulders is the perfect Maria Hill and although uncredited and only doing one very funny and wonderful line of dialogue, Lou Ferrigno voices the completely CGI Hulk. It is a stellar cast, top notch all the way, and all of the primaries – the Avengers, Fury, Loki, and the rest shine like stars when on screen. All are skillfully performed.

If I had to find fault, if I absolutely had to find a flaw in the film (other than characters or storylines I would want to see) it would be the lack of character development. But even that’s not a flaw. The four majors have had at least one movie each to explore that before we got to this point. We get sweet spotlights on the two Avengers without movies, Hawkeye and the Black Widow, displaying their talents and personalities, and Nick Fury will have his own film upcoming for us to delve more into his character. So really, on that point I can’t complain. What is really great about this is all of them come to this film fully formed. Especially in the cases of Captain America and Thor, their movies were essentially origin stories, now, here in Avengers we get to see what they can really do. These are not flaws.

I will try not to give away plot points, or any of the Easter eggs found in the film, but I will give director and co-writer Joss Whedon and his co-writer Zak Penn all the props possible for creating what is, without a doubt, the best superhero movie ever made, period. Let’s see Whedon have a Wonder Woman script or a “Firefly” sequel turned down in Hollywood now. The man, to borrow the line from Titanic, is the king of the world today. Everything was perfect, from the characters to the dialogue, the special effects, the humor, right down to the two (count ’em, two) after-credits scenes, one of which will be having fanboys and girls squeeing with delight. Marvel’s The Avengers is awesome.

The little kid in me who was mesmerized by his first Avengers comic book more than forty years ago was spellbound in the theatre. From Project Pegasus to the Black Forest to the SHIELD Helicarrier to downtown Manhattan, the Avengers were truly Earth’s Mightiest Heroes on the big screen. The first confrontations between the heroes, and the heroes and the villains, are well done and believable, not just slugfest for the fun of slugfest. When Captain America confronts Loki in Germany, I had a lump in my throat, I was like, “It’s the real Captain America.” The scene is that good.

The special effects are stunning. I love the way Thor’s hammer always returns to him, and his effects are perfect. Cap’s superhero costume, which I initially thought would look silly works wonderfully. If there’s anything cooler than the SHIELD Helicarrier, it’s the battle on board the SHIELD Helicarrier. Non-believers will see why Hawkeye is one of the coolest Avengers. The interaction between the characters is priceless, and in the final battle, their teamwork whether all together or in smaller teams is right out of the comics. It’s beautiful.

I will probably see Marvel’s The Avengers again a few more times in the theatre before it comes to Blu-Ray and DVD. Yeah, it’s that good. The 3D effects are good, but let’s keep in mind it still looks amazing in 2D, so you don’t have to sell blood to see it. Highly recommended. A definite must see for comics and non-comics fans alike. This is the movie of 2012.

Quickies 2-10-2012

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows ~ I really liked this a lot. It was clever, and owed more than a lot stylistically to both “Psych” and “The Mentalist” in the way they showed how Holmes’ intellect works. Whereas the first movie worked very hard to pull in new and old fans with its new twist on the characters, this sequel played it closer to the source material. Great ending in tribute to the old stories as well. If you’re a reader, you’ll see it coming a mile away. Loved it, and can’t wait for the next one.

Three Inches ~ This SyFy pilot doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be, a serious concept or a sitcom filmed like a drama. A teenaged boy discovers that he’s telekinetic, but can only move objects a distance of three inches. Superhero antics without costumes that comic book fans will hate. It might as well be “Alphas” meets Mystery Men, but with a hesitant sense of humor. Me, I hope it doesn’t become a series, but it’s always nice to see Andrea Martin, and she’s great here.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol ~ Now I slept through a lot of this apparently. That seems to be a problem because to me, it didn’t seem like I missed much. Tom Cruise didn’t talk much, and it felt like wall-to-wall action. Cruise hanging off the building, which I did see, is do not miss. The problem is that I only really saw an intermittent half-hour of this flick, and it’s really almost two and a half hours long. Judge as you see fit.

Jazz Boat ~ Screenwriter Ken Hughes directed this 1960 pseudo gangster musical that was apparently supposed to be Britain’s answer to Guys and Dolls. It’s all youth gangs in London tussling over girls and money in a confrontation that finally takes place on a riverboat on the Thames, with musical interludes along the way. Much more entertaining than it sounds, we get to see what kind of star Anthony Newley could have been. I liked this a lot, serious guilty pleasure.

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Coming Soon…

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, opens December 16th, 2011.

Disney’s John Carter opens March 9th, 2012.

The Muppets, with Amy Adams and Jason Segel and Chris Cooper (and the Muppets) opens Thanksgiving 2011.

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Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 ~ I’ve been waiting for this for a while now, and it finally opened, a bit late for the previews to have become annoying, and of course even more annoyingly, a week after it opened in the UK and Australia. I really have to wonder why the movie companies insist on staggered releases across the world when the internet exists. Don’t they know the flick has already been spoiled for American audiences?

Iron Man 2 picks up almost immediately as the first film ends, but not in the way one might think. From there it becomes a rollercoaster ride of subplots as if it doesn’t know what its real storyline is.

Of seeming highest priority of possible plots is Mickey Roarke’s Ivan Vanko who wants revenge on Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark for supposedly stealing his father’s design. There’s Tony’s new heart poisoning him just as he’s drinking himself to death and risking his life. There’s Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts (still the dumbest comic book name ever) trying to run Stark’s company and of course her non-romance with him that doesn’t exist in the comics. And the government, in the face of the strangely cast Garry Shandling, wants the Iron Man ‘weapon.’ Those are just the big ones.

Any one of these could have been the main story, and served it well on its own, but for some reason the script couldn’t make up its mind. Underneath the surface of this Iron Man is bubbling an Avengers prequel, and for those aware of what Avengers is, it is a major undercurrent of this film, perhaps moreso than anything to actually do with Iron Man.

Rumors from overseas seem to be right on this front, that this is more an Avengers movie than an Iron Man movie. Easter eggs abound everywhere, from Captain America’s shield to Thor’s hammer, to the outright appearances out of nowhere of Samuel L. Jackson’s ultra-cool Nick Fury to Scarlet Johansson’s ultra-hot Black Widow (although it’s notable her superheroine name is never mentioned). It makes you wonder why Marvel would risk the Iron Man sequel for a movie that’s not even written yet.

And there are still yet more subplots. They tried to squeeze Tony Stark’s problem with alcoholism in there. Don Cheadle, a great actor, but a poor substitute for Terrence Howard, puts on the War Machine armor. Sam Rockwell does an impressive Robert Downey Jr. impersonation, that I’m not sure is in homage or mocking his Stark, as a decisively younger Justin Hammer.

The big guns of this script are largely disappointments. Downey is simply over the top, as if he doesn’t care anymore. Paltrow struggles as if she doesn’t know what to do with herself on screen. Mickey Roarke is damn good and owns the film when he is onscreen, he’s just not there nearly enough. His character, a merging of two Iron Man foes from the comics, Whiplash and the Crimson Dynamo, had enough depth to carry the whole film – but the script would not let it happen.

I did enjoy the film, but that was as a hardcore comics fan. I think it might be too jumpy and frenetic for mainstream audiences, who will also be giving all those Avengers references blank stares. And speaking of Avengers – stay through the end of the credits, or you will regret it. Iron Man 2 is fun and action-packed, but it’s nowhere as good as the original.

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Random Thoughts on the 82nd Annual Academy Awards

The best, absolute best, part of the whole thing was the opening number with Neil Patrick Harris. After only five minutes with co-hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, I was bored to sleepy tears. Why the hell couldn’t NPH have hosted? At least I could have stayed awake – and I was even rocking the fast-forward button and was bored with Martin and Baldwin. There was no chemistry and especially no humor. NPH for next year’s show, folks, okay?

I thought the animated bit was brilliant, and as I said, if Up won, it took it out of the running for Best Picture. More bits like this would be welcomed. On the presenters, I found them more engaging and refreshing by far than Martin and Baldwin – why not next time just have a dozen different presenters and no hosts? And why didn’t they have each song performed live on the show? That’s something that folks look forward to – why get rid of it? Hopefully not to make more time for Martin and Baldwin’s nonsense…

The entire presentation for Best Screenplay with Tina Fey and Robert Downey, Jr. was brilliant. If we’re talking about how to make this show better, this is a step in the right direction. But, who dressed Downey? Wow. Also on the right track was the tribute to John Hughes. Double wow.

On the bad side, halfway through the Awards I was becoming increasingly annoyed with the clips that frequently were cut rife with spoilers and misinterpretations. These were done for each acting and Best Picture presentations mostly but I really wonder how the folks involved in those films and performances felt about them. Stanley Tucci was visibly shaken when the clip of his Supporting Actor bit was shown.

Ben Stiller should join Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin as unfunny people who should never host the Awards. Mo’Nique gave a near perfect Oscar speech, just enough of what should be in there, and not too much of shouldn’t. I see the tradition of playing folks off when they go too long is still in place – and still very selective. The tribute to Horror was a bit odd. And wasn’t Silence of the Lambs quite some time after The Exorcist? Someone on the Oscar writing staff needs to do their research better.

The intentional inclusions of clips of Martin and Baldwin in the tributes for no other real reason other than they were the hosts were becoming quite irritating as well. Not as much as their actual hosting however. The dancers doing their thing to the scores was no satisfying substitution for song performances, in my opinion. On the other hand, James Taylor singing “In My Life” during the memoriam was a really nice touch, another highlight. But where were Bea Arthur and Farrah Fawcett?

It was cool for me to see two of my favorite directors, Pedro Almodovar and Quentin Tarantino giving away the Best Foreign Film Oscar, a real treat. And what was up with the lamp background? Did the Academy run out of money when it came to stage backdrops?

On the winners, I was glad Michael Giacchino won for Best Score, as he’s my favorite composer these days. I had at least a few of my guesses right. You guys were close but not quite right with the poll to the right, as The Hurt Locker won Best Picture. All in all, this was a tolerable show, not great but not abysmal either. Remember, next year, get Neil Patrick Harris for the whole show.

And oh yeah, go, Sandra!

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Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes ~ Guy Ritchie’s 2009 film version of the master detective has had fans up in arms. His action hero take starring Robert Downey Jr. in the title role with Jude Law as Dr. Watson is just what was needed in my opinion. There’s a generational gap here, and while I’m a fan myself, I doubt that many of the younger generation even know who Sherlock Holmes is. Ritchie’s attempt is the shot in the arm to get the ‘kids’ interested in this classic hero.

Similar to this year’s re-imagining/sequel/prequel of Star Trek, this flick is rarely still, constantly moving and always engaging. And engaging is something I really liked about it. Much like the early “24” or every episode of “Dexter” or “The Wire,” you have to pay attention. It doesn’t slow down, or explain things in baby talk – you are either in the movie, or you might as well be at home twiddling your thumbs watching “Everybody Loves Raymond.” The new Sherlock Holmes is not TV for dummies or for the lazy viewer.

Downey and Law are great together, and it makes the film. So much so that when they are not together, the screen suffers. Bromance, buddy film, hetero soulmates, whatever you call it, their relationship, their chemistry, is amazing, worth the price of the ticket right there. Their performances, as well as Ritchie’s work, obviously were inspired by the three’s respect and love of the Jeremy Brett version of Holmes as well as the original source material.

The rest of the cast are excellent too, but let’s be honest, they pale in comparison to the two leads. Robert Maillet, formerly known as the wrestler Kurrgan, does stand out physically as almost a French Ted Cassidy. And Rachel McAdams plays an intriguing yet seductive Irene Adler. The cast’s performance is locked in by the atmosphere, a realistic yet just this side of steampunk Victorian London.

The Hans Zimmer score is impressive and completely suited to the film as are the songs by Isobel Griffiths and the Dubliners (tragically left off the soundtrack). There were also very cool sound effects used during gunshots and explosions – muffling effects as would really happen to the ear in those situations. Brilliant.

I really enjoyed this film. Fun, exciting, and essentially faithful to the source material. I am constantly reminded of this past year’s Star Trek, and if I had seen this in 2009, this new Sherlock Holmes would have easily been in my top five. Recommended.

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Stung

To the right, one of the first images of Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff – The Black Widow.

Iron Man 2 opens May 7th, 2010. I know I’m there.

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Quickies 5-18-2009

The Explosive Generation ~ It’s interesting to watch and review a William Shatner flick from 1961 in the midst of the current Star Trek buzz, and doubly interesting that he turned down a role in the new Trek yet he’s in this. I guess he couldn’t be picky back then. How times have changed. In this cautionary tale about coming of age, sex education and pre-protest student protests, Bill plays the ‘cool teacher.’ You know, the one who usually gets fired for teaching the wrong thing or ends up having an affair with a student – yeah, he’s that guy, only without the affair. Look for a slightly grown up Patty McCormack from The Bad Seed, a babyfaced Beau Bridges and Stafford Repp, Chief O’Hara from “Batman” playing a cop sans Irish accent. And engaging if predictable hour and a half.

Tropic Thunder ~ Wow, was this flick 90% hype or what? Except for the hilarious fake movie previews at the beginning and a few moments of just over-the-top wrong humor, I found this to be tedious and downright boring for the most parts. Yes, I said boring – a damned hard thing to be with gunfire and explosions every couple of minutes, but they pulled it off somehow. Horrendous.

Gamers ~ This one’s very narrowcast, but hilarious if you get the references. It’s a mockumentary about a roleplaying group who’s about to break the world’s record for most hours played, and has videotaped every gaming session. William Katt, Kelly LeBrock and Beverly D’Angelo make hilarious cameos. This is Spinal Tap for gamers, but might go right over the heads of anyone who’s never played. You’ll never look at clown porn, paintball or horse breeding the same way again. Highly recommended for those who indulge.

Special ~ Not only is this 2006 Michael Rapaport vehicle just an embarrassment in general but it’s also the same insult for the superhero and independent film genres as well. It might have flown well as a five-minute “SNL” skit but otherwise this is crap. Avoid.

Chariots of the Gods ~ In the 1970s this was something special or at least something to talk about with your friends. In the decades since, Erich von Daniken has been revealed to be a charlatan and it leaves this ‘documentary’ based on his books as a ridiculous leftover. An amusing relic that still runs as slow as it did when it was relevant.

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