Category Archives: war

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 Let’s face it, the Mandarin is a piece of history, and a rather nasty piece of history, both outdated and racist.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.

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Duck and Cover

Duck and Cover ~ Everyone knows about the classic civil defense film from 1951, but how many of us have actually seen it? I admit that while I have seen huge chunks of this thirty-two minute documentary, I don’t think I had seen it in its entirety until recently.

At the beginning of the Cold War, our greatest fear was nuclear attack from the Russians. This was a short subject shown in theaters to teach folks what to do in case the unthinkable happened – they dropped The Atomic Bomb. Talk about hysteria! They’d never do anything like today, it might upset someone’s sensibilities. Thank goodness for political correctness. Sarcasm mode off.

It’s got some great animation with Bert the Turtle, a very cautious (and very hysterically paranoid) fellow very good at ducking and covering. Very good at it, because, well, he’s a turtle. The thrust is if you heard the air raid sirens, you should duck and cover. This film urged school kids to crawl under their desks and cover their heads in case of attack. We did know what atomic bombs were capable of, right? That’s not going to keep anyone from being vaporized.

This instructional film is definitely a product of its time, so filled with paranoia and hysteria that it probably was a self-fulfilling prophecy, causing as much paranoia and hysteria as it itself was filled with. Probably the scariest thing for me was how scared the kids in this film looked. Both an entertaining and frightening time capsule.

RIP Joe Kubert

Legendary comics creator Joe Kubert passed away this weekend at the age of 85. He was there back at the beginning of the Golden Age of comics, and was still producing work today. His legacy is carried on by perhaps the first and best school for comics creators which he founded and named after himself, and his two sons Adam and Andy, two of today’s hottest comics artists themselves. We have truly lost one of the geniuses, one of the legends, one of the greatest contributors to the comics industry. Joe Kubert will be missed by anyone whose experienced his work, and that probably includes the entire comics field.

I first was introduced to Mr. Kubert at the Berlin Farmer’s Market. There was a store there that sold comic books with the covers torn off, three for a quarter. The store is still there but it’s much more expensive. I was a superhero guy, but at that price I could explore titles I wouldn’t normally have picked up. In that way, I picked up comics featuring Tarzan and Sgt. Rock, illustrated by Joe Kubert. It was also through one of those Tarzan comics that I was turned onto John Carter of Mars and the rest of the Edgar Rice Burroughs fantasy universes.

Joe Kubert was my introduction into so many other worlds. His artistic vision and technique was unique in comics. Much like Jack Kirby, he was an original. There was no one who drew like him, but everyone wanted to and tried to draw like him. Still to this day, if Tarzan, Sgt. Rock, Viking Prince, Enemy Ace, Tor, Ragman, even Hawkman and Hawkgirl, are not by Kubert – my mind will automatically say that’s not the real thing. Those characters, and many many more, are the trademark, the realm, and the legacy of Joe Kubert.

We have lost perhaps one of the greatest in comics. We are all in mourning.

Battle Los Angeles

Battle Los Angeles ~ This wannabe summer blockbuster took a new spin on the old alien invasion story by telling much of it through modern day news coverage and also through the eyes of one group of young Marines as they hold the line in Los Angeles against nearly indestructible extraterrestrial assault.

It’s a creative war movie rather than a scifi flick, but it’s spoiled by some dumb plot elements and tired clichés early on. I found it hard to swallow that if the powers-that-be knew we were up against aliens, they would not beat around the bush with the combat forces going in to fight them, they would tell them outright, and not let them find out by watching TVs as they go into battle. I was wrecked by stupidity for the movie at that point before we even saw any real action. And this is sooo full of dumb, like the victims in a teenage slasher flick.

That’s not to say that the effects aren’t spectacular, especially on a good TV with HD Blu-Ray, but I was already frowning by the time they actually do show up. What’s not news coverage is done with shaky cam, obviously trying to copy the effects of Saving Private Ryan, but it’s a loftier target that it should have been trying to attain. It got tired real quick. With all its special effects, the two decades plus old Aliens is a better marines vs. aliens movie, and The Boys in Company C has less war clichés.

On the surface, Battle Los Angeles tries to mix the new knowledge we Americans have of ‘real’ war and combat footage with the concept of alien invasion. It works for the two-minute trailer, but not for the two-hour movie. Good cliché TV movie about the Iraq war (or Viet Nam) with cheap District 9 and Transformers aliens thrown in for good measure – wait for the free TV viewing, a bowl of hot popcorn, and possible a good nap or two.

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Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America: The First Avenger ~ This is the next in the cycle of Marvel Comics movies leading up to The Avengers next summer. This one even has the word ‘Avenger’ in the title. It started with Iron Man, then continued in The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2 and just two months ago with Thor. The Avengers are coming, and it’s gonna be so cool.

Sorry, folks, I got excited. I am an old school Avengers fan, so this slow build-up to seeing one of my favorite comics on the big screen is a big big deal. But that’s not happening until next year, and there’s one movie left before that happens, and it’s the one I saw today – Captain America: The First Avenger. Unlike Iron Man 2 which felt like an overlong ad for the upcoming Avengers, this flick does it subtly, and flawlessly ties up all the loose ends of those four previous movies.

We saw the flick on Friday afternoon (mostly to get out if the 104 degree heat) and while it was sparsely attended at first, the folks at Rave dressed one of their employees up in a makeshift closet floor Cap costume to walk around and entertain. Silly but fun, the kind of thing, in my opinion, theatres should do more often. Well, as long as he didn’t shoot me with his Nerf dart-shooting shield, that is. Good, no casualties, time for the movie.

There were almost forty minutes of previews and pre-show entertainment, which was fine I suppose. We waited about an hour for the next show -and had to get it in 3D because the next 2D flick was even later- and it occurs to me that this might be the next theatre scam. It just seems too much of a coincidence that the only show within a reasonable time frame was the more expensive 3D showing at a place where the feature was showing in two different rooms in 2D and 2D had an almost hour wait in between shows.

Something is just not right. No matter, the Rave is a great theatre with terrific events and friendly staff – and even if not, anything is better than being raped by Loews again.

As it got dark and the real previews started the theatre had filled up, and filled up with more than a few young children. I had had discussions earlier in the week as to whether or not my six year old nephew should see Captain America or not, and the concensus was no. Too much gunplay, violence, the Red Skull was sure to be scary – and do you really want to have the Nazi conversation with a six year old? You know, it’s true, evil is real, and all that. I was worried that maybe these parents had made a mistake, and would regret it.

As it turned out, I shouldn’t have worried. Hitler, the Nazis and the Third Reich are hardly referenced in a really horrific way. It is the Red Skull (still quite scary, and props to Hugo Weaving for bringing his horror to life) and Hydra who are the true villains of the piece. the explanation for the origin and separation of Hydra from the Third Reich makes complete sense. Actually, in hindsight, it even makes the World War II sequences, sans Nazis, in Disney XD’s animated “The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” make sense as well. Other than the gunplay, the Red Skull and a few intense moments, the PG-13 rated Captain America isn’t too bad for kids, and not as much to worry about as I originally thought.

This is a period film, as Captain America’s story is one forged in the patriotic fires of World War II. Young Steve Rogers is too puny to serve his country, and volunteers to become a super-soldier draped in the American flag. He takes the fight to the enemy and inspires millions in the process. It’s clichéd, and it’s cheesy, but director Joe Johnston weaves together a wonderful movie that has everything. If I was to wish for the perfect Captain America movie, it could not be better than this.

They do play about with some continuity issues, but nothing that damages the character, but more fills him out. Speaking of filling out, the CGI sequences are phenomenal of title star Chris Evans as a 90 lb. weakling and as America’s super-soldier. He looks great throughout the film, and unlike pretenders like Reb Brown and Matt Salinger, Evans is Captain America. Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter is perfect and Sebastian Stan gives Bucky a wonderful spin, with the re-realized relationship between Bucky and Steve. Trust me, it’s good, and quietly honestly better than seeing Bucky as a costumed sidekick. And Toby Jones is just downright creepy as Arnim Zola, and this isn’t even his really creepy form from the comics. Bravo!

The action sequences are amazing, exciting and what every superhero movie should be. Comics fans of the character and those who know nothing, will be thrilled. This is important for superhero movies – to be accessible to the mainstream audience, to be true to the source material, and to be good. Yeah, this one has all three.

There are Easter eggs all over the place. Tony Stark’s father Howard Stark plays a pivotal role. The Howling Commandos are here, and we’re able to tell who is who without ever hearing their names. Obviously, Nick Fury’s father or grandfather is in there, so as not to muddy the immortal waters. When Steve and Bucky visit the World’s Fair, keep your eyes peeled for the original Human Torch – total nerdgasm for me when I saw that!

This movie has everything – humor, romance, even musical numbers, and yet, it is still one of the best superhero movies I have ever seen, and I’d venture to say I’ve seen most of them. Yes, better than Iron Man. And speaking of Iron Man, like all of the other Marvel movies, you need to wait through the credits for a little something extra. Actually, this time, it’s not a little something – it’s a big something – a sneak peek at next summer’s The Avengers. DO NOT MISS. And definitely see Captain America: The First Avenger, highly recommended.

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The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker ~ This is a guy movie, and a damn good one – but I think if it wasn’t set in the topical Iraq War, it probably wouldn’t be nominated. That’s not to say it’s not a good film – it’s a great film. But we all know that politics –especially politically correct politics- always sways the Academy. The Ministry soundtrack of anti-war, anti-Bush music hits the point home where the film’s heart is.

The Hurt Locker is something we haven’t seen in some time, a war movie, and that’s probably because currently, we are at war. And it’s a new age war movie. The way that films like Platoon, Apocalypse Now and Steel Metal Jacket changed our perceptions, The Hurt Locker will as well.

Performances by Jeremy Renner and especially Anthony Mackie, who was ashamedly not nominated for Best Actor, are top notch, and overshadow easily veteran actors like Ralph Fiennes and Guy Pearce. It was directed by James Cameron’s wife Kathryn Bigelow at her husband’s urging – and now she might beat him for the Best Picture Oscar.

This is an intense, no holds barred, war movie for our time – and highly recommended – my odds-on favorite to win the Oscar. So far.

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War and More Plagiarism

All the text covered in the video aside, there is also the issue of the song sounding very similar to “Disco Inferno” by the Trammps. But still, why go to the nation that invaded you to participate in a contest, and not have some comment, right?