Monthly Archives: April 2010

Iron Man 2: At Length

I believe some of us (I hope most of us) go see the Iron Man movies for the comedy-action qualities as opposed to mere action segments.  Continuing in the footsteps of Iron Man, Iron Man 2 keeps up the wit and humor, never taking itself to seriously like those other, lesser, films featuring fighting robots.

This time around we have Mickey Rourke as Russian villain, Ivan Vanko/Whiplash.  After Ivan’s father Anton dies, he swears to bring vengeance on the Stark family as Anton helped create the arc reactor that vaults Tony Stark to even higher notoriety.

Meanwhile, Stark has problems of his own: Congress is busting his balls for not turning over “the Iron Man weapon” and his drinking habit comes to light when the arc reactor in his chest begins to poison him.  His computer J.A.R.V.I.S. quips that what’s keeping him alive is killing him.

Using an arc reactor based off his father’s schematics, Whiplash confronts Stark with electric whips that nearly kills him even with the Iron Man gear.  However, after Stark embarrassed competing weapons manufacturer, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), Hammer decides to break Ivan out of jail in an effort to outdo Stark’s technology.

With Whiplash’s attack using Iron Man-like technology, Stark drinking, and refusing to hand over Iron Man suits to the U.S. military, Lt. Colonel Rhodes (Don Cheadle) steals one of the shiny suits.  Upon turning it over to his superiors, it is utilized by Hammer to refine his robot army.  These events bring S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) into the fracas, as Stark’s new personal assistant, Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson) is actually S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow in the comics) assigned to Stark to keep an eye on things.  From there of course, let the battle between good and evil begin.

One of the biggest concerns leading up to Iron Man 2‘s release was the cascading waterfall of characters to be featured, resurrecting Spider-Man 3 flashbacks in the minds of geeks the world over.  I’m happy to say that the film delicately balances the spinning plates: though we don’t see a lot of Ivan/Whiplash, this works in his favor as the few moments we see him establish him as an unforgiving, Russian brute (I won’t get into the identity politics…for now); Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer is an incredibly smarmy, wannabe Tony Stark, and Rockwell sells his impotence with convincing sincerity; and even though director Jon Favreau included Scarlett Johansson as competing eye candy to Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Pots  for Stark and audience alike, Johansson’s brief fight scenes actually convinced me of her ability to kick some ass.  And I don’t even need to detail Robert Downey, Jr.’s performance: he’s great and he’s the reason we watch Iron Man.

So great cast, great writing (sans the few groan worthy lines from Iron Man), and an okay story.  Setting up Natalie and Pepper as competition for Stark’s heart adds a nice touch of sincerity to the film as well.  Though Natalie may be prettier than Pepper in some ways, Pepper and Stark are too alike in age, looks,  and intellect to not be with each other.  They’ve shared a lot of the years, so it’s sweet to see the guy go for the right girl instead of just the hot one.

There are a few minor hiccups:

MINOR SPOILER, SKIP PARAGRAPH

In the first film, the amazing thing about the arc reactor was its cheap, easy power, but in this film the arc reactor in Stark’s chest needs fuel of some sort that then requires Stark to artificially create a new element to sustain it.

After the big showdown, did we really need Stark to save Pepper Pots at the last second?  She totally succumbs to “damsel in distress” scripting and it’s just silly given what we know about her.

And finally, can we move away from Tony Stark regularly fighting dudes in revamped Iron Man outfits?

SPOILER ALERT OVER

There are also a few nerd moments: in the first Iron Man some fans spotted Captain America’s shield in the background on Stark’s workbench and it’s back

When we see Rhodes for the first time, Stark is surprised, but definitely on two levels: for the film’s story (“Oh, so surprised that you’ve arrived Rhodie”) and to acknowledge the audience’s surprise given the now infamous switch of actors for Rhodes, from Terrance Howard to Don Cheadle.  Cheadle says to Stark’s surprise, “I’m here, deal with it.”  Take note fanboys.

And I shouldn’t even have to tell you this, but stay after the credits (hell, you should stay for the credits for all films; you’ll better  appreciate how much work they require if you do, so show some respect)

Iron Man 2 outdoes the first (an accomplishment) and manages to be entertaining, not for the special effects, but due to quality cast and writing.  Even more impressive is that it expanded to fit more story and more characters, yet didn’t explode like a Gallagher melon.  Iron Man 2?  I approve.

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Go see the “Repo Men”

The trailers for Repo Men hinted at two possible paths for the film: interesting dystopian setting for an unmemorable action flick–or something more special.  I am glad to say it’s the latter.

Repo Men, as the title suggests, is about repo man Remy (Jude Law), who reclaims organs from customers who have fallen behind on their payments for artificial livers, spleens, hearts, etc.  Victims (or “clients”) are tased, read their rights while unconscious, and then Remy goes to work collecting. Continue reading

Erasing David

There are a variety of tools available to documentary filmmakers: Errol Morris used recreated events in The Thin Blue Line and Michael Moore is famous for “gotcha” style stunts.  The documentary Erasing David mines various documentary styles, but they can’t keep it afloat.

Directed and starring David Bond, the film follows David as he tries to evade private investigators (PIs) whom he has hired to track him down with his name as their only lead: the PIs have thirty days to find him.  David films himself during this period, verbalizing his concerns about being tracked when he uses his Blackberry or the internet.  We also follow the PIs as they obtain information on David through various methods: stealing garbage (twice), fraudulent phone calls, and obtaining a birth certificate (though it’s never explained how).

Erasing David takes place in the U.K. where, according to the film, millions of CCTV cameras make for the third-most surveillance-heavy state (coming in behind China and Russia). The idea of going off the grid is a pertinent one.  However, the film does not effectively deal with the deeper ramifications of electronic data.

SPOILER ALERT

There are multiple privacy experts that show up in the film, but they have little to say beyond “You’re at risk.”  We are never shown exactly how private information could be abused, other than showcasing two individuals who were wrongfully accused of crimes.

Further, in the film’s conclusion David reflects on the amount of information that’s available to the public about his life. The film then tries to link this commentary to David’s capture by the PIs after 18 days, implying that he was found via a vast web of information not kept private.

But that’s not what happened.

The only reason David is caught was because he gets sloppy and decides to visit his wife.  We’re not even sure how the PIs obtain the information that leads them to the couple’s meeting location (a hospital) other than one of the PIs pretended to be David over the phone.  That has nothing to do with electronic data or biometric scans–that’s just old-fashioned fraud.

Further, having a camera crew follow the PI’s as they try to find David undermines the paranoia and fear David exhibits as the days wear on.  When he talks to himself/the camera while out in the woods with the night vision on, we’re not afraid with him that the PIs are outside because we know where they are.  So because we know more than our main character, his fear and ramblings become comedic fodder, not dramatic gold.

These separate points of view also stymie any flow to the film, as we’re pushed and pulled from the present (“DAY TWO, HOURS ON THE RUN: 28”) to the past  (“FOUR WEEKS EARLIER”) so often that we don’t really care when and where we are – we just want to know why.

Some of the info we learn is interesting: an expert states that even though the U.K. has millions of cameras watching its citizens, these have no proven effect on crime.  Also, one of the best moments of the film is when David and his wife are talking about whether or not they’ll allow their child’s biometrics to be recorded.  David doesn’t want to do it because he’s worried his daughter could be persecuted based on data filed away somewhere (like the McCarthy trials, in which signatures from old Communist meetings were resurrected).  His wife, on the other hand, basically says if it becomes a problem, they’ll deal with it then.  Yeah, that worked really well for the ____________ (fill the blank with your minority of choice).

Though the documentary has an interesting subject, there are too many elements working against the film: several pieces feel staged (especially the segments with the PIs), the editing doesn’t keep the film focused, and the constant barrage of music fails to connect the audience to the film.

Though Michael Moore can be an asshole, he can keep you watching.  Erasing David, unfortunately, can’t bring home the sense of fear we should all have as we march into this brave new world.

*thanks to The Student for making this review possible.  You can read more film reviews at their website: http://www.studentnewspaper.org/film

Neil Marshall’s Centurion: Early Review

The last time we saw the Romans in ancient “Britannia” was in The Last Legion or the better known King Arthur.  The Last Legion played with King Arthurian legends, as well as the myth of the 9th legion, which is where Centurion comes in.

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The People vs. George Lucas: A Documentary

The current problem of George Lucas, summed up with one image.

Over at io9.com they’ve posted an interesting interview with the makers of The People vs. George Lucas, which talks to fans of Star Wars around the world and asks them how they feel about George Lucas.

The fans’ biggest gripe, of course, is Lucas’ failure to live up to the original Star Wars films with the subsequent green-screened prequels. They also object to his refusal to release Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi in their original, unaltered/non-CGI’d versions (even though Lucas argued against colorizing classic films before Congress).  The director of the film also mentions an interview in 1971 in which Lucas said,  “I like to think of myself as a toy maker who makes films,” which of course sounds like a precursor to the Ewoks in Return and the merchandising craze surround the franchise.

While I was chair of the University of Louisville’s Film Committee (we ran the campus cinema) I learned of  Lucas’ cutthroat business practices: refusing special screenings of any of the films to keep video sales up and forcing cinemas to hand over 90% of the first week’s grosses (compared with the industry standard of 70% to 80%. Every week a film is out, the cinema gradually receives more of the ticket sales, which is why opening weekend matter so much to studios and why your popcorn is so expensive).  It sounds like the filmmakers have delved into some of these issues and it will be interesting to see them reach a wider public.

Finally, discussing to whom films belong (especially when they’re culturally significant) is thought provoking, makes the interview a good read, and gives me optimism for the film.

Interview: http://io9.com/5500510/the-one-thing-george-lucas-could-do-to-sway-the-people-in-his-favor