Movie Review: Iron Man 3

gi poster iron man 3May third is finally here and that means Iron Man 3 is finally out.  The timely third installment about a terrorist regime bombing various locations across America and waging war against Tony Stark does not feel like an Iron Man movie.  It’s dramatic and dark with a surprising amount of death and violence that clearly eschews a pre-teen demographic, while on the other hand incorporating light comedic moments often with a young boy who helps Tony out of a few scrapes.  The film overall is fairly balanced though it loses me a bit at the climax and while it differs substantially from Jon Favreau’s hits, Shane Black has clearly taken ownership of the franchise and made it his own in an admirable way.

This is a straight action flick with Tony doing a lot of the heavy lifting after his suit breaks down leaving him stranded in Tennessee.  There is plenty of comic book material to drool over, but it only serves as a framework to support this gritty action drama that Tony surprisingly finds himself involved in, rather than a more likely Wolverine.  In fact, many moments on-screen, particularly between him and the kid, reminded me of Hugh Jackman and made me wonder if the makers of Iron Man 3 unwittingly made a better Wolverine movie than the soon to be released sequel to the X Men spin-off.

There are many things to love about Iron Man 3.  For starters, every one of the actors takes it so seriously.  It’s not pandering, and they have worked hard to get to the emotional core of everything, so that when the play it it’s wholly believable.  It goes a long way toward suspending disbelief when fantastic elements, such as remote controlled automated Iron Man suits, or unstable,  combustible, bioengineered A.I.M. operatives would otherwise threaten to undermine the credibility of the film.

Another thing I love is the individuality of it.  I like how it doesn’t try to fit the mold of the other two and instead, puts Tony way out-of-place, just to see what he does there.  It’s really cool to see how he responds to the need for Iron Man, without being able to get into the suit.  I think that was the most intriguing Idea at the beginning stages of planning the film, and it holds really strong and makes it a really unique story for the genre.

There’s plenty of danger, plenty of humor and plenty of opportunities for Tony to rely on ordinary people to help him through his Search for the infamous Mandarin.  From set up almost all the way through the film it is riveting, flawless, exciting, and fun.  For as much thought that I know went into the staging of the film however.  I do wish a couple of scenes had been cut from the final piece.  I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who’s not yet seen it.  But there is one moment near the end that I know everybody thought would be really cool and reinforce Tony’s anxiety and doubt beneath his cocksure approach to being a hero.  They probably played this moment in their minds and considered it one of the more definitive scenes in the film and cutting it out would be unthinkable.  While it is a surprising turn of events, I found it to weigh down the rest of the climax and it sort of pulled me out of the fantasy when no one on-screen, Tony in particular, seemed to really react.  From there, the resolution didn’t really work for me and it somewhat deflated my elation from seeing such a uniquely daring interpretation of Iron Man on-screen.  Luckily, the scene at the end of the credits put a big smile back on my face, and I there is much more of the film that I admired than otherwise.

I do have some burning questions, ranging from why the President doesn’t even look like Obama, to how the Iron Man suit runs without the arc reactor in Tony’s chest.  There is very little by way of explanation for any of the technology, which I like.  On the other hand It felt this time around the suspension of disbelief was taken for granted and stretched a bit beyond its limits without any proper support.  The pains originally taken to reinforce the character’s believability are gone, which is slightly alienating when that credibility that inspires belief is one of the things that made the franchise so appealing and such a tremendous success.

The innovative approach to making the film more of a pure action genre and somewhat skirting the science fiction/fantasy elements of the comics resulted in a breathtaking adventure that puts Tony Stark in the type of position more fitting for Ethan Hunt or James Bond.  It’s fun to see the result and it’s even greater to realize that there is room in the films of the Marvel universe for great stories to be told through different lenses.  I appreciated the tonality of Iron Man 3 over that of The Avengers.  Once again the envelope has been pushed and even though Iron Man 2 remains my favorite I happily accept this new installment as a win for team Marvel.

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2012’s Biggest Let Downs

The 2013 Academy Awards was fun and there was much to celebrate. But 2012 also delivered some great disappointments that should have been mega hits. All of these movies were disappointing, but some had farther to fall. I’ll start with the least disappointing:

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Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Why it should have been great:

The floodgates have opened and comics are taking form on the big screen in exciting ways that were never before possible.  They have gained enormous traction in mainstream appeal and reboots have become commonplace enough that a new take on a familiar favorite can be seen just a few years after the last one.  No comic book franchise needed a fresh vision quite as badly as the underwhelming Ghost Rider.  The sequel, Spirit of Vengeance was Sony’s chance to get it right, especially after they fought so hard to retain the rights to the property.

What went wrong:

The script was rushed to meet Sony’s deadline and the movie didn’t have much going on beneath the special effects.  The lack of inspiration and daring lead to a run of the mill, action flick with a dull climax and a hokey twist of redemption for the tragic hero.

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Total Recall

Why it should have been Great:

Two 80’s classics from the mind of cult sci-fi mastermind Philip K. Dick appeared to have converged when the Schwartzenegger vehicle Total Recall was given a 21st century face lift with a  Blade Runner inspired set design.

What went wrong:

Everything.  The movie was not only flat, but the echos of the vibrant pulse of the 80’s original still spikes over the bland re-creation of every plot point.  Without at least an interesting new twist at the end, there is literally no reason to watch it.

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The Raven

Why it should have been great:

John Cusack stars as Edgar Allan Poe in a Sherlock Holmes style thriller based on Poe’s numerous tales.  Seriously, what part of that sentence doesn’t sound awesome?

What went wrong:

Edgar Allan Poe is a literary giant.  Screenwriter Hannah Shakespeare, despite her name, is not.  Though the visuals were pretty on target the story consisted of finding clues and arriving too late and finding clues… after a while it feels like a loop and it fails to contribute to or adequately explore Poe’s works, so the promising allure of the premise rises again nevermore.

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Prometheus

Why it should have been great:

Alien Prequel.

What went wrong:

Connecting the film to the highly successful franchise and bringing back the director that started it all gave false hope to many who wanted to see a compelling sci-fi horror film; and instead delivered an elaborately designed, but ill-plotted, quasi-philosophical, highly questionable storyline.  It pretends to explore the chasm between faith and science without taking a leap for true discovery, or at least making a convincing argument for either.

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The Dark Knight Rises

Why it should have been great:

The Dark Knight was a phenomenal achievement on top of the already acclaimed Batman Begins, which turned the genre on its head and delivered the Batman fans had been craving.  Audiences demanded a reprise and ceaselessly speculated about the next installment before Nolan even agreed to do another.  So the bar was set pretty high and the anticipation was palpable.

What went wrong:

Since I won’t review a film I haven’t seen in its entirety, this is my one chance to explain why I hate TDKR so much and forever hold my peace.  For starters, the decision to turn the series into a trilogy was near-sighted, and selfish.  I hate that TDKR is referred to as the final chapter of the Dark Knight trilogy, because that implies that the three films have more connective tissue than they do.  TDKR is not a natural conclusion to Batman Begins and there was no need for such an abrupt ending to the series.  I realize that there is a Ra’s Al Ghul connection and the Scarecrow even makes his third appearance, but these elements were contrived to bookend a series that artificially truncates the Dark Knight’s story. The forced conclusion effectively makes future installments by other directors extremely difficult and all but eliminates the possibility of continuing Batman films in the same vein.  It’s also worth noting that M.Night Shyamalan already did what Nolan gets so much credit for when he made Unbreakable, which was in essense the first installment of a trilogy that never happened, because it was too problematic.

The story chosen, taking Gotham under siege and revolting against its wealthy class (Occupy Gotham), lacks the layers and depth that the first two films had and simply piles scene upon scene, tenuously linking these separate characters and ideas together when they could have all been better used under different circumstances.  Rather than reinforce the story by reiterating a solid theme, Nolan pulls from three separate storylines in the Batman universe and files them down in order to force pieces together that don’t belong. The scenes were shallow and lacked the showmanship of the previous films that made it possible; serving as little more than bullet points to an over-reaching plot.  If they dropped the Dent angle and the Bane escape in the beginning, and hit Wayne harder when he was in his prime, not pissing away his inheritance in solitude.  They could have had a solid opening.  I would have liked to see an intro that finds Batman at war with the police possibly discovering “Robin” to be a worthy adversary/potiential apprentice.

Also, if they weren’t going to have Batman for most of the movie, they should have introduced Azrael, his temporary replacement, rather than setting up a Robin. I love Robin and JGL, but why use screen time setting something up when you are concluding your “trilogy”.  When Batman is in the movie, the action is a joke.  I think history will tell that people would rather forget about this film. It basically spits on the success of the franchise and gives its audience the finger. Bottom line is, if Nolan didn’t want to do the movie, he should have left it alone and let someone else take a crack at it.  Still, I had seen enough warning signs to diminish my expectations, so it wasn’t my biggest let down of the year.

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Brave

Why it should have been great:

It’s Pixar, first of all, and it was in development for a really long time.  It was going to be the first folk/fairy tale by the studio, effectively trading places with Walt Disney Animation Studios which made the much more Pixar sounding Wreck-it Ralph.  When it was titled The Bear and the Bow, the early artwork was gorgeous and the original story description read like and Mulan meets The Little Mermaid.

What went wrong:

They changed writers and dropped the title in an attempt to make the Bear element a surprise.  The quality of the animation slipped by Pixar standards, apparently putting everyone on staff on “hair duty” and letting everything else slide.”  The story was slow, way too simple for its running time and it did little to distinguish itself from the previous Disney disappointment Brother Bear.

Review: Oz The Great and Powerful

gi poster ozLast night, I had the immense pleasure of full immersion into the merry old land of Oz the way it’s never been seen before.  Revealed by the vision of the great and powerful Sam Raimi and his master tinkers, from opening curtains it was clear that this was going to be a dazzling display that succeeds in recapturing the magic of the moment original audiences must have felt when first watching The Wizard of Oz in 1939.  Nothing beats the fun and anticipation of a wll crafted title sequence to get you started on your journey, especially when your companion on that journey is Danny Elfman, who has and still does do some of his very best work with Raimi (Darkman, A Simple Plan, Spiderman).  The score is immediately recognizable to any Elfman fan as classic Danny in his prime.  Ad to that the stunning black and white photography and you are locked in for the ride.

Oz the Great and Powerful is every inch made for a Real 3D experience and delivers the most colossal spectacular any team of Hollywood magicians can offer.  It’s no wonder that the ever-changing scenery and many elaborate sets are to be drunken in slowly as the epic adventure of a carnival con man drags him the yellow brick road toward possible redemption.  Aside from the stunning spectacle of magnificent scenery and Sam Raimi’s keen vision and incomparable sense of balance between fresh innovation and familiarity with the classic, the big seller for this film is James francos impeccable depiction of Oz.  Franco does for the character what RDJ does for Tony Stark and what Johnny Depp did for Jack Sparrow in the first Pirates of the Caribbean; only he handles the character with such finesse and discipline that he creates a more three-dimensional character than anyone is likely to have seen on the silver screen.  The complexity of the man has so obviously been thoroughly explored by Raimi and Franco that he becomes such a flesh and blood human it seems astounding that he could ever be a wizard.  Franco’s depiction of Oz is such that he ceases, as an actor, to be a medium to the character, and fully becomes him in a way that every look and every utterance comes from the heart and soul of Oz himself.

The amazing story of the redemption of Oz (both the land and the man) starts out in Kansas, where we find our trickster little more than a petty thief with some theatrical flair and a weakness for the ladies.  The black and white photography is some of the crispest most beautiful I have ever seen and Raimi’s first action sequence of the film is harrowing, desperate, comical and brilliant, as is the predictable, but no less illuminating first glorious glimpse of the land of Oz in full color, mirroring of course the moment of Dorothy’s arrival 73 years ago.  As a stranger in a strange land,  Oz struggles with the opportunity to start fresh and the irresistible urge to take advantage, especially when the chips are down, but before he is even fully aware of his predicament, the choices he makes upon his arrival begin to seal his destiny and shape the people he meets.

It’s an epic journey full of great humor and powerful imagery that marks a monumental technical and artistic achievement.  Danny Elfman’s score is so perfectly in tune with the production and a must have, especially for fans of his work on Big Fish and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Peter Deming, Director of Photography, gets to play with every trick in his trunk and creates a seamless and believable atmosphere where fantasy knows no bounds.

The rest of the cast is terrific, but my favorite supporting performances come from Oz’s primary companions, played by Joey King and Zach Braff.  These characters lit up the screen and really played a part in Oz’s transformation as opposed to simply adding comic relief.

Oz the great and Powerful in Real 3D will envelope you in a world unlike any other, so real and so imaginary it is a sensation that is unique to cinema alone and yet only the highest of aims and the loftiest of dreams can harness it.  It provides sufficient enjoyment of these gifts yet never treads away from the story.  So you can ease on down the road with little urgency, but no less compulsion to move forward.  This is a great piece of art that introduces one of the greatest characters in cinema history to one of cinema’s oldest and most timeless worlds.

Movie Review: Wreck-It Ralph

Every once in a while, a movie comes out that is not only incredibly enjoyable to watch, but you have to think how fun it must have been to make.  That’s the way it was when I saw Wreck-It Ralph, the newest Disney film which really feels more like a Pixar production.  Directed by Rich Moore (Futurama, The Simpsons), Wreck-it Ralph is exemplary of what great Disney storytelling is all about.  The eye candy dazzles as this epic adventure sweeps you into the secret worlds of arcade video games on a misguided bad guy’s quest for glory that ultimately brings out the hero within.

Not enough praise can be given to this insightful and very funny film.  The world and its main characters are so entertaining and deliciously constructed that you can’t help but anticipate what is coming next.  Full of references to well known video games of the past and present and some clever new ideas folded into the mix, a potentially confusing concept is ingeniuosly laid out in a simple believable way as Wreck-it Ralph, voiced by John C. Reilly, leaves his own game and travels into others.  Each game has it’s own rules, as does the common space between them that the characters share–Game Central Station– and of course there is the way these games interact with the gamers in ther arcade;  But with all the jokes and the learn-as-you-go game rules, at its heart is a tremendous exploration of what truly makes a hero.  Most likely to be considered a sort of next generation Toy Story, Wreck it Ralph is not unlike Up in it’s epic marvels and storytelling prowess.

Sarah Silverman is perfectly cast as ragamuffin racer Vanellope.  Vanellope is a glitch in Sugar Rush, a Candyland inspired Racing game.  She adds some further grey to Ralph’s complex issues of right verses wrong.  King Candy is another delightfully performed character, voiced by Alan Tudyk.  The heroes, Calhoun (Jane Lynch) and Fix-it Felix (Jack McBrayer) are relegated to the minor character role as they search for Ralph and discover an unseen threat.  Though, they never break from their profile character traits there is just enough of their storyline to pull out a whopping finally.

The story begins with a quick explanation of the Donkey Kong like arcade game Fix-it Felix Jr. from Ralph’s point of view.  Tired of being the outcast, he hears a distressed character from another game complaining about all he has to go through for a medal.  Ralph takes his place in the game with disastrous results and winds up losing the medal in the Sugar Rush game.  Vanellope– the outcast of her game– only wants to race, but the king forbids it.  Ralph teams up with her in order to get back the medal, but soon discovers that fame and glory don’t make a hero.

I have to say, this is the best new film to come out of Disney Animation Studios in a while.  Smart and emotionally deep, the film boasts vivid worlds, terrific character designs, and all the laughter and tears that Disney is so well-known and appreciated for.  Wreck-It Ralph is worth a big screen 3D experience and I can’t wait until it hits the Bluray stands.  Oh, and the Oscar goes to…

Review: The Amazing Spiderman

Fantastic?  Incredible?  I’d say that The Amazing Spiderman truly lives up to its name.  Besides earning points for best Stan Lee cameo ever, The Amazing Spiderman takes the cake as best Marvel based film of the year, beating the thoroughly enjoyable MIB 3 and the mildly disappointing Marvel’s The Avengers.

It turns out Marc Webb wasn’t just chosen for his name.  His sensibility brought Spidey to life in the best vision ever shown, live action or animated.  Borrowing heavily from Chris Nolan’s take on the Dark Knight while retaining Sam Raimi’s horror and comedic influence,  Webb created a world for spiderman that is genuine and exciting.  Andrew Garfield matches him bringing everything to the table to creat the perfect Spiderman.  Add to him, the gifted cast including Emma Stone, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, and Denis Leary and inspired staging and visual effects and you’ve got more than a blockbuster.  It’s a true classic.

In this take, which retells Spiderman’s origin, Peter Parker wants to know why his father, a secretive scientist mysteriously disappeared.  In the process of investigating the matter, he comes in contact with some of his father’s life’s work, a radioactive spider.  gene splicing is researched in the lab to find a way to use the advantages of certain animals to heal humans.  Dr. Conner, a former colleague of Peters Dad hopes to use reptile DNA to regenerate his lost forearm… but something goes terribly wrong.  Peter’s character is much more complex and satisfying this time around, making both good and bad choices, while remaining true to his perspective as a teen with a lot of questions.

James Horner sets the mood beautifully throughout the film with his masterful score and Alvin Sargent returns as co-screenwriter to Basic, The Losers and soon to be Robocop scribe James Vanderbilt.  The film was wonderfully paced and well-balanced thanks to the remarkable work they did pre and post production to build and enhance the character of this fine story. A+