Iron Man 3

May 15, 2013 by  
Filed under Movies

I had to go back and look up my review of “Iron Man 2” to remember what I thought of it. That seems to be standard operating procedure when it comes to comic book movies lately. Years ago I used to read comic books, and I enjoyed them. But they disappeared from my mind almost the instant my eyes finished the last panel. It’s not that they’re not worth remembering; it’s just that for the most part, there’s nothing to remember. I’d read it, enjoy it, and move on. That’s not including the deeper graphic novels I’ve read such as “Watchmen”, “The Sandman” or “From Hell”. Even mini-series such as “Midnight Nation” and certain storylines of major super heroes like “The Dark Knight Returns” have resonated in my mind. But something like a random “Superman” or “Punisher” comic tends to be nothing more than eye candy.

That’s pretty much the equivalent of a summer blockbuster, too. They’re not meant to challenge your brain or make you think about anything. And the good ones will keep your mind occupied so that when you’re ready to flush it out, it isn’t a painful experience. Maybe movies like these don’t really need to stay in your memory anyway.

That was my approach to “Iron Man 3”. When I had read my review, I did recall a few things from part 2. I didn’t find it to be as entertaining as “Iron Man” mainly because it was more of the same, which is true of a lot of sequels. I enjoyed elements of it, mostly concerning Robert Downey Jr.’s performance as Tony Stark, which is always a treat. So going into “Iron Man 3”, I suppose I had really no expectations. I’ve found that’s the best way to enjoy a movie like this. Then again, it didn’t help when it came to “Men in Black 3”. But sometimes movies disappoint without expectations at all.

“Iron Man 3” did not disappoint; on the contrary, I was pleasantly entertained. Downey, Jr. returns as the deadpan but smug and thoroughly egotistical Tony Stark. This time he’s remembered a time when he blew off a potential client, named Aldrich Killian (played well by Guy Pearce). It was 1999, and New Year’s Eve, and Stark had females on his mind, a “botanist” named Dr. Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall). She began developing something that later becomes known as “Extremis”, a volcanic virus inside you that helps heal your physical disabilities while also turning you bright red. Killian comes off as a bit nerdy and clingy for Tony’s liking, and so he leaves him high and dry.

This turns out to be a big mistake for Stark as now Killian has fully developed the virus “Extremis” and plans on using it for his own benefit, at the expense of Tony Stark’s life. But Stark isn’t the only one targeted. He also has a thing for his wife, Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) who was at one time Stark’s assistant.

Another villain trolling around known as the Mandarin (played by Ben Kingsley), who is threatening the President and all of America to terrorize anyone and anything he can to make his statement about…whatever it is he is making a statement about. This catches the eye of Stark enough to threaten him, and tells the Mandarin publicly what his home address is.

Next thing you know, Stark’s home is destroyed and all of his toys with it. Except one suit, which gets so badly damaged that Stark has to practically build it from scratch. He has a little bit of help, after being dumped in Tennessee due to his artificial assistant JARVIS using a flight plan previously made by Stark to investigate the Mandarin. He meets a kid named Harley (nicely played by Ty Simpkins) who is also handy with electronics, and the two form a small bond as they help each other out of their respective jams.

There’s a twist about the Mandarin I won’t give away but you shouldn’t be too surprised when it happens. There really isn’t anything that surprises in a film like this–it really is just a blow-em-up with all the bells and whistles. What makes it fun is Downey Jr.’s performance, some big laughs, some sweet moments between him and Harley and him and Pepper, and there’s a very funny scene involving Kingsley that makes his performance one of the best in the film.

It’s another “getaway” movie. It really doesn’t take itself that seriously, and it doesn’t beat you over the head too much with overblown special effects. There is just enough character development thrown in to make it more than just a spectacle for the eyes.

Out of the three films, I may keep this one in mind the most. I liked that they raised the stakes a bit for Stark, making him start from scratch, having to pull all of his resources. He gets some help from his buddy Rhodey (Don Cheadle, good as always), and Favreau is a delight as Happy. But since Stark has such an easy time being a genius and indestructible hero, it was nice to see him have to lose a little bit so he could really have to fend for himself. He’s also still struggling with his near run in with death back in “The Avengers” (making a nice cross reference), so he has some demons to battle there.

The action scenes are well done, and well written too. This is coming from Shane Black, who directed and co-wrote the film. He is all-too well known in the Hollywood world for being a master of action. He wrote films like “Lethal Weapon”, “The Last Boy Scout”, “Last Action Hero” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”, for example. He has just enough wit, and just enough bombastic action in this film to make it a well rounded experience.

My rating: :-)

The Dictator

May 22, 2012 by  
Filed under Movies

There seems to be something missing from Sacha Baron Cohen’s comedies since the 2006 smash hit “Borat”. While for the most part I still enjoyed “Bruno”, I felt that he was imposing his agenda to “expose stupid Americans” more and more and hitting you over the head with stupid comedy rather than allowing the comedy to just happen. He takes this to a new level with “The Dictator”, a film so full of comic exposition that it gets rather tiring even at only 83 minutes of Cohen constantly efforting us to “get it”.

The film’s plot, which is as thin as you could possibly use as an excuse to make a feature length film, is simple: tyrannical despot who is unaware of how brutish he is, goes to America after being discovered to be having a possible nuclear plot against us, gets duped by his own assistant (Ben Kingsley) and he’s attacked, beard shaved, and stuck in NYC with no identity. He meets a vegan hipster played typically over the top by Anna Faris (who seems to can’t ever help winking at the camera even if she doesn’t bat an eyelash), and she reforms him and tries to get him to a summit to stop his body double from making a mistake in making Wadiya the next oil country for the world. There’s a bit more to it but you can immediately see where the movie’s going at every turn. To say it’s predictable is a bit of an insult to predictability. If that makes sense.

Cohen tries to blur a line to see if we can understand what he’s parodying. For instance, his character resembles someone Middle Eastern–yet he’s actually North African. The fictional country Wadiya is located in the area that contains some Arab heritage, yet his character Admiral General Aladeen is not Arab. In the film’s funniest scene, he and his former nuclear scientist Nadal speak in their native language in a helicopter confusing the poor dumb American tourists about a possible follow up 9/11 plot that winds up getting them both arrested. We’re not really sure what language it is, but it sounds “Arabic”, and we could easily mistake them for that.

That scene works so well because for that moment, Cohen isn’t trying to tell us what he’s doing. He’s just doing it. There are many scenes in which characters talk and talk, and they ramble about what is right and wrong about this and that and it just seems like you’re watching a first draft of a script whose jokes haven’t been fully worked out yet. There are some scenes that are funny, and there are some big laughs. And of course, since this is Cohen who seems to insist now on being subversive, there are a lot of “offensive” jokes including the film’s opening dedication. I’ve seen far too many “offensive” films to take anything in “The Dictator” as offensive; but even the offensive jokes aren’t very clever and seemed to be aimed only at adolescent boys.

I get that for the most part, that’s probably Cohen’s target audience anyway. I’d say that the guys who make “Jackass” probably would share that audience. But the difference is that Cohen has the ability to reach a far greater audience and has potential to be one of the great political satirists of our era. I think he kind of wasted his time with this one. It could have been on par with “Team America: World Police” as far as making fun of America and also globalism and bad foreign policy–instead, it just merely pokes fun. And a little poking from Sacha Baron Cohen goes a very long way. Literally.

My rating:  :?