Custom Search

May 28, 2010

Review: Iron Man 2

I might have gotten ahead of myself with my excitement for "Iron Man 2" and the list of Marvel Studios movies coming out in the next few years. Part of the problem is that every superhero movie since "The Dark Knight" has had to suffer being compared to a landmark film that set the bar way too high for movies in general. After seeing how dark, dramatic and somewhat realistic superhero movies can be, it's hard to believe in things like superpowers and the idea that these guys don't die from all the things they put themselves through. Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark and Iron Man come dangerously close to playing themselves off as a joke.

The first few scenes of a movie can tell you a lot. "Iron Man 2" leads off with Tony Stark's public announcement that he is Iron Man from the end of the first film. However, we're seeing it from a small t.v. screen somewhere in Russia. Enter Mickey Rourke ("Sin City," "The Wrestler") as Ivan Vanko, a Russian physicist who looks more like a biker turned convicted felon who screams with anger in possibly the worst acting I've seen in a long time. Vanko has reasons for revenge against Tony Stark, or more so, the Stark family. We jump six months to the Stark Expo, an on-going conference of technological inventions and presentations, where Iron Man makes an appearance complete with dancers. Downey Jr.'s Iron Man is cocky, comical and a bit obnoxious. Part of the plot centers around the governments desire to seize Stark's Iron Man suit and the technology around it saying a civilian should not possess such weaponry, and that they are concerned enemies of the U.S. have begun to attempt to replicate the technology. Stark Industries' rival weapons maker Justin Hammer, played by Sam Rockwell ("Choke," "Moon"), who serves as a great counterpart to Stark, is trying to convince the government to take Stark's suit while slowly developing the technology himself. After Vanko attacks Stark, Hammer recruits him to build suits similar to that of Iron Man's to sell to the government. Vanko's plans of revenge, however, outweigh his agreement with Hammer.

Meanwhile, Stark is trying to deal with the way the suit is affecting his health and the pressure being put on him by Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D., who we met in the teaser scene at the end of "Iron Man." Fury is trying to help Stark get control of his suit while evaluating whether or not he is what they're looking for to be a part of the Avenger Initiative. On top of all of this, Stark's relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is strained, and his friendship with Rhodey escalates over Rhodey's allegiance to the military.

It's almost too much to keep straight. In addition to all of Stark's growing problems, he continues to out-do technology (or even realistic ideas or what's possible, like creating new undiscovered elements) and keep throwing one-liners at the other characters, who can't seem to find it funny anymore. Rhodey has been re-cast in this sequel by Don Cheadle ("Crash," the "Ocean's" films), and he serves as a good compliment to Downey Jr.'s Stark. Scarlett Johansson ("The Other Boleyn Girl," "Vicki Christina Barcelona") is intriguing as Stark's new assistant, and a character the comics would know as Black Widow, though this name is never mentioned in the film. Black Widow will reportedly be appearing is several other upcoming Marvel Studios movies. Interviews with Rourke revealed that he didn't even read the entire script, but just his parts. Not surprising, as his acting reflected a lack of interest in the entire film. In the few instances when his character speaks, he barely speaks any lines of English.

Here's how this film fits into the Marvel Universe of upcoming and past superhero films. At the end of 2008's "The Incredible Hulk," which was released just weeks after "Iron Man," we see Tony Stark in a teaser scene where he confronts General Ross on his "problem" with the Hulk. He then mentions that "we" are getting a special team together. "We" implies that after meeting with Nick Fury at the end of "Iron Man" that Tony Stark is part of the Avenger Initiative Fury mentioned. In "Iron Man 2," he's being evaluated on whether or not he could be a part of this initiative. Also, at a point when Stark meets with Fury, you can see in the background that the college campus scene from "The Incredible Hulk" is being reported on the news (I didn't notice that myself, I read it online). So perhaps the events of "The Incredible Hulk" were actually happening after the events of "Iron Man 2." Also, several references were made to Captain America, who has his own film planned for next summer. Also, the teaser trailer at the end. I'll tell you right now it's not worth waiting past all of the credits for, but in case you want to be surprised, skip the next paragraph.

The scene at the end of "Iron Man 2" shows Agent Coulson arriving in New Mexico, which he mentions several times throughout the film. There, we see a giant crater in the ground, and at the very last second we see what is supposed to be Thor's hammer in the crater. That's it. There is no surprise here. "Thor" is being released next summer and he will eventually be in "The Avengers," set for summer 2012 with Iron Man, War Machine, Captain America, Black Widow, Nick Fury and most likely The Hulk. There is no shock here. All we see is a hole in the ground and a glimpse of a hammer. Filming for "Thor" has already begun, so couldn't they have thrown a glimpse of him in there? I think that would have been very doable. It's not the worst teaser, just not worth waiting around for. I already knew all of that.

So "Iron Man 2" doesn't really live up to its predecessor, and hopefully it isn't a strong indication of upcoming Marvel movies. It's still a fun and enjoyable film, but you'll probably enjoy it more if you're a superhero fan and especially if you're trying to follow this massive Marvel plan to bring all these movies together. If you're not particularly in to this stuff, then you can probably skip it, or wait until it's out on video.

"I'd love to leave my door unlocked at night, but this ain't Canada."


May 16, 2010

Review: Crazy Heart

Aged country legend Bad Blake has a rocky career, an unhealthy lifestyle and a seemingly lonely life. The question the film asks is, "Is it ever too late to change?" Jeff Bridges stars in an Oscar winning role as Blake: a fictitious character that could represent any number of former country music stars. We meet Blake on one of his tour stops, which just so happens to be a bowling alley. He reveals his lifestyle pretty quickly with excessive smoking and drinking (mostly whiskey), one-night stands with star-struck fans and late nights on the stage. When he meets a local reporter in Santa Fe named Jane, played by Oscar nominee Maggie Gyllenhaal ("Stranger Than Fiction," "The Dark Knight"), he begins to think a bit differently. Blake sees a way to better himself in Jane and her four-year-old son Buddy. Young country star Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell, "Phone Booth," "In Bruges") is also a thorn in Blake's side, though one with good intentions. Once somewhat of a student to Blake, Sweet has learned everything he knows from the former star and has gotten famous from Blake's previous support and songs Blake has written for him to perform. As he becomes closer with Jane, Bad Blake finds reason to change his ways, and a few career opportunities open up to him as he begins to write new songs, which is something he hasn't done in years.

The problem here is not so much the story. It's a familiar story with heart, and the cast is easy to fall in love with. What lacks is the dramatic event the film builds up to, but doesn't exactly deliver. There are several dramatic moments that create tension and help push the story. It just feels like something bigger is coming, and the ending itself, although it wraps up nicely, feels anti-climactic. The best part of the ending is hearing the song that Blake has been working on in pieces throughout the film.

While watching "Crazy Heart," it's hard not to compare the story and the character of Bad Blake to 2008's "The Wrestler," starring Oscar nominee Mickey Rourke in what is argued to be the comeback performance of his career. Jeff Bridges wasn't exactly in need of a comeback, so his performance doesn't seem to carry the weight that Rourke's did, despite his Oscar win. Personally I don't feel Rourke is that strong of an actor, but he was fantastic in "The Wrestler." That film, although not as visually pleasing, had a story with even more heart and emotion, and felt so real and personal. The dramatic moments were even more dramatic, the main character, similar in career and personal situations, fell harder and further with each misstep. Above all, it builds to a dramatic moment and ends in such a beautiful way that I can't say I've seen before. The stories, actors and films as a whole are much different, but so similar at the same time. The 2009 Academy Awards saw the much-deserving Sean Penn beat out Rourke for the Best Actor Oscar, but I think if you put Bridges' Bad Blake up against Rourke's Randy "The Ram" Robinson...ya know, that would be a pretty good fight.

Jane: Where did all those songs come from?
Bad Blake: Life, unfortunately.


May 13, 2010

Review: Pirate Radio

Set in 1966, "Pirate Radio" chronicles a time when rock n' roll music wasn't allowed to be played on mainstream British radio stations. What the great rebels of society decided to do at the time, was to anchor large ships out in the middle of the ocean and broadcast the defiant sounds of rock music 24 hours a day. Angering the British government, it became the mission of several sticklers to shut down such groups. The film focuses on a fictional ship with several characters based on known radio DJs of the time, and a colorful crew of rock enthusiasts. Young Carl is sent to the ship by his mother so he may spend time with his God-father Quentin, played by the ever-impressive Bill Nighy ("Love Actually," and Davey Jones in the "Pirates" films, though you can't always tell). When the government makes several frivolous attempts to outlaw the pirate broadcasts, but eventually puts some pressure on the crew, who must find new ways to reach their fans. Ultimately, the foreground of the story seems to center at times on Carl's attempt to lose his virginity to a girl who really likes him among a sea of sex, drugs and rock n' roll, in which everyone else seems to be more smooth and charismatic, though equally as unattractive.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman ("Capote," "Doubt") plays The Count, the lone American DJ (for a while) and is clearly one of the more rebellious members of the crew. His character seems part Howard Stern (without being horribly sexist and overly offensive), and bares a very strong resemblance to his portrayal of famous rock journalist Lester Bangs in "Almost Famous." Nick Frost ("Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz") is for once not the bumbling idiot of the group, though his character is at times a bit unlikable as he tries to help Carl out, but is just as quick to help himself out first. A rivalry arises between The Count and Gavin, an even smoother and more desired American DJ who once left the ship, but is now back to support them in their battle against the establishment. Gavin, played by Rhys Ifans ("The Replacements," "Little Nicky") could easily be confused with other characters in the film, as he doesn't speak enough dialogue or stand out in appearance. Maybe that's just me, but he's a memorable actor in a mysterious role amongst mysterious roles.

There are a handful of moments in the film that made me laugh out loud, by myself, and it's a funny enough movie overall, but the story itself is just alright. Having nearly all of it set on an anchored ship provides great visuals, and also a fantastically shot scene where records spill out of their covers through a room filled with water. It's no surprise this film had an extremely limited release. In fact, I knew it was coming out, but it was so quickly released on DVD that I think so few had the chance to see it in theaters. Either way, it's funny enough to watch if you're out of ideas, but I'm sure you could find something better to spend your money on.

"Here's a rather long record. I hope I'm here at the end of it."