World War Z

World-War-Z-posterFurther global annihilation awaits audiences this weekend in the form of World War Z, a massively expensive summer tentpole picture geared toward action-seekers and zombie fanatics, though it’s likely to please one of those crowds more than the other.  The film is based on a novel by Max Brooks of which I conquered a mountainous six pages.  That’s not to the novel’s detriment.  I merely put it down and never picked it back up.

No matter.  The screenplay divided up by three writers apparently ditched the source material and instead journeys with Gerry Lane played capably by superstar Brad Pitt.  Gerry has one of those professions never fully explained, but he is recruited out of retirement by the United Nations on a global quest to track down the origins of a zombie virus that has catapulted the planet into chaos.

The film opens with Gerry and his family—wife and two young daughters—traveling in the car when the outbreak hits.  Cars slam into each other.  Crowds flee in the streets.  Hordes of rabid human undead attack civilians on the run and spread the pandemic.  Within seconds, humans are fed on and turned to monstrous, speedy, lethal cannibals.

Gerry is offered a secure naval base shelter for his family in exchange for his efforts to track the down the spread of the virus.  He joins a military strike force and globe-trots from the U.S. to South Korea to Jerusalem in search for answers that might allow him to find a cure for the spreading contagion.

Unfortunately for World War Z, the film has arrived following a wave of negative buzz after its production budget ballooned to unfathomable proportions for this type of zombie apocalypse thriller.  A third act rewrite and reshoot didn’t help matters especially when rumors spread that Brad Pitt quit talking to the director, Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace, Machine Gun Preacher), and threatened to walk out on the film.  Consider all the rumors hearsay.  What we finally have onscreen is pure unrelenting entertainment from start to finish, a film that easily outguns and KO’s all alien superheroes and fast car lovers.

world-war-z-brad-pittWorld War Z is a superb suspense-thriller and manages to succeed against all odds even for a PG-13 zombie film.  Whether Forster, his editors, or his writers pulled off the magic required or blind luck intervened, this was not the choppy moviegoing experience I was expecting.  The computer-generated mounds of zombies featured in the trailers raised I Am Legend-sized visual doubts, but actually turn out to be quite freaky physical specimens, which are (in individual cases) actually human actors sporting incredible makeup and prosthetic enhancements sans much of the gore fans have become accustomed to.

Believe me when I say the lack of blood never once hinders the film from its storytelling ambitions, nor from rampant intensity and scares.  There are plenty of jump-out-of-your-seat moments.  Several sequences mount tingling suspense.  The filmmakers have flat-out created a well-structured thriller that flows neatly across continents from start to finish atop Brad Pitt’s shoulders.  Its his show and he does create a genuine character that the audience can root for as he struggles to return to his family and save the world.

At a tight 2 hour running time, World War Z delivers the goods and winds up a fine summer blockbuster filled with big action, big thrills, and the kind of suspense this season has been lacking.  Despite the lack of blood, the movie has plenty of guts, and it knows how to turn up the intensity to eleven.  Skip the 3D conversion and forget about a faithful adaptation to novel.  If you can do so I’m betting you’ll eat it up.

 

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Man of Steel

man-of-steel-poster-600x886Warner Bros. really wants Superman to turn into the next Dark Knight franchise and Zack Snyder’s mega opus Man of Steel makes a serious run for your money.  It’s a gargantuan exercise in Transformer-sized destruction masquerading as a modernized take on the most popular superhero of all time.  Can the caped do-gooder savior survive a dead-on serious interpretation courtesy of the 300, Watchmen-helmer with the guiding hand of producer Christopher Nolan?

As a matter of fact—he can, but not without a few scars and lacerations.  Man of Steel is admittedly somewhat of a choppy mess missing much of the beating heart a Superman film desperately needs more than an alien super-punch.  Snyder attempts to restructure Kal-El and his battle against the alienation of being, well, an alien.  The film lifts off immediately in a big way—Superman’s father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his mother are introduced on planet Krypton (very Avatar-esque) in the middle of a planetary Armageddon.  Krptonians haven’t been able to deliver a natural born child for many years until Jor-El’s wife delivers a baby that is immediately shuttled off to Earth in the hopes of giving him a chance to survive before military leader/lunatic Zod (Michael Shannon) can find the child and turn him to mush.

Fast forward.  Kal-El (renamed Clark Kent on Earth) is a 33-year-old man-alien in hiding as a savior-to-be.  Through flashbacks, Snyder introduces Clark’s restrained hostility and his heroic efforts to save others in need despite his father’s disapproval.  Kevin Costner, superb yet limited in the film as Pa Kent, instructs Clark that the world isn’t ready for the unveiling of Clark’s identity and incredible abilities.  The film bounces around important highlights from Clark’s life before plunging into the efforts of Lois Lane (Amy Adams), the willful reporter who stumbles upon Kent in the Fortress of Solitude.  Kent discovers his past.  Lane discovers the story of her career.  Bring out the cape and the romance.

Kent dons the infamous suit just in time to do battle with Zod who manages to find Earth with his evil cohorts in an attempt to reclaim that last artifact of Krypton following its destruction: Clark/Kal-El.  In the process, Zod wants to also level all of Earth and rebuild Krypton.  With no earthly measures able to stop Zod and his troops, Superman locks fists with beings just as powerful as he in the hopes of saving the third rock from the sun before it is wiped out.

I have to give Snyder credit for taking a full bludgeoning swing at the infamous DC universe character and despite a few strikes, he manages a base hit—one that nearly shatters the ball.  You couldn’t pack any more action and mayhem into the final hour of this movie.  If there is anyone left alive in the massive destruction of Metropolis by the time the film is over, consider Superman back for another go-around as the world’s alien savior.  Fans looking for action will feast on this film.  Fans looking for a little more character development will find a lot to be desired with Snyder’s film.

Granted, another origin story for Superman in 2013 wasn’t going to be an easy task.  Most viewers know the story, the beats, and what must be included.  To retread so much information already committed to film over the course of five previous feature Superman films *not to mention ten seasons of Smallville and however many seasons of Lois and Clark), would have the blind taste of Novocaine.  After a while the filmmakers wouldn’t have realized they were chewing off their own tongues.

ManofSteel-ZodWith flashback sequences utilized for Man of Steel, the required information regarding Kent’s past makes it to audiences, albeit in disjointed fashion that hinders the narrative from ever finding the proper fluidity.  The romance spark between Lois and Clark never fully develops, and everything that must occur feels like a falling gavel.  The filmmakers have sentenced the film ‘that this must take place!’  However, Snyder still captures the parallels of Christ and Kent’s battle against vengeful (sinful) temptation when ultimately he must be the burdened savior of the world that his father sent him to be.

The battle of give-and-take for audience expectation hits the film hard in the gut without bringing it to its knees.  When the film isn’t showcasing the highlight reel, some great moments and performances sneak through.  Most notably of course is Henry Cavill as the latest actor to adorn the costume.  He fits it well.  The actor comes across as charming, powerful, and certainly human.  For my money he is a great Superman in a not-so-great movie.  Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, and Russell Crowe are also especially good here.  Even when they all have less to do, they provide the necessary supporting talent the film really needs.

The film’s greatest disappointment arrives in the form of Michael Shannon whose one-note expression gives the villain Zod little to do.  Perhaps the script shortchanged him, but for whatever reason I found Shannon lacking in terms of a death-blow adversary.  Was he too serious that the performance came off campy?  I don’t know.  A second viewing might sort that out for me.

Another critical factor in lessening the film’s impact has to be enormous action that meanders more in silliness than importance.  The fighting feels ongoing, but never immediate.  Honestly.  The destruction in the film morphs into the Octomom-love-children of Roland Emmerich, Michael Bay, and well, Zack Snyder.  Visually, yes, this is a mammoth spectacle to behold and I have to say that the special effects will likely drown out any other film this year.  Or next year.  But Snyder’s movie endeavor, at 2 1/2 hours, had no limits in the action department.

Yet Man of Steel still manages to fly.  I walked away satisfied, but without the butterflies.  The film is flawed for sure, but this team can take flight with a clear-cut adventure  for the sequel now that the dust has settled on the choppy origin story.  I’m guessing the film will take place ten years in the future when the rebuilding of Metropolis has a chance to finish.

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Fast and Furious 6

fF6Like exhaust through a catalytic converter, so are the days of the Torretto family.

Six installments.  Six.  Car drive and car drive fast.  This concept has spanned SIX! feature films.  As of late the crash-mania squealing-tire saga has only gained further momentum.  Vin Diesel, the legitimate star of the series, announced that next summer’s greenlit Fast 7 (set up at the closing credits of this current installment) will begin a new trilogy.  Heaven help us all.

The crew of the massive blockbuster Fast Five returns for round 6 or Furious 6 as its titled in the opening credits and the results are exactly what you expect.  Just don’t try following the titles of these movies.  And be sure to remember that The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (or Fast 3) from seven years ago takes place after all previous Fast & Furious features including this sixth entry.  Still up to speed?

Picking up immediately where we left in Fast 5, Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) gains a new partner in Agent Riley (MMA beauty Gina Carano, Haywire) and sets out to court Dominic Torretto (Vin Diesel) living peacefully on a tropical island with his newfound lady friend (and Hobbs’ former partner) Elena (Elsa Pataky).  Hobbs needs Dom to recruit his team once more to take on the international threat of Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), a really bad terrorist with a really bad device that is capable of something very bad and might be used by said bad terrorist or sold to another really bad terrorist.

Why would Torretto be interested?  Why even bother confiding in his F&F-chum-for-life Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) who just had a new baby boy with Torretto’s sister (Jordana Brewster)?  Because Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Dom’s murdered lover (as it happened in Fast 4) is still very much alive and may in fact be working with Shaw.  Dom needs to know for sure and “you don’t turn your back on family, even when they do.”

fast-furious-6Walker, Diesel, Johnson, and Carano welcome Ludacris, Sung Kang, Tyrese, and Gal Gadot in yet another family reunion full of physics-defying metal on metal stunts and set pieces linked to moments of eye-rolling blabbering buffoons yawning us to death about family values.  Justin Lin, the confident man behind the action of the last four F&F films, smolders a not-so-subtle subtext of family and loyalty over car mangling.  Dominic, our antihero, may be an outlaw, but he has a code and he protects his own which adds a great deal of honor to his outlandish escapades.  The villain Shaw, on the other hand, plays by-the-numbers and finds his team members to be no more than disposable pawns in his strategic chess game that he always holds the upper hand in.

Who cares?  I don’t and neither do viewers.  They want “vehicular warfare” and they do get it, bigger and better than usual which is a major compliment coming off the high of Fast Five.  But I have to admit I’m fatigued of this series which now throws a few too many big wrenches at my head in terms of plot.  Believe me.  I’m not referring to the stunts, which feature only slightly more lunacy than the story.

The plot is a gigantic mess of pointless setup met with needless execution. Follow the events of Fast 6 and you will scratch your head over the decisions the characters make in an effort to string together some large action sequences.  Potential SPOILERS ahead.  Stop here. I know I’m criticizing a live-action cartoon that delivers exactly what is intended, but bear with me.

Point 1:  Hobbs recruits Dom and a team of international criminals he set to take down in the last movie.  Why?  Because there needs to be a movie, not because he wouldn’t work with an actual military unit or strike force or… something like that.

Point 2: O’Connor decides to infiltrate a stateside prison as an inmate in order to get close to a former villain from the series who may have some information on what happened to Letty.  Why?  I don’t know actually.  This is the most idiotic development in the movie.  The mission would likely get O’Connor killed and it nearly does.  But the funny thing is that the information is of zero importance.  The characters already know where Letty is, have seen her and know that she is alive and likely has memory issues.  Torretto goes and finds her on his own before O’Connor even returns from his adventure.  Dom instructs his buddy to spare him the ‘vital information’ that was worth dying over.

Point 3:  For being the smartest villain in the room, Shaw is a moron.  He says he doesn’t care for his team members and finds them to be replaceable.  Except for Letty, the smart-mouth, authority-defying brain batter mess that generally serves little purpose for Shaw throughout the film.  Torretto offers to walk away from Shaw and leave him alone if he can have Letty back.  Shaw refuses.  Idiot.

Point 4: Torretto and Shaw, in multiple instances throughout the film, have a chance to take each other out either directly or through their cohorts.  They don’t take the shot.  Then there’s the back and forth of the heroes having Shaw and letting him go.  And having him and letting him go.  Dumb.

Fast and the Furious 6Point 5: The action has zero consequences and the cartoonish nature of the series removes any and all suspense or tension.  Multiple fistfights occur in this installment.  Heroes and villains bludgeon each other with nary a bruise or scratch.  At one point, Diesel’s character dives headfirst into the skull of any angry giant thug man and walks away unscathed.  As insane as the car stunts become, whether the heroes are facing off against tanks or airliners, the action reaches such high levels but rarely evokes actual danger.  Characters consistently fight through hell but never show injury until the final blow—if they do in fact die.

That’s where the series has really worn me out.  Bang bang boom, but no one gets hurt until they die.  This roadrunner-coyote cartoon chase only entertains for so long when there’s no suspense or actual imminent danger to the characters.  I know other PG-13 action films have dealt with the same problems, but none are as numb to reality as the Fast series, at least to my present knowledge.

Justin Lin has a balancing act with these films and he succeeds with a far more prominent and successful use of humor this time around, but there are simply too many characters and subplots to juggle at this point.  The action even suffers in terms of the different bobbing heads we are forced to jump back and forth with.  Do I commend the action?  Yes.  But somewhere down the line I became numb to it.  The F&F fans should rejoice, however, as this is probably a franchise high for them, even though I found it a step down from Part 5.  If you want bloodless carnage, mindless action, and by-the-numbers soap opera, then Fast 6 will serve you plenty.

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Now You See Me

now_you_see_me_ver3_xlgIt seems like it has been a long time since audiences were given a good movie about magic. Not since Nolan’s The Prestige or Berger’s The Illusionist  in 2006 has there been any that come close to being a success. But like those two movie gems, there is something special about magic movies when they hit their mark. They create the awe and wonderment that Hollywood cinema was built on, and this movie does nothing to interfere with that belief.

Now You See Me is the latest project of director Louis Leterrier, known more for his action movies (Transporter 1 and 2, Clash of the Titans) than anything else. A great cast has been assembled including starring roles for Mark Ruffalo, playing FBI agent Dylan Rhodes, Morgan Freeman as magician whistleblower Thaddeus Bradley, and the four horseman magician team of Michael Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt Osbourne (Woody Harrelson), Henley (Isla Fisher) and Jack (Dave Franco). Throw in supporting roles from Michael Caine as a millionaire businessman and Melanie Laurent as Interpol agent turned Ruffalo’s muse, and you have maybe the most star-studded cast of any summer flick. The plot centers around four street magicians who come together to create an act under the name of The Four Horseman. Instead of just wowing audiences with their illusions, they decide that each performance will end with them robbing someone out of copious amounts of cash. Both Ruffalo and Freeman’s characters are hot on their trails for completely different reasons– one to put them in prison, the other to expose their tricks to the public. As straight forward as it sounds, the twists and turns of this movie are abundant and constantly keep the audience on the edge of their seat.

You know a movie is awesome when Morgan Freeman can wear a sweet hat and purple blazer

You know a movie is awesome when Morgan Freeman gets to wear a sweet hat and purple blazer

This movie is incredibly entertaining and a delight to watch. You will be hard-pressed to find another movie this summer that integrates comedy and suspense so well. Even though the method of each trick is explained by Freeman’s character shortly after it happens, the audience will still have many questions to mull over throughout the entirety. In fact, there is almost an Ocean series-type feel after each reveal. The back and forth between the affable Harrelson and smug, arrogant Eisenberg is extremely enjoyable, while the role of Ruffalo as a surly detective really shines. One of the really interesting aspects of this movie is the moral ambiguity of basically every character. Who is the hero and who is the villain? It is a very intriguing technique that only enhances the thrill of the movie. The negatives of this movie are two-fold. First, the supposed romantic relationship between Ruffalo and Laurent seems a little forced and bogs down the pace at times. It may be a necessary plot device, but their onscreen chemistry leaves a little to be desired. Second would be the overall filmmaking seems a little second class at times. Don’t get me wrong, the script holds up very well, but Leterrier’s use of lens flares and shaky camera during chases can be a little much to handle. However, neither of these aspects are enough to really detract very much from the project as a whole.

I think the vast majority of moviegoers will leave this movie with a great sense of satisfaction. The premise of this film is fantastic, and one of the few genre movies that gives an ending that does not fail the exquisite build-up. Even though this movie is a pure summer popcorn-flick indeed, the refreshing and original ideas are sure to delight and amaze. This is one film that should not have to beg you to “look closely”.

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Fast & Furious 6

Well, it has been only a couple years since the last Fast & Furious installment, but Vin Diesel and company are back with a vengeance for the sixth (and not the last) time.  The only logical question for moviegoers is “has this Universal Pictures cash cow run its course?” After sitting through 130 minutes of pure unadulterated action, the only logical answer has to be, “not yet.”

fast and furiousJustin Lin is once again at the helm directing the massive amounts of fast cars and fantastical stunts the series has become known for. Both Vin Diesel and Paul Walker reprise their roles as the street-racing buddy duo of Dominic Torretto and Brian O’Connor. The Fast & Furious rat pack of Tyrese Gibson, former rapper Ludacris, Sung Kang, and Gal Gadot are also back to lend their expertise. And let us not forget the exploits of Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, whose presence seemed to breathe some steroid-infused life back into series. This band of “heroes” is at it again attempting to stop the evil villain, Shaw (Luke Evans), whose evil plan is to steal the aptly named “components” to build something to sell to some bad guys for lots of money. Yeah, I don’t think the writers really cared about the whole plot thing either. The only thing you really need to know is that he has a master plan that will inevitably involve copious amounts of cars and carnage. Oh, and Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) is somehow back from the dead despite assurances of her death and a funeral involving a body that was presumably identified by a licensed medical examiner.

I will quickly apologize if the brief synopsis implies a less than enjoyable movie, because the outcome is the pure opposite. There may not exist a more fun and action-packed movie this summer. No, this movie will never win any awards or be praised for its acting performances, but that isn’t and shouldn’t be the point. It seems that the script writers have fully embraced the sort of self-parody that is needed to make these films enjoyable. There are plenty of extremely humorous one-liners, many intended with a few not, and the action never stops. The pacing is very good and the action sequences are well done. Will there be times when you sit there and stare, mouth agape, at the completely unrealistic action sequence? Of course, but that only enhances the absurdity, and therefore, fun of this movie.

A movie like this is all about the specific expectations that one has going into it. This movie has a lot to offer both the cinephile and casual moviegoer if expectations of character and plot development are tempered while enjoying the exhilarating ride (pun intended). Fast & Furious 6 is a great way to spend some money if you enjoy popcorn-filled escapism amidst the increasing temperatures of the North American summer months. The best film in the hexology only fills me with hope that next movies will continue the trend.

 

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Star Trek Into Darkness

star-trekinto-darkness-posterSo much hoopla has been made over king-of-nerds J.J. Abrams directing the next chapter of the Star Wars saga that his latest sequel Star Trek Into Darkness has played second fiddle to the wave of news circling that other sci-fi universe.  For casual Trek fans, such as myself, Abrams will likely do for Star Wars what he has done for Captain Kirk and crew.

Abrams brought Trek out of the depths of cult obscurity and hammered down the door of nerdom to allow mainstream audiences access to an otherwise closed-off franchise.  With the use of punk wit, a young cast of immense talent, rousing action sequences, and the gravitational pull of dead-on comedy, the Star Trek reboot was one of very few films to not bring further slander to the term ‘reboot.’  The more times I’ve viewed the 2009 entry, the more I enjoy it as all-around grade-A entertainment.

Thus Mr. Abrams’ sequel Into Darkness gets a little more serious and has slightly less fun toying around with the strict mechanics of series expectations.  Slightly less.  The Abrams magic is still intact and he manages to deliver a satisfying action-sequel that simply hasn’t the fresh air of the previous film especially when the story relies on previously-mined material.

For round two Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), having just been suspended from active duty, is  driven to revenge after a terrorist named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) stages multiple attacks on the Federation that results in the untimely death of one of Kirk’s most endearing mentors.  The appointed captain reenlists Spock (Zachary Quinto) as his first officer and sets out with his crew aboard the Enterprise on a Starfleet mission to target the fugitive Harrison in hiding on a Klingon planet.  Relations are tense between the Federation and the Klingons, and Kirk has been ordered to target Harrison with highly powerful torpedoes whilst trying avoid the start of a planetary war.

star-trek-into-darkness-stillKirk must also grapple with his own thirst for blood and his rocky rapport with his crew members.  The story further digs into Trek lore, Spock’s and Uhura’s (Zoe Saldana) unlikely romantic relationship, and springs about as many laughs as the previous entry.  I honestly wasn’t quite as engulfed in this Trek, but only by a slim margin.  The film is still visually brilliant and action-packed, but the more sinister tones have set in as is to be expected for a second installment.

Most noteworthy in this chapter is the casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as the villain Harrison.  He’s a brilliant, deep-voiced menace full of mystery and intrigue.  The performance is the stuff of terrific acting and he’s certainly a much more memorable foe than Eric Bana as the bald Romulan from ’09 Trek.  The rest of the cast is exceptionally good just as they were last time, but Cumberbatch is a standout and helps elevate this sequel above its few shortcomings in originality and suspense.

The themes at play revolve around the true meaning of leadership, friendship and heroism.  It is here that the writers and Director Abrams pave the way for a strong emotional journey for the leading characters.  Set against the backdrop of grand set pieces—Spock caught on a small bed of rock in the middle of an erupting volcano; Kirk suited up and soaring through space between two Federation spaceships; Harrison’s attack on the Federation tower—the emotional undercurrent allows the action to actually have some stake.  But then occasionally, and all too abruptly, Abrams hooks back into familiar territory that the franchise has previously explored rather than leap over new hurdles.

As much as I think J.J. Abrams has delivered Star Trek out of darkness, I assume he will be moving on from the franchise to become engulfed in Star Wars.  Even though I would still welcome him back to Trek, perhaps that will be for the best?  Abrams has relied upon alternate takes of previous adventures for Trek thus far and I think it’s time for a new director to expropriate Abrams’ discovered fountain of youth for this franchise and hasten the current Enterprise crew to a new infinite frontier from a storytelling perspective.   Please don’t misunderstand, however.  Into Darkness is a rock-solid film and likely light years ahead of what’s to come this season.  But with such a previously accomplished entry, Abrams has not managed to top himself, and I can’t exactly fault him for that since he already brought Star Trek into greatness.

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Iron Man 3

IronMan3PosterIron Man 3 is the kind of crowd-pleasing adventure picture that has no business being so good.  After a sensational first installment from Director Jon Favreau that surprised audiences with its quick-wit and towering performance from leading actor Robert Downey Jr., the minor pitfall of Favreau’s uneventful Iron Man 2 was only salvaged by the contagious antics of Downey who embodies Tony Stark so well.  Then last summer’s The Avengers swept up audiences around the globe and expanded Stark’s world across an entire Marvel universe of other movies.  The result was an overpraised but undeniably fun success. Be sure to see/brush up on all three previous outings.

Iron Man 3 strikes only a year later with a new director and co-writer Shane Black whose previous writing credits include Lethal Weapon and Last Action Hero, and he commandeers a final product that rivals the sheer entertainment value of the first Iron Man film.  As long you don’t see it in its flat 3D format of course.

This is Tony Stark’s journey, not Iron Man’s.  Downey narrates the film’s opening moments and a few other segments of the picture.  His life has certainly changed since the world was exposed to Loki and his invading alien army—and the giant green guy—-and the flying hammer dude—and the other ‘human’ characters that can run around and shoot.  Not to mention wormholes and other dimensions.  Needless to say, Stark has a lot on his mind and he develops crippling anxiety episodes that prevent him from sleep and his ordinary business.  His relationship with Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) suffers and he spends his hours of insomnia devoted to developing advanced Iron Man suits.

A new villain enters the scene by the name of the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a middle-eastern terrorist threatening the American way of life.  He plants suicide bombers in various U.S. locations, but investigators quickly learn that his destructive pigeons have no formal explosive parts or materials.  Stark’s trusted bodyguard, Happy (Jon Favreau) follows one of the suspected threats only to be found victim to another terrorist attack.  In a rage, Stark invites the terrorist to his front door for a mano-a-mano confrontation.

kingsleyJust when our hero’s former botanist colleague, Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) arrives at the Malibu fortress to warn Tony of suspected terrorist involvement from the odd-duck geneticist, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), the Mandarin unleashes a massive attack to wipe out Iron Man for good.  The structure of Stark Industries falls to rubble.  Tony awakens abandoned, homeless, and all but defeated in a snowy Tennessee town.  His only armored suit has run out of juice, he’s been considered dead, and so he seeks refuge in a shed with the aid of starry-eyed boy, Harley (Ty Simpkins).

To stop the Mandarin from his further promised attacks (namely on the U.S. president), Stark investigates a trail of coverups involving an American soldier terrorist who may have been brainwashed by the Mandarin.  The truth about his death may procure the information Stark needs to defeat his most devastating human foe thus far.  Young Harley and Col. Rhodes (Don Cheadle) provide Stark the assistance he most certainly needs to stop the ultimate threat.

What to say about Iron Man 3?  How about: It’s awesome.  Flat-out awesome.  It’s witty.  It’s funny.  It’s action-packed.  It has more memorable moments than I can count.  I enjoyed it even more than The Avengers.  Some won’t.  And that’s fine.  But as a character-driven film with a concrete villain and driving plot, Iron Man 3 is a breath of fresh air.  I’d love to talk about some great sequences and some great moments of dialogue, but why spoil the fun?  Just know, this movie is funny, witty, quotable, and features breathtaking action sequences and the sharpest of digital effects.  It has to because the list of digital effect credits was seemingly endless.

But underneath all of its witty lines and gargantuan fireworks is a resonating story about a great protagonist up against a powerful villain.  Writer-director Shane Black (this guy from the 1987 masterpiece Predator) wisely pushes Stark to the brink and brings his story full-circle.  The film doesn’t have the gravity of a Christopher Nolan superhero picture, but Iron Man 3 is stupendous in its own regard, and a film I would return to much faster than any of those Batman films.  If the audience reaction from the crowd I saw it with was any indication, this trilogy-capper will be a massive hit and entirely well-received by viewers.  I can’t wait to take my wife and see it again.  As for a star rating?  Should I do it?  Should I really do it?  Ah, I’m all in (even if I regret it later).

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Pain and Gain

Pain and Gain Crime doesn’t pay.  Director Michael Bay goes the distance to remind audiences of that necessary lesson because it also gives him the opportunity to glorify and glamorize every ugly facet of it.  Sitting through Pain and Gain, an alleged black comedy that exposes the danger of American greed, I’m left to contend that the writers and actors sought to dig up a fascinatingly dark tale spun so unbelievably from the ground up that 15 percent of it must actually be true.  After all—this is a true story.  I could have used a newspaper clipping of said story or even a mere tweet.  Bay’s punishing drama lasts 130 gruesome minutes.

The story takes place in 1995 where a Miami fitness guru, Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), a smarmy snake with muscles, slithers his way into a senior position at a gym and manages to triple its membership within a short amount of time.  But the cash isn’t green enough, and after a few interactions with self-made titan sleaze Walter Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), Daniel decides he can give the jerk what’s coming to him and steal all of his dough.

To do it, Daniel recruits the bronze mammoth and reformed ex-con Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) and the steroid abuser Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie).  Together the odd-trio team attempt a series of failed executions at nabbing Kershaw before finally kidnapping him and then torturing him for three weeks until he signs over all of his finances and possessions to the unorthodox bodybuilders.  The gang seals the deal by killing him, or so they think, and Kershaw escapes near death.  Held captive in a hospital bed, Kershaw’s repelling personality and lack of convincing evidence regarding his abduction cause the police to laugh off his account of events.

Left broke and broken, Kershaw hires a retired private investigator (Ed Harris) to find the three tank-sized clowns that stole everything from him.  It ends up only a matter of time that Daniel and his pals fall victim to the temptations of the wealthy lifestyle and they compromise their plans, setting off a series of idiotic judgments and actions that lead them to further murder and destruction.

pain and gain imagePain and Gain happens to illustrate everything about soulless filmmaking.  Despite decent performances from the cast, the script never allows us to care for anyone of these hulking doofuses because they’re all so vile and violent.  Wahlberg’s character should carry the story in a tragic fashion, but he’s so unlikable in every conceivable manner, as are the other characters who fall victim to his manipulations.  Johnson has the most well-rounded role as the beefy aggressor who has found Christ, only to immediately find the devil in Daniel.  Mackie plays the third hand with little of interest added to his character.

When the characters fail, Bay makes sure we feel the pain.  His music video-style only glamorizes the violence and depravity.  These three men become enforcers of brute punishment, and rather than explore any psychological dimensions of these characters, Bay plays the outrageous blackness of the film for laughs, only they don’t hit as hard as his three leading actors—if ever.  Instead the director lights up the screen with oil, sweat, and sunlight and plays his misogynistic melee tale for all its worth, consistently objectifying women and playing up the volatile chumps and their violent ways as something to be desired.  From the outset, we don’t understand these characters in any possible way, so why spend 130 slow minutes trying to laugh off their bloody antics?  Bay thinks he’s delivered a cautionary tale, but instead his penchant for cinematic destruction provides a herd of antagonist morons doing grotesque things that are meant to look ‘oh so cool’—which reminds me of another one of Bay’s ugly and overlong crap chutes from ten years ago.

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