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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Rating: 3.0/5 (1 vote cast)


I have never seen a film quite like Hugo.  It’s a children’s fable made for adults— and it scares me that most children will probably sit in boredom if their erratic attention spans aren’t captivated by the incredible 3D visuals.  Martin Scorsese, of all directors, has facilitated a memorable moviegoing experience for film enthusiasts.  Hugo is a movie about movies, about making movies, about honoring movies, and about remembering pioneers of movies.  This is all under the guise of a family-film adventure in 3D.  If you’re looking for chipwrecking, steer elsewhere.

Scorsese takes viewers to 1930s Paris, where young boy Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) hides in the tall clock up above the interior of a train station.  Hugo lives secluded from the station inspector (Sascha Baron Cohen) sniffing out abandoned children, fully prepared to ship them off to an orphanage.

After the death of both his father (Jude Law) and alcoholic uncle (Ray Winstone), Hugo busies himself keeping the clocks running properly so as to avoid the discovery of his deceased uncle who normally mans the clocks at the station.  In his spare time, Hugo scurries about pilfering scrap parts from a toymaker, George (Ben Kingsley), until he is caught one day.  George demands Hugo empty his pockets of stolen parts, and in the process steals Hugo’s personal notebook which has diagrams and calculations for building an automaton.

You see, Hugo’s father was an inventor who planned to rebuild a dead automaton he picked up from a museum—this bot having belonged to the legendary filmmaker and magician George Méliès.  Hugo eventually teams up with the toymaker’s godchild, Isabelle (Chloe Moretz) to retrieve his sacred notebook which opens up both children to worlds unknown to each other.  Isabelle is fascinated with literature and books.  Hugo loves gears and machinery.  Both end up enraptured by Hugo’s quest to reform the automaton that may hold a message from Hugo’s father as well as secrets about toymaker George.

In many ways, Hugo is visually one of the most striking films I’ve ever seen.  Most of the film takes place inside the Parisian train station where our young hero leaps and bounds through vents and shafts. Scorsese chose to shoot this movie in 3D.  A wise move he made.  The added dimension is used to grand effect here and compliments the stunning cinematography.  I honestly can’t overstate it.  Take for example the opening sequence which features a breathtaking single shot that drives viewers down the entire interior of the train station before ending on Hugo’s face behind a giant clock.  Scorsese and cinematographer Robert Richardson had me at hello.

Hugo’s mission is clear, even if it isn’t to him.  He wants to finish what he started with his father, and in the process, find closure in that relationship.  The film deals a lot with human purpose.  Hugo comes to the realization that people are like machines, and need fixing once in a while.  When a machine isn’t serving its purpose, it isn’t working, just like human beings.  He intends to fix the automaton, just as he intends to fix George who sits in his corner booth as a lost and withering old man needing to reclaim his former glory.

To be frank, Hugo is not a movie for everyone.  The film delves into the history of filmmaking and eventually becomes a movie for movie enthusiasts.  As a family film, many parents may end up scratching their heads while their kids become restless.  That really is not a criticism.  It’s simply a fair warning.  Scorsese has sought to make a personal, passionate, honoring film about the magic of escapism.  Some parents and kids, however, may thoroughly enjoy this.  There’s no squeaking critters to be found here.  No obnoxious zoo animals.  Nothing hip in sight.  What we do get is a charming, visually stunning, and thoroughly pleasant little movie from a grand storyteller who clearly is giving us a love letter for movies—and it’s in eye-popping 3D.



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Rating: 4.0/5 (1 vote cast)

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

I love a good time-travel story.  From the Terminator films, Back to the Future series, and ripping yarns like the 2000  film Frequency, there is something alluring and exciting about the past and future colliding.  Even the recent Star Trek reboot found a few wormholes.  Time travel will always come across in film as a tricky contradicting device full of paradoxes.  In Prince of Persia, the film bases its premise on the possibility that time travel and its power may fall into the wrong hands (as all films of this sort do), but it presents time travel in a limited arrangement.

The plot introduces the Persian empire at the height of its power.  Its king is paraded through the streets where he comes across a defiant young boy who seeks to protect another young man from punishment as a result of thievery.  In fact, it feels very similar to a live-action version of Disney’s Aladdin.  This protective boy, Dastan, stirs up the king’s heart, and the orphaned boy is taken into the royal family as a young prince.  Later on he grows up to become the adult Jake Gyllenhaal, bulked up with flowing dark hair and bronzed skin attributed to multiple trips to the tanning salon.  He is a trained warrior, and trusted commander in the nation’s army.  Dastan’s royal brothers are set to capture the peaceful city of  Almut.  Though Dastan’s skills as a fighter are commendable among his siblings, they feel he is not ready for such a massive attack.  To prove himself worthy, Dastan scaffolds the wall of Almut and lays siege to the city, leading a small band of soldiers to victory before the royal brothers arrive.  Dastan becomes a hero, and as such, takes a handsome dagger from Almut—one with mystical powers. 

During a celebration, the ceremony is interrupted when a prestigious cloak, laced with an acidic poison, is offered to the king and kills him very quickly.  Dastan, having been asked to offer the cloak before the ceremony, appears to be the traitor with the intent of taking the throne.  Quickly afoot from his own people, Dastan escapes with a princess of Almut, Tamina (Gemma Arterton) captured shortly following the attack.  Tamina’s sole interest is in protecting the dagger Dastan carries and returning it, as it has the power to rewind a minute (or roughly so) in time.  It soon becomes apparent to Dastan that someone, most likely his eldest brother, must have been after the dagger for its power.  The story eventually expands the power of the dagger in revealing an underground stone ruled by the gods that can ultimately lead to a total reversal of history and mankind’s complete destruction.  What else is new?

Caught in this storm of chaos, Dastan seeks out his uncle (Ben Kingsley), the only man he can trust to clear his name and restore order in the kingdom, as well as return the dagger to safety.

Regarding the dagger and its power, I love how the story has found a way to eliminate the paradox of time travel.  The dagger holds a button on it, that if pressed with the proper sand in it (dopey, I know), simply rewinds time back about a minute.  Only the holder of the dagger knows that any change has taken place.  So in essence, there really isn’t any traveling in time—time is simply rewinding itself, and this is the limit of the dagger.  I like the premise, and the limited power there.  But of course the premise takes things to a new level once man’s history is revealed.  The gods apparently had wiped out all of humanity but one young girl who pleaded to live and was granted her survival.  She was given this dagger of power and it has been kept in secret… blah, blah, blah.  The narrative makes a huge leap to potential world annihalation, and once this happens, the story gets incredibly sloppy and stitched together, when it could have stuck to this dagger’s original limit of power.  I’m sure that would have been more enjoyable.

Prince of Persia is based on a video game series I haven’t played, nor ever will I’m sure.  And of course, this coulda-shoulda-woulda blockbuster film from Producer Jerry Bruckheimer (hoping so desperately to turn this into a Pirates of the Caribbean franchise) delivers a very expensive product.  You can see it onscreen, even if a few of the digital shots look a little hammy.  With a lot opportunity here, the film turns to silliness to try and exact the charm of that Johnny Depp adventure.  The problem is that Gyllenhaal is no Depp.  And as much leaping and jumping around as Gyllenhaal’s stuntmen do, as muscle-bound as the actor has become, it doesn’t bring natural charisma or wit to his performance as a side effect. 

The story doesn’t help Gyllenhaal’s cause.  Pirates was silly, yes, but the characters carried the plot.  Once Prince of Persia evolves into a history lesson on the gods’ wiping out humanity, and their intent on doing so again if the dagger is misused, I felt the story crumbling in on itself, as if I could see the writers in the background trying to staple ideas together.  Ultimately, the film gets too big, too silly, and too careless for any of its original ambitions to prevail, and the filmmakers should have realized that a mammoth production wouldn’t sell itself.  Pirates of the Caribbean certainly didn’t.  Bruckheimer had his ace in the hole after all was said and done—Johnny Depp making an icon out of Jack Sparrow.  Unfortunately he failed to repeat that process.  While Persia still isn’t quite the mess that the third Pirates film became, it’s still about as silly and unpolished.  As a marginally enjoyable big-budget diversion, I found this film to be watchable, but I can’t heartily recommend it.

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Rating: 3.4/5 (5 votes cast)

Shutter Island

The Paramount logo comes up.  The score booms and forewarns us of impending doom from the get-go.  The promotional art tells us most of what we need to know: Some one is missing. The additional details include the time period: 1954, and the fact that two U.S. Marshals have been sent to investigate the disappearance.  That missing someone is Rachel Solando, a mental patient of the Aschcliffe Ward on the bedrock-barricaded Shutter Island.

Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio reteam for a fourth collaboration–adapting Dennis Lehane’s psychological horror novel “Shutter Island” into a feature-length film.  DiCaprio plays one of the cops: Teddy Daniels, while Mark Ruffalo tags along as his newly-assigned partner, Chuck Aule.  The duo must tread through an increasingly gloomy mystery surrounding Mrs. Solando’s disappearance.  Somehow she managed to escape her room, locked from the outside, get past the nurses and other guards, and work her way over and down the island’s cliff-side, all without wearing any shoes.  While it appears if she had waited 35 years or so, John McClane could’ve given her a few words of wisdom, but no matter, Aule and Daniels have to make sense of this disappearance with limited help from those in charge on the island.  The cops are given restricted access and dead-ends to everything they need in their investigation.  Daniels, our lead character, seems to have his own issues–from his nightmares of WWII Germany, to hallucinations of his murdered wife (Michelle Williams).  It seems Daniels took the case because of Laeddis (Elias Koteas), the man who murdered his wife, who happens to be institutionalized on the island.  Not only that, but Daniels has theories on what actually happens in this facility–secret government experimentation on patients.  The winds and rain increase.  Dreariness consumes the island, and the two investigators find themselves trapped.  Soon enough, Daniels feels he’s becoming a target and is warned by another patient (Jackie Earl Haley) that he’ll never escape the island.

I can toss and turn over what I think about “Shutter Island,” but at the end of the day–Mr. Scorsese and novelist Dennis Lehane succeed–their movie got me thinking, and very much so. That’s a testament to movies these days.  This nose-to-the-grindstone thriller captures sensible and thoughtful horror at its most pronounced.  While the master-filmmaker Scorsese throws in a few cheap-tricks, he does so with such looseness, that it all feels fresh, making richness out of elements that get thrown away in a teen slasher flick.  The movie isn’t exactly short on gore or disturbing visuals, or even heinous figures leaping out of the darkness.  What good ol’ Marty adds to the mix is a tightening claustrophobia, an endless trap of isolation, and cross-trekking mystery.

DiCaprio holds this all together quite well.  He has a multi-layered performance that deserves to be closely examined.  He remains somewhat distant throughout the movie.  Only through small doses of information and nightmarish visions do we slowly learn more of his emotionally-shattered history.  Add in reliable performances from Mark Ruffalo as a potentially untrustworthy partner officer, and two living legends: Ben Kingsley and Max von Sydow as menacing doctors overseeing the marshals’ investigation.

Technically, the movie is about perfect…absorbing, atmospheric, shocking, and alluring despite many moments during the film that feel unpolished, overlooked, and even clumsy.  Leave that to Martin Scorsese and his long-time editor Thelma Shoonmaker to use to their advantage.  “Shutter Island” has been mapped out from beginning to end, with every detail serving a particular intent.  In fact, the film’s only drawback is that many movies have done much the same thing.  If anyone out there like me felt while watching the theatrical trailer for this movie, that something very apparent was being spoiled, don’t worry–you’re not alone.  In some ways, ‘Shutter Island’ follows a path we know all too well, and even then, it still has its surprises.  While not one of the best Scorsese films by any means, Martin and his ever-blossoming Leo create a haunting experience hinging on a ‘twist’ where the intended reveal is up to the viewer.  I look forward to a second viewing of ‘Shutter Island’ that may potentially further my admiration of this unmistakably involving thriller from a man who knows his movies.

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Rating: 4.4/5 (5 votes cast)