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)

Cowboys & Aliens

Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) enters the town of Absolution in 1873 as a man with no name.  In fact, he’s a man without an identity.  He doesn’t know his own ‘who,’ ‘where,’ or why.  What he does know is that he can speak English, he’s wounded, he can easily disarm and maim a group of men singlehandedly, and he has a permanent shiny bracelet on his wrist.  Soon enough he is made aware that he is a wanted murderer and thief—what he did exactly he can’t recall.  Luckily for him he angered the wrong fellow, Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), a wealthy rancher trying to industrialize Absolution.  Dolarhyde’s son Percy (Paul Dano) is a wreckless and cowardly twit.  The town has had about enough of him and Lonergan fails to last even minutes in his presence without putting him in his place.  When both Jake and Percy finds themselves under arrest, Dolarhyde comes to rip them both from the hands of the law.  Things aren’t boding well for our antihero until bright lights peer in from above.  The bracelet on his wrist starts blinking.  Enemy alien spaceships zoom in overhead and begin snatching people up from the street, including Dolaryde’s boy and the town sheriff.  The cowboys are forced to chase after their loves ones that were abducted by ‘demons.’  Lonergan is coerced into joining Dolarhyde and his posse as he searches for answers to his past.

While part of me feels that Director Jon Favreau could have just as easily skipped the whole ‘aliens invade’ plot and delivered the best straight-up western of the last decade or so, I would be lying if I said I didn’t still enjoy the heck out of Cowboys & Aliens.  Favreau could’ve turned this into a gooey camp fest, but instead he’s taking things dead on serious.  The threat is immense.  The violence is gritty.  Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig are bent on saving the Old West and they deliver top-dollar performances.  Even with such silliness in the plot (and there are a few howlers and head-scratchers—some of them hybrids), the movie plays like it’s a full-out invasion assault.  I rather appreciated that even if it seems other viewers wanted a more self-aware picture.  Sorry folks, there’s no snakes on this plane.

Favreau improves on Iron Man 2.  He feels much more like a competent action director.  Cowboys & Aliens has several impressive gunfights and aerial battles, giant special effects, and it moves at great speed.  In between the lightning and thunder, we get actors doing something great—called acting.  Ford, Craig, Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, and others have interesting dialogue and several moments of humor.  I really felt like Favreau and his team put together the ideal summer popcorn film.  Cowboys, aliens, guns, pow and laughs—what more can you want?

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Iron Man 2 (Take-Two)

Guess what? Summer begins early, as it does with the year’s major blockbuster movies.  Robert Downey, Jr. is back in action shooting to thrill, and let me just say, “Iron Man 2,” while not coming out blazing, still knocks last year’s hideous kick-start “Wolverine” out of the park.

Director Jon Favreau and his star Downey hit the jackpot two years ago with the release of “Iron Man.” Not only did it manage to be the year’s second biggest domestic hit, bested solely by “The Dark Knight,” but it inched past Spielberg’s return to “Indiana Jones,” and even managed to become one of the year’s best-reviewed films.  Audiences loved it even more.  With the release of Marvel’s second installment, the winning streak continues, but not nearly to the same effect.

“Iron Man” did the impossible.  It blended moderately abundant action sequences into an impressive character study of Tony Stark, a weapons creator so self-absorbed and ignorant to the reality of the business he deals in.  Upon a rude awakening, Stark changed his vision for developing the ultimate weapon, eliminating multiple trigger-fingers, and standing alone as the sole necessary weapon of the United States.  “Iron Man 2” picks up where we last found Tony, only this time out, returning director Jon Favreau seems to be less interested in the thrills so predominant in the first outing.

In “Iron Man 2,” Stark has to take on the U.S. government, demanding that the Iron Man weapon be turned over to the military, as well as face off against multiple foes (Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke) trying to end his career and his life.  His friendship with Rhodes (Don Cheadle) is tested, as is the sexual tension between him and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).  On top of that, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) starts hanging around to try and encourage Stark to stop fooling around and join the Avenger initiative.  Add in the fact that his new secretary (Scarlett Johansson) seems to have a secret looming and the reality that Tony’s power source that keeps him alive also has potentially fatal side effects on his body–it seems the man sure has his work cut out for him.  So much going on and so little intensity… But where’s all the kaboom??

It might be scary for fanboys to find out that “2” may have significant meaning in regards to the action on display in the film–the movie literally contains two action sequences to devour.  Not to say that burdens Tony Stark’s latest adventure, but it does allow for the content of this installment to be swarmed by multiple subplots and characters that never really advance the story in an exciting way.  Granted, this isn’t the cobbled mess that “Spider-Man 3” was, it just hasn’t the finesse of the film that preceded it.  Since no one could describe this as “an action-packed thrill ride,” Iron Man 2 luckily has brilliant actors and a very solid director in Favreau to save it.

This movie is totally, completely and utterly about Robert Downey, Jr.  Sure, we have all these great supporting actors, but every reason to see this movie rests upon the shoulders of a more-than-capable star portraying the single most interesting superhero character in the history of cinema.  Yes, I said that.  Who needs Bruce Wayne and his whiny-baby, cloak and dagger, angry teenager antics?  Who cares if Peter Parker can’t figure out if he’s more capable as a  human in love, a protector of New York, or an emo break-dancer?  Who wants to waste their time wondering why Wolverine can’t get his claws together and tell his past to go find someone who cares?  Tony Stark doesn’t play those games.  Downey has a fully realized character–top-dollar hilarious and engaging.  The movie goes for long stretches without things blowing up, and Downey manages to capture our attention with his inventiveness and brilliance as actor.

If the movie never reaches the level of the 2008 predecessor, it’s because the movie has a lot more down time and subplots.  The studio seems so bent on bridging “The Avengers” movie two years out, that Stark’s story suffers, and the movie becomes overwhelmed with exposition and witty banter.  At least it doesn’t kill the movie, and the action in the film really does deliver even in its limited doses.  Even Favreau allows himself to have a little game time, upping his role in the film, and kicking some butt in the middle of the big finale.  “Iron Man 2” may not be the film that ups the ante as far as sequels typically go, but the movie still manages to be plenty entertaining for two hours, and it contains a fully-realized hero that consistently breaks all the rules and dares to be wholly memorable.  Even if fanboys are left wanting more explosions, I’m sure they’ll be satisfied with this outing and jazzed about the upcoming showdown.

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Rating: 4.0/5 (2 votes cast)

2010 Summer Movie Preview

I have to thank TacoGrande and his latest poll for inspiring me with the idea for this post.  As  the blockbuster Summer season is about to kick off next weekend with the release of “Iron Man 2,” I thought I’d take a look at my top-10 (sort of) most anticipated movies over the May-August frame, where studios release some of the biggest films of the year.

10. ROBIN HOOD (5/14):  In all honesty I have little interest in another take on Robin Hood.  But with Russell Crowe returning to his ‘Gladiator’ roots, and Ridley Scott behind the lens, maybe there’s hope for this mega-budget epic.  Ridley is trying to go the ‘King Arthur’ route and present his take on Robin Hood as the ‘real story behind the legend.’  ‘King Arthur’ was a domestic flop, and Scott’s own “Kingdom of Heaven” starring the star-that-never-was Orlando Bloom was a box-office disaster when it kicked off Summer, 2005. The previews for “Robin Hood” look a little bit like a montage of tamed battle sequences taken right out of ‘Gladiator,’ but I can’t deny being intrigued by a major epic reteaming of Ridley and Russell.  I really do want to know, however, what happened to the project’s original incarnation of “Nottingham” where the story was reversed and focused on Crowe playing a heroic version of the Sheriff of Nottingham.  Regardless, this movie looks epic, and the action should be great.  Add in the brilliant Cate Blanchett as Maid Marian, and this movie could potentially be awesome.

9. THE LAST AIRBENDER (7/2): The other “Avatar” movie hits theaters over July 4th weekend in converted 3D.  I have to admit that I know nothing of the anime series, but the previews alone have swayed me into an intrigued state, especially with M. Night Shyamalan taking a stab at the material.  While the infamous director has given us enough reason to hate anything he touches over the last few years, we can always look back to a happier time with Signs, Unbreakable, and The Sixth Sense.  Hopefully he’s got enough ‘bad-movie-itis’ out of his system to deliver an entertaining adventure film. I have faith in him yet, but this man seriously needs some salvation of credibility, and hopefully this movie is at least a small revival for him.  Visually, this movie looks plenty fun.

8. SPLICE (6/4): Sci-Fi has to be my favorite genre, and while I can’t tell if “Splice” is going to be a good movie per se, I can say that the premise intrigues me.  A month ago I knew nothing about this project.  After seeing a few trailers, I’m sold on the idea.  Since the film isn’t exactly being talked about a lot, I will tell you the plot centers on two scientists (Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley) who experiment on forging human DNA and animal DNA, creating a humanoid organism hybrid.  Things must eventually turn deadly, as this is sci-fi horror, but I have to say the trailers are effective, and I am very interested to find out if this is any good.

7. THE A-TEAM (6/11): Hopefully we get enough wit and laughs for all the explosions and stunts coming our way with “The A-Team” starring Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, and Jessica Biel among others.  The action sequences look a little heavy, but I have faith that this movie will be one of the best kick-back popcorn rides of the Summer, low on brain-power and high on thrills and humor.  This will all depend on the chemistry of the cast–if it works and audiences respond in kind–expect a franchise to form.

6. THE OTHER GUYS (8/6): Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell as two cops trying to compete with Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson as two gung-ho cops in a comedy from Adam McKay (Anchorman).  Count me in.  Casting Wahlberg is an inspired choice, and I’m looking forward to him and Ferrell exchanging some great banter.  Wahlberg may be an awkward dramatic actor in Max Payne, The Happening, and The Lovely Bones.  But he was great in The Departed and very funny in Date Night.  So I can see him having a blast with this, and I think audiences will like the pairing of him and Ferrell.  With ‘Anchorman 2’ getting the axe this week, this may be the best we can hope for from McKay and Ferrell.  And as for Ferrell lately, with his last three movies finding serious hate from me (Semi-Pro, Step Brothers, Land of the Lost), this should be a sure-fire hilarious rebound.

5. TOY STORY 3 (6/18): Pixar movies have become just about as much of an event movie for me as any, and they are returning to their best film–“Toy Story” after more than 10 years since “2.”  Just think, the original “Toy Story” came out 15 years ago.  10 year-olds then would be 25 now, and possibly taking their little one to this latest installment.  “Toy Story 3” should be huge, especially with all the major voices returning (including Tom Hanks and Tim Allen), as well as the reliability of the Pixar brand.  While I don’t expect it to be as brilliant as the first film or some of Pixar’s recent movies, I imagine this being good-old nostalgic fun with a lot of heart and humor, and one of the biggest blockbusters of the year.

4. KINGHT AND DAY (6/25): Finally we have the return of Tom Cruise.  While 2008’s ‘Valkyrie’ managed to keep him on the map, luckily the former biggest-star-in-the-world returns to blockbuster action territory.  It appears as though he’s playing an action-junkie spy trying to protect Cameron Diaz’s character, and the results look very funny and very entertaining.  Some of the trailer mirrors “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” and it very much gives off that vibe, and I’m totally fine with that.  Cruise is playing a character about as crazy as everyone thinks he is, and I think with him having a ball playing a role like this, it should turn out to be another solid $100 million for him.  I still think he’s a great actor despite all of his negative publicity since his Oprah days five years ago, but hopefully ‘Knight & Day’ will get him back on track.  Under the direction of James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma, Walk the Line), I think it’s possible.

3. THE EXPENDABLES (8/13): Fans of Cobra, Rambo II, Commando, and other classic cheeseball action flicks can rejoice–“The Expendables” are coming this August.  Of course I’m dying to see this throwback to 80s action flicks, if not just for the scene that finds Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone in a single frame together.  Add in Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, Jason Statham, and a whole cast of macho superstars in a major over-the-top action flick–and this is shaping up to be the event action movie of the year.  Back to classic real-life stunt work, pre-Bourne editing, and larger-than-life action stars in all their glory.  I’m so there.

2. IRON MAN 2 (5/7): While ‘The Dark Knight’ may have shadowed the enormous popularity of ‘Iron Man’ in 2008, this year is all about Tony Stark, as this sequel looks to be the highest grossing movie of the year–I see $400 million on the horizon.  Even though TDK is the fan-favorite of 2008, if I had my choice of watching the gloom-and-doom of Christopher Nolan’s superhero flick or the hilarious, roller-coaster ride of Jon Favreau’s, I am more than likely to take the ‘Iron Man’ route.  What an entertaining surprise that film was two years ago.  Robert Downey, Jr. has ten times more charisma and chops than Christian Bale, and ‘Iron Man 2’ should have just as much wit and fun as the last film.  Don’t get me wrong, ‘Dark Knight’ is brilliant and objectively the better film, but ‘Iron Man’ is a lot more fun.  Cheers to you Mr. Stark.  I will be trying to catch this one on an IMAX screen, and not a fake one…

1. –TIE– So what if I’m cheating… I can’t decide between my two most anticipated movies of the Summer, so you’ll just have to get both.

PREDATORS (7/9): I have been pining for another “Predator” installment for a long time (I should admit 1987’s ‘Predator’ is my all-time favorite guilty pleasure movie), and I can’t believe it’s actually happening.  It’s been 20 years since “Predator 2,” and after two horrid “AVP” movies, finally Robert Rodriguez looks to deliver a proper standalone sequel to the Predator universe.  While the trailer has me thrilled just knowing a new installment is in existence, I wasn’t completely blown away by what the studio has to show just yet.  Luckily, the story takes place on a jungle planet (much like the setting of the first movie), and will feature lots of predators facing off savage human killers from Earth.  Add in some bankability with Oscar-winner Adrien Brody and Laurence Fishburne headlining the cast, and I think this could actually turn out to be the sequel                                                       I’ve been waiting for.


INCEPTION (7/16): Anything Christopher Nolan touches turns to gold.  I like that he takes breaks in between his Batman films to conjure up other original projects.  I also love the fact that he has clouded “Inception” in total mystery.  It has something to do with agents stealing people’s dreams, or entering their minds or something… and that’s all we know other than the movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Caine, and Ellen Page.  The trippy trailers feature some crazy visuals that may become the invention of a new filmmaking style (ala The Matrix).  I think this is going to be the surprise juggernaut of the year and, if it’s as good as Nolan’s other work, may finally garner him the credit he deserves come award season, especially with 10 Best Picture nominations now.  But this is all too early to tell.  It could turn out to be a gargantuan flop, but I can’t doubt the man.  All I can say is, I can’t wait to see what’s in store with “Inception.”

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Rating: 4.7/5 (3 votes cast)

Couples Retreat

What a complete waste of genuine comic talent.  Tell me, how can a movie go so wrong?  “Couples Retreat” has Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau and Jason Bateman–these talented guys could each carry their own movie to hilarious heights and have found themselves in the same movie.  Through studio intervention, terrible writing, zero jokes, and lazy performances, “Couples Retreat” amounts to an all-star cast getting to shoot a movie on a vacation island and party for a few weeks.

The plot of the movie centers around a couple (Jason Bateman, Kristen Bell) having martial problems and deciding that a dream vacation will heal the wounds and save their marriage.  But they need three sets of friends to drop their lives and head out with them to get the great group-rate package.  So the three couples (Vince Vaughn, Malin Akerman), (Jon Favreau, Kristin Davis), (Faizon Love, Kali Hawk) head off to paradise with the ‘Bateman, Bell” couple for a two-week vacation that turns into… you guessed it… disaster, and the worst kind of disaster–the kind that renders the movie a complete disaster.  Every comic scenario fails… From a lame shark attack, to Faizon’s character having to drop his pants without any underwear on, to an up-close-and-personal yoga instructor who looks like Kevin Sorbo with stubble, to (I kid you not…) a Guitar Hero face-off.  Absolutely nothing works.  Frankly, I’m getting tired of Vaughn turning in these garbage paycheck movies (Fred Claus, Four Christmases) that turn into box-office hits.  He is a very funny guy, but he’s in unfunny movies lately.  “Couples Retreat” has been slapped together and filled with unlikable characters.  These three schlubs have been saddled with gorgeous significant others and can’t seem to make their relationship work, how sad.  And the funny thing is, none of them learn anything.  The movie abruptly ends when the movie is spiraling out of control.  These pivotal shifts in character fail to happen throughout the movie, and then in the last minutes, the filmmakers seem to realize they are running out of time and have the couples reunite and fall back in love with zero foundation as to why.  Just spare yourself–this is one stupid, terrible movie.  If there’s a point of interest in it, it’s the fact that Peter Billingsley (who played Ralphie in “A Christmas Story”) directed this botch-job.

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Rating: 1.3/5 (3 votes cast)