REVIEW: Iron Man 2

10 05 2010

Iron Man 2” may not have all that much to offer us as a movie, but it provides significant fodder for conversation about what it means to cinema in general.  In my mind, it marks the first comic book movie of the post-“Dark Knight” era.  Filmmakers have seen what made Christopher Nolan’s film such a hit on multiple fronts, and they are trying to strike gold using the same tools: namely, character development and strong plot over explosions and action.  Jon Favreau and the other minds behind “Iron Man 2” had time to adapt their series in an attempt to replicate that success.

One thing this sequel gives us is confirmation of a theory that many have been advocating for almost two years: “The Dark Knight” really does mark a revolution in the way we watch movies and the way they are made.  As soon as we saw it, we knew that we would never watch comic book or action movies the same way.  We instantly scorned “Transformers 2” and other movies that only emphasized the visuals.  But now, similar movies are trying to shift the focus to plot.  That’s a really good thing for the average moviegoer because it means that studios are recognizing our intelligence!

But “Iron Man 2” also reminds us of an unfortunate reality: some revolutions are only revolutionary once.  Some are meant to repeated; the American Revolution, for example, inspired similar uprisings in France, Haiti, and all over Latin America.  “Iron Man 2” incorporates many elements used in “The Dark Knight,” hoping to continue the pattern of success.

But its inability to recreate what made Nolan’s film so incredible signals the dawning of an era in comic book movies not favorable to anyone.  From now on, there will be “The Dark Knight” and every other movie who wishes they were “The Dark Knight.”  These movies cannot simply try to concoct their own version as if there is some sort of a formula.  Nolan’s movie worked for so many reasons.  Now, filmmakers have to find their own way if they want to make a movie that doesn’t play like a cheap ripoff of “The Dark Knight.”  A key factor to the success of Nolan’s film was originality.  Any movie that tries to use that originality will end up creating banality.

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REVIEW: Sherlock Holmes

6 01 2010

Robert Downey, Jr. is one lucky guy.  His brilliantly dry wit has earned him the privilege to play two iconic smug heroes: Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) and the titular sleuth of “Sherlock Holmes.”  He brings plenty of his trademark enthusiasm to the role, yet it still feels a few notches down from Stark and “Iron Man.”  He doesn’t get any help from director Guy Ritchie, whose excessively stylized contemporary approach clashes with the intricate Victorian sets, costumes, and jargon.  His “Sherlock Holmes” is not bad, but it fails to captivate and engross like detective stories are supposed to do.

Downey Jr. is not bad either.  It was particularly amusing to watch he and Jude Law, who plays the famous sidekick Dr. Watson, get into their bickering and bantering.  They feel like an old married couple, which they practically are given the amount of time that Watson spends tending to Holmes’ needs.  On the opposite side of things, Rachel McAdams’ Irene falls victim to some atrocious writing.  Her character pops up without explanation and no real motivation is ever given to her.  McAdams does her best to make up for it with some passion, but even that is not enough.

As for the story, I wasn’t expecting a connect-the-dots mystery.  I have read one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Holmes tales, “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” and it was somewhat frustrating to feel so helpless to piece things together.  However, this screenplay doesn’t even grant us the privilege of seeing that there are any dots at all.  As Holmes probes London to find the seemingly resurrected occult leader Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), he stumbles upon many clues and red herrings.  But the filmmakers refuse to assign any sort of significance to any of these, and we are completely unaware that these mean anything.  In essence, we are traveling this road with Holmes.  He, however, has a clue where it might be leading; we don’t.

All in all, “Sherlock Holmes” is a pretty fair piece of entertainment.  I wouldn’t describe anything about the movie as being  spectacular or rememberable, but I do look forward to seeing the sequel which was clearly set up in the ending, hoping in the meantime that Ritchie and his team can figure out a way to get me more engaged.  B- /





F.I.L.M. of the Week (December 11, 2009)

11 12 2009

This week’s “F.I.L.M.” (First-Class, Independent Little-Known Movie for those that need a refresher) is George Clooney’s “Good Night, and Good Luck.”  The movie follows newscaster Edward R. Murrow’s stand against Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Communist witch hunt in the 1950s.  But Clooney, the movie’s writer/director, makes the movie more than just a chronicle of events.  The movie isn’t about Murrow or McCarthy, nor is it about the Red Scare.  “Good Night, and Good Luck” is about standing up for what is right even if you are the only one.  Clooney understands the importance of these themes still today and makes a film that will be forever relevant.

The movie takes us back to a much simpler time in television.  Murrow (David Strathairn) is more than just a reporter; he is an orator with well thought-out speeches and firm opinions.  In the era where the Red Scare is at its height and blacklisting is a very present fear, Murrow dared to stand up and call out Joseph McCarthy when no one else would, knowing that he very well could become the Senator’s next victim.  Many people were not willing to take this risk with him; even more bet against him.  But Murrow was unyielding and uncompromising, and he used the power that his voice had to convey to Americans that it is not acceptable to live in a climate where we fear one another.  His forceful discourse indirectly led to the end of McCarthyism and, in this writer’s opinion, will become immortalized in the annals of American history at a level near that of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Adress.

“Good Night, and Good Luck” is for television journalism what “All The President’s Men” is for print journalism, a classic story of ethics.  But the former is packed with an extra punch: a cautionary moral tale.  A speech by Murrow in the late ’50s shown at the close of the movie is particularly haunting as he elaborates about the tremendous power of television and how we must use it to inform people, not merely to entertain and amuse.  Murrow passed away over four decades ago, but Clooney sure wants us to ponder what he would think if he turned on the cable box today.  Would he be proud of the uproars when millions of people miss “Grey’s Anatomy” so ABC can show President Obama’s speech?  Would he be proud of the fact that our news channels are so concerned with political correctness that they become lambs rather than the lions of his day, willing to call out wrong behavior with confidence?  Would he be proud to see dozens more movie channels than news channels on most televisions?  Clooney’s double gut-punch of virtue is a wake-up call that does not go out to just politicians and news anchors.  It retains meaning for people dealing with even the smallest of dishonorable conduct.  Now that is something that would make Murrow proud.





What To Look Forward To In … December 2009

14 11 2009

What is in my mind the finest month for the movies is almost here!  Let Marshall guide you through the best and steer you away from the worst, but most of all enjoy!  The studios have been holding back their best movies all year to dump them all here, where they can get serious awards consideration.

December 4

A major Oscars wild-card is “Brothers.”  No one really knows what to make of it.  If the movie hits big, it could completely change the game.  But it could just fly under the radar like most expect it to now.  However, the trailer makes it look as if it the movie could be absolutely mind-blowing.  Directed by Jim Sheridan, who has received six Academy Award nominations, “Brothers” follows Grace Cahill (Natalie Portman) as she and her daughters deal with the loss of her husband, Sam (Tobey Maguire), in war.  Sam’s brother, Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) comes to live with Grace to lend a helping hand.  But romantic sparks fly between the two at precisely the wrong time: the discovery that Sam is alive and coming home.  With the two brothers both tugging Grace’s heart for their share, a different type of sparks fly.

You have heard me say plenty about “Up in the Air.”  If you haven’t read my Oscar Moment on the movie or heard my bliss at the release of the trailer, let me give you one more chance to hope on the bandwagon.

But the movies don’t stop there.  “Armored,” an action-drama that is tooting its own moral horn, starring Matt Dillon and Laurence Fishburne.  “Everybody’s Fine” appears to be a holiday movie, so that might be worth checking out if you’re in the spirit.  The movie, a remake of a 1990 Italian film by the same name, stars Robert DeNiro as a widower who reconnects with his estrange children.  And “Transylmania” looks to cash in on the vampire craze sweeping the nation by satirizing it, but I doubt it will be financially viable because it is being released by a no-name studio and without any big names.

December 11

The highlight of the weekend for many will be “The Princess and the Frog,” Disney’s return to the traditional animation by hand musical.  The movie looks to capitalize on what we know and love Disney musicals for, adding some catchy tunes to a fairy tale we have known since childhood.  Anika Noni Rose, best known for her role as Lorrell in the film adaptation of “Dreamgirls,” lends her talented voice to the princess Tiana.  As a huge fan of “Dreamgirls” during the winter of 2006, I couldn’t think of someone better equipped to handle the sweet, soft Disney music (which isn’t designed for belters like Beyoncé or Jennifer Hudson).  That being said, the music won’t sound like anything you’ve ever heard from a Disney fairy tale.  It is being scored by Randy Newman, not Alan Menken (“Beauty and the Beast,” etc.), and will have a jazzy feel much like its setting, New Orleans.

This week also boasts the opening of three major Oscar players. Two have been featured in Oscar Moments, “Invictus” and “A Single Man.” The former opens nationwide this Friday, the latter only in limited release. I’ll repost the trailers below because they are worth watching. But read the Oscar Moment if you want to know more about the movies.

According to the people that matter, “The Lovely Bones” has all the pieces to make a great movie. But for summer reading two years ago, I read the source material, Alice Sebold’s acclaimed novel. I found it dreadfully melodramatic and very depressing without any sort of emotional payoff to reward the reader for making it through. But maybe Hollywood will mess up the novel in a good way. If any movie could, it would be this one. With a director like Peter Jackson and a cast including Saiorse Ronan (“Atonement”), Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, and Susan Sarandon, it could very well happen.  It opens in limited release on this date and slowly expands until its nationwide release on Martin Luther King Day weekend in 2010.

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