Thursday, May 6, 2010

“Movie review: 'Iron Man 2' - Los Angeles Times” plus 3 more

“Movie review: 'Iron Man 2' - Los Angeles Times” plus 3 more

Movie review: 'Iron Man 2' - Los Angeles Times

Posted: 05 May 2010 07:44 PM PDT

Contrasting TV news personalities Bill O'Reilly and Christiane Amanpour don't see eye to eye on much, but they stand united in agreeing it was worth their time to make cameo appearances in the sequel to the mega-successful " Iron Man." Such is the persuasive power of a film that took in more than half a billion dollars at box offices worldwide.

Once a film makes that much money, it is only a matter of time until the sequel, prudently titled "Iron Man 2," arrives and that time is now. As sequels go, this one is acceptable, nothing more, nothing less. With star Robert Downey Jr. and director Jon Favreau back in the fold, this is a haphazard film thrown together by talented people, with all the pluses and minuses that implies.

Given the non-organic way "Iron Man 2's" plot came into the world — hatched by the producers in a series of meetings before a screenwriter was brought on — it's surprising that the film has any pluses at all. What makes the difference, at least for a while, is the sense of humor of screenwriter Justin Theroux, who also wrote for Downey in the manic " Tropic Thunder."

A film that just wants to have fun, "Iron Man 2" brings back Downey's affable billionaire Tony Stark, former weapons manufacturer and self-described textbook narcissist, whose exploits inside the all-powerful Iron Man suit have bought a welcome calm to the world. The man himself, however, has to face the challenge of the erratic battery in his chest that makes him a superhero with an expiration date.

Not one to hide his light under a bushel, or anything else for that matter, Stark likes to say things like "I have successfully privatized world peace." Clearly, this is one ego that's cruising for a bruising and no one plays over-the-top self-satisfaction with more élan than Downey.

"Iron Man 2" is at its best when it surrounds him with practiced farceurs who are adept at keeping things funny. Sam Rockwell is appropriately icky as rival weapons tycoon and smirking slimeball Justin Hammer (of Hammer Industries, of course) and Garry Shandling matches him as an oily and obnoxious U.S. senator who can't wait to get the government's greedy hands on Stark's design.

Scarlett Johansson also gets into the act as amusing, drop-dead mysterious triple agent Natalie Rushman and even actor-director Favreau has expanded his own role as Stark's man-of-all-work, Happy Hogan.

The most enjoyably scenery-chewing acting of the movie, however, comes from Mickey Rourke, who looks as if he's having the time of his life as Ivan Vanko, a.k.a. Whiplash, a disenchanted Russian with a family grudge against Stark as well as the ability to come up with a suit of his own to challenge our hero for world domination.

Whether chewing on a toothpick, cozying up to his parrot or displaying more tattoos than the entire Russian mafia, Rourke's Vanko may look like a doorman at a bondage club when he gets into his Whiplash costume, but once he cracks those devastating whips the film takes advantage of his electricity.

Not faring so well are the performers who either don't have a comic touch or don't get to use it, which in this case include Gwyneth Paltrow, as Stark's close associate and excruciating hysteric Pepper Potts, and Don Cheadle, who has mysteriously replaced Terrence Howard as humorless Lt. Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes.

Though he is nominally Stark's good friend, Rhodey gets so peeved at him he steals one of the Iron Man suits and emerges as War Machine to battle toe to toe with Tony in one of the film's more pointless combat scenes.

In fact, though they no doubt cost the earth and employed effects houses without number, the battles in "Iron Man 2" are so pro forma in terms of motivation and execution (except for the first appearance of Whiplash) that their main reason for existence has to be to feed the frenzy of the film's fanboy base.

Catering to that base causes other problems. Though Nick Fury, leader of the S.H.I.E.L.D. organization, may be well known to Marvel Comics devotees, less deep-dish viewers will be simply baffled when the Samuel L. Jackson character appears on the screen. It would be too bad if Marvel became so intent on creating an on-screen empire by uniting all its superhero films (the apparent purpose of Fury's character) that it forgot about the people outside the sacred circle.

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Almost midweek movie news -

Posted: 03 May 2010 04:54 PM PDT

Some fairly big news to report tonight.

* It might be a bit meta for a lead, but I can't help my happiness that Roger Ebert has been named person of the year by the Webby Awards people. I've been a big fan of his writing for a very long time and always thought he was the best straight-up writer of any of the major critics, but recently he has really emerged as an inspirational figure. He's also been one of the most generous supporters of film writing on the web in a million different ways. It's not really bragging when I mention that he's thrown some small nods my way as well as some occasionally very funny e-mail responses over the years. He's done the same for countless others.

And, if that wasn't cool enough, the great cinephile social networking and blog site, the Auteurs also won an award. Well, done, folks.

* In actual movie news, remember that item last week when I said that Matthew Vaughn, most recently of "Kick-Ass," was not going to be directing the next X-Men movie? If not, you can just keep right on forgetting because, it turns out, he is directing the film they'll call "X-Men: First Class" — a prequel. I'm a big fan of Vaughn, though not so much of the X-Men films so far, so I find this intriguing. Some of you may remember, Vaughn departed from "X-Men 3″ and the film that was, as per Cinema Blend, Matthew Vaughn, and I, almost definitely the worse for it.

* More really good news from my point of view, one of my favorite actors currently working, Chewitel Ejiofor, has been cast as definitely my favorite Afro-pop musician — okay, the only African musician I can think of that I've ever actually bought an album or CD by. Ejiofor will be starring in a biopic of the legendary maestro Fela Anikulapo Kuti in a film to be directed by Steve McQueen of "Hunger." This film is not related, except by topic, to the musical "Fela!" which just got eleven Tony nominations. The cool part is not only that the Ejiofor, a first-generation Brit born of Nigerian parents, is the actor to play the part, he's also apparently learning to play piano and saxophone (Kuti's instruments, I believe) and had, we're told, become quite good.

* Budgeting problems are apparently doing to "Zoolander 2″ what they're doing to "Anchorman 2." In his summary of the situation, Christopher Campbell suggests a Ron Burgundy-Zoolander team-up. I think a time travel story would be a necessity here.

* I thought this had already been confirmed, but Hugo Weaving really will be playing one of my favorite super-villains, the ultra-villainous ultra-Nazi, the Red Skull, in "Captain America: The First Avenger." Good for Elrond/Agent Smith.

* RIP stuntman/stunt coordinator and second-unit director Danny Aiello III, the son of the actor, who died much too young of pancreatic cancer at age 53. He has 130 film and television credits on IMDb for stunt work alone.

* Joseph Gordon-Levitt has two possible projects going. He may be reteaming with director Rian Johnson on an offbeat time-travel/science fiction tale. While I personally found the "classic noir in a modern high school" idea of "Brick" a lot more engaging than the actual film despite some amazing acting and individually brilliant scenes, it just didn't work for me as a story, I'll be glad to see both of them working. Another possible project is an action-chase film from writer-director David Koepp in which Levitt would play a bike messenger.

* As someone who has been called "useless" by Nikki Finke (a term she seems to like to apply to a growing number of people), I'm hereby offering my consulting services to the producers of "Tilda." I actually dig the casting of Diane Keaton in the part. Could be great. Read about via Anne Thompson.

* Note to Hollywood marketers — Twitter turns out to be nothing but a joke on us old people.

* Seen on Reddit: Yes, yes indeed — as portrayed in countless teen/college flicks, every party in the U.S. really does have those . Another enormous worldwide cultural gap bridged by the movies!

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Movie Review - Second ‘Iron Man' soars less high - Star News Online

Posted: 05 May 2010 11:18 PM PDT

But that's not all that gets obliterated here. The substance of the original "Iron Man," the brain and the soul that set it apart from the typical seasonal fare and made it one of the best films of 2008, also have been blown to bits.

Tony Stark had purpose back then, and despite the outlandish fantasy of his Marvel Comics-inspired story, as a person he had a believable arc. Crafting the high-tech suit and transforming himself into a superhero gave this selfish industrialist and self-destructive playboy a sense of drive, a reason for being beyond just his whims and indulgences.

Here, he's purely arrogant once more, with some glimmers of mortality and daddy issues. And Robert Downey Jr., so irresistibly verbal and quick on his feet in the first film (and in pretty much every film he's ever made), seems to be on autopilot. Sure, he's got a way with a one-liner, and his comic timing is indisputable, but he's done this song-and-dance routine before and seems rather bored with it.

Then again the character – and the sequel itself – are less defined this time. Narratively, "Iron Man 2" is a mess. Director Jon Favreau, working from a script by Justin Theroux, throws in too many subplots, too many characters – and what a waste of that cast, actors who can really act like Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Don Cheadle and Samuel L. Jackson in an eye patch as Nick Fury, offering a bit of foreshadowing to "The Avengers" film. (For more Marvel movie geekery, stick around until the end of the credits.)

As we recall from the last line of the first film, the whole world knows that Stark is indeed Iron Man. Now the government (led by Garry Shandling as a sniveling senator) wants him to turn over the suit for the military's benefit, and his best friend, Lt. Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Cheadle in place of Terrence Howard) can only do so much to protect him.

Meantime, there's a new foe in the form of Russian bad guy Ivan Vanko (Rourke, buried beneath tattoos and a Boris-and-Natasha accent), who's built a suit of his own in his dank Siberian abode, complete with electrified tentacles; sadly, he and fellow acting heavyweight Downey spend most of their screen time apart. In no time, Stark's rival, Justin Hammer (Rockwell, turning on the smarm) snaps up Vanko and asks him to build an army of Iron Men for himself.

Then there's the battle Stark is waging internally, as he reflects on his own weakening body and the memories of a scientist father (John Slattery, glimpsed in old movies) who didn't love him enough. And speaking of love, "Iron Man 2" also tries to find time for the blossoming relationship between Stark and his right-hand woman, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), while dangling the possibility of a dalliance with a mysterious new assistant (Scarlett Johansson).

So yeah, there's a lot going on here. The enemy – the focal point of the whole movie, for that matter – remains murky, making you realize about halfway through that it's unclear exactly what "Iron Man 2" is supposed to be about.

Favreau seemed to handle all the expensive toys effortlessly the first time, an exciting discovery given his previous work on smaller films like "Made" and "Elf." The strain shows now in a lack of momentum and a reliance on generically bombastic action sequences.

The big, shiny action sequences – the reason audiences get giddy for movies like "Iron Man 2," ostensibly – too often look cartoony. That's especially true of the initial showdown between Stark and Vanko at the Grand Prix of Monaco, with its cars tumbling end-over-end before bursting into flames, just as it seems the "Iron Man" franchise itself is doing.

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LI Convenience Store Movie Shoot Goes Wrong -

Posted: 05 May 2010 06:36 AM PDT

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