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Posts Tagged ‘Iron Man’

2008 At The Movies

January 7th, 2009 No comments

Another year, another movie wrap-up. Here’s the list of all 2008 releases I tramped down to the multimegaplex to watch. As always, films are listed in terms of domestic box-office because I’m lazy and therefore cribbing from the yearly summary at Box Office Mojo.

  • The Dark Knight
  • Iron Man
  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
  • WALL-E
  • Quantum of Solace
  • The Incredible Hulk
  • Get Smart
  • Tropic Thunder
  • Cloverfield
  • Hellboy II: The Golden Army
  • Forgetting Sarah Marshall
  • Baby Mama
  • Burn After Reading
  • Speed Racer
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars

That’s fifteen, two down from last year. And only five of the top 10, also down two. Maybe I should’ve seen Hancock and Madagascar 2? Eh, maybe not.

Going into 2008, a lot of folks–including myself–were seeing the potential for another 1982, a banner year for filmic geekdom. Certainly, there were a great many prominent genre efforts, despite Star Trek and Harry Potter being pushed back into 2009 for reasons known only to movie marketers.

I suspect that for many geeks and geeks-in-training, it was every bit as big as ’82. Theater clean-up crews are still wiping up the spooge deposited at screenings of The Dark Knight, the bestest movie EVER. Similarly, Iron Man had folks falling over each other on the way to the microphone to proclaim its sublime charms.

For me, 2008 was a little bet “meh.”

First, let’s get The Dark Knight out of the way. It’s telling that I not only didn’t run out and buy the DVD on its day of release (which you can damn well bet I did for Speed Racer), but I didn’t even put it on my Christmas list. Ultimately, I did receive a copy as a holiday gift, and I do intend to give it another whirl.

My relative lack of enthusiasm for The Dark Knight is for much the same reason as my muted reaction to the regenerated James Bond series: it just didn’t give me what I wanted from the franchise. Like Quantum of Solace, I respect the level of talent involved, as well as the need to curb the excesses of the past, but at the end of the day I guess I’m just not ready for a complete reinvention. For me, Dark Knight was only a superhero movie in that someone wore a cape; it was closer in feel to a modern crime drama or even a Silence of the Lambs-style thriller. And I’m sorry, but Heath Ledger is my fourth favorite Joker.

Iron Man was another one that had both fanboys and regular critics touching themselves, but again I struggled to see what the fuss was about. I did actually ask for this one at Christmas, and watched it a second time over the holiday break. And don’t get me wrong, it’s an enjoyable film. Robert Downey Jr. is having fun, and it shows. On a second viewing, I still found it to suffer from a relative paucity of Iron Man; there are long stretches in which not much happens, and even the final fight is fairly brief. I actually found The Incredible Hulk a bit more satisfying as a superhero film.

The “meh” continued with Indiana Jones and Hellboy II. I enjoyed them, but neither knocked my socks off. I do think that public reaction to Indiana Jones was a bit harsh in that everyone seemed to be anticipating another Raiders of the Lost Ark rather than another Last Crusade. And all the indignation about “nuking the fridge” seemed more about trying to invent a new “jump the shark” meme than a legitimate criticism of a series that has always reveled in unbelievable moments. Back in the day, my dad complained mightily about Indiana Jones getting pulled under that truck in Raiders, and I recall similar audience reactions to Indy using a rubber raft to escape a crashing plane in Temple of Doom. The real problem with Crystal Skull was that damned crystal skull.

Another Lucasfilm release was Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which amounted to little more than a cash-grab culled from the weekly animated series. One thing that has become clear is that for as much bitching as we old-school fans do about the prequels, for today’s kids this is Star Wars, and they love it.

The other entry in the computer-animated space robot sweepstakes was WALL-E, which was a sheer delight, start to finish. I don’t go to enough movies to confidently claim that any of them is the “best of” a given year, but WALL-E was the best that I saw.

Long-time readers will of course know that I absolutely loved Speed Racer. And hey, there are at least two of us: Richard Corliss over at Time magazine put it on his top 10 list. It reminded me of another film I adored, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, not only because of its entirely green-screened sets and hyper-unreality, but because in both cases audiences just didn’t seem to care. A lot of folks who were perfectly okay with the likes of Transformers suddenly demanded complex plots and realistic characters from their popcorn flicks. Whatever. I think that blogger Chris Sims summed it up best when he chalked up its poor reception to people who actively hated joy.

Cloverfield was another movie made expressly for me. Despite my ongoing hassle with Hasbro over my duplicate Cloverfield monster, I really liked this modern take on the venerable giant monster movie subgenre.

I saw a few good comedies this year. Forgetting Sarah Marshall had a lot of good moments–especially the climactic Dracula puppet musical–but I could’ve done without having to see Jason Segal’s junk. Tropic Thunder was ridiculous fun, with Robert Downey Jr. once again the big draw, though no moment was funnier than one featuring Ben Stiller and his would-be adopted “son”. Despite my well-documented love of Tina Fey, I felt that Baby Mama went a bit flat, and wasn’t nearly as good as Mean Girls. Get Smart managed not to tread upon my affection for the original TV series, and I felt that both Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway acquitted themselves in the roles created by Don Adams and Barbara Feldon. Finally there was Burn After Reading, which alternated between hilarious and too weird for words.

Can’t say that there’s a lot I’m looking forward to in 2009, aside from the aforementioned Star Trek and Harry Potter (and it must be said that this is my least favorite story in the Potter series). Land of the Lost is on my radar, though the inclusion of Will Ferrell makes me wonder what they’re going for; at least it appears to include old-school Sleestak. Terminator: Salvation has my interest, if only because it’ll finally pay off the future war we’ve been promised since the original film. And the new Wolverine flick looks promising; while I don’t have the Wolverine love that most comics fans do, I’ll admit that Hugh Jackman was a lot of fun in the previous X-Men films. Oh, and Watchmen, assuming it actually comes out.

I Don’t Get It

May 10th, 2008 No comments

Right now, I’m having one of those moments in which I feel that I’m really not in synch with the people around me.

Look, I knew that I was more jazzed about the Speed Racer film than most, but I’m boggled by the chilliness of its reception. Sure, the critics didn’t like it, but that’s what critics do. They were gunning for it from the moment the first trailer debuted. (I maintain that pre-tumor Roger Ebert–the guy who praised The Phantom Menace for being an empty spectacle–would’ve loved it. Post-op Ebert, however, did not.)

I honestly thought that there would’ve been an enthusiastic reaction from the middle-aged geeks who grew up on the cartoon, plus every ten-year-old boy in the U.S. And so I was not prepared to see perhaps twenty people in the theater at 7:00 pm Friday on opening night.

The crowds didn’t seem much more numerous today, even though Saturday should be more conducive to family viewing. Meanwhile, Iron Man was packed.

Yeah, I know: everyone loves Iron Man, critics and fanboys alike. Having just come from seeing it, I don’t quite get the passion. It’s a solid film, sure, but I was being told that it was in the upper echelons of the superhero genre. I felt it was more Spider-Man than Spider-Man 2, but what do I know? The first Spider-Man film made a metric fuckton of cash, whereas I thought it was “okay.”

The problems I had with Iron Man were two-fold. First, it’s an origin film, which meant that a whole lot of running time was spent in setting up the background. That’s understandable, but it’s still “seen it.” Second–and the filmmakers admit as much–Iron Man doesn’t have a strong villain roster. Here they pretty much go the easy way out and make him fight a bigger version of himself. How RoboCop 2 of them.

Again, it’s by no means a bad film. Downey was very good, as was Paltrow. The comedy bits, especially the ones involving an overzealous fire-extinguishing robot, were fun. I liked the in-jokes: Stan Lee being mistaken for Hugh Hefner, Tony Stark’s phone playing the old Iron Man cartoon theme, and Rhodey (who becomes the hero War Machine in the comics) looking at Stark’s first armor suit and saying “Next time.” It’s just that the film seemed much less than I’d been led to expect.

Speed Racer, on the other hand, was more or less just what I expected. That’s not to say that it’s a better film than Iron Man, but I certainly did have more fun with it.

Contrary to the reviews, I didn’t find the graphics to be that eye-searing, and I never had any trouble following the racing action. As Vic pointed out, Speed’s gonna win; what else do you need to know?

The reviews seemed unfair on one point: a number of them made the point that while the film itself was firmly anti-corporate, it was made and marketed by one of the world’s largest media groups. (Unlike every other mainstream movie, I guess.) And your point is? That because you don’t like the messenger–or rather, the company who paid the messenger–the message itself was invalid?

I thought that the Wachowski brothers did a fine job of capturing the spirit of the cartoon, though I realize that this may have also been what put off potential viewers. Still, no one went broke underestimating the tastes of the American audience: Transformers (which I also enjoyed) did very well and it was no deeper or less frenetic than Speed Racer. I don’t know, maybe adults just didn’t want to see a movie with a monkey in a starring role.

I enjoyed the look of Speed’s world, even though the Wachowskis took considerable liberty from the old show in turning it into a gigantic, psychedelic skate park. The racing scenes, with the cars spinning madly along the course and even grinding the rails, were like none ever seen before.

The cast did a good job with what they had to work with, but I thought that the young actor playing Spritle was the standout. I found most of his comic relief bits playing opposite the aforementioned monkey legitimately amusing.

As a fanboy, I would’ve liked perhaps a bit more fidelity to the original series. Some of the names–Snake Oiler, Cruncher Block, Inspector Detector, the GRX–were familiar, but they were playing different roles in the film’s plot than they did in the cartoon. And since they wound up racing in some locales that were similar to those seen in the show, why not use the names? Those are silly quibbles, I know.

What really does surprise me about Speed Racer vs. Iron Man is that the latter seemed to have attracted more parents with small children, yet the former seemed far more appropriate for them. Iron Man was a bit dark and gruesome at times, what with its Afghan terrorists and scenes of torture. Plus, it had some very long stretches between the action scenes. Speed Racer dragged a bit in the middle too, but it was so bright and cheery that I would think kids would find more to keep themselves engaged.

But again, what the heck do I know? I am clearly out of touch with what other people like.