Thursday, February 22, 2018

Dissecting The MCU: Ten Years of Marvel (Part Seven- "Iron Man 3" 2013)

Dissecting The MCU

Part Seven

Iron Man 3

After “The Avengers” blew up the year before, we were treated to another round of personal adventures with our favorite mighty heroes. Lots of people were concerned at the time if the other movies would feel pale in comparison to “The Avengers,” but for me, that wasn’t the case. I had read comics for many years prior to this project, so I personally knew how this worked. I knew that superheroes teamed up, then they split, and they teamed up and then they split. Rinse and repeat. I was curious to see how general audiences without all things comics knowledge would feel about this. I am sure there were some naysayers in the field, but overall, it seemed like regular moviegoers were okay with it, as “Iron Man 3” made a mint at the box office. So, it seemed like Marvel’s ever-growing experiment was still going to pay off.

We have now officially caught up with my writings. The year 2013 marked the first year I started my blog. I grew up watching “Siskel & Ebert At the Movies” then when Siskel passed away, I kept watching “Ebert & Roeper At the Movies.” I read every single Roger Ebert review, every single one I could get my hands on. I collected his movie yearbooks. He was the first critic who truly showed me that film criticism was worth something, that it mattered. That it could be taken seriously. He taught me that movies were true pieces of art, not just mindless entertainment after a long week. My love of movies grew bigger than it ever had been. Sure, there were several online voices who taught me that you didn’t need a bachelor’s in journalism in order to write movies, you just needed an internet connection and a way with words. They certainly pushed me to write. But Roger Ebert was very special to me, one of those people who shaped my life without even realizing he did it. When he passed away, it left a hole. I was determined to not care if I didn’t have a writing degree. Before this blog, I used to write movie reviews on Xanga, Myspace and Facebook. It was something I always wanted to do. In my circle of friends, I’m the movie nerd. It was Ebert’s death that finally made me realize that my voice could be part of the mix, even if I only got two readers, I was determined to write.

If you’re interested, you can read my original review of “Iron Man 3” right here.. I had recently began collecting all the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, so while I had “Iron Man 3” in the house, I hadn’t watched since my first viewing up until last Sunday night. I was dreading it, because although I did overall enjoy the movie, it was one of those movies I just didn’t return to for pleasure. I was jaded by the few key disappointments the movie left for me. It’s amazing how viewing something after years away, removed from all the hype, can totally change how you process a movie. Sunday night felt like I was watching a new movie for the very first time. I should have known this. I am generally one of those guys who give movies second chances, just to see if I enjoy them more after some time away, and I have to say I found “Iron Man 3” much more enjoyable watching it years later.

One thing that we really don’t see in superhero movies is the human toll on some of the least spectacular characters, and I found that aspect of “Iron Man 3” much more relevant this time around compared to my first viewing. Much of the movie deals with Tony Stark’s PTSD, how badly he was affected flying that nuke into space, passing through that wormhole and seeing the other side of space near the end of “The Avengers.” Tony Stark isn’t like Captain America, who trained to be a soldier. He isn’t like Thor, who grew up fighting on many battlefields. He isn’t like Black Widow or Hawkeye, who have seen lots of action as field agents for S.H.I.E.L.D. Even though he has much more control of his behavior compared to, say, The Hulk, the toll it takes on him emotionally very much parallels Banner’s feelings. Even though Banner may have better control over his feelings. At least, a few of them. There where are a couple moments in “Iron Man 3” when it feels like Tony might just be taken to an emergency room. Dealing with humanity in the eve of all of this spectacle made things feel real.

“Iron Man 3” is also a movie about the demons we create. That age-old rule your mother or father probably told you about. How we always have to watch what we say or how we act towards colleagues or even strangers. Because even though there is seven billion people on this planet, the world is small. It’s amazing how, even in my own life, how I run into people I never thought I’d see again. People come and go in our lives, and its strange how some do pop back into our lives, so its always important we keep in mind how we are treating those around us. That plays right into the opening scene. A scene featuring the one-hit wonder by Eiffel 65. A scene where Jon Favreau’s Vince Vega “Pulp Fiction” garb still makes me snicker. A scene where Tony Stark meets Rebecca Hall’s Maya Hensen and Guy Pierce’s Aldrich Killian. Killian is a timid, injured man who invited Stark to his think tank entitled Advanced Idea Mechanics. Knowing the comics, I did get a little gitty. Stark tells Killian that he will talk to him about his company, but he ends up sticking him up for a night with Hensen, another person he just drops after a one night stand. That night is really important going forward in the film.
Then we pick up in present day. Stark is now reeling from the events of “The Avengers.” What defines Tony Stark as a character throughout all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that he is constantly trying to right wrongs he feels responsible for, while also keeping those he loves out of harm’s way. He chooses to be Iron Man because missiles with his name on them are causing unwanted destruction on innocence around the world. He chooses to fight with The Avengers once Loki killed a good friend of his. Now in “Iron Man 3,” he’s tired of the fighting, and he’s got a huge suit build-up. He’s working on technology that will allow him to control the suits without him being in them. He’s tired of putting people in harm’s way, but he knows his inner demons are taking a toll on him, so why not remove him from danger while still being Iron Man. Plus, he’s so worried about Pepper Potts that he wants to be closer to her. Potts can’t adjust to the gods, the rage monsters, the aliens, the superpowers, the weird villains. She doesn’t want to adjust, she doesn’t feel the need to adjust and Tony doesn’t can’t ask her to adjust.

Not to mention, there is a new tech-savvy terrorist named The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) who is beginning to attack the free world like crazy. In 2013, I knew for a fact that The Mandarin we would be getting in the movie would be vastly different from his comic book counterpart. Iron Man was created in the midsts of the Vietnam War. So, in Tony Stark’s original origin, he captured by The Viet Kong. In 2013, Vietnam isn’t the enemy anymore, but Middle Eastern terrorists are. So, in the first movie, Stark is captured by modern terrorists. The Mandarin was a wacky character in the comics, and yes, slightly racist. I was blown away that Paramount even decided to go with him as a villain in the movies. But they did, and they got Ben Kingsley to play him. So, I was expecting big things. I have to say that even all these years later, I am still not a huge fan of the Mandarin twist in the middle of the movie. I am sure that those not familiar with the villain found the twist clever and unpredictable. But I think the obsessive-compulsive need to ground Iron Man in reality hurt this third chapter. In the comics, The Mandarin had power rings, one for each finger. Hence, the name of the terrorist organization that kidnaps Stark in the first film. In a world that has always established super soldiers, gods, aliens and wormholes, would it really be so weird to feature a villain with power rings?

This also leads to the biggest problem with the “Iron Man” trilogy in general. It’s really the only trilogy in the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe where each film just merely treads water. The first “Iron Man” is about a jealous billionaire getting back at Tony for his accomplishments, and using outside forces to do so. “Iron Man 2” is about a jealous billionaire getting back at Tony for his accomplishments, and using outside forces to do so. Finally, “Iron Man 3” is about a jealous billionaire getting back at Tony for his accomplishments, and using outside forces to do so. Out of all the trilogies in the MCU, it’s the most disappointing because it’s the least ambitious. I guess Marvel thought they could just coast on Robert Downey Jr’s charm. Iron Man is a rich character, and I wish they gave him more to do in his own movies.

There is a compliant by hardcore DC fanboys that makes me laugh out loud. It’s when they say they can’t connect with Marvel films because they are for kids. Simple. Sincere. Totally untrue. Yes, the Marvel movies know they are movies, and they aren’t afraid to wink at the audience. But solely for children? No. So, does every superhero movie have to be a clone of “The Dark Knight” in order to be relevant now? There is much content scattered throughout the MCU that is suggestive towards children, and we will discuss this as we go. There isn’t lots of action in “Iron Man 3,” but the action in this movie is brutal. The attack on the Chinese Theater in “Iron Man 3” is brutal, freaky, and something that would scare children. The way extremis works is enough to give children of a certain age nightmares. There isn’t much Iron Man in the movie at all, its more of a movie about how Tony has come this far in this story, and it’s a deeply personal movie. A movie that forces Tony out of his comfort zone as Iron Man, and I’m not sure that’s something kids look for in their superhero movies. Not everything in the MCU is for children, and I think “Iron Man 3” is about the last movie you introduce to your children.

I was glad that Shane Black was able to let loose on a movie of his. Whether you recognize the name or not, you know who Shane Black is. He gain momentum in the 1990’s for his scripts “Lethal Weapon,” “The Last Boy Scout,” “Last Action Hero” and “The Long Kiss Goodnight.” No matter what you think of any of those movies above, because of a middle man director getting in the way, ALL of the movies listed above are watered down versions of what Black wrote. As I watch “Iron Man 3,” it seems there is more “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” in “Iron Man 3,” the first movie Black both wrote and directed and also starred Robert Downey Jr. The humor matches that movie, as well as the tone and style of “Iron Man 3.” There is still lots of Black in it, which I ultimately enjoyed. I enjoyed better than I did six years ago, but it will still be a Marvel movie I watch the least for pleasure.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Review: "Like Me" lame.

Like Me Review

The trailers for this movie were really haunting, and really cool. That's my only explanation for giving this film a chance. The trailers featured imagery that we rarely see in movies, if at all, and I was totally drawn in. That's my best excuse. I like to champion independent cinema whenever I can, simply because it doesn't get a fair shake compared to the blockbusters, which we don't get too many good ones anyway. I like experimental cinema when its done right, I never mind exposing a piece of myself to a movie, I don't mind discussing and thinking about what images and scenes meant, that's part of the fun. I also like to see what chops new filmmakers have, because with the rate Hollywood has been going, we are going to be mightily dependent on the new blood.

With all that said, "Like Me," written and directed by newcomer Robert Mockler is a pretentious mixed bag. An experimental movie which gives its audience very few emotions. A movie that wipes your face in self-loathing and darkness just for the sake of wiping your in self-loathing and darkness. A meditation in millennial narcissism but without anything confident or intelligent to say. Don't get me wrong, Mockler can conjure up a startling image, that I am certain. I think after some tweaking, he can be a profound and perplexing filmmaker for all the right reasons. If we look at this first feature though, there is nothing much to it.

And before the debate starts, yes I understood the film just fine. There are several arty hippsters that will attach themselves to a film like this just to have a pet cause, just because they know its supposed to appeal to them. In every case, they will pick a fight with a "hater" and come to the simple conclusion that they just didn't get it. I understood the film just fine. I can say with confidence that there isn't much to get. Kiya (Addison Timlin) throws herself at this role, and relishes every moment. She's playing a girl who essentially goes a media-driven crime spree because she's tired of being a loner. Even in a world that is rich in social media, how easy is it to become isolated and alone? Very easy, the film suggests and Kiya goes out into the night, doing very disturbing things, posting her videos on the internet just get that connection. Just to be noticed. She is mocked by a harping YouTube personality (Ian Nelson), which only makes her videos more visceral, leveling the stakes. The first video she makes is one of the best moments in the film, when she sticks up a convenience store clerk with a toy gun until he wets himself. Its shot with such a raw, subtle power that I couldn't look away from the screen.

Had the rest of the film fired on those same cylinders, I would be agast right now, on the verge of insanity as I sang the praises of Mockler. The movie really goes out of its way to continue being twisted and dark, but it fails as a genuine experience. It fails as entertainment. What could turn terribly haunting when Kiya kidnaps a motel clerk, forcing him to do disgusting things with junk food. Taking a homeless man to a diner, and going on a road trip to get some revenge should all add up to some horrifying, and at the very least memorable imagery. But nothing is haunting in a good way, its all haunting in a repulsive way. There are just too many scenes of close-up vomiting and close-up of fast-forwarding mouths chewing junk food that gets old very fast. And no, there is no hidden message, there is no profound discovery. I mean, is it really Mocker's point to prove that millennials can be lonely in this digital-driven, modern world? Wow, such insight Mr. Mockler! You mean to tell me that millennials can't get so depressed and lonely that they snap? I would have never known.

The actors do what they can, and they try hard to make them count. Heck, I am sure I could cut some scenes from this movie and randomly edit them to a disc, send it to somebody, and cause nightmares for a month. I guess in that regard, "Like Me" is worth at least a look. There are some camera games Mockler plays that make you think this movie has a pulse. I hope that Mockler does grow as an artist and I do wish him well. I just hope he remembers that when he's making points that have already been made countless times in movies, that he does it in an insightful, fresh way. I also hope that his future movies will have a point, I don't mind doing the digging, but I want something to be on the other end of my work. Experimental movies can have a beginning, middle and end and they can certainly mean something, but you got to get us there as the director.


Monday, February 19, 2018

Batman Ninja trailer

Batman transported to ancient Japan. Yes please!

Can't wait!

Who Played It Best: Pennywise The Dancing Clown

Who Played It Best?

Pennywise The Dancing Clown

It seems like every one of my columns I've created for this blog have become irregular. I apologize for that. I am the only person to writes on this thing and I absorb so many movies in a given week, and have so many ideas for this blog that I more or less execute successfully. Add in a day job and a personal life, and it gets tough to keep up with all the things I like to do here. It's probably not going to help when my daughter is born this summer, but hey, I've been waiting for that moment all my life, and I cross that bridge when I get to it.

If you've never seen this on my blog before, its a very simple game. I present two actors who have played the same character, and then I give my readers one week to vote and decide who they think portrayed the said character the best. We've had fun over the years battling it out with characters such as Batman, Hulk, The Wicked Witch, Lois Lane, James Bond, The Wicked Witch and so on and so forth. It's been a while so let's dive right in.

If there is one monster that has frightened me more over the course of my life than any other pop culture monster, its Pennywise The Dancing Clown. I have a deep phobia of clowns in the first place, so add that this monster chooses to wear the skin of the clown in order to lure children to him and he can embody the deepest, darkest fear of any person in their proximity, dear god that's terrifying. I watched the 1990 version of "IT" and read the excellent Stephen King novel over one long summer, and while I enjoyed both experiences, it made me a bit delirious. The rain used to freak me out, being in the shower would freak me out. As I got older, I didn't feel the 1990 version held up very well. Tim Curry still did very well, and there are definitely some pros to his version, but the version itself just doesn't have the shelf life I feel it should. I dreamed of an updated version of this story. Apparently, Hollywood has been trying to get an updated version since around 2009/2010, and I prayed that it wouldn't hit development hell. Sure enough in 2017, we got that updated version. Bill Skarsgard it the scene with a powerful statement, but now, who played it best?

My Two Cents
This is one of the hardest editions of this column. On one hand, I think Tim Curry's version has a strong leg to stand on mainly due to appearance. I think Curry's is a little scarier simply because he looks like a normal clown. Skarsgard's version suffers from one fatal flaw that so many horror remakes suffer from, its clear the filmmakers tried to make Pennywise scary. Curry is extra scary because he looks like a conventional clown, so when the creep sets in, it leaves the audience in more of an unease. Skarsgard just looks like he's trying too hard, and in the book, Pennywise looked like a normal clown until he was ready to strike. That sense of normalcy should have been important in both versions, and I believe that only the 1990 version embraced it. With that said, I laugh more than I get scared when I watch Curry's version. Like I said about that shelf life above, Curry just feels outdated. While Skarsgard's version is clearly trying to scare you, he succeeds more often than not. So, while this is incredibly tough, I have to give the edge to Skarsgard.

Agree? Disagree? Fire away in the comment section below. You can also email me your answers at A week from today, I will announce the winner. Now its time to get back on track with this thing!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Review: Prepare to bow before the power of King T'Challa from "Black Panther"

Black Panther Review

As I exited the theater with my wife after our viewing of “Black Panther” this afternoon, she asked me how I thought it compared to the other Marvel movies. I thought about it for awhile, and at this point, its such a task to compare the MCU movies. Much like Pixar, or the filmography of Quentin Tarantino or Steven Spielberg or the Coen Brothers, franchises and directors who barely screw-up, its hard to compare the Marvel movies. Marvel studios has done such a great job of creating a persuasive, vibrant film universe that comparing the films at all seems almost arbitrary. Do you like space operas with some rough gags? Go enjoy the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies. Do you like Tom Clancy style spy movies with a comic book twist? Go enjoy the “Captain America” movies. Do you like trippy magic adventures and comedic heist movies? Then “Doctor Strange” and “Ant-Man” are for you. Marvel has got really good at creating entirely different experiences and each film feels like a different level of greatness.

In “Black Panther,” we journey to the fictional African nation of Wakanda. Billions of years ago, a meteorite containing vibranium crashed into the lands that would eventually make up the nation, and five tribes ended up founding the nation. If you’ve been keeping up with the MCU movies at this point, you may remember that vibranium was used to make Captain America’s shield, and that Ultron stole lots of it in bulk for himself in the second “Avengers” film. It’s the strongest substance in this world, and the Wakandan people have used it to build technology, vehicles, weapons and medicines all far beyond the rest of the world’s resources, and they’ve managed to create a world hidden from the world, in order to preserve and protect this precious metal.

“Black Panther” picks up roughly a week after the events of “Captain America: Civil War,” but I don’t want this to feel like a sequel. Because its not. The movie does a good job speeding newcomers up on the recent events, and really all you need to know is Prince T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) father was killed in a terrorist attack in “Civil War” and now T’Challa is gearing up to be the new king of Wakanda. Much of the first half of the movie deals with the traditions and culture of Wakanda. Yes, Wakanda is not a real place, but what director Ryan Coogler does so well here is create a fictional country that feels very real. Every weapon, every piece of clothing, every building, every piece of art on the walls, all adds to the culture of this fictional place. This is exactly what Peter Jackson did so well with “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” films, creating a world that feels lived in, feels like a piece of worldy history, even though its about a place that has never existed.

These superhero movies are made or broken by their supervillains. For any movie of any genre, you have to have a villain that is just as interesting and grounded as the hero. “Black Panther” has a great villain in Erik Killmonger, brought to magnificent life by Michael B. Jordan. Its easy for these superhero movies to just throw in a villain who wants world domination or to blow up New York City, just because he’s the bad guy. But its harder to set up a situation that’s not just black and white. Killmonger grew up in the United States, but he has Wakandan ties. He’s read the histories of Africa, about how Africans were forced out of their homes to become slaves, how they were terribly abused by “colonizers” all around the world. He sees how the world has rarely changed, and how those of African descent are still treated terribly. He sees the racial profiling, the police brutality. He also knows that Wakanda has the tools to put their people on top, so he wonders why Wakanda refuses to do anything to help their people. Killmonger goes about this entirely the wrong way, but its hard to deny that his philosophy is wrong. Michael B. Jordan relishes every moment he’s onscreen, with a hellish confidence that’s absolutely intoxicating every moment of his screen time.

 Yes, this is a movie that comes from a black perspective and I bet there are those who will right this movie off just for being progressive, and that’s too bad. I wouldn’t say that “Black Panther” is selling an agenda and it’s still very much a comic book movie. It only features a modern perspective. What shocked me most about the movie was how feminist the movie is, and not in a negative way. One thing my wife kept discussing on the ride home was how well the movie created strong female characters. The Dora Milaje, an all-female throne protecting combat unit is lead by Okoye (Danai Gurira). Gurira, who has become popular thanks to her incredible work on AMC’s “The Walking Dead” deserves unlimited credit on creating another badass who is both witty and intelligent. Speaking of brains, I love that the smartest character in the whole movie is Shuri (Letitia Wright), T’Challa’s brother and an all-purpose female version of James Bond’s Q. Although the gadgets and inventions coming from Shuri would make Bond uber-jealous. There isn’t a single woman in this movie who is the stereotypical damsel-in-distress, every woman shows profound strength and smarts.

The movie is known for featuring a predominant black cast, and as far as that goes, the film features a who’s-who of the best black actors in the business. Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o, Isaach de Bankole, Daniel Kaluuya and Sterling K. Brown all delivering absolutely incredible performances. All putting in the effort to help create a believable world. Even though the supporting cast is great, its Chadwick Boseman who drives the whole thing as the lead. He expands his character from his introduction in “Civil War” and continues to push why he popularized the character in the first place. I wasn’t too impressed by “42” or “Get On Up” as movies, but Boseman’s power as a performer was undeniable, he’s going to have a great career.

I don’t want to get too far into spoilers, because right before “Infinity War” is released, I will discuss “Black Panther” again. All I want to say is my biggest gripe with “Black Panther” is a gripe I have with many of the MCU movies. If Loki has had as much mileage in these movies as he has. Even Nebula is starting to branch out seemingly. This all proves that the villains can be just as marketable as the heroes, and in the comic books, the superheroes had frequent run-ins with their ever-growing rogues galleries. I wish I could say the same about these movies.

For now, I can’t wait to see the future of this franchise. Kevin Fiege is already trying to get Ryan Coogler attached for a sequel, and that is great news. I hope Coolger gets the same clout and freedom that James Gunn, Joss Whedon and the Russo Brothers have at Marvel. After how well he created this corner of the universe, I can’t imagine it in anybody else’s hands. “Black Panther” was everything I hoped it would be and more and its an announcement that Wakanda truly will be forever.

And man, all of that writing and I didn’t even touch upon the vibranium-armored war rhinos…


Thursday, February 15, 2018

"Incredibles 2" trailer

When I am asked what my favorite animated kids movie is, one of the movies I hold pretty high on my list is "The Incredibles." I love that it was a surface superhero movie, but it was also a very smart fable about what's expected of us and how responsibility leaps onto us at a moments notice. How expectations may not be what we always suspect. I love the movie. I have dreamed of a new movie for a very long time, and finally, over a decade later. We are getting it.

This looks like it could be a lot of fun. Plus, I love the posters below, I want them.

I literally want all three of them. They are perfect.

The only thing I do worry about is that it will essentially be a different version of the first film. I guess that's an unnecessary evil in this business. I have lamented before how much I find it to be lazy when a sequel just treads water instead of pushing our characters in a new direction or highlight something in the characters that didn't happen in the first film. The Pixar sequels, other than the "Toy Story" sequels, haven't held the same traction as their predecessors. The sequels have been safer and lazier than before. I was hoping Pixar would just deal in original ideas, but sequels were going to happen eventually. I have a huge love for the first film, and I am hoping and praying that I can love this series. 

Third "Ready Player One" trailer

There was a book I got for Christmas last year called "Ready Player One" and I am nearly finished reading it. Just in time too, because next month, the film adaptation of the movie will be hitting theaters. When I saw the first trailer, I thought that the movie looked cool. I figured I had to start with the book, and I am sure glad that did. Its a great read, and watching the parallels between the movie and the book has been great fun.

You are probably wondering why these trailers keep featuring Willy Wonka music, well the character who invented the VR in this movie is heavily based upon Willy Wonka. If you've seen every trailer, then you probably think that this is just going to be a big bag of nostalgia, a reference to a whole bunch of easy targets. If Steven Spielberg understands the book, and I bet he will, then this will be a good adaptation. Yes, Ernest Cline, the author of the book, was pretty obsessed with all things popular culture, but he makes that fit well into the context of his story. I think Spielberg will make sure that translates well to the screen. I think its going to be much more than just "hey, look it a reference to this, hey its a reference to that!" The book has been more than that.

It's not going to be much longer now!