Monday, May 12, 2008

Iron Man (2008)

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The past decade has provided far too many superhero movies, most of which come and go through the box office without being noticed and some of which are the top box office earners year after year. Rarely do the box office numbers correlate to a worthwhile movie experience, but Iron Man is the rare exception. Despite having the flaws that are almost required of comic-superhero adaptations, Iron Man is extremely entertaining, combining humor, action, special effects, and actual morals. One needs to look no further than the people involved to understand how Iron Man went from an assumed Hollywood trash flick to the biggest and best reviewed film of 2008 so far. Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Starks and is Iron Man and may be the best thing that has happened to the genre, at least since Christian Bale dawned the Batman cape. He commands every scene and is in his prime, using the multitude of talents he has to prove his versatility and position as one of the business's best. Like many of his other characters, there is a lot of Tony Stark in the real Robert Downey Jr., but the real RDJ is pretty sweet, even if at times he is a train wreck waiting to happen. Terrence Howard is solid, as usual, as Jim Rhodes, the armed forces commander whom Tony Stark has done business with in the past, and Gwyneth Paltrow brings depth to the role of Pepper, Stark's personal assistant. Both actors expand typical comic book characters beyond what was on the page, delivering human performances in a superhuman movie. But no supporting character is more spot-on than Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane, Stark's business partner and mentor. Bridges is smooth, charming, deceptive, and deranged as Stane and is the perfect counterpart to Downey Jr.'s high-strung, GQ Starks. This batch of fine acting is coupled with a fast-paced, clever script written by Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, who no surprise co-wrote Children of Men in 2006. And last but not least, all of this talent is captured on-screen brilliantly by director Jon Favreau, who has once again taken a film that looks destined to fail and turned it into a sure genre classic (Elf). Despite everything that is right about Iron Man, it is still a superhero movie which means action scenes run a bit long at times, a few (much less than usual) lines are corny, and some plot twists can be expected. But unlike nearly all movies of its ilk, Iron Man is genuinely funny, feels different, isn't over anyone's head, and has a great ending. Superhero fans will be titillated by the comic book references, action sequences and state-of-the-art special effects, but even those who do not flock to the theater for each new Marvel or DC big-screen adaptation will be intrigued by the raw fun that is Iron Man. The film shows that not all movies that are destined to make millions and inspire theme-park rides are devoid of value, and some even raise legitimate questions about national security, foreign policy, science, and cast-iron suits.

Good for: superhero film fans, people who like CGI, Robert Downey Jr. fans

Bad for: people who dislike big budget movies, fans of realistic films

The Gallery
The Economist: * * * * *
The Film Maker: * * *
The Writer * * * *

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)

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Usually when box office trends reach absurd redundancy the beat-it-'till-its-dead writers of the Scary Movie, Epic Movie, Date Movie, etc. series come calling and mock Hollywood with little intelligence or humor. Who better, then, is there to call than Judd Apatow to send-up the musical biopic trend of Ray, Walk the Line, Dreamgirls, and others and to do it right. Walk Hard, the life story of Dewey Cox, played by John C. Reilly, pokes fun at countless Hollywood cliches and music icons, and does so not by shooting direct imitations of the films, but creating a refreshingly original character in the mold of the biopic. Reilly is brilliant as Cox, the musical prodigy who strives throughout his life to find love, stay high, please his father, all while walking hard. Reilly proves he is more than a Will Farrell side-man and can carry a comedy on his shoulders, and carry it hard. The casting director was brilliant in pairing two of the best female comedy actors available around Reilly to play the mother of his children and his "June Carter." Kristen Wiig (SNL) and Jenna Fischer (The Office) provide plenty of laughs and surprising depth in bizarre scenes without resorting to only gag humor. The most memorable supporting character, however, is Tim Meadows as Sam, Dewey's drummer. Meadows is, like usual, right on point with his trademark delivery of ridiculously funny lines, including a few particular sequences involving drugs that are the funniest parts of the film. There are many big-name cameos including Harold Ramis, Frankie Muniz, Jack White, Eddie Vedder, Jackson Browne, Ghostface Killah, Jonah Hill, and Jack Black, Jason Schwartzman, Justin Long, and Paul Rudd as the best on-screen Beatles of all-time. The script was well written by Apatow and director Jake Kasdan, and from the first scene is packed tight with sharp dialogue and sprinkled with nonsensical, loony lines that will leave you wondering where they came from. Like any farce, the jokes tend to get somewhat repetitive, and some of the parody will go over the head of those who aren't music fans or haven't seen the movie being mocked. As in most Apatow-produced films, there is enough pointless nudity, extreme profanity, and genuine humor to make everyone laugh at some point. Walk Hard, like a Cox concert, shouldn't be taken too seriously and may be best enjoyed with some type of drugs on hand.

Good for: Apatow fans, music fans, people who like parodies

Bad for: serious thinkers, people who don't like music, uptight people

The Gallery
The Surfer: *
The Film Maker: * * *