Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Iron-Man 2

This is not Iron Man 2. This is Tony Stark 2.

And, as such, a lot of critics have said that Iron Man redux has bombed. I completely disagree. Because I think that Iron Man, the suit, is boring. Stark, as portrayed by Robert Downey, Jr., is the whole thing here. He can entertain simply by standing still and saying nothing. But he does little of that here.

We join the scene just after Stark has declared himself to be Iron Man. The whole world goes nuts with the news, including Ivan Vanko, an inventor in Russia who decides to take it to Stark in a public arena. Mickey Rourke, I understand, went to Russia in a bit of method actor obsession to learn a Russian accent. He learned it so well I didn't understand much of what he said. He's very good in this part, totally believable as the brilliant but over-the-top inventor.

Sam Rockwell fares less well as Hammer, who is the antithesis of Tony Stark. He's in it for the money, fame, glory, and doesn't have an ounce of Tony's genius. But he does have showmanship, and a penchant for the dramatic.

The film has a well-placed cast. Rhodey, the Army colonel who is Tony's best friend, has a face-lift here but some really great scenes as he gets to wear an iron suit of his own. Pepper Potts, as portrayed by Gwyneth Paltrow, has some good scenes, although we're so smitten with her we wish she'd had more. And Jon Favreau - yes, the director of the film - has an ongoing role as the chauffeur who leaps in to help, but not always in the best way.

But the real show is Downey, who shows what a man will do when he's circling deeper and deeper into the abyss, unable to control this monster that he's created: himself and the Iron Man, who are one and the same.

I loved this movie. Sure, there are bits and pieces of scenes that don't make sense or don't belong, but the adrenaline peak excuses all of that.

Thumb's up.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

All About Steve

Sandra Bullock made three movies in 2009. Two of them were outrageously successful, commercially and critically. This review is about the third one.

All About Steve concerns Mary, who is a single woman who is living with her parents ("my apartment is being fumigated..."). She's a creator of crossword puzzles, and although her art is enjoyed by many, her knowledge of all things needed to construct such puzzles is not. She's pretty much a nerd, and acting "normal" in any situation is hard for her. She meets Steve on a blind date, pushes herself on him, and in an effort to get away, he suddenly receives a phone call, and foolishly utters the bon mots, "too bad you're not going with me."

So she does. Yep, this is a stalker movie. The trick, of course, is to make the stalker seem nice, likeable, not terrible because she tends to do stalkish things. You can see why the producers tapped on Bullock's shoulder.

But the storyline is really weak, as you can probably tell. Most critics have ruled this film a disaster, but I will not, because of just one thing: Thomas Haden Church. He is hilarious as the newscaster anchor-wannabe. Haven't we seen this before in comedy? Jim Carrey, perhaps. Will Ferrell WAS an Anchorman, so he really doesn't count. Church does it a bit differently, but every move is funny. His Hartman Hughes tries desperately, as an on-the-road, on-camera reporter, to infuse great emotion in every scene he narrates.

Bradley Cooper, who plays the hunk Steve here, has less of a fate. How much can you do as the hunk? You certainly can't be funny, although he tries. Mostly he's stuck behind the camera as Hughes' cameraman.

The screenplay gets points for not ending up where we think it might. It loses some in the simple telling of a not-so-interesting story. But the movie itself gains points in its casting.

It's not great cinema by any means, but there are some chuckles to be had. It's better than I thought it would be. Thumb's up.

Friday, May 14, 2010


I've always liked Walter Koenig the actor. I believe, however, I'm not fond of Walter Koenig the screenwriter.

The cast is a who's who from Star Trek and other sci fi T.V. shows and features. Actors include Richard Hatch (Battlestar Galactica, new and old), Walter Koenig (Star Trek), Alan Ruck (Star Trek, Ferris Bueller's Day Off), Jay Acovone (Beauty and the Beast), Patricia Tallman (Babylon 5 and several other genre shows), and, well, you get the idea. One of the other actors is worth noting: Andrew Koenig, who is Walter's son and who recently took his own life.

Eric Norris, a biochemist, discovers that his body is host to a parasite from another world that arrived by meteorite. About half of the movie sets up Eric's family tragedy, an accident that he still feels guilty over, and the development of this parasite. When Eric "gives birth" to the creature, the movie moves into Measure of a Man mode, a trial situation, where arguments are presented that this creature should have rights. If you've seen Measure of a Man, it's a Star Trek: Next Generation episode where Data is either determined to be property or given the rights of a human. While Measure is a good episode, showing the meat of why we like Star Trek, showing a lot of pathos because we care about Data, we really don't care about Norris and his offspring. And the ending is terribly done.

Thumb's down.


Whiteout concerns the workers in Antarctica, especially U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko (Kate Beckinsale), who finds that a killer is among them. Her job, as she teams up with an FBI agent, is to find the killer, and why he killed, before 6 months of darkness descends upon them.

As a whodunit, this movie isn't quite there. You're barely introduced to the killer before the scene we're waiting for, although there are some surprises later. The real story, despite the rather longish backstory of Stetko's career and why she ended up in the frozen wasteland, is the frozen wasteland, and how a whiteout can destroy a perfectly good day.

There are several scenes during whiteout conditions where the killer inches his way along a tether line towards his next victim. Of course, we all know that if he, or our heroine, let's go, they're likely to stray off the path and meet their death. It's hard to imagine a less suspenseful way of setting up a scene.

It's interesting to see how one survives in such conditions, and how law enforcement would have to try to work in such circumstances. But the mystery itself is lacking.

I would pass. Thumb's down.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Lynn Collins (the love interest in Wolverine) play a young couple with a decision (or more) to make. Which way they'll go is the theme here: the film shows both ways from the first few minutes.

In one scenario, Gordon-Levitt's character finds a cell phone in the back of the cab. In trying to trace who the phone belongs to, they enter into extreme danger.

In the other scenario, they explore the meaning of family when, while driving to a family picnic, they pick up a stray dog.

Uncertainty isn't terribly compelling. I understand that there were no lines to the scenes, only general direction, and that each actor had to establish their own character's identity and lines. This process seems nice, but often leads nowhere. The only reason I stuck with the film is because of Gordon-Levitt and Collins. Their performances are very good. But the storylines, even though presented in an unusual way, weren't enough. The pace was uneven, at best, in the cell phone mystery, and non-existent for the most part in the family scenario.

I would skip this, and hope for better roles for both actors.

Thumb's down.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Clash of the Titans

Just after I had seen Clash of the Titans, a friend texted me, "What did you think? My answer: "It's pretty bad when you find yourself rooting for Medusa."

I saw the original Clash of the Titans of 1981 several times, but then, I was always drawn to Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion special effects work. I remember being riveted to the screen when Medusa and her snarly snakes went looking to kill all the Greeks she could find. And the Calibos monster, half-man, half-something else, was the scariest to me.

This Clash has a slightly different story line. Rather than having Perseus (the rather stiff Harry Hamlin) pass several tasks, like taming a flying horse (Pegasus), Perseus in the modern version is Sam Worthington (from Avatar), who is seeking revenge on Hades, the God of the underworld, for destroying his family. He picks up several Greeks along the way to help him in the task. As it turns out, Worthington's Perseus has no charisma at all, and is only slightly less wooden than Hamlin's character, but his supporting cast of Greeks are far more watchable and make this version almost bearable. Almost.

As it is, however, Clash of the Titans is an excuse to get a bunch of Greek Gods up there on the screen, because they look all shiny and neat, and to employ special effects. Some of this doesn't make any sense at all -- for instance, we see only quick glimpses of the rest of the gods, Liam Neeson looks more Irish than Greek but he does look shiny, and Ralph Fiennes, although imperious as Hades, seems to pronounce words differently than his fellow gods (like "Kraken").

And Sam Worthington's butch haircut doesn't remind you of any Greek you've ever met, ancient or not. He certainly doesn't look like the young 20's man he's supposed to represent.

Many of the special effects creatures offered here are poor comparisons to Harryhausen's. They seem to lack heart. The only exceptions are Medusa, who is exquisitely evil, and depicted almost with pity, and, briefly, the Kraken, at the end.

This Clash could've been so much more. Skip it.

Thumb's down.