The Jungle Book

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2016

Walt Disney Pictures

Directed by Jon Favreau

Produced by Jon Favreau and Brigham Taylor

Screenplay by Justin Marks

Based on “The Jungle Book” by Rudyard Kipling

I am honestly not a fan of 3D at all. I consider it a novelty, a gimmick. Most of the time it’s distracting me from what I really want to do. Which is to get into the movie and enjoy it. I don’t get the fun of having things flying off the screen at me. On top of that, I wear glasses and I really don’t like to have to wear another pair just to watch a lousy movie. And I’ve really been pissed the past couple of years with what I perceive as a deliberate effort on the part of movie theaters to force people to see a movie in 3D. You know the scam: a theater will schedule multiple showings of the 3D version of the movie that you want to see and relatively few showings of the same movie in 2D (is that the correct term?) Nine times outta ten I opt to walk away from the movie or go see something else rather than be forced to see the movie in 3D.

Now, I say that to say this: if you can, then see THE JUNGLE BOOK in 3D.

As a baby, the man-cub Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is found wandering the savage jungles of India by the majestic black panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) who acts as his teacher/mentor. Bagheera gives Mowgli into the care of a wolf pack led by Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and his mate Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) and Mowgli is raised in the ways and laws of the wolf. But try as he might, Mowgli cannot quite keep up with his wolf siblings and has to resort to his human ingenuity at building tools to even things up.

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During the dry season, there is a truce called during the seasonal drought. This means that all the jungle denizens can gather at the local watering hole to drink in peace without fear of being eaten by the predators. It is here that the viciously bloodthirsty Bengal tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) learns of Mowgli’s existence. Shere Khan hates all men since they know the secret of making fire, which the animals call The Red Flower. Shere Khan’s scarred face is the result of his being burned by men. Shere Khan vows to keep the truce but only until the drought is over and then he will kill Mowgli.

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Not wishing to place his adoptive family in danger, Mowgli elects to leave on his own. Bagheera volunteers to escort Mowgli to the nearest village of men where he will be safe among his own kind from Shere Khan. But the wily tiger has anticipated this move and follows the pair. He ambushes them and while Bagheera holds off the tiger, Mowgli escapes. While waiting for Bagheera he falls under the hypnotic spell of the giant python Kaa (Scarlett Johansson). Mowgli is rescued by Baloo the bear (Bill Murray). The two become fast friends and Mowgli agrees to stay with Baloo. Life is good until Bagheera shows up and convinces Baloo that he can’t protect Mowgli from Shere Khan. While they bark and bite over the fate of the man-cub, Mowgli is kidnapped by the Bandar-log (monkeys) who take them to their leader, the Gigantopithecus ape King Louie (Christopher Walken). The panther and the bear set off to rescue Mowgli. But even if Bagheera and Baloo can save their human friend from King Louie and his army of monkeys, Shere Khan is waiting for his opportunity to take his revenge…

You wanna know how much I enjoyed THE JUNGLE BOOK? Would you believe I actually forgot about the 3D? For one of the very few times I was watching a movie where the 3D did the job it’s supposed to do and pulled me into the movie and immersed me and enabled me to truly get lost in the story. And the CGI is spectacular. There’s just no other way to describe it. Visually this is one of the most impressive imaginary worlds I’ve seen on screen.

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Neel Sethi is a wonderful young actor. Although I’m sure he must have been reacting to a lot of things that weren’t there, this young man sells it without blinking an eye. He’s charming and looks as if he’s having a lot of fun and his expressive face works with his dialog in communicating to us at all times exactly what Mowgli is thinking and feeling.

I’m curious as to why such a big deal was made of Scarlett Johansson’s role as Kaa since it amounts to nothing more than a glorified cameo. Idris Elba steals every scene he’s in as Shere Khan and makes the character a truly terrifying, unpredictable force to be feared and reckoned with. And even though the movie isn’t a musical, I mean, c’mon…how can you not have Bill Murray sing “The Bare Necessities” and Christopher Walken sing “I Wan’na Be Like You”? Some will complain that the songs throw off the tone of the movie but I don’t think so. They’re lighter, whimsical moments that are nice homages to the 1967 animated “Jungle Book” as well as giving us a break from the more serious, darker elements of this version.

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So should you see THE JUNGLE BOOK? If you’re a fan of the original (and breathes there a living soul who isn’t?) then don’t waste anymore time. Go see it. People BMW about remakes but if they’re done with as much respect for the original as this one and with this level of technical, artistic and creative talent they can truly be a joy to watch and great way to spend an afternoon at the movies. Enjoy.

106 Minutes

Rated PG: But parents, be advised…there’s still some stuff here that might frighten the little ones, especially the scenes with Shere Khan. But then again, kids are pretty jaded these days and watch far more violent stuff at home so what do I know? Anyway, just thought I’d let you know.

The Wolf Of Wall Street

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2013

Paramount Pictures

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Produced by Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Riza Aziz, Joey McFarland, Emma Tillinger Koskoff

Screenplay by Terence Winter

Based on “The Wolf of Wall Street” by Jordan Belfort

I suppose it had to happen sooner or later. With THE WOLF OF WALL STREET this now makes five movies Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio have collaborated on and I’ve enjoyed all of them (yes, even “Shutter Island. So there.) up to now. It’s not that THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is a bad movie. At this point I don’t think that Scorsese or DiCaprio are capable of making a bad movie. But for me this wasn’t a very enjoyable or even satisfying movie.

It’s the story of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) who in 1987 becomes a stockbroker at a well-established Wall Street firm. He’s as green as a Christmas tree until he’s mentored by his boss, Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey in a totally hilarious extended cameo) who introduces Belfort to cocaine and encourages him to adopt a lifestyle totally dedicated to making money and then spending it in as lavish a lifestyle as that money will buy.

To achieve this, Belfort decides to open his own firm, going into partnership with Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) and hiring his friends, most of them petty drug dealers who Belfort trains to become as ruthless as he is in selling penny stocks. What are penny stocks you ask? Don’t worry if you don’t know. In one of the many breaking the fourth wall scenes in the movie, Belfort looks right at us in the audience and explains what they are and how he is able to manipulate them to grow his firm from working out of a dilapidated garage into a billion dollar company.

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And as the company grows, so does the excess. Belfort throws lavish parties in his home and in the office. Parties with plenty of drugs, hookers and booze. Belfort quickly becomes hooked on coke, Quaaludes and prostitutes but his real addiction remains making and spending money. Money that comes in so quickly and in such quantity that he soon is being investigated by FBI agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) With the help of Brad Bodnick (Jon Bernthal) another one of his drug dealing friends, Belfort begins transferring money out of the country and into a Swiss bank. Belfort is starting to hear words from friends and family he doesn’t like. Words like “securities fraud” and “stock manipulation” which can earn you a twenty-five year government sponsored vacation, if you know what I mean. With the threat of the FBI breathing down his neck and his home life in shambles, what’s a multi-millionaire drug addict to do?

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 THE WOLF OF WALL STREET isn’t a story with a lot of surprises or twists and turns in the plot. We’ve seen it all before in other movies. In fact, if you’ve seen 2000’s “Boiler Room” starring Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel and Ben Affleck then you have seen it as that earlier movie was also based on Jordan Belfort’s story. But for me it really isn’t a movie with much of a story at all. And even though I enjoy scenes of debauchery as much as the next guy, after the ninth or tenth scene of DiCaprio and his cohorts banging hookers while snorting blow offa their boobs I was tired of it already. You don’t have to keep hitting me over over the head with it. I get it, these guys like getting high and screwing prostitutes. Okay, fine. Let’s move on and tell the story.

I will say that when the movie goes into comedy mode it is very funny. There’s a scene where Belfort overdoses on Quaaludes that is absolutely hysterical and had not only myself but the entire audience Patricia and I saw the movie with crying with laughter. Yes, it’s that funny. As I mentioned earlier, Matthew McConaughey is also very funny in his brief but pivotal scenes. Jonah Hill continues to amaze me as I don’t find him funny at all in his comedies but he always makes me laugh when he’s being funny in a drama. Rob Reiner and Kyle Chandler also provide more than able backup in supporting roles as does Margot Robbie as Naomi Belfort. She’s a triple threat in that she’s unbelieveably gorgeous, wonderfully talented as an actress and gloriously uninhibited. I was pleasantly and delightfully surprised to see Jon Favreau and Joanna Lumley also show up doing their usual excellent work.

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But this is a movie that has a story that we’ve all seen way too many times already. It’s the rags-to-riches story of a guy with no conscience who rises to the mountaintop of power and wealth and brought down low by his flaws and weaknesses. There are plenty of individual scenes I liked a lot and made me laugh but taken as a whole, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET disappointed me. Still, it is a Scorsese/DiCaprio collaboration so that makes it worth one viewing at least. But if I were you, I’d wait to Netflix it. This isn’t a movie you have to rush to the theaters to see unless you’re a major Scorsese or DiCaprio fan.

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One word of advice: the movie is rated R but I honestly think that it earned and should have gotten the NC-17. There are many scenes with graphic language, drug use and explicit sex. This is a movie that pushes the R rating as far as it can go and I ain’t lying. In fact, I can’t remember the last movie I saw before this one that used the ‘F’ word and it’s variations so many times. So don’t go see it and then complain about the language, nudity, sex scenes and drug usage ‘cause I’m telling you. It’s there, there’s a lot of it and Martin Scorsese ain’t the least bit shy about showing it to you.

Rated R

179 Minutes

 

 

 

 

Love & Sex

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2000

Lions Gate

Directed and Written by Valerie Breiman

Produced by Martin J. Barab, Darris Hatch and Brad Wyman

Either I’m getting old, soft in the head or just downright developing a conscience. That’s the only thing that can explain my sitting down to actually watch a romantic comedy. And on top of that, liking it a whole lot more than I thought I would. But I’ll be upfront here; the leads are played by Famke Janssen and Jon Favreau. Famke Janssen you’ll know for two outstanding movie characters. She was one of James Bond’s more memorable villains; the beautiful Xenia Onatopp in “GoldenEye” who delighted in squeezing men to death between her thighs while having sex. And she played the telepathic/telekinetic mutant superhero Jean Gray in the “X-Men” movies. Jon Favreau has made quite the reputation for himself as a dependable and extremely talented actor/director. Everybody knows him from his roles in “Swingers” and “Made” and he directed the megahits “Iron Man” and “Iron Man 2.” So it was more my curiosity in seeing just what the two of them were doing in a romantic comedy more than anything else that led me to check out LOVE & SEX.

Kate Welles (Famke Janssen) is a writer for the magazine ‘Monique’ and she’s suffering a creative crisis. She’s supposed to write an article about how to find and fall in love with the right man. A perky, happy article. The best she can come up with is 2500 words comparing romantic relationships to blow jobs. In her words: “It’s only the suckee that benefits. The sucker is left depressed.” Her editor doesn’t want to hear it and says if Kate can’t come up with something a tad more cheerfully readable by 5PM, she’s fired. Kate’s struggle to write the article triggers her memories of her past relationships that we’re allowed to share.

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The relationship that really matters is the one she had with Adam Levy (Jon Favreau) an artist of decidedly bizarre talent. One of his paintings depicts a bleeding woman pulling a severed head out of her ass. And that’s one of his milder pieces. But Kate is attracted to him right off and they begin a truly touching and funny relationship that had me chuckling all throughout the movie and even laughing out loud several times. It’s love at first sight for the both of them but can it last? The movie is told through Kate’s eyes and she’s just as hard on herself as she is on Adam. They’re great together but both of them become too obsessed with wondering if they’ll still be madly in love with each other years from now. It struck me halfway through this movie that Adam and Kate are like a lot of people I know: they worry way too much about if they’re still going to be in love twenty-five years from now instead of enjoying being in love today.

I like Famke Janssen a lot in this movie. She’s not all glamorously gorgeous here. She looks like most women I see during the day walking down the street. Her character is remarkably open and casual about her past sexual experimentation and freely admits to Adam she’s had 13 lovers in the past. Adam only having had two partners naturally feels inadequate. And despite what Adam says she refuses to apologize or made to feel slutty because of her choices. She realizes she uses sex to make herself feel better because she’s so desperately afraid of being alone but that’s her choice and she stands by it. Jon Favreau’s Adam is a character equally as quirky and interesting as Janssen’s. I really liked the scene where he shows he’s a standup guy when Kate tells him she’s pregnant and his actions during a later tragedy are quietly moving.

But eventually the breakup comes. Adam and Kate go their separate ways for a time to try and find out if they’re really in love or not. The funniest part of this sequence comes from Kate’s dating action movie star Joey Santino (Josh Hopkins) who just happens to be one of Adam’s favorite actors. The sex is great with Joey but he’s got about as much brainpower as a head of cabbage. Kate tells him that he “just doesn’t get it.” Joey shrugs and goes one with life. He’s happy that he doesn’t get it. He’s content to live life for today. Kate worries about the fact that everybody today is going to die and nobody is going to remember them because everybody else is going to die.

It’s sequences like that in LOVE & SEX that reminded me a lot of Woody Allen’s work during the 1980’s. Famke Janssen’s character could easily be a female version of the neurotic persona Allen honed and perfected during that period. And both she and Jon Favreau are obviously having a fun time with the sharp dialog. It’s a nice little movie. Unpretentious and it doesn’t try to be the tearjerker of all time. And it’s nowhere near as predictable as other romantic comedies I’ve seen. It’s concerned more with telling a good story about some interesting characters instead being impressed with its own cuteness. LOVE & SEX is a movie I’m pleased to recommend as a more than satisfying Friday or Saturday night rental for you and your significant other. I think you’ll be as charmed by it as I was. It’s intelligent, funny and has its own unique heart. Enjoy.

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82 minutes

Rated R: for language and sexual situations. The f-word is thrown around a lot as well as other sexual slang so be warned.

Iron Man 2

2010

Paramount Pictures/Marvel Studios

Directed by Jon Favreau

Produced by Kevin Feige and Susan Downey

Written by Justin Theroux

Based on “Iron Man” created by Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, Don Heck and Jack Kirby and published by Marvel Comics.

I think the success of the first “Iron Man” and IRON MAN 2 has to be given to both Robert Downey, Jr. and Jon Favreau.  Nothing in their past movie work indicated that either of them were capable of producing such a hip, smart and fun superhero movie as the first one and they’ve pulled off the feat of making a sequel that is just as hip, smart and fun.  IRON MAN 2 isn’t better than the first one. But it’s just as good and sometimes when you’re making a superhero movies that is examined with such a critical eye by lifelong fans of such a wildly popular character, ‘just as good’ is as good as you can possibly get.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) seemingly has the world on a golden string.  Thanks to his Iron Man technology he’s made the world a safer place.  He’s hosting a Stark Expo, reviving a tradition started by his late father Howard Stark (John Slattery) where he outlines a plan for world peace.  Tony’s so beloved by the American public that he can tell a Congressional Committee on national TV to go to hell.  The Committee, headed by Senator Stern (Gary Shandling) demands that the Iron Man technology be given over to The Defense Department and Tony being the arrogant narcissistic genius that he is (hey, that’s what it says in his file) refuses, assuring the Committee that the rest of the world is years away from having anything remotely close to his technology.

That’s before Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) shows up, wielding fearsome whip-like weapons powered by a duplicate of the arc reactor that powers Iron Man and keeps Tony Stark alive.  The secret of Vanko’s power source is wrapped up in a mystery involving Vanko’s father as well as Tony’s.  A secret that is shared by the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) who is aware that Tony is dying from palladium poisoning.  Palladium is a necessary component of the arc reactor and won’t work without it.  There’s only one way to save Tony’s life but that involves the impossible: creating a new element.

But Tony may not have time to accomplish that feat seeing as how his best friend Air Force Lt. Colonel James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes has given the Defense Department Tony’s Mark II version of the Iron Man armor.  The suit is handed over to Tony’s main business rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) with instructions to weaponize the suit to the max.  Doing so will turn the wearer of the armor in a veritable War Machine.  Fortunately Tony has plenty of help thanks to his able assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) who steps up to the plate and takes over running Tony’s company while he’s dealing with his multiple problems.  And as always, Tony is ably backed up by his bodyguard/chauffeur Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) And if that isn’t enough, there’s Tony’s new assistant Natalie Rushman ( Scarlett Johansson) who is really S.H.I.E.L.D. agent extraordinaire Natasha Romanoff aka The Black Widow.

Now even in that brief summation of the plot you should get the impression that there’s a lot going on in IRON MAN 2 and you’re absolutely right.  There’s a whole lot going on but the story isn’t anywhere as confusing as I’ve heard folks say it is.  And I appreciate a superhero hero movie that has a lot of pieces in play.  There are a lot of characters in the movie and they’ve all got their own agendas working.  It makes for a story where all the characters have something at stake and aren’t just hanging around.

Robert Downey, Jr. once more does a masterful job of playing Tony Stark/Iron Man.  I don’t know of another actor today who can play such an arrogant jerk and make us love him.  I put it down toDowney’s unpredictability as an actor.  You just don’t know what he’s going to do next but you know it’s going to be amazing.  The rapport he has with Gwyneth Paltrow on screen is nothing short of terrific.  It’s truly fun to watch anytime they’re on screen together.

Don Cheadle replaces Terrence Howard as Tony’s best friend Rhodey and it’s an upgrade as Cheadle is by far the better of the two actors and he and Downey have a much better on-screen rapport.  Gary Shandling is surprisingly good in a small but pivotal role.  Sam Rockwell doesn’t play the Justin Hammer of the comics but his incarnation of the character is just fine by me.  Sam Rockwell is one of the most dependable actors working today as I don’t believe he’s capable of turning in a bad performance.  Mickey Rourke fits in surprisingly well as the main bad guy.  Rourke’s character doesn’t say a whole lot but his actions are what sets everything else in the movie in motion and Hammer as he is in this movie simply isn’t strong enough of an antagonist for Tony Stark/Iron Man but I strongly suspect we’ll be seeing Justin Hammer again and he’ll be a lot meaner next time around.

What else?  The screenplay by Justin Theroux is marvelously smart and witty and contains actual dialog and not stock conversations we’ve heard in a dozen other action/superhero movies.  Everybody has a unique voice and it’s always a pleasure to listen to dialog written by somebody who knows how to write it.  My major gripe with this movie?  You’re not gonna believe it but here goes: would it really have killed them to name Clark Gregg’s character Jasper Sitwell?  Because I don’t care what they call him, that’s who he’s playing.  And I want more Black Widow movies starring Scarlett Johansson.

So should you see IRON MAN 2?  Chances are you already have and at this point are either giving me a nod of agreement or giving me the digitus impudicus.  I thought it was a whole lot of fun and that’s what I want to see in a superhero movie.  I like to see a superhero movie where the superhero is having fun being one.  I like to see superheroes having adventures and overcoming adversity and defeating bad guys and saving the day.  I’m tired of superhero movies where the so-called hero is whining that he can’t catch a break or pay his rent (I’m looking at you, Spider-Man) or wrestling with his inner turmoil and existential angst while bemoaning that he must labor under the curse of having superpowers.  Sometimes you just want to recapture the wonder and excitement you felt when you were twelve years old on a summer Saturday afternoon with nothing to do but read a stack of your favorite comic books.  IRON MAN 2 will make you feel like that if you give it a chance.

PG-13

124 minutes

Iron Man

2008

Marvel Enterprises

Directed by Jon Favreau

Screenplay by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway

Based on “Iron Man” created by Stan Lee, Don Heck, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby and published by Marvel Comics

Produced by Avi Arad and Kevin Feigh

 

When I was growing up and my friends and I devoured Marvel Comics as fast as we could get ‘em, all my friends liked Spider-Man.  Which I could never understand.  Spider-Man was a nerdy loser who was always broke, never got the girl, was picked on unmercifully at school and things just never seemed to work out for him.  Which is what my life was like at that stage of my evolution.  So I could never fathom why I would want to read a comic about somebody whose life was as crappy as mine.  Hell, I didn’t have to read comics to know that life wasn’t fair.  I lived it.  I wanted to be Tony Stark.  Now that guy had the life.  Billionaire technological genius.  Brilliant inventor.  Had so many fine women he tripped over ‘em constantly.  Fleets of sports cars and private planes.  Let a team of superheroes live in his mansion and bankrolled their operation.  All that and he had the world’s most powerful weapon: a suit of hi-tech armor that turned Tony Stark into the greatest fighting machine on the face of the Earth: IRON MAN.  Watching the movie  brought back a whole lot of feelings for why I fell in love with the character years ago.  And a lot of that has to do with the outstanding performance of Robert Downey, Jr. the direction of Jon Favreau and the excellent screenplay.  Everybody involved with this movie obviously took time to do their homework and read the comics because what’s up there on the screen is extremely close to the tone and spirit of the comic books.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is delightfully enjoying his blatantly hedonistic lifestyle filled with women, liquor and trips around the world at a moment’s notice.  He’s babysat by his BFF Air Force Colonel James Rhodes (Terrance Howard) and his loyal Girl Friday Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) who both worry and fret over Tony like Jewish grandmothers.  But Tony assures them there’s nothing to worry about, that’s he’s got it all under control.  Except when Tony has to demonstrate his latest weapon of mass destruction, the fearsome Jericho missile system in Afghanistan.  His armed escort is wiped out and Tony himself is captured by the terrorist group known as The Ten Rings who demand that he build the Jericho for them.  Complicating the situation is the fact that Tony has a chest full of shrapnel that ironically came from a bomb his own company built.  With the aid of a fellow captive (Shaun Toub) Tony is not only able to construct a device to keep the shrapnel away from his heart but also to build a crude but highly effective suit of iron armor that enables him to get away from his captors.

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Not that his situation back in the United States is much better.  Tony’s business partner Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) doesn’t like it at all when Tony has a moment of clarity and announces that Stark Enterprises will no longer manufacture munitions.  Even Pepper and Jim Rhodes wonder if this is for real or some sort of publicity stunt on Tony’s part.  But Tony is quite serious.  So serious that he seals himself up in his basement workshop and proceeds to improve upon his armor design.  And he’s going to need it, especially when The Ten Rings find his crude prototype armor in the desert and begin piecing it back together.  But they need help to upgrade and improve the armor.  And that forces Tony Stark to come to terms with who has been and what he wants to be in the future.

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While I thought IRON MAN was simply outstanding I can’t shake the feeling there’s going to be those who will complain that like the Ang Lee directed “Hulk” IRON MAN doesn’t have enough action.  But the movie isn’t so much about action as about Tony Stark understanding what he’s become and his desire to be better than what he has been.  To leave a legacy other than one of death and destruction.  And the wonderful thing about Tony Stark is that he’s just as badass and cool when he’s out of the armor as when he’s in it.  He’s not like a Superman or Batman in that their alter egos are radically different from their superhero personas.  Tony is a man used to using technology to accomplish his goals and that’s what the armor is: another piece of technology that enables him to save lives instead of taking them.  And if you want another reason for why this movie isn’t action heavy…well, actually Tony Stark doesn’t become Iron Man until the end of the movie.  This is very much an origin story and it’s a really good one.  The motivations are there, the characterizations are there and as Tony learns about the capabilities and potential of his latest creation we’re right there with him.

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Robert Downey, Jr. owns Tony Stark/Iron Man much in the same way that Michael Keaton owned Batman/Bruce Wayne and Christopher Reeve owned Superman/Clark Kent. Downey and Favreau understand that if we don’t care about Tony Stark when he’s out of the suit we sure as hell won’t care for him when he’s in it. Downey’s Tony Stark is certainly a major prick in the first hour of the movie but he’s one of those charming pricks who can make you love him even while he’s screwing you over.  This is another terrific performance from one of my favorite actors and it’s really fun watching Downey at work.  Gwyneth Paltrow radiates sexy intelligence as Pepper Potts and the scenes between her and Downey are really great.  Terrence Howard could have had more to do as Jim Rhodes but he does have a nice little bit in Tony’s workshop when Rhodes looks at one of Tony’s prototype armors that is a foreshadowing of the bigger role the Rhodey character has in the two sequels.  Surprisingly enough, the only actor I have a problem with is Jon Favreau who cast himself as “Happy” Hogan, Tony Stark’s driver.  Since he’s also the director Favreau gives himself way too many scenes where Hogan is standing around looking over Stark’s shoulder looking all serious but not really contributing anything to the scene or the story overall.

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The special effects are outstanding.  There were a lot of scenes where I’m positive I wasn’t looking at CGI but at a man in a suit of hi-tech armor.  But after awhile I gave up trying to figure out when Iron Man was CGI and when he wasn’t and just sat back to enjoy the ride.  I dunno about you but I enjoy watching a superhero movie where the superhero is actually enjoying using his powers for good and there’s a definite sense of fun and adventure.  That’s not to say that IRON MAN doesn’t have its darker moments but the wit and intelligence of the characters and the story lifts it out of the “oh, I have such a burden to bear…woe is me” bag that most superhero movies are in.  These characters don’t have time to sit around and moan about how bad their lives are.  They’re smart enough to get up and do something about it.

Jeff Bridges almost steals the show as Obadiah Stane and Clark Gregg is quietly hilarious as Agent Phil Coulson.  In fact, one of the most amazing things about the Marvel Movie Universe is how Clark Gregg/Agent Coulson became the MVP of the MMU.

So should you see IRON MAN?  If you haven’t already I don’t know what’s wrong with you.  It’s a really smart, fun movie with engaging characters and a bedrock solid plot.  The writers have done a great job updating Iron Man’s origin and I applaud them for not shying away from portraying Tony Stark as what he is: a weapons manufacturer with all the ramifications that go along with that profession.  IRON MAN doesn’t get heavy into the politics but just enough to give the story added weight.   IRON MAN has rightly earned its place as the crown jewel of Marvel movies.  It, along with “Captain America” the two “Thor” movies, the two “Hulk” movies and of course the magnificent “Avengers” are the Marvel superhero movies I’ve been dreaming, hoping and praying to see ever since I was ten years old and I’m glad I’ve gotten to see them.

Rated: PG-13

126 minutes

 

 

 

 

Cowboys & Aliens

2011

Universal Pictures

Directed by Jon Favreau

Produced by Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Roberto Orci, Scott Mitchell Rosenberg

Screenplay by Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby

Story by Steve Oedekerk

Based on the graphic novel “Cowboys & Aliens” created by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, written by Fred Van Lente and Andrew Foley with pencils by Luciana Lima

 I’ll tell you right up front so if you don’t want to be bothered reading the rest of the review, you don’t have to.  I enjoyed COWBOYS & ALIENS a lot.  It’s a very well made movie with performances I enjoyed and an entertaining premise.  However, I have to say this: the parts of the movie with the cowboys are so entertaining that when I got to the parts of the movie with the aliens, I was wishing I was back with the cowboys.

A man with no memory (Daniel Craig) waked up in the desert with no idea of how he got there.  He does have a picture of a beautiful woman and a strange metal bracelet on his arm he can’t remove.  The man makes his way to the boom town of Absolution which has gone bust.  The town is so bust it depends on the cattle baron Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford).  Which means suffering the drunken tantrums of his son Percy (Paul Dano)

The man runs afoul of Percy, attracting the attention of Sheriff John Taggert (Keith Carradine) who identifies the man as Jake Lonergan, notorious outlaw.  Taggert intends to ship Lonergan off to federal prison along with Percy when Dolarhyde shows up.  His intentions are simple: he wants his son back and he wants Lonergan as well.  Seems as if Lonergan has been helping himself to Dolarhyde’s gold.  Dolarhyde means to shoot up the town if his wishes aren’t met.  But he’s beaten to the punch by alien spacecraft that not only blow the town to splinters but kidnap a sizeable number of citizens.

Dolarhyde aims to go after the varmints who took his son and he needs Lonergan because the bracelet on his wrist turns out to be an extraordinarily powerful weapon.  The town doctor/bartender Doc (Sam Rockwell) wants to get his wife back.  Also going along is the grandson of the sheriff (Noah Ringer) Nat Colorado (Adam Beach) Dolarhyde’s right hand man and the town preacher (Clancy Brown) Rounding out this crew is the mysterious Ella (Olivia Wilde) who packs a mean shootin’ iron of her own and knows way more about the aliens than anybody else.

The road to the alien camp is one that made me wish that Jon Favreau was doing a straight-up western.  If Daniel Craig keeps making westerns I don’t give two hoots if he never makes another James Bond movie again.  Both he and Olivia Wilde look right at home in the genre.  And this is the best performance Harrison Ford has given since I dunno when.  In fact, I don’t think there was a performance in this movie I didn’t enjoy.

And Jon Favreau knows that even in an action movie you need moments where an audience can catch their breath and maybe get to know the characters a little bit better.  He’s good enough to do that and he’s also good enough to know how to rev the action back up to 11 after a slowdown.  My respect for him as a director continues to grow with every movie he makes.

So should you see COWBOYS & ALIENS?  I say yes.  It’s got truth in advertising as if has Cowboys and it has Aliens.  It’s not going to become known as a classic of the genre but it’s good, solid entertainment with a cast that knows what they’re doing and a director working at the top of his game.  Enjoy.

Rated PG-13

118 minutes