The Suckiest Movie Summer Ever?

You may have noticed that this blog hasn’t reviewed several of the major summer releases such as ROBIN HOOD, SHREK FOREVER AFTER, SEX AND THE CITY 2, and PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME. That’s because I haven’t been able to build up enough interest to see those movies. I don’t like to judge films before I see them, but this summer’s crop appears to be one of the most questionable array of films ever lined up for a supposed event season. The reviews for the films I mentioned above have been extremely mixed with SEX AND THE CITY 2 particularly taking a beating – one critic (Kyle Smith, New York Post) hilariously called it “Bitchtar” – so I haven’t felt so far like I’m missing much.

I don’t consider myself a snob about mainstream multiplex movies. I enjoyed IRON MAN 2 and thought MACGRUBER had a fair share of laughs in it, but I can’t seem to get excited about the others, nor upcoming films like MARMADUKE, SPLICE, JONAH HEX, KILLERS, or KNIGHT AND DAY. Likewise the remakes or re-boots or re-whatever’s – THE A-TEAM, THE KARATE KID, and PREDATORS (Wow! With SPLICE that’s 2 Adrien Brody wannabe blockbusters – that’s rare).

It’s a tried and true tradition, of course, that the summer is filled with expensive mindless spectacle aimed at teenagers, and film buffs will have to wade through it to get to the fall which will be full of prestige Oscar bait. It just feels like this summer is much harder going than usual. The only thing that would make it worse is if there was another lackluster PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN sequel, but don’t worry I’m sure that’s what I’ll be bitching about next summer.

August is usually when some more interesting releases get dumped. In previous years great movies such as SUPERBAD, TROPIC THUNDER, and INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS have made the end of the summer a better place than the beginning, and this year Edgar Wright’s SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD looks like it could fit the bill. Until then there’s the possibility that Pixar could pull us through with TOY STORY 3 and Universal’s DESPICABLE ME also could be animation salvation.

I’m sure that there are some other gems hiding in between the weekly bombast of dreck so I’m keeping my eyes open. I’m also open to suggestions so if you’ve got any – lay ’em on me. To answer this post’s title question: It’s too early to really tell and I’m pretty sure there have been suckier summers – 2002 comes to mind – but this one sure looks to be shaping up as a contender. C’mon something, anything – Christopher Nolan’s INCEPTION maybe – surprise me!

Post note: There are a few smaller films (read: independent and Foreign) that I’m looking forward to – Todd Solonz’s LIFE DURING WARTIME and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s MICMACS. Check back for reviews of those.

More later…

IRON MAN 2: The Film Babble Blog Review

IRON MAN 2 (Dir. Jon Favreau, 2010)

Summer sequel season has begun with the return of Robert Downey Jr. as Marvel Comics super hero Iron Man. But you not only know that, you’ve probably already seen it as it had the second-highest May opening of all time grossing $133 million over this last weekend. For my two cents I’ll say upfront that IRON MAN 2 is a good time, not the great time that the original was because it’s a bit messy. Highly stylized and funny with quite a few sheer thrills, but still a bit messy.

We catch up with Tony Stark, not long after revealing his identity as Iron Man, enjoying his reign as a global celebrity who claims to have “privatized world peace.” He seemingly takes in stride that he’s called before a Senate Committee for a hearing led by Garry Shandling as a disapproving Senator who wants Stark to turn over the Iron Man suit to the military. Our snarky hero is more concerned that the palladium in the arc reactor keeping his heart beating has begun to poison his body so he’s trying to live it up since his days are numbered.

Meanwhile villainy toils in the shadows in the form of Mickey Rourke as a crusty Russian who has built his own arc reactor and a suit that has its arms outfitted with cybernetically controlled whips. Whiplash, as he’s dubbed, blames Stark Industries for his father’s death, and seeks revenge. He attacks Stark on a racetrack in Monaco, but Stark defeats him after some close calls when he’s able to get to his snazzy Iron Man suitcase. Also meanwhile, and that’s one problem with this film – too many “meanwhile’s”, Sam Rockwell as a conniving competing weapons manufacturer plots to take down Stark and sees an ally in Whiplash.

Gwyneth Paltrow returns as Stark’s right hand lady Pepper Pots who Stark promotes to CEO. Terrence Howard doesn’t return as Lt. Colonel James “Randy” Rhoades, for reasons that aren’t quite clear he’s been replaced by Don Cheadle. Scarlett Johansson joins the cast as Stark’s new assistant who is revealed to be a double agent working with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), introduced in the post credits of the original, of S.H.E.I.L.D. which was co-founded by Stark’s father (Mad Men‘s John Slattery) who appears in an old Stark Expo film that just happens to contain a secret message.

Whew! There’s a bunch of other elements I’m not going to go into because, well, you get the picture – it’s over stuffed with plot strands. This means a number of payoffs, such as Rourke’s placing in the climax, are a bit compromised. By the way Rourke’s mock Ruskie accent made me keep thinking he was going to say “I’m going to break you” like Dolph Lundren did in ROCKY IV. Johansson doesn’t make much of an impression except in one scene where she kicks the ass of a squad of baddies that comes off like an audition for CHARLIE’S ANGELS 3D.

As for the others – Paltrow just hovers around, Cheadle is a bit more engaged yet ultimately just along for the ride, and Rockwell does a decent job but doesn’t bring much new to the game. Director Favreau reprises his part as Stark’s bodyguard giving himself more screen time which doesn’t detract, but maybe should have been deleted scenes for the later DVD/Blu ray.

As we all know though, it’s Downey Jr.’s stage and he makes the most of it. Glib wisecracks aside he has a great interrogation room scene with Rourke. Both actors bring it dramatically for one of the only breaks from the comic action spectacle, and it helps give the movie some needed grounding.

So the fresh feeling of the first one is gone and the plotting is a bit creaky as well and the exposition heavy, but there’s enough fun to go around until the next time (stay through the credits to get a glimpse of what’s coming). IRON MAN 2 is much better than just passable (as super hero sequels often are), and its heart (or arc reactor) is in the right place.

More later…

IRON MAN = AWESOME And Some Other Random Babbling

IRON MAN (Dir. Jon Favreau, 2008)

Now, you ordinarily wouldn’t think of Robert Downey Jr. as an action movie star – particularly a comic book hero-type, right? And you you wouldn’t think of Jon Favreau (MADE, ELF) as an action movie director, would you? What about Gynneth Paltrow as a girl-next-door-type sweetie that is obviously overlooked by our hero or even the idea of Terrence Howard as the black-guy best friend? Hold on, how about Jeff Bridges (the Dude, man!) as the villain? Sounds all pretty improbable as far as Summer blockbuster premises goes, huh? Well, IRON MAN throws all those folk and a bunch of seamless CGI craft into the mix and it all, and I mean every single bit of it, works. And remember this is coming from a guy who is not a big fan of the big ass comic book action genre.

Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark – a billionaire industrialist famous for creating nuclear weaponry and every kind of arms used in the war on terror. He gets captured by terrorists after a demonstration in Afghanistan and is forced to build them a version of his powerful “Jericho missile”. Instead, with the help of a fellow prisoner – Dr. Yinsen (Shaun Toub), he constructs an elaborate but crude suit of armour which he uses to escape from captivity. Back in the States he announces that his company will no longer manufacture weapons to the intense displeasure of Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges).

In a funny series of scenes Stark works on a new suit with better technology, more firepower, and a cooler looking shininess that, yeah, is a pretty sweet design. Stark’s best friend Colonel Rhodes (Terrence Howard) finds out about his suit in the middle of a killer sequence involving his return to Afghanistan to destroy the terrorist gang’s weapon stockpile. Stark’s assistant, and of course possible love interest, Pepper Pots (Gywneth Paltrow) suspects something is up and gets caught up in his major mechanical antics of which I will speak no further.

IRONMAN is a blast – the right amount of humor, the precise assembling of a neat narrative, and a great cast. As I’m sure every review will label Robert Downey Jr. an “unlikely hero” but he is perfect in the part – slickly engaged and slyly sarcastic, he plays all the right notes. A bald bearded Bridges is dead on too in a role that’s not just un-Dude it’s incredibly non-TRON!

Going in I was not at all familliar with the comic book it’s based on but a friend who I attended with filled me in a bit concluding that the movie is fairly faithful to its source. Obviously that didn’t matter because it stands alone as a superior formula super hero movie. I usually use the word “formula” as a criticism but here its a good solid thing. Favreau has surprisingly done a excellent job with the tried and true framework and its his best film by far. IRONMAN indeed transcends the summer blockbuster film form but simply said – it’s a lot of fun.

Some Random Babbling:

MovieZeal wrapped up their excellent April Coen Brothers Blog-A-Thon (though with their banner displaying a different cool Coen Bros. screen capture it seems like it’s still going on. It’s well worth your while with a stable panel of great film bloggers contributing reviews of all their movies, articles about the Brothers, and a very well compiled The Top 10 Most Memorable Coen Brothers Scenes. I wrote Part II of my Musings on the Coens’ Music which I hope you check out.

I recently joined The Large Association of Movie Blogs – I’m LAMB #82! Please visit and sample some of the other movie blogs. LAMB lists a lot of good ones so click away.

I also took part in a survey for Buck On Film. It’s a column in Academia – an online magazine and resource for academic librarians. It was about “what are the Oscars to you?” Please visit that too.

Okay, well more summer movies are coming and the birthday of a long gone legendary actor/director is to be celebrated when Film Babble Blog returns so please stay tuned.

More later…