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Robert Downey Jr. | EclipseMagazine | Page 6
Let me be perfectly clear – although I’ve read the Holmes canon several time, and fifty or sixty [or so] of the multitudes of Holmes pastiches, I am not a Baker Street Irregular. Still, I would imagine that most Irregulars would find much to enjoy about Guy Ritchie’s take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s immortal creation – but they would likely also [like me] find some jarring errors that do, indeed, detract from what is, essentially, a fun diversion.
One of the more egregious goofs concerns Dr. John H. Watson’s [Jude Law] first wife, Mary Morstan [Kelly Reilly], whom Holmes meets – in the canon, at least – while in the company of the good doctor. Not so here – though, as if to make up for that blunder, Ritchie’s Morstan has the kind of steel to her that attracted Watson in the canon.
With the release of this year’s big budget Hollywood version of the iconic British detective, Sherlock Holmes, I thought now would be a great time to delve into Holmes’ world. I’ll admit up until this year I didn’t read the books, watch any of the old movies or TV shows that featured the character. The first thing I did was download the Complete Sherlock Holmes collection onto my Kindle. I’m currently going through The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, so far I like it a lot but it’s not something I felt attached to. By the 6th short story in the collection, I figured out the formula and it got a bit boring. The collection is made for short bursts of reading, like on a metro ride to and from work. I rented Young Sherlock Holmes – which I loved and the early BBC Holmes on Netflix Instant Watch and enjoyed both.
I don’t know who made the decision to back The Curious Case of Benjamin Button as Paramount’s most likely Oscar® candidate, and to shuffle The Soloist to the spring release schedule where it will undoubtedly get lost among the spring blockbusters, but they definitely backed the wrong metaphorical horse. The Soloist is a film of subtlety and intelligence and does not do something that most movies do: manufacture a happy ending.
Even though changes have been made to make the film a better story, The Soloist shines like the music of Beethoven, the particular favorite of Nathaniel Anthony Ayers Jr. [Jamie Foxx]. Ayers came to national prominence when he was discovered, by Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez [Robert Downey Jr.], playing Beethoven’s music in the street. The column Mr. Lopez wrote garnered more attention than anything he’d ever written and sparked a huge amount of interest in Mr. Ayers, who had been a student at Julliard before succumbing to schizophrenia.
In my review of Iron Man during its theatrical run, after noting that the film worked mainly because of its honouring the source material from the Marvel comics, I wrapped up with:
“While the action scenes aren’t as accomplished as something by Michael Bay, they come off better because director Jon Favreau understands that it’s the characters that make everything else in the film work. He keeps the pace high enough to prevent lessening of interest and knows how to make the film’s effects serve the story. This is a film with surprising wit and genuine intelligence.”
Repeated screenings [twice more in the theater and twice more on DVD] convince me that I was remiss in grading the film a mere A-. Considering that the film’s only real flaw is that the big fight scene between Iron Monger and Iron Man is a bit clunky [which, when you think about it, is appropriate for the big, clumsy looking Iron Monger], and considering that the film translates extremely well from big screen to small, I have to revise that upwards.
Then there are the multitudinous features. How many are there? Check this out: Disc One: Eleven Deleted and/or Extended Scenes; Iron Man Adventures Teaser; Disc Two: I Am Iron Man [Seven Featurettes Documenting the Making if Iron Man: The Journey Begins; The Suit That Makes The Iron Man; Walk of Destruction; Grounded In Reality; Beneath the Armor; It’s All In The Details; A Good Story Well Told]; The Invincible Iron Man [Six Featurettes Covering the History of Iron Man In Comics: Origins; Friends and Foes; The Definitive Iron Man; Demon In a Bottle; Extremis and Beyond; Ultimate Iron Man]; Robert Downey’s Screen Test; The Actor’s Process [Downey, Jeff Bridges and Jon Favreau figure out a scene]; The Onion: Wildly Popular Iron Man Trailer To Be Adapted Into full-Length Film; Galleries: Concept Art [Environments: Afghan Cave, Stark Estate, Stark Garage, Stark Industries; Characters: Iron Man, Iron Monger, Tony Stark]; Tech; Unit Photography, and Posters. There is no commentary track and that costs the Features grade.
The DVD’s menus are patterned after the 3D Hologram effects in the film and are both really cool and easy to navigate. The DVD comes in a standard box inside an embossed card stock slip cover.
Tropic Thunder may well be the most [deliberately] politically incorrect film I’ve ever seen – and one of the funniest. The fake trailers alone are worth the price of admission! Ben Stiller’s film takes aim at every level of Hollyweird culture, from trailers to fraudulent writers to explosive studio executives – and is on target far more often than not.
When the writer of a book about the Vietnamese War [Nick Nolte] suggests that a first-time director [Steve Coogan] send his actors into the jungle – which has been seeded with cameras and various practical effects [explosions, gunfire and the like] – the cast members find themselves mixed up with a heroin cartel headed by a twelve-year warlord [Brandon Soo Hoo].
The actors are a truly motley assemblage of stereotypes: Tugg Speedman [Ben Stiller] the action star seeking legitimacy; Jeff Portnoy [Jack Black], star of the Fatties franchise and drug addict, also seeking legitimacy; Alpa Chino [Brandon T. Jackson], a rapper breaking into the acting game; Kevin Sandusky [Jay Baruchel], an actor in his first big movie, and Kirk Lazarus [Robert Downey Jr.], an Australian actor with multiple Oscars, who has his skin darkens to play a black character. None of them really has much of a clue, which leads to explosive ranting by studio head Les Grossman [a virtually unrecognizable Tom Cruise].
Stiller’s direction is pretty much on the money as his movie-within-a-movie allows him to show Hollywood at both its strangest and its worst. When we see the trailer for Simple Jack, for example, we aren’t seeing an attack on the mentally handicapped – unless we’re looking at Tugg Speedman for playing a mentally handicapped man solely to win an Oscar – or Kirk Lazarus for explaining, in a very funny bit, why simple Jack didn’t work. And speaking of trailers, the fake trailers that open the film are spot on satires of specific genre trailers, and are among the funniest moments in the film.
Other highlights include black rapper Alpa Chino keeping Lazarus honest as he plays a black character, even while he [Chino, that is] tries to flog his line of merchandise on camera; Coogan’s director, Damien Cockburn, taking charge; Speedman using what he’s learned from Lazarus to wow his captors in a live, less-than-no-budget performance; that the film becomes a big honkin’ war movie even as it satirizes the culture that creates an Apocalypse Now; Matthew McConaughey’s turn as Speedman’s TiVo-obsessed agent, and Danny McBride who steals every scene he’s in as the film’s special effects expert, Cody.
Tropic Thunder may be the best film Ben Stiller has ever made. It’s loud and crass, joyously politically incorrect, and well under two hours and gives us all the action of movies thirty minutes longer. In a summer that has had a number of good comedies, Tropic Thunder literally blasts its way to the next level.
After a year of speculation, spoilers, and marketing hype. The summer film season kicks off, not with a bang and not a whimper. One of my most anticipated films of 2008 – Iron Man is finally here in all it’s technicolor glory! I liked this movie a lot, technically it’s brilliant, acting is spot on, but it was missing something that I couldn’t put my finger on what. From the moment this movie was announced every decision by Director Jon Favreau has been spot on. Casting Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark was truly inspired. This film rests squarely on Downey’s shoulders and he takes the ball and scores a touchdown. He was born to play this part. He’s perfectly sarcastic, vapid, yet brilliant and roguish. Could not have been happier with his performance. In the Pantheon of Marvel Characters, Iron Man was always a major player in the Marvel Universe, but he’s never been a fan favorite and recently Marvel has turned Tony into a completely unlikable, know it all dick. The movie version of Tony is more circa 80s Stark – pre-alcoholism.
When I first watched the trailer on my computer, it was the first time where I had concerns about this film. I thought it looked way too fake. But within the context of the film, everything works perfectly. Never once do you not believe that this suit is real. Favreau spends so much time showing the construction of this armor and the entire testing process that when we finally see him take off you buy into it. Stan Winston did an incredible job designing the Mark III Armor. It’s straight out of the comic book and is exactly how I always imagined Iron Man’s Armor in a live action film to look like. It’s a brilliant mix of CGI and practical SFX. But here’s my problem with the film, I kept trying to force a connection to it and wondering why I’m not LOVING this movie. I liked it a hell of a lot but didn’t LOVE it. I think it comes down to the lack of real tension. Everything felt slightly plastic and a little too technical. With no real peril or villains.
When Stark does his first bit of Super-Hero work it’s against some nameless terrorist group. That is not clearly defined or established enough to make us care. All of the violence is done off camera as well. This leads to several weird edit moments where Iron Man is blowing up bad guys left and right, we see the repulser blasts, stuff getting blown up, but we never really see the bad guys get what’s coming to them, it’s all done off camera. I’m not one who needs to see blood and guts, but in a film like this it lacks an edge that it sorely needs. It’s interesting the Favreau and his writers decided to go this route instead of using Iron-Man’s signature nemesis The Mandarin. He clearly wanted to focus all the attention on telling us who Tony Stark was before worrying about the villains. Which is where most Super Hero films falter. Now that we have a clear idea who Stark is, Favreau can use the next film to give us Mandarin. It’s funny, as an avid Iron-Man fan from back in the day, I can’t name any of Iron’s enemies, he doesn’t have a very good Rogues Gallery. Who would be good in this movie? Stiltman? Stingray?
The cast was perfect, Terrence Howard as Jim Rhodes was done really well and Tony’s long suffering secretary Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) was nicely done. Jeff Bridges was barely recognizable as (Obadiah Stane / Iron Monger). The movie’s only down moment came in final fight between Iron Man and Iron Monger was disappointing at best. Turned into a really lame Transformers rip-off. Iron-Man is a great kick off to a front loaded Summer Blockbuster season and this is a fabulous start to the Iron-Man franchise. Bring on The Mandarin.
Final Grade A-
EM Review by
Originally Posted 5.2.08
Tony Stark [Robert Downey Jr.] is a hedonistic billionaire weapons manufacturer until a trip to Afghanistan for a weapons demonstration ends with him in the hands of terrorists. He builds himself a suit of iron armor to escape and goes on to put together a more refined version to enable him to save the people who have been put in harm’s way by his company’s weapons.
Iron Man is about a lot of things: a modern knight in shining armor; crazed ambition; superheroics; even innovative CGI [check out Stark manipulating CG plans as if they were the real thing]. Oddly enough, despite its political ramifications and good old-fashioned superheroic fun, in the end, Iron Man is about a guy who goes through a kind of reverse mid-life crisis. The hedonistic, irresponsible Stark metamorphoses into a more – dare I say – mature adult by deciding to kill his company’s weapons making business in favor of some thing more planet friendly.
Downey isn’t working in a vacuum, either. It’s been a while since Gwyneth Paltrow has glowed so brightly on the big screen – here playing Stark’s right-hand person with considerable aplomb [watching her keep Stark on his toes is a delight]. Jeff Bridges makes for an affably deceptive villain and Terrence Howard makes his small role as Stark’s best friend shine.
While the action scenes aren’t as accomplished as something by Michael Bay, they come off better because director Jon Favreau understands that it’s the characters that make everything else in the film work. He keeps the pace high enough to prevent lessening of interest and knows how to make the film’s effects serve the story. This is a film with surprising wit and genuine intelligence.
The trailer for Charlie Bartlett revolves, mostly, around the application of prescription to elicit humor. If the film had been solely about that, it would likely have been just as entertaining, but it would have been a one-trick pony. Fortunately, it is both smarter and wiser than that.