Monthly Archives: May 2010

Movie Review: MacGruber

To my absolute greatest shock I will say: after a dry spell, someone was finally able to make a good “Saturday Night Live” movie. All it took was some inspiration, and a guy who is involved with the existence of “Hot Rod.”

It’s funny how one of the funniest “Saturday Night Live” movies has come from what is usually one of the least funny sketches. That might be harsh. “MacGruber” is usually funny with the right guest, but usually they kind of just thud. Maybe because the concept, not the execution, was so rich that they were able to make the movie version of “MacGruber” this good.
“MacGruber” can be defined as a satire that’s tonuge-in-cheek, but is not too showy about it. If you haven’t seen the skits, the titular MacGruber (Will Forte) is a secret agent that’s a riff on MacGyver. Like MacGyver, MacGruber is known for making weapons out of random household objects. However, MacGruber sucks at this. Also, he acts like a huge, pompous jerk to everyone he meets. Once again, his weapons don’t even work.
For some reason though, MacGruber is actually widely revered and feared for his skills. In a Ramboesque opening, MacGruber is forced to come out of hiding to foil the evil plans of Dieter Von Cunth* (Val Kilmer). Slo-mo shootouts and dramatic montages ensue.
In a way, it sounds like I just described a mediocre action film. Well, I was. I was also referring to “MacGruber.” While most directors seem to believe that satire comes through lame mimicry, Jorma Taccone, John Solomon, and Forte know that true satire comes through a mix of imitation and originality. The character of MacGruber is both a satire, and his own separate entity.
“MacGruber” has followed suit of several comedies made in the last few years and managed to bring out the 1980s. I never experienced a single year of the 80s and I used to look at it as kind of a joke, but now it isn’t. “MacGruber” might poke fun at 80s action films, but in a very meta way, it becomes one. The wink is so subtle that you won’t even notice it. I would put it more into the category of “Black Dynamite” rather than “Hot Tub Time Machine.” That’s part of what makes “MacGruber” such a great filmgoing experience: it asks for those with a great eye for cinema.
“MacGruber” seems like an 80s action film in its over-the-top action and even more over-the-top storytelling. In “MacGruber” these two elements are maximized to be both ridiculous and endearing. Mainly ridiculous though.
“MacGruber” allows its hero to embody nothing but the worst of the typical action hero. He has that pompous, bossy personality, but he just isn’t a real hero. He always says he has a plan, but that plan always falls apart. He thinks he can make gadgets with anything he finds, but they always fall apart. MacGruber is essentially one of the least likable comedy characters I’ve seen. Even Austin Powers knew how to shoot a gun.
For those who grew up in this era, “MacGruber” will be seen as a great piece of nostalgia. For those who didn’t, there’s still more than enough humor for anyone to thoroughly enjoy. Since it comes from The Lonely Island team, the humor can best be described as absurdist and extremely awkward. It is visual and very situational. One such example involves a scene in which the always great Kristen Wiig as Vicki St. Elmo tries to order a cup of coffee in a MacGruber disguise. She back tracks, and perfect mumbling awkwardness follows.
Meanwhile, Forte is very obviously taking advantage of the lack of TV censors. “MacGruber” might’ve even pushed some MPAA boundaries in the process. Most of the excessive sex and cursing is not for shock value, or just for the sake of it, but mainly because it is actually made funny.
Forte’s “Saturday Night Live” career might be coming close to an end, but he has true potential in the movies. He could carry the weight of a story for 90 minutes and create a unique character. Everyone else in the cast manages to bring something, even if it is small, to the table. Wiig proves as always that no one does awkward quite like her. Ryan Phillippe does some surprisingly good comedic work making fun of the straight man who does nothing but tell the hero he can’t do whatever he’s doing.
What should be considered something of a career comeback, Kilmer shows that his greatest skill lie in comedy. He both looks and acts like a villain on the level of Hans Gruber, mixed with that bad guy with the pony tail from “Kindergarten Cop.”
While most have been panning it left and right, I feel like “MacGruber” is by far the most enjoyable film I’ve seen this summer. It deserves to be mentioned with the other successful “Saturday Night Live” adaptations: “The Blues Brothers,” and “Wayne’s World.” It wasn’t trying to impress us. It wasn’t hiding any agenda (mainly, a sequel). It’s simply doing what it can to make us laugh. Whether that be in a ridiculously out-of-place car, or an unorthodox use for celery, it worked.
*Note: Yes, I’m aware.

Dennis Hopper: Always Riding Easy

It can be hard to sum up the entire life of an actor from the only two roles you’ve seen them in. But when they’re as powerful and unique as these certain two, it’s definitely worth a shot. After a long public battle with prostate cancer, Dennis Hopper died on Saturday. He was 74.

Hopper’s career as an actor (and many other jobs on the set) lasted over half of a century, spanning both film and television. Some might always have considered him a bit part, but he always left his mark on various legendary productions. At just 19, he had a small yet prominent part in “Rebel Without a Cause.”
But unfortunately I will admit, I am not the biggest expert on Hopper, and certainly am not worthy enough to tell his entire life story. But what I can do is show you Hopper through the two very different, but very amazing performances of his that I have seen.
Hopper’s breakthrough role came in 1969 with “Easy Rider.” Here was a film that not only established Hopper as a fine actor, but also broke down barriers and redefined American cinema. It could be even considered the first successful independent film made. And Hopper was such an integral part of that. Not only did he star in the film, but he also co-wrote (with Peter Fonda) and directed it. As a writer, he delved into long, maybe even improvised, speeches that could change your outlook on life. As a director, he established an America that was both hauntingly beautiful and free as well as nightmarishly conformist. One could argue that without him, there would be no Tarantino, no Soderbergh, no Kevin Smith, and no Miramax.
Hopper’s performance is also hard to forget. He plays Billy, the less serious, slightly more laid back character next to Fonda’s Wyatt. Hopper had this strange way of making his character’s memorable through just the tiniest details. One might remember Billy best from his giggly stoner laugh. Despite some of the less serious aspects of the character, we are no less haunted by his fate at the end.
Hopper might not have gotten the film’s pivotal line (“We blew it”) nor did he get the giant career breakthrough (that went to Jack Nicholson), but his contribution to this piece of history is something of an unseen story. Let’s just say he directed “Easy Rider” to victory.
The best performance Hopper might’ve ever given is in David Lynch’s freaky “Blue Velvet.” In it, he plays psychopath Frank Booth. Frank is a villain beyond our wildest dreams, which is why he just might be a dream. Yet, Hopper doesn’t let that bother him. Frank is into inhaling Nitrous Oxide and holding families hostage while he commits acts of shocking sexual perversion. It’s a total turn around from Hopper’s performance in “Easy Rider.”
Once again, he gave it his all. Frank might seem like nothing more than a one-dimensional psychopath, but Hopper took him out of that territory and made him hauntingly real. He became a projection of all of our greatest fears. You’ll never forget his beer preference nor the way he mouths “In Dreams.” In the end we question, is Frank just a projection of our nightmares, or the man who lives next door to us.
As the obituaries begin to pop up, most headlines have contained the word “Bad Boy.” While Hopper certainly carried that reputation, putting him simply into that category would be too little. Outside of film, he may have been a bad boy yet inside of film, he was a revolutionary of a filmmaker, and a truly exceptional actor. To that I say, keep on riding easy, Dennis Hopper.
Note: I just realized I totally forgot to include “Apocalypse Now” on the list. My apologies.

Lost: This is the End/There is a Light that Never Goes Out

SPOILER ALERT: If you didn’t watch the series finale of “Lost” yet and ever plan on it, I advise you do not read this until you watch it.

Well, it’s over. Now please excuse me for a few more seconds while I collect my thoughts and feelings.
There. What I have here is a film blog. I thought about movies. But every once in a while, there’s a TV show that captures the magic I see in films. “Lost” happens to be one of them. Ever since that first plane crash, I’ve been mesmerized by it. Like any “Lost” watcher, I’ve had so many questions. Tonight, in its last episode ever, “Lost” did the impossible: it answered every question I had, and then it took all of its answers back.
Here is my interpretation. It might not be right, it’s merely an interpretation. Some spent six seasons believing that the island was purgatory. Well, they were close. The island wasn’t quite purgatory. However, the Sideways world was. It was a purgatory they created. It was a world of redemption and second chance that these characters so desperately needed. It’s exactly what the Island represented in seasons one through five. But now that that was taken away, this was the place where they could go before they went knockin’ on heaven’s door.
As for everything else, we did find out what the island is: it is the light. This light is the source of all enlightenment for some. Keep it in one place, and it’s good. Let it get out, and unspeakable evil will be unleashed. That unspeakable evil was the Man in Black, who spent the entire season in the skin of recently deceased John Locke. His reign of terror came to an end at the hands of Jack Shephard, who truly became the hero figure that the show has tried to make him look like for six years.
Let’s talk about Matthew Fox for a second. I never much liked him, nor the character. While a weak main character will usually bring down a work, “Lost” was lucky enough to have such an amazing supporting cast. In the past, Jack was always stagnant and arrogant. Plus, Fox never put much emotion into him. But starting with his breakdown after Jin and Sun’s death, Jack became a character I actually felt invested in. Then, in this episode, he truly became the Luke Skywalker of “Lost”: the one man driven to great things by fate, the man with the force. You could even call him Christ, as well.
Jack’s sacrifice was heartbreaking and almost uplifting at the same time. The final shot ever of “Lost” was Jack lying in the same bamboo forest he landed in once the plane crashed, but this time with an eye closing rather than opening. In this moment, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse so beautifully and perfectly brought “Lost” full circle. The moments before might’ve left you scratching you’re head, but that final shot was no “Sopranos” fake out.
Before I get into the heavy interpretation stuff, let me appreciate “Lost” for its entertainment value. Tonight was two and a half hours of more than solid entertainment. The final confrontation between Jack and Fake Locke was one of the most intense fights I’ve ever seen shot on film. It could be because of the slippery slope atmosphere. Or maybe it’s because of the build up to it. It wasn’t being built up for just a few episodes. No, this is the confrontation we’ve been waiting for for six years.
Kudos to Cuse and Lindelof for how well structured this episode (appropriately titled “The End”) was. While large parts of the episode were certainly devoted to plot, much more was devoted to character. While it was important to see Kate and Sawyer get off the island and Hurley becoming the new Jacob, it was also important to see everyone unite in the Sideways world.
The connections achieved in the Sideways world simply achieved what I believed “Lost” has been going for since day one: to show how much the little things matter. In more detail, “Lost” shows how so many different people can somehow be connected to one another. At the end of the day, “Lost” is all about how a bunch of random people ended up on an island together and then realized, they all impacted each other’s pasts and futures.
Another important “Lost” theme was handled carefully this season: perspective. “Lost” has never been the show to stoop down to creating good guys and bad guys. Good guys become bad, and bad guys become good. This was seen in the battle between Jacob and the Man in Black. Some could view Jacob as a God like figure, while others could see him as an oppressor. Meanwhile, the Man in Black could be both a devil and a man who just wants to be free. Also, Locke became a villain and Benjamin Linus became a good guy. When a show can so convincingly turn good into bad and make all perspectives seem convincing, you know you have good writing.
Another highlight of this season includes, as usual, Terry O’Quinn. He always gave outstanding performances as John Locke, but this season was unique as he was playing the same character with a totally different disposition. He nailed the role of noble, complex villain.
As for season six itself, I wouldn’t put it on the same level as season one. However, it did have its moments that emulated the spectacular first season. By taking away the whole time travel aspect and focusing more on the faith aspect, Cuse and Lindelof were able to spend more time trying to understand what the island really is while suspending reality. They also brought back those nice, quiet moments which might simply involve the cast hugging and appreciating their own existence.
While many have been polarized by the Sideways universe, and especially with what it turned out to be, I enjoyed it because it brought many characters back to their roots, with a few twists. While the Island had villain Locke, the sideways world had hero Locke. Even after they died on the Island, Jin and Sun were still alive and eternally in love in the Sideways world. Not to mention, it also brought beloved Charlie back into our lives.
Season six also brought us one of the best episodes “Lost” has ever produced. No, I’m not referring to the finale; I’m referring to “Ab Aeterno.” What simply made this episode such pure genius was its compelling storytelling. Not only did it reveal so much about the island, but it also proved that sometimes “Lost” could be at its finest when it sticks to one dimension of time for more than five minutes.
But of course, there was a lot that didn’t work this season. That temple storyline felt more like the Hydra Station than the Hatch; a time filler rather than an actual compelling storyline. However, the creators were wise in not dwelling in this one space for too long. And as always, there were a few backstories that just didn’t have the same impact that others did. For example, while the Jacob backstory was crucial to the show’s mythology, his history strangely came off as cheesy rather than inspiring.
What did this ending mean for “Lost” as a whole. In the series-long battle between fate and freewill, it seems fate was the winner here. It is still arguable whether fate or freewill brought them to the island but ultimately, they were all reunited by fate.
While the they’re-all-going-to-heaven ending isn’t something I’d buy into in reality, it’s something I buy into only in the universe “Lost” has created. “Lost” has done what any good fantasy should do and created an alternate reality so fully realized and elaborate that it becomes a living, breathing entity where anything is possible. I would even take the risk of saying it’s created a sci-fi mythology great enough to allow this show to be mentioned in the same breath as both “Star Wars” and “Star Trek.”
Some also seem to get angry when anyone calls “Lost” ‘groundbreaking’ or ‘revolutionary.’ Revolutionary is a step too far, but groundbreaking isn’t. Few shows would ever even dare to tell their stories so out of order and then actually make the viewer think by not answering every question for them. “Lost” was one of the last bastions of great storytelling left on a basic cable station.
In its final moments, “Lost” showed its self-aware, self-reflexive side, then it showed what it was truly all about: love. Amidst all of the polar bears and smoke monsters, “Lost” just wanted to show us the peace brought about by loving connections between human beings. It could’ve been corny, but that final beam of light felt earned, and it got me. Maybe it was because they included the dog.
For the joy and the frustration you’ve provided me over these past few years “Lost,” I salute you.

Movie Review: Babies

Babies. Those little bundles of joy. Those little creatures who can also terrorize your life. Do they really deserve their own film? “Babies” manages to prove that, beyond the cries and the screams, their is depth.

Despite running well under 90 minutes, “Babies” is quite the epic of a documentary. It spans three continents, four countries, and multiple years. The point of the film is to document the beginning of a human life in every part of the world. One baby comes from a small village in Namibia. Another comes from the Mongolian steppes. In contrast, the final two come from the bustling urban metropolises of Tokyo and San Francisco.
French director Thomas Balmes guides the audience through the critical stages of an early life. Much time is spent on birth, first words, and of course, the first steps. Despite devoting much time on these important moments, Balmes does a very French thing and brings us through many small moments that have no true impact on a life, yet are so poignant for that reason alone. One of the most memorable of these moments include the Mongolian baby waking up to find a rooster in his bed. It’s never mentioned again, and it does nothing to show the baby growing up, yet its just so unique in how much detail is paid to that one little snippet we never see again.
There is one thing “Babies” truly has going for it: how expertly edited it is. Balmes likely had hundreds of hours of remarkable footage to use, and certainly a wonder how he was able to narrow it down to just 79 minutes. It must’ve been a painstaking process, yet he certainly took all of the effort to choose exactly all of the right shots.
The editors also knew quite well how certain shots and scenes should align with one another. Many are placed next to each other to either show differences or similarities. We see that in every culture, sibling rivalries exist. We also see that in every culture, each mother has her own way of teaching her child about the world. This supports the film’s main idea: everyone is brought into the world blank, and comes out differently from what they see, and what they experience. It’s a simple idea that’s supported with the help of a lot of complex imagery.
Yes, that imagery. It’s striking. While it’s always interesting to see what the babies are doing, Balmes likes to explore the territory they’re in. He finds us a river in the middle of the Namibian desert, and a lush park amongst the urban sprawl of Tokyo. These shots, the ones we never see, are the kind of shots a good documentary filmmaker should capture, and never let go of.
If there’s one complaint most people seem to have about “Babies,” it’s that it’s virtually devoid of any speaking. There is some background speaking, but mainly there’s the mumbling and grumbling of the babies. This factor serves to be both a positive and negative aspect of the film. I don’t think it would’ve been much trouble for Balmes to add in subtitles or just a short voiceover to at least explain a few things. Because these things are missing, the film, at times can just feel like a compilation of home movies.
However, when examining the film from a more critical perspective, perhaps this was done in order to make the world as fresh, new, and confusing as a baby would see it. Perhaps that lack of dialogue is to fully emphasize the action occurring on screen, and allowing character to build through these actions. Maybe Balmes wanted the moments where the babies first walk to feel like skeleton thrashing scene in “2001: A Space Odyssey” or the scene when Daniel drags himself out of well, leg broken, in “There Will Be Blood.” At a point like that, who cares what some dialogue could say about it? The images speak for themselves.
“Babies” does exactly what it sets out to do: show the things that make us different and make us the same through the use of babies. If you were looking for the interior monologue of a baby, then maybe you should watch “Baby Geniuses” instead. “Babies” is an exploration of the beginnings of a human mind. It’s like “March of the Penguins” for babies.

TV Review: Modern Family

I’m so sorry. I feel like I’ve committed a crime.

For months now, I’ve been meaning to write about “Modern Family,” the best comedy currently playing on television. With the season finale fast approaching, some might think it’s too late. Me, I think it’s the perfect time. As the entire season has now unfolded, and the characters are totally developed, it’s time for me to convince you to watch “Modern Family.”
Like any good sitcom, “Modern Family” takes a tired subject (dysfunctional families) and breaths new life into it. In fact, it’s the best family-centered comedy on TV since the end of “Arrested Development.”
Like “The Office,” “Parks and Recreation,” and “Summer Heights High,” “Modern Family” is shot entirely in an interview mockumentary style. It focuses on three different but connected families. The main patriarch is scotch guzzling Jay (Ed O’Neill) who loves his family as much as he loves making racist comments. He’s recently married to young Colombian Gloria (Sofia Vergara) who has brought along with her 10-year-old son Manny (Rico Rodriguez), who acts about 40 years older than he actually is.
Then, there’s Jay’s daughter Claire (Julie Bowen), who is the definition of uptight yet caring mother. She’s married to Phil (Ty Burrell), who has the body of an adult, but the mind of a child. Together, they have three kids: a ditz (Sarah Hyland), a brain (Ariel Winter), and another ditz (Nolan Gould).
And finally, there’s Claire’s gay brother, Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson). His boyfriend is the flamboyant, yet always hilarious Cam (Eric Stonestreet), and the two recently adopted a Vietnamese baby.
This is the premise, boiled down. I could go in deeper and deeper but then I’d have no room to analyze. So what I will say is that from there, the show deals with the relations between each family, and how they cope with the idea of staying together when external factors serve to pull them apart.
Though, even that doesn’t do the show justice. Hopefully, this will: it’s sick, it’s twisted, and in that, it’s beyond hilarious. It has a degree of boldness that seems to be lacking from most network TV shows.
“Modern Family” has what every good comedy needs: great writing. What’s even greater is that the show never restricts itself to one brand of humor. Each character in some way embodies a different style of humor. Phil, who seems to always either be falling or being locked in port-o-potties embodies the show’s slapstick side. Claire and Mitchell embody the concept of the “straight-man.” Jay and Alex are examples of good old wit. And Haley is just an example of why stupidity can just be so funny.
It is a testament to the greatness of the writers that they can constantly balance slapstick and sophistication along with stupidity and wit and never lose balance. There are big visual punchlines involving fake mustaches and spicy food, along with brilliant, snappy one-liners.
“Modern Family” is an ensemble show so of course it would’ve suffered with poor actors. Fortunately, the acting is quite strong. If I would, I’d find praise for every single actor in the cast but instead, I’ll just point out the most notable ones. O’Neill’s entire character seems to be a reference to his role on “Married…With Children,” yet here he seems to have a little more of a heart.
Meanwhile, Burrell and Stonestreet play two characters that easily could’ve become caricatures. Yet, they find the right way to emphasize both their quirks and their humanity without losing sight of either. Then there’s Vergara who’s sassy attitude never gets old. She turns Gloria into something endearing and she is well on her way to becoming a big, new name in comedy.
At the end of the day, the best comedies are great not just in how they make you laugh, but in how they make you feel. Some might enjoy “Modern Family” by finding common ground with it. While its documentary style could’ve provided the viewer with an objective, mocking look at modern American family life, it instead totally invades the home and becomes a part of it.
In this respect, the audience is therefore forced to see both ridiculous actions, and the justifications for them. That could be poor intentions, or just plain misunderstandings. When quirks are emphasized, so are flaws, and when flaws are emphasized, characters escape becoming nothing more than cardboard cutouts. The show’s complex look at family matters evokes the tagline of “The Royal Tenenbaums”: “Family isn’t a word…It’s a sentence.”
There are a lot of good comedies on TV right now. “Modern Family,” in its very first season, manages to stand above them all because it manages to remain so consistently funny. Even in weaker episodes, there is always a laugh to be had. This is a great sign that the creators, the writers, and the cast know exactly what they’re doing, and exactly where this show is heading. With hit-and-never miss humor like this, “Modern Family” looks like it’ll be around for years and years to come.

Movie Review: Robin Hood

Ridley Scott, where are you? The credits for “Robin Hood” say your name, but not a single one of your directorial trademarks are at all present. “Robin Hood” is not a movie, it’s a mess. It makes “The Room” look coherent.

The story of Robin Hood is folklore that’s been passed down for generations. It’s the famous “steal from the rich, give to the needy story.” Even Scott can’t seem to get that straight.
What can be deciphered from the muddled plot is that “Robin Hood” is the story of Robin Longstride, a.k.a. Robin Hood (Russell Crowe). Robin Hood is a skilled archer in the army of King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston) during the political instability of 13th century England. After King Richard dies, Robin Hood travels to a small English village where he encounters corruption, a crippled taxation system, and a lonely yet strong widow (Cate Blanchett).
Besides encountering love, Robin Hood makes time to return a sword to his rightful owner, and battle the pesky French, all while managing to be one of the least engaging Medieval warriors I’ve ever seen.
Robin Hood is a mythical person, but he is one that has been emphasized over the years with so much detail that some might think he was real. You wouldn’t know it from this version, though. The free-spirited, anarchic outlaw that this film wants to portray is not visible once. In fact, the title character at times seems to disappear in the background. At times, he’s rendered totally insignificant. If a film wants to portray its hero as such an important figure of its made up world, than it should actually try to do just that.
I look back at “Robin Hood” and I realize, there wasn’t one redeeming feature to somehow lift this movie up. I always try to find that one redeeming feature of every poorly done film to prove that no matter what, nothing is perfect. Yet, I still can’t find it here. Maybe the one redeeming feature is the potential. “Robin Hood” holds a talented cast, and a talented director, yet nothing holds up.
The weakest point of “Robin Hood” is definitely its screenplay. No plot points seem to connect, no characters are related to each other in important ways, and not a single line of dialogue is the least bit memorable. The film ultimately amounts to two hours and twenty minutes of British people arguing about tax code in the dullest way imaginable.
“Robin Hood” is a summer blockbuster. I know that, and the film knows that. It looks like a summer blockbuster, but it just isn’t one. There is barely a battle sequence to be found here. Then, whatever action that is to be found here is impossible to even follow. Not to mention, every kill seems meaningless because Scott seems to prefer going into battle without much context. Why are the British battling the French? Why are the British now battling each other? Taxes, I guess.
There is a difference between a good summer blockbuster, and a great one. A good one contains the kind of action that is entertaining and satisfying. A great one contains action that is enthralling and sometimes mesmerizing. “Robin Hood” falls into neither category. This is bizarre, as this comes from the mind of a truly great action director.
There is not a single moment in which “Robin Hood” feels like a Ridley Scott film. It lacks the graceful action that won “Gladiator” Best Picture. It also lacks the amazingly realized universe of “Blade Runner” and the truly brave and three dimensional hero of “Alien.”
Instead, “Robin Hood” tries way too hard to capitalize off of the success of “Lord of the Rings.” Rather than coming off like “Lord of the Rings,” or even “Braveheart,” it feels more like “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” meets an intense LARPing match. Yet, the characters in a LARPing match are more well defined.
The one thing that continues to bother me about “Robin Hood” is the wasted potential. Besides the great director, it contains a sprawling cast (which contains the legendary Max von Sydow, who’s been around long enough to work with both Martin Scorsese and Ingmar Bergman). Even Crowe and Blanchett are reduced to merely mumbling. There is even a scene where Blanchett gives an unimaginably unrealistic response to the death of a family member. Crowe is forced to do the cliche “NOOO!” scream. Is that how two Academy Award winners are supposed to be treated?
I will try my best now, to give the film some sort of praise. It might be a little backhanded, but its something. The barrage of arrows at the end was pretty well done, even if it was a blatant ripoff of a stupid scene from “300.” Meanwhile, Kevin Durand (Keamy from “Lost”) does a fine job in his role as the oddly named Little John. He is the only one who seems to be enjoying his role, and the only one who seems to be in the right movie.
Besides that, the rest of the movie is basically the Knights Who Say Ni. I’d have given the film some sort of pass for effort but for a director who’s known to be an intense perfectionist, its shocking that so little effort has been put into this version of “Robin Hood.” Whether this is the fault of an intrusive studio, or a lazy director and writer is up to interpretation, but one thing about the legend of Robin Hood can be said: the version with the fox is better.

Movie Review: Iron Man 2

I might’ve enjoyed watching the superhero genre be mercilessly mocked in “Kick-Ass,” but I’m no hater. I’ve been anticipating “Iron Man 2″ ever since the moment the first movie ended. This one comes with some minor disappointments and a few major promises. While I can certainly recommend “Iron Man 2,” there isn’t enough to truly give it flat out praise.

“Iron Man 2″ leaves off directly where the first one left off, with weapons connoisseur Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) admitting to the media that he’s Iron Man. The world has changed since then. Thanks to Stark’s design, the world is now safer. For now at least. The movie catches Stark at something of a crossroads in his life: he’s more successful than ever, yet the same technology that’s kept him alive is now turning against him. He becomes more and more narcissistic than ever.
While Stark remains in denial that the Iron Man technology can ever be doubled, someone looks to do just that. There’s Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), an even more smug version of Stark who’s looking for a job in the Pentagon, and psychotic Russian physicist Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) who’s seeking revenge on Stark for past injustice.
One thing I must hand it to director Jon Favreau for doing is putting his own comedy background into an action film. His natural eye for comedy always adds a good extra entertainment value to the “Iron Man” films. The brand of humor he incorporates here probably wouldn’t be a good fit for a Batman or Spider-Man film. However, this particular story involves a character who’s CEO of one of the biggest companies in the world, yet he’s still willing to call a senator a jackass.
In Favreau’s strength, unfortunately, lies his weakness. While he knows his way around humor, he just couldn’t quite nail a lot of the action here. Strangely though, he seemed to know what he was doing in the first movie. In “Iron Man,” some of the war sequences had an odd sense of realism while the scenes where Stark was just mastering his suit were sometime even quite graceful. Here, much of the action was either too silly to take seriously or too quick to ever appreciate. I call it the “Quantum of Solace” complex: a sequel to a great action film which looses hold of the great action of the original.
Take for example, the final battle. I’ll do my best to spare the details. What I will say is that for a battle built up so much, in a location so tight, it turns out to be a major letdown. It’s as if the whole scene, the whole plot line, was simply to end with a giant laugh.
One of the main factors that keeps “Iron Man 2″ from falling apart is its superb cast. Downey is almost too perfect for the part. Only a free spirit like him could portray a free spirit like Tony Stark. But unlike the first film, “Iron Man 2″ adds a level of emotional vulnerability to Stark. He’s certainly not the Messiah he once thought he was. Downey manages to balance that fine line, without turning Stark into a total contradiction.
Then there are a few supporting actors truly worthy of recognition. While this film suffers from a loss of The Dude, it makes up for it with the presence of Mickey Rourke. Call it a stretch, but his performance reminded me somewhat of The Joker with more motivation. He always seemed to take such ease in being such a psychopath. While I can sometimes be annoyed by too much backstory for a villain, here it’s used simply to show motivation rather than to create unnecessary sympathy.
But I digress. Rourke shows here why he’s such a great actor. He is an actor who needs no direction. All he needs is a character description, and he makes it into his own (his odd relationship to his bird was all his idea). The only problem is that Rourke is given such limited screen time. Maybe with a little more freedom, and a little more time, Ivan Vanko would’ve been even more of a villain to remember.
Yet another scene stealer is the even better Sam Rockwell. He taps into all the anger, frustration, and even dark comedy that define his other performances (especially in “Moon”). His character differs from most other villains of superhero mythology because he doesn’t achieve evil through highly advanced weapons or murder. Rather, he is so creepy because he’s such an egomaniac that he will resort to literally any means to get to the top. View him as a much less intelligent version of Hans Landa.
While the cast is sprawling, one problem is that many are either underutilized, or are just plain useless. No offense at all to Gwyneth Paltrow, but her performance mainly consists of her yelling “Stop!” and “Don’t!” at Tony. While Scarlett Johansson’s Natalie Rushman certainly has a little more purpose than that, her role in the film would’ve been better in another sequel.
Again, “Iron Man 2″ is a film I can recommend, but only give slight praise to. It can be hard to give a movie a passing grade for entertainment value alone, but “Iron Man 2″ manages to deliver a solid two hours that never has a dull moment. Yet, with the high standard set by recent comic book films (“Spider-Man 2,” “X-Men,” “The Dark Knight,” “Sin City”), “Iron Man 2″ could’ve been a lot more. And with the extreme likelihood of a third film, Favreau and the “Iron Man” crew should stick to the factors that made the first film great rather than the ones that made the sequel decently mediocre.