Sunday, May 9, 2010

Iron Man 2 review.

It's not often that I sit here and find myself at a loss for words to describe a movie experience. Iron Man 2 kicks off on the right beat, delivering the exposed Tony Stark to a world that simply waits to devour all he has to offer. He's forced to contend not only with a restylized Crimson Dynamo played by Mickey Rourke, but he's also forced into far more dynamic struggles with the encroachment of a demanding U.S. Government and predatory Corporate competition in the form of "Hammer" industries. The pressure of these struggles take second stage, however, as Stark struggles with the very technology that once saved his life and is now slowly killing him. There's simply so much happening in this movie that several aspects seem lost in the shuffle, and yet there's a brilliant delivery from Favreau's direction and pacing while Downey's portrayal of Stark is never anything less than brilliant. So I'm at a loss for where to begin, where to end, and what to talk about in between all of that junk.

I think the whole thing can be summed up with the performance from Robert Downey, who so totally owns the screen at any given time. Stark is a likeable hero with a dark side... an egomaniac and a genius, he has no trouble at all with burying his insecurities beneath a thick layer of snark and then drowning that layer beneath severe alcohol abuse. Yes, Tony Stark is an alcoholic... he downs casual drinks throughout the course of the film, he becomes dangerously intoxicated at one point, and continues to seek solace at the bottom of the bottle as he comes closer to death. His acoholism is hereditary as we see his father also drown his own worries in the bottle, guzzling drinks in the outtakes from a commercial performance introducing his newest inventions. Uncomfortable with people and social interaction, Stark doesn't just put on a suit to fight crime and police the world... he hides behind the Iron Man persona and he hopes no one sees how fragile his whole world really is. But it's when he becomes lost in technology, displaying his odd understanding and obsession for the science that created his persona, that he no longer needs to dive in a bottle or hide behind the persona of a "super hero".

The only failing in this film seems to be with it's primary combat villain, with Mickey Rourkes' performance of the Crimson Dynamo as little more than a scientifically minded thug. His character is never truly explored in any further depth than to present him as an aggressive foil to the far superior performance from Sam Rockwell. Rockwell portrays "Hammer", Starks corporate rival in the arms technology business. He's a cowardly, manipulative, conniving little trend follower lost in the shadow of Starks' superior knowledge and ability. He's basically the money behind better ideas, hoping that he can take credit for someone elses' work. The two villains play off eachother well for some laughs, but Rourke comes off as cold and flawless and ultimately unreachable. The audience can actually somewhat identify with Rockwell, and his villain is the far superior despite a lack of rockets and murderous intent.

Most surprisingly, at least to me, is this film's political tone. It seems to purposefully go against the grain with a positive image of capitalism, going so far as to make some negative comments regarding the "Liberal Agenda" and promoting a very Libertarian world view from it's lead character. So while this film has action, drama, and an intense build to a brilliant transformation with it's lead character, it also carries some unique views in a market often dominated by the left leaning belief structure of the Hollywood elite.

5 out of 5.

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Nightmare On Elm Street review + Wandering Ginsa Butterfly II

Nightmare on Elm Street (re-imagining)

Jackie Earle Haley reinvents the role of “Freddy Krueger” with his performance in the new “re-imagining” of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” released by Platinum Dunes this past weekend. His performance is angry and loathsome, a creepy little phantom stalking his victims in a place where and when they are most vulnerable. We see him as the monster, but we also see him as a man before his death. We see him beg and plead for his life as he is killed by the neighborhood parents, we see him interact with the children who would become his victims, and all of these ideas tend to work as an exploration of who Freddy Krueger is and why. Haley plays with the part, diddling his razor fingers with the threat of a rattlesnake waiting to strike… he taunts the teen cast, blaming them for his painful demise. He stalks them, playfully reminding them of a past they can barely comprehend or even remember. Simply put, JEH is fantastic as Freddy.

But, as good as Haley is, he can’t carry the entirety of the film on his own shoulders. For all his work, the rest of the cast are caught within a melodramatic loop of crying, screaming, neurotic scenes designed to seem “dark” but come off as comedic. The amped up performances never level off. From beginning to end, the cast come off as cardboard cut outs of virtually every teen victim we tend to see in traditional slasher films. Within the first three minutes of the film, we’re introduced to the whole cast… shy, quiet, responsible, and artistic Nancy combining several aspects of the traditional series’ three leading “Survivor Girls” , beautiful and popular Kris replaces Tina and virtually every other “best friend” victim girl in the prior series, angry Jesse is the ex-boyfriend who slams money on the counter and teases his best friend about his infatuation with the leading lady, Quentin is the aforementioned “best friend” who is also the Principals’ “rebellious” son and hyperactive teenage boy who wears an emo-band tee-shirt throughout the whole film (you’d think he’d change it after a shower or something, but nah), and then there’s Dean… muscular, tall, handsome, and as cardboard cut-out as it gets. Moms and Dads pop up, teachers drone on through several lectures, and other victims are variously tracked down to one of the most ludicrous scenes of the movie. (Who clicked on the “Upload” button???)

The story comes off as a barely cobbled together mess that takes its audience for granted and gives them what a studio would think the fans want. They offer gory death scenes, odd dream sequence visual effects, amped up teens in a panic, and plenty of “jump scares” timed with the consistency of Big Ben. They don’t waste time explaining or wondering precisely how this scumbag could come back in dreams or why he wears a razor glove, but they make certain to spell out effects of certain drugs and what the risks are for staying awake too long. And while I’m certain they thought it made the film “darker”, the long term affect of having your cast amped up with the screams, fear, and weeping is that you start to laugh at them and their emotional stupidity. I was so busy laughing that the emotional revelations that COULD have turned the film into a masterpiece were wasted on an audience that simply wouldn’t be able to feel any sort of impact due to the emotional numbing of the rest of the film.

Closing out, Nightmare was a fun little popcorn venture that never lives up to the original films’ emotional scarring. It’s a series of missteps with some good sequences and one performance that stands head, waist, and shoulders above the rest. Platinum Dunes and Michael Bay will probably continue to rake through the dust of the late 80’s and early 90’s in order to provide additional remakes, “reimaginings”, and retreads of films that have been far more effective with their original incarnation. It’s a proven money-making formula for them and I don’t begrudge anyone’s desire to make a buck, so there are tons of festival films and direct to dvd alternatives introducing young film makers to an audience that’s greedy for a new blend in horror. I don’t feel ripped off, but I do feel badly for Haley and the rest of the young cast who will probably be forced to shoulder the responsibility for Nightmare’s lack of a cult following in the coming years.

3 out of 5.

Wondering Ginsa Butterfly 2.

I managed to catch the second Wandering Ginsa Butterfly film, but feel a little cheated since I hadn’t seen the first. Meiko Kaji stars as the Butterfly, Nami… a wandering gambler and swordswoman of some merit. She dresses to the hilt in traditional robes and a kimono, but the film is set in the modern era (early ‘70’s) and features an early role for Martial Arts hero Sonny Chiba. The two actors ally to take on a corrupt business man and his Yakuza Goons in a tale of bloody vengeance and furious action. It’s always a pleasure to watch Ms. Kaji, her eyes are so expressive and she always does something special with her characters. Her and Chiba have great chemistry and humor together, and I’m looking forward to more of the WGB film series, but this isn’t really the best introduction to Meiko Kaji and for that I recommend her Female Scorpion series or Lady Snowblood.

3.5 out of 5.