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Monthly Archives: May 2010

Ten Word or Less Review: Excessively mediocre sequel.

“Iron Man 2” could easily go down as one of the most irrelevant comic book movies ever made.  I say that knowing full well that on some level all of these movies are irrelevant, but within the confines of what we expect from movies like this, “Iron Man 2” achieves so little in terms of story or character, why it was even made comes into question.  Take that back, it was made so that it could make an ass ton of money.  And to give endless nudges and throw away jokes to other movies that don’t exist yet.

“Iron Man 2” picks up six months after the last left off and in the time since Tony Stark outed himself as Iron Man, he’s apparently brought about World Peace.  Yes, Tony has become a one man peace keeping machine who has single handedly ended world conflict.  Or at least that’s what the movie tells us.  It’s a ridiculous and insulting notion to start a movie on, but these are ridiculous movies so we can’t hold too much against “IM2” at this juncture.  Observing Stark’s glory from afar is a Russian scientist out to get revenge because Stark’s dad screwed his dad over royally.  This sinister Russian, called Whiplash, is played by Mickey Rourke and his character should’ve just been called Mickey Rourke.  Also conspiring against Iron Man is Stark’s weasely competitor Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), a fellow weapons manufacturer trying to one up the man of iron but who pales in comparison to Stark in every way.  On top of all of this Stark is slowly being poisoned by his own life saving chest flashlight.  Thinking he’s going to croak before he finds a solution, he starts acting like an irresponsible ass hat, drinking too much, partying too hard, doing whatever he wants without regard to the consequences.  Did I forget anything?  Yes, the government wants his Iron Man suit, he makes Pepper Potts (Gweneth Paltrow) CEO of his company, Samuel L. Jackson shows up to deliver expository dialogue for a few scenes, Scarlett Johansen slinks around for some purpose I couldn’t really find a point in, Tony confronts some father issues, he invents a new element to slap on the periodic table in about 10 minutes time, Don Cheadle thanklessly replaces Terrence Howard, in the end 40 robots blow up Stark’s own private World’s Fair.  The End.  Got all that?  So how exactly does a movie with so much going on manage to feel like nothing is happening?

Director Jon Favreau has put together something that feels like the spiritual equivalent of one of George Clooney’s “Ocean’s” movies.  It’s got a lot of well known, well paid people, looking slick in nice locations having a good time making a movie that they all treat as a colossal goof.  It feels like the last thing they want to do is take anything serious and that’s perfectly fine with me.  If Favreau and Downey want to turn Iron Man into an Roger Moore inspired superhero so cool and quipped that thwarting villainy requires no effort, I wish them Godspeed on their endeavor.  Not every superhero should be a brooding headcase with a voice that sounds as if it’s filtered through a lifetime of Marlboro use.  But in the process of not taking this stuff too seriously, they’re forced to slog through endless amounts of superhero minutia.  They’re tied into a rigid Marvel mythology from which they can’t escape.  This mixture of cavalier attitude about the thing they’re creating and all the bullshit that comes with it makes for a movie which spins its wheels endlessly for no purpose.  Its primary reason to exist is to prep the audience or other Marvel properties which aren’t yet off the ground.   On its own terms away from this, it portends to entertain us by merely existing.

Downey is the X factor making this franchise run right now and his second turn as Stark is no different than the first.  He’s still the charming wise ass but the movie doesn’t push the character anywhere.  The movie half-heartedly flirts with Iron Man’s famous “Demon in a Bottle” story arc but it doesn’t have the guts to go there head on.  Alcoholism is the only element that distinguishes the Stark character from other equally silly comic book protagonists but such stuff is too grim and troublesome for these films.  Downey’s still having a good time doing this and I’m glad that the once troubled actor has now found real success and overcome his personnel issues, but watching Johnny Depp and Nicholas Cage give up on acting to become whores in gimmicky Joe Popcorn movies was terrible enough.  I’m not sure I want to continue to watch Downey do what they did.  He may reap the benefits but I have to spend two hours watching the results.

The rest of the cast feels like an extension of this glossy, pointlessness that hangs over everything.  Everyone’s doing what they’re supposed to, going along with what they have, but what they have isn’t much.  Paltrow bounces off Downey with ease and their scenes are nice enough, but their relationship doesn’t go anywhere new and her entire part feels superfluous.  She’s on the verge of becoming Ms. Moneypenny from James Bond and even Bond ditched her in its latest incarnation.  I get the distinct impression that Mickey Rourke showed up on set and required no make up or costume.  Besides sporting his pseudo-menacing, unshaved, unbathed, greasy hair look, Rourke isn’t doing anything here worth noting.  He looks to be in on the joke same as everyone, but that doesn’t make it anymore fun.  He smiles contently through what little there is for him to do, looking glad to be getting a decent paycheck that keeps a direct to DVD sequel of “Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man” one more year away.  Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer is a terrible foil for Stark because he’s no match for him in any way shape or form.  Rockwell’s part is completely misconceived from front to back.  His character is Elmer Fudd in a three-piece suit to Downey’s metal covered Bugs Bunny.  He’ll never win, he has no chance at winning, we never for one second think he can win, so why is he here taking up so much time?  That’s the biggest problem of all with “Iron Man 2.”  Aside from his own lapse in character which we know he’ll surmount, there’s no obstacle or situation which feels threatening to Stark, thus we’re never worried about anything for one second.  Someone should remind the filmmakers that story tension is a useful thing.

More “Iron Man” is certainly coming but I don’t feel any pressure to stick with the character at this point.  He’s a billionaire, playboy who does whatever he wants at any moment.  He lives in a high-tech, automated, mansion, drives fast cars, sleeps with hot women at his whim, and can seemingly invent anything out of thin air.  He could probably invent a machine which actually does invent things out of air.  He gets the girl and defeats the bad guy with ease, resourcefulness and attitude and all at little cost to himself.  The guy doesn’t have very many real problems.  So what does he need me for?

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Gomorrah – One of 2008’s most acclaimed films, Matteo Garrone’s “Gomorrah” is the kind of film which flies in the face of traditional Hollywood trips to Italian settings.  Often shown as little more than a land of scenic perfection, tasty wine and charming inhabitants who riotously yell at each other, “Gomorrah” gets into the violent and sleazy underworld of Naples, Italy.  It follows an entourage of characters through the monolithic slums and hidden corners of this place as every characters life becomes hopelessly intertwined with the Camorra crime syndicate.  A thuggish union which has dominated the region through intimidation and murder for decades, the Camorra perpetrate violent crime in all the age old ways; drug dealing, gun running, gambling and consistent, unerring murder.

“Gomorrah” is a hard hitting piece, one that demands a fair amount of respect for the honest way it tries to do business and expose this Hellish lifestyle that few outside of Italy realize exists.  But it’s its own dedication to grim realism; the experience is at first confusing, slowly involving, and ultimately an unfortunate chore.  The film introduces characters, kills them, introduces more characters, leaves them for long spells, goes back to them, so on and so forth.  It takes too long for a rhythm or pattern ever emerges between these divergent stories and characters.  The film is more than half over by the time a settled sensation of who we’re supposed to be watching and why becomes clear.  Garrone doesn’t sugarcoat anything about the destructive and inescapable way of life in which these people are trapped, but nor does he do much to make you care about their outcomes either. Many of these characters, though honest in nature, are ignorant lowlifes and beasts, “Scarface” quoting thugs who want money and power and kill and rob to get it.  The characters who do rise above the level of base animal on the morality scale seem tedious and are dealt with less effectively.  Garrone is slightly more rapt with the perpetrators of violent crime than the victims of it.

Making matters more impenetrable is the film’s dogged insistence on relaying few details about this place we’ve been dropped into.  A viewer can piece together the stories and plot with relative ease, but where this is and why were watching is a mystery only the back of a DVD case can solve.  Honestly, I only know that these stories involve the Camorra crime syndicate because the DVD case told me so.  The film seems to have been made from an insider point of view and it doesn’t wish to take the effort to catch the rest of us up with the details we could use to understand the situation.  There’s one major character that runs through the entire film, trapped in an ethical dilemma because of his job.  He comes to the slums delivering money to certain individuals, an act which angers an opposing gang that then threatens to kill him.  But why he has deliver the money to begin with, who he’s giving the money to, why he has to keep on doing it after his life is clearly in danger and why his task pisses off other thugs remains a mystery.

“Gamorrah” is a taxing and frustrating thing.  It sticks with you and it’s easy to appreciate the skill of Garrone behind the camera.  Brute and savage honesty is a rare quality in filmmakers of any nationality.  But he’s stacked the deck against himself by failing to relay enough information about the situation he wants to expose, and giving his audience no one character to care about or follow through with.  When the final bullets are fired and the last bodies of two young men slump over dead, their life wasted, instead of an empathetic sadness at the lose of unfulfilled life, your left with the distinct feeling of ‘Oh well.’