Captain America: Civil War (B+). Wouldn’t you know: every time I start to wonder if the superhero genre is played out, the next superhero movie I see turns out to be entertaining and enjoyable. The plot of CACW was reasonably clear, and the fight scenes were exciting without being too ridiculous. Most of the Avengers seemed to show up for this one, including Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr., Iron Man), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd, Ant-Man), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, Vicky Cristina Barcelona). There were also a couple of people I didn’t recognize: Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen, Liberal Arts) and Vision (Paul Bettany, Dogville). They must have joined the club in a movie I missed. Vision was a little troubling to me; he seemed so powerful as to kind of upset the balance of power. I mean, he can shoot lasers and dematerialize at will? But I still enjoyed it, and it didn’t really feel like two and half hours. Martin Freeman (The Hobbit) and Marisa Tomei (The Big Short) pop up in small parts, which was kind of fun. The same directors (Anthony and Joe Russo, of Community fame) also directed Captain America: Winter Soldier, which left me cold, so I’m glad to see they’ve upped their game.
Avengers: Age of Ultron. (B+). This film is a fun, entertaining Summer action blockbuster film. It’s got all the usual characters—Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downy Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). And of course, there’s even some screentime for Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson). With all the characters, you almost wonder how writer Joss Whedon has time to develop the characters and the story. But Whedon is no newcomer to this. There’s time to develop a little backstory—particularly for Hawkeye and even time enough for a little budding romance. And there’s time to develop an action packed story arch with the unintended creation of Ultron—a super android (James Spader). By the end of the film we are introduced to a new superhero—Vision (Paul Bettany), who teams up with the good guys to help defeat Ultron and his army of super-being androids. There’s plenty of action in this film but I have to say that after a while some of the fight scenes in this film began to seem a little too similar to the fight scenes in the last Avengers film. I just hope that’s not a sign that the franchise is wearing thin. Certainly, there will be more to come. And you will want to stay for the credits so that you’ll get a glimpse of the next villain to do battle with the Avengers.
Chef (C+). This movie has been playing in Dallas theaters since the beginning of the summer, so I thought I’d better see what could justify such a lengthy run. It was pleasant enough, but nothing to write home about. Jon Favreau (Couples Retreat) writes, directs, and stars as Carl Casper, a well-known Los Angeles chef in a swanky restaurant. A Twitter feud with a snarky food critic gets Casper fired, and he decides to reconnect with his love for cooking—and with his 10-year-old son, whom he hasn’t had much time for since a divorce—by starting up a food truck. It’s a perfectly decent movie, but it felt a little slight for the big screen. And occasional brief appearances by big stars—Robert Downey, Jr.! Dustin Hoffman! A tatted-up Scarlett Johansson!—are more distracting than anything else.
Iron Man 3 (C). I remember enjoying the first Iron Man and not caring much for the second one. The latest installment also left me cold. Once again, Robert Downey, Jr. (The Avengers) plays the swaggering genius-zillionaire Tony Stark. Only now, Stark has lost a bit of his swagger–he even has an occasional panic attack, for crying out loud! But this is no time for Stark to take a soul-searching sabbatical, for a new threat has emerged–a superterrorist called the Mandarin, played with some panache by Ben Kingsley (House of Sand and Fog). Unfortunately, the innumerable explosions, the endless digital effects, and even the remarkably steely abs of Gwyneth Paltrow (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow) just weren’t that entertaining. And I wasn’t the only one who was turned off; I saw a family in the theater with a couple of kids, one of whom was dressed up at Iron Man, and about halfway through the film, I realized that they had all left. It is probably too violent for little ones, I guess, but it is rated PG-13 after all. Guy Pearce (L.A. Confidential), Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda), and Rebecca Hall (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) costar. Oh, be sure to stay through all the closing credits for an amusing final scene.
Iron Man 2 (C). I think Movie Man Mike gave this sequel high marks, but I just can’t go there. In fairness, I had a slight headache when I entered the theater, so maybe I wasn’t in the best shape to see a loud action movie. But my head was POUNDING by the time I left. Anyway, if you saw the first Iron Man, this is basically more of the same. Robert Downey, Jr. (Tropic Thunder) reprises his role as Tony Stark, a zillionaire businessman with a suit that gives him superpowers. Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler) steals most of his scenes as metal-mouthed villain Ivan Vanko. Scarlett Johansson (He’s Just Not That Into You) has surprisingly little screen time as girl-from-legal/secret-martial-arts-expert Natalie Rushman. Anyhoo, it’s loud, lots of stuff blows up, and the cuts are edited so fast you really never know what’s going on. Stay through the end credits for a scene that I guess hints at the contents of Iron Man 3.
Iron Man 2 (B+). The general rule for sequels is that the second movie is not as good as the first. Not so with Iron Man 2. The sequel is at least as good as the first and probably better. Where the first movie was focused upon introducing the character and the concept, the second movie is able to develop the character further and bring some new challenges to Iron Man. This is a great Summer film because it’s full of high-stakes action scenes. The conflict in this movie comes from the fact that the military sees the Iron Man technology as a potential threat and it wants the technology for its own purposes. Iron Man, played by Robert Downey, Jr., assures the military that the technology is safe in his hands. Little does he know, a Russian villain named Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) has the technology, and he develops his own super-suit. Add to the mix Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), who’s an arms dealer desperate to get the U.S. Government’s business, and you have a recipe for a potential catastrophe. The cast has a lot of surprising big names (also Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Samuel L. Jackson), all of whom play their parts well and add flavor to the mix. If you don’t see this at the theaters, you should at least rent it. And if you haven’t seen the first one, check it out too (although it’s not a prerequisite to understanding and following the second film).
Sherlock Holmes (D+). Based on the reviews I had seen, I expected Sherlock Holmes to be mediocre–but I didn’t expect it to be this mediocre. As played by Robert Downey, Jr. (Tropic Thunder), the supersleuth is not only a genius at deduction but also a formidable practitioner of the martial arts. With Dr. Watson (Jude Law, The Holiday) in tow, Holmes investigates a bizarre case in which a hanged murderer has apparently risen from the grave and threatens to take over England with an army of the undead, or something like that. Rachel McAdams (Wedding Crashers) has very little to do as American con artist Irene Adler. Choppily-edited fight scenes and overwhelmingly brown and gray cinematography do not add to the enjoyment. Suffice to say, it wasn’t the best 2 hours and 15 minutes of my life.
I enjoyed this movie because it was different and generally well acted. It is a story about a rich teenage boy with a relatively unstable but likeable mother. He gets kicked out of private school and enrolls in public school, where he finds that his easy access to psychiatrists, and therefore prescription drugs, puts him in a position to become the counselor for the student body. The cast includes Anton Yelchin (Star Trek), Robert Downey, Jr. (Iron Man), Hope Davis (The Hoax), and Kat Dennings (The House Bunny). It is a charming, honest story about Charlie as he learns to adapt to his new school, befriend a bully, develop a relationship with the principal’s daughter, and deal with the relationship he has with his mother and his non-present father. It also has subplots about the principal (Robert Downey, Jr.) and his struggles to acquire the respect of his students, cope with alcoholism, and repair the relationship with his daughter. It is not Oscar-worthy, but it is a good flick for a night in.
Tropic Thunder (B). I laughed out loud a few times during this movie, but I can see that it would not run to all tastes. A director is trying to film a Vietnam war movie in Vietnam, but his star-studded cast is giving him fits. The grizzled Vietnam vet who wrote the book the movie is based on (Nick Nolte, Another 48 Hours) proposes to take the pampered stars down a few pegs by dropping them deep into the jungle and making them rough it for a while. Unfortunately, they get dropped near a Burmese heroin-processing plant, and it takes the actors a while to realize they aren’t making a movie any more. Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) is particularly funny as an multi-Oscar winning actor who utterly immerses himself in every role, including this one as a black army sergeant. His interaction with a black rapper who’s also in the cast is very entertaining. Ben Stiller (Meet the Parents), whom I usually don’t like, is decent (and directed the movie too!). Jack Black (School of Rock) doesn’t have much to do. As I say, not everyone will be amused. I thought one of the funniest scenes involves somebody getting blown up by a landmine, and Stiller’s character thinking it’s all special effects, but it is undoubtedly a little ghoulish too.
Iron Man (B+). I’ll have to defer to Comic Book Guy as to how faithful this flick is to the comics from which it sprang, but it stands on its own merits as a solid superhero movie. Robert Downey, Jr. (The Avengers) stars as Tony Stark, a zillionaire inventor who made his pile in the weapons biz. After some unpleasantness in Afghanistan, he comes home with a bad ticker and a worse conscience. (How he built a pacemaker-sized nuclear reactor in a cave in Afghanistan is a great mystery to me.) To expiate his sins as a munitions maker, he creates a fabulous metallic suit that gives him, basically, super powers. Good action, good performance by Downey. Gwyneth Paltrow (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow) is wasted as Stark’s girl Friday, the improbably named Pepper Potts. Jeff Bridges (True Grit) plays an oily (and bald) executive in Stark’s weapons company, but I just kept thinking, “Hey, that’s Jeff Bridges in a superhero movie!” every time I saw him. There’s a tiny little extra scene after all the credits, but it meant nothing to me. Comic book fans would probably get more out of it. A very good summertime flick.
Oh, and it just happens to be the 1000th movie I’ve ever seen. I’m sure it sounds obsessive for me to know that, but my sister and I have had a contest for years to see who could see more movies, so we both keep track. Okay, she just tells me when she sees a movie; I do all the keeping track. Anyway, I’m totally kicking her butt, since she’s seen only about 950 movies in her life. But I’m about 9 years older than she is, so I guess she’s doing all right.
With the success of the X-men and Batman franchises, it’s no surprise to me that Marvel and DC are mining their library of lesser heroes for movie fodder. Seems like the pattern is good movie – bad movie. (e.g. X-Men 3 – Awesome. Ghost Rider – Blows). What amazes me is how they attract top notch talent for these gigs. This jewel stars the likes of Oscar nominee Robert Downey Jr. and the ever so lovely Gwyneth Paltrow. For those of you who didn’t bother with the comic – Tony Stark (Downey) is a playboy genius engineer turned weapons mogul. After being injured by his own weapons while visiting a war zone (how IRONic), has a change of heart (literally) and becomes Iron Man to make amends for his company’s wrongdoing. You know the drill. Hero has traumatic event. Hero develops super powers (or super skills, or both). Hero takes on Villain. Hero prevails. Cool special effects and explosions fill the space between plot development. Formulaic? Sure. Just another variation of the Batman theme – although Batman is way cooler than Iron Man – but it works. And this one works well. Yes, the plot is predictable and you have to suspend disbelief but c’mon… that’s why you go to the movies, right? Bottom line: this one is awesome (and for those comic book fanboys out there – look for the Stan Lee cameo and the veiled hints of more superhero movies to come). Just remember the pattern: Iron Man. Good. The Hulk? Will probably blow. But that’s good news for the next one – The Dark Knight. Should be awesome. ‘Nuff said.
From the same guys who wrote the Lethal Weapon movies comes this alternative private detective, Hollywood murder mystery. Filled with tongue-in-cheek dialogue and featuring understated performances by Val Kilmer (Batman Begins) and Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) this movie is a pleasant surprise. Much of the humor in the movie comes from the characters’ interplay and the various plot twists that ensue, so I don’t want to give away any of the plot. I will say watch out for Abraham Lincoln at the end of the movie. I give Kiss Kiss Bang Bang an “A.”
I stayed away from this movie for a long time because I am not into movies made from random comic books that I have never read or heard of, e.g., Daredevil, Howard the Duck, Electra, etc . . . I only watched Sin City because I saw it on cable. Once I started watching it, I simply could not turn my eyes away from the film. Sin City tells the story of several individuals who stories are interrelated, but exist independent of each other (think Robert Altman’s Shortcuts, but less confusing). Some of the stories are compelling, some are not. All of the stories are violent. The film is done in black and white and apparently with significant green screen work. An interesting effect is the director’s use of color with an item or a few items in each shot. I am still not sure if I thought the stories were clever or if it was simply the imagery that was keeping me interested in the movie. Did I mention violence? There is gun play, mutilation, and torture scenes in this movie. There is also some nudity. Don’t let your kids watch this movie. I give it a “B” and say rent it or catch it when it comes on cable. Watch for Elijah Wood’s and Nick Stahl’s creepy performances. Really creepy.
A Scanner Darkly (B-). First, a word about Philip K. Dick, whose novel is the basis for the movie. Several of his works have inspired movies, most famously Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Minority Report. If you like science-fiction, especially dystopian science fiction, you should give Dick a try. I read a few of his books as a kid, and I generally enjoyed them. Be warned that they are very weird, like Ubik, a story about a gang of psychics whose leader gets killed—and then starts sending them mysterious messages from beyond the grave.
Anyway, Scanner is considered one of Dick’s best books, but I remember trying to read it, getting confused, and eventually giving up. The movie is much more straightforward than I remember the book being. Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves, The Matrix Reloaded) is a dopehead hooked on the horrifically addictive “Substance D,” along with 20% of the population of America. But he is also “Fred,” a narcotics agent assigned to spy on Bob Arctor and his small “family” of fellow dopeheads (Woody Harrelson, Management; Robert Downey, Jr., Iron Man 3; Winona Ryder, Star Trek). When he reports to work, he wears a high-tech, identity-concealing suit so effective that even his bosses don’t know his true identity (although they assume he is either Arctor or one of his cronies). Which is his real identity? Substance D is so powerful and destructive that even he isn’t sure any more. The movie can be taken as a warning against the danger the “war on drugs” poses to our civil liberties, but its unflinching look at the pathetic, brain-damaged drug users seems to justify even harsh measures intended to stem the tide.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. (B+) Violence, foul language, romance, and comedy all add up to a very entertaining movie in this case. I went to this movie not really knowing what to expect, but it starred Val Kilmer (Top Gun) and Robert Downey, Jr. (Iron Man 3), so I figured it was worth checking out. I have to say that Robert Downey, Jr. was great. It was worth the money to see his performance. Downey acts as the narrator for this film, as he explains a very bizarre set of circumstances that begin when he—as the main character—is in the process of fleeing the police after robbing a toy store. Before he knows it, he finds himself being cast in a new Hollywood movie as a detective. Kilmer is a gay private detective who is assigned to Downey to give him some tips about the detective business. As the story unfolds, Downey is drawn into a mystery of his own that you’ve just got to see to believe.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. (B) Okay. I admit it. I am a fan of the Harry Potter series. The mere fact that they had released the next installment was enough to get me to the theater. I certainly enjoyed the film, although I can now see why everyone has been saying (for as long as the book was released) that this one is a bit dark. No doubt about that. In fact, the ending left me feeling a bit worried for the future, whereas prior films in the series left filmgoers with a more upbeat feeling. One thing that kind of bothered me about this film was seeing Harry and his friends growing up–in fact, so much so that I now wonder whether it’s time to find actors of a younger age. However, of all the characters, Harry seems to have maintained his child-like appearance the most. Another aspect of this film that bothered me was that there was a lot that happened, some of which I probably didn’t catch because I didn’t read the book. This film seemed a little more thrown together than the prior films in the series, but I was certainly riveted to the screen because the storyline was that kind of story. All in all, I would say that the film is a success as I found myself wanting to go buy the next book in the series to read what happens next. You go, J.K. Rowling!