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IRON MAN 3 (2013)

Posted in 2013, 3-D, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Comic Book Movies, Marvel Comics, Superheroes, Surprises! with tags , , , , , , on May 6, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  IRON MAN 3 (2013)
Review by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

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(THE SCENE: The sky.  Two figures in Iron Man suits zoom by. Inside the body armor are MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  This is so cool!  I can’t believe Tony Stark was okay with our borrowing these suits.

L.L SOARES (laughs):  Who said anything about borrowing?

MA:  But you said you spoke with Stark and he agreed that—.

LS (laughs some more):  And you believed me?  What a doofus!

MA:  So, you’re telling me that we stole these suits?

LS:  Something like that.  But don’t worry.  We’ll fly these babies back before anyone even notices they’re gone.  I just thought it would be cool to be wearing them while we review today’s movie.

MA:  From up here?  While we’re flying in these things?

LS:  What’s the matter?  Can’t you do two things at once?

MA:  I most certainly can, and I’ll prove it to you by going first and starting the review.

LS:  Suit yourself. (snickers)  That’s a pun.

(MA Socks LS with his iron fist, sending him away flailing.)

MA:  And that’s a punch.  You owe me after all the trouble you’ve gotten me into today.

Anyway, welcome folks, today we’re reviewing IRON MAN 3 (2013) the third movie in the wildly popular Marvel Iron Man series starring Robert Downey Jr. as everybody’s favorite superhero alter ego, Tony Stark.  We’ve been talking about this a lot lately, how the Marvel superhero movies have enjoyed a tremendous run during the past decade with a string of well-made hits.  Iron Man, thanks to Robert Downey Jr., might be their most popular movie character to date.

LS (returns):  By the way, I owe you this.

(LS punches MA, sending him hurtling toward the Earth. At the last minute, he stops his descent and flies back up into the sky)

MA: Let’s call a truce until the end of the review at least. I’m really looking forward to this one.

LS: Okay okay. We’ll have our big battle after the review.

MA: So, as I was saying, Iron Man is a very popular character in an amazingly successful series.  The Marvel movies have done so well because for the most part, they’re made so well.  And IRON MAN 3 only adds to the list of high quality movies.

LS: How about ending the commercial for Marvel Comics and get on with the review? Not all their movies are that high quality. I wasn’t all that impressed with IRON MAN 2, for instance. The script was pretty lame. So I’m not really sure why you’re gushing so much.

MA: I gotta give credit where credit is due.  They’ve got a tremendous track record.

LS: Michael, your autographed photo of Stan Lee just arrived! He signed it, “To my favorite shill.”

MA: In this one, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) just isn’t the same guy anymore.  He’s suffering the after-effects of his traumatic encounter with both aliens and a massive worm hole at the end of last year’s blockbuster Marvel movie THE AVENGERS (2012).  He can’t sleep, he suffers anxiety attacks, and things aren’t going too well with the love of his life, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).

LS: I thought this was interesting, that Stark actually had some psychological fallout after the events of THE AVENGERS. In the comics – and most superhero movies – it’s like these guys take everything in stride and never get affected. So that was an interesting idea, having him suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Except they never really do anything interesting with it. Stark just has some panic attacks at some inopportune moments. But the movie only really touches upon this in a very superficial way. When the real action starts, it’s pretty much an afterthought. This was a clever idea that wasn’t used all that well.

MA: I disagree.  I thought he had confidence problems throughout the film, even at the end.  I thought the film did a good job highlighting his weaknesses.

But back to the story.  A terrorist by the name of The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) has set his sights on humiliating the United States and in particular the President (William Sadler).  Leading the team to find and destroy The Mandarin is Tony Stark’s buddy Colonel James Rhodes (Don Cheadle).  Rhodes dons a patriotic red white and blue Iron Man suit and goes by the name of Iron Patriot.  He tells Stark that he doesn’t need his help, as catching The Mandarin is government business, not superhero business.

LS: Yeah, the big joke is that they changed the name of War Machine (Rhodes’ original name when in the metal suit) to Iron Patriot because “War Machine” didn’t do well in a focus group. This is a kind of satirical point, but sadly, also reflects the way the movies dumb down and sanitize comic book characters to fit certain audience expectations. Kind of ironic, actually.

MA:  You’re thinking too much.  It was funny, plain and simple.

LS: Yeah, I’m thinking too much about the things that annoyed me about this movie.

As for the Mandarin, they take a character who is supposed to be a Chinese warlord longing for the days of the ancient dynasties, and turn him into an Osama Bin Laden wannabe. Maybe that is more timely, but it also seems really cliché.

MA: But when Stark’s friend and personal security chief Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau- yep, the same Jon Favreau who directed IRON MAN & IRON MAN 2) is critically wounded in a terrorist blast credited to the Mandarin, Stark calls out the villain in a public rant in front of news cameras where he gives out his home address to the baddie and says he’ll be waiting for him.

(WAR MACHINE suddenly flies toward them and stops)

WAR MACHINE: What the hell are you guys doing here? And where did you get those suits?

MA: Uh oh.

LS: How do you know one of us isn’t the real IRON MAN?

WAR MACHINE: Because you’re just hovering in the sky, arguing about movies.

LS: Oh.

WAR MACHINE: I suggest you take it down to Earth, before you get mistaken for enemy crafts. This is monitored airspace.

MA: I told you this was a dumb idea.

LS: I still think it’s fun.

WAR MACHINE: Fun? These suits are a responsibility, not a game. Does Stark even know that you have them?

MA: Errr.

LS: Sure he does.

WAR MACHINE: I think I’ll call in and check with Mr. Stark. (Talks on radio) Tony, did you let two idiots borrow Iron Man suits today?

(Looks around)

WAR MACHINE: Where did those guys go?

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(LS and MA are back on the ground)

LS: That guy is a real stick in the mud.

MA: These suits are probably worth millions of dollars. I think we should bring them back.

LS: All in good time, my friend. We’ve got to finish the review. Race you to the other end of the beach.

MA: Okay.

(They continue talking as they have a foot race in the Iron Man suits)

LS: Was it just me or was Favreau incredibly annoying in this movie?

MA: Oh, he might have been a little annoying, but I kinda liked him, and he really wasn’t in it enough to be too annoying.

LS:  His character, Happy Hogan (who he has played in all three IRON MAN movies) is just grating in this movie. Every time he appeared onscreen, I just wanted him to go away. I don’t remember him being this annoying in the previous films. I’m just glad that, after he gets caught in an explosion, he’s stuck in a hospital bed and we only see him rarely.

MA: And like all good movie villains, the Mandarin wastes no time in descending upon Stark’s compound and blowing it to bits.  But not before Stark is visited by a former girlfriend Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) who tells him she thinks her boss Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) is working for the Mandarin.

LS: How intriguing!

MA: Her boss, Killian, is a brilliant scientist who, along with Maya, has been working on experiments involving the process of regeneration.  Their treatment allows humans to grow back limbs.  Killian once tried to work with Tony Stark, but Stark snubbed him.

Killian also dated Pepper Pots for a time.  It’s a small world.

LS: Too small. The scene where Stark first meets both Killian and Maya (New Year’s Eve 1999, on the eve of Y2K, in Switzerland) starts the movie, and while it’s not a bad opening, I have to admit, the more this movie went on, the more I didn’t really care about these characters at all.

MA: After the Mandarin destroys Stark’s compound and kidnaps Pepper Potts, all bets are off, and Tony Stark makes it his mission to track down the terrorist and rescue the love of his life.  Along the way, there’s a major plot twist that I didn’t see coming, and I can easily see how hardcore fans might not like it, but I thought it was refreshing and quite funny.

LS: Yeah, let’s not spoil it, except to say there’s a very interesting twist that involves the Mandarin’s reason why he’s involved in all this skullduggery. The thing is – I’m a big fan of the character, and I had a mixed reaction to the big surprise. On the one hand, I felt a little cheated, except that this character not once seemed like the Mandarin from the comics. On the other hand, I thought the surprise was clever and funny, and maybe the only truly inspired moment in the entire movie. So I can’t complain too much.

MA: I have to say, I really liked IRON MAN 3 and place it among my favorite Marvel superhero movies. While not quite as good as THE AVENGERS or the first IRON MAN movie, it’s right behind them, and is way better than IRON MAN 2 (2010) which I barely remember.

LS: I remember IRON MAN 2 just fine, and I wish I didn’t. It was pretty bad. And totally wasted the Iron Man villain Whiplash (played by Mickey Rourke in that one, and except for one cool scene, he mostly just sits around doing nothing). Like IRON MAN 2, the third one eventually pushes aside a great villain from the comics to focus on a more generic bad guy, in this case, Guy Pearce’s Killian.

There are so many better villains who could have been in this movie instead, involved in the plot with the Mandarin. And if the effects guys want to give us tons of  guys in armor, then why not do it right and give us the Crimson Dynamo or Titanium Man?  No, instead we get Pearce’s Killian, who is about as compelling as toothpaste.

MA:  I liked Killian.  I think Pearce gave him an edge that made him better than he should have been.

LS:  An edge? (laughs) You really think so? Good for you.

There’s also a subplot about how Killian founded the organization Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.), which opened up a ton of possibilities. In the comics, A.I.M. is an organization of evil that gave us MODOK – a major bad guy in the Marvel Universe! When A.I.M. was first mentioned in IRON MAN 3, I immediately hoped this meant that we’d eventually get an appearance by MODOK, but no such luck, at least not in this movie. Another total letdown.

And what’s with the need to have a hundred people in Iron Man suits in every movie? They did a variation of this in the second one, and in this one, there are a ton of remote-control Iron Man suits (pretty much an army of robots) in the big final fight, and it’s mostly boring. How about one really cool and powerful Iron Man instead of a hundred second-rate ones? But I guess it keeps the CGI guys busy.

MA: That didn’t bother me.  This one actually plays better than its story, which is nothing special, but the writing, the dialogue, the special effects, and most of all the acting lift it to the top.  And while the story wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before, it was interesting and entertaining.  I liked the regenerative science Killian was working on.

LS: The Lizard did it better in the last SPIDER-MAN movie, and even that movie wasn’t that great. And why do people who get this regenerative upgrade from Killian have the side-effect of turning into a crispy critter? At first, I thought they were Lava Men, another old-time Marvel reference, but no, it’s just a drug side-effect that makes no sense at all.

MA: Well, I found it interesting.  I liked the terrorist plot involving the Mandarin and the later twists which went along with it.  I liked how Tony Stark had to deal with his post-AVENGERS trauma.  I liked that Pepper Potts was more involved in this story, and I enjoyed the stuff about her relationship with Stark.  All in all, it was a very likable story.  I thought it was a very successful screenplay by Drew Pearce and Shane Black.

LS: I thought that, except for the big plot surprise in the middle and a couple of good scenes, the script was pretty crappy for most of the movie’s running time. In fact, I will go so far as to say this one is on the same quality level as IRON MAN 2. Which is nothing to get excited about.

MA:  I don’t think so at all.  The script here is far superior to the one in IRON MAN 2.  Just the Tony Stark/Pepper Potts relationship alone is an upgrade.

LS:  But we still haven’t gotten to the worst thing in the movie…

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MA:  I think all that high altitude flying we just did went to your head.  Not only is IRON MAN 3 a decent movie, it’s one of the best Marvel movies period!  I think you’re letting your affection for the comics cloud your judgment.  Jeesh!

LS: This movie pretty much made me forgot about any affection I had for the comics while it was onscreen. So it can’t be that. Maybe it’s….just a bad movie?

(Tony Stark appears above them in his IRON MAN suit)

STARK: Stop right there and identify yourselves.

MA: We’re the guys from Cinema Knife Fight, Mr. Stark.

LS: Yeah, don’t worry. We’ll return your dopey iron suits.

MA: I swear, I had no idea he didn’t ask you first.

LS: What a stool pigeon.

STARK: I have now taken control of the suits. You will have to vacate them.

(The suits open up, dropping LS and MA on the beach)

STARK: You’re lucky I don’t press charges, or kick your butts.

LS: Oh go play with your transistors.

STARK: I’ll let you two morons off the hook this time – against my better judgment. But don’t let it happen again.

(IRON MAN flies away, followed by the two radio-controlled suits)

MA (Looks around the beach): Do you even know where we are? How are we going to get home.

LS: Just finish the review. We’ll worry about that later.

MA: I guess so.

Shane Black also directed, and I thought he did a fantastic job here.  The pacing was great.  The movie clocks in at over two hours, but for me, it flew by, and there was barely a dull moment.  Yet, this doesn’t mean it was non-stop boring action.  It’s not.  There’s quite a bit of story here.

LS: Black does an okay job directing this one, but the script, which he co-wrote, didn’t excite me at all. It has one good moment, and then it’s business as usual.

I also found the big “Battle of 100 Iron Men” showdown at the end went on way too long and was tedious as hell. Black previously directed the 2005 movie, KISS KISS BANG BANG, a kind of neo-noir, which also starred Robert Downey, Jr. Otherwise, he’s mostly known as a writer, best known for the screenplays of the LETHAL WEAPON series. This movie looks good, but overall, it’s a very mediocre effort by Black.

MA: I didn’t find that final battle long at all.  I thought the timing was just right.

While the film looked great, I saw it in 3D, and I can’t say I was impressed.  This is one you could probably enjoy just as well in 2D.

LS: I saw it in 3D as well. Only because all of the 2D showings were SOLD OUT way ahead of time. What does this tell you? That this movie is going to be a big hit. But also that the audience is sick of being gouged by the more expensive 3D tickets, which only rarely are worth the added expense. If I see a movie that’s in 3D and 2D these days, which one I choose to see is based more on the convenience of the show time than anything else. I didn’t want to pay extra for 3D here, but I had no choice.

That said, I was completely underwhelmed by the 3D effects in IRON MAN 3. For most of the time, I didn’t even realize I was watching a 3D movie. I urge our readers – if you have to see this one –don’t spend the extra money for 3D. It’s not worth it.

MA: But the best part of IRON MAN 3 is the performances, starting with Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man.  He’s the most compelling superhero out there right now, mostly because—and this has always been the best part of the Marvel Universe—he’s a deeply flawed character.  He’s a guy who’s impulsive, quirky, and incredibly fun to be around.  He has no business being a superhero, but he is, and that’s what makes his story so cool.  Downey has played Stark in four movies now, and I can’t say that I’m even close to being tired of watching him.  I hope he plays the role again.

LS: God, you eat this stuff up, don’t you? Downey is fine as Stark. But he deserves better scripts than this.

MA (laughs):  As far as eating this stuff up, what can I say?  I sit through tons of bad movies every year.  The Marvel movies are not among them.  The odds says these film should be tiring by now.  They’re not.

LS:  The first IRON MAN was a decent movie, and he brought his A-game to it. He was also a real highlight in THE AVENGERS. But the IRON MAN sequels have been pretty embarrassing in comparison. Downey really needs to move on to better movies. Right now, he’s kind of trapped in a dumpster. Someone needs to open the lid and let him out.

MA: He brings his A-game here as well.  And if he’s smart he’ll keep making these films because it’s the perfect role for him, and there’s still more he can do with it.

LS: They’re the perfect movies to keep his bank account full. But a challenge for him as an actor? I don’t think so. Unless the scripts get better, he’s spinning his wheels.

MA: I really like Gwyneth Paltrow too, and she’s splendid here as Pepper Potts.  She’s played Potts four times now as well, and it’s probably her best performance as Potts.  She certainly has more to do in this movie than she’s had in the others.  Stark and Potts, as played by Downey and Paltrow, make a very likeable couple.

LS: I don’t know. I find Paltrow really stilted in these films. There’s this sense that she feels she’s too good to be acting in this kind of movie. Maybe she is. She never once seems relaxed or natural in this role. She has a couple of okay moments (one where she gains some strange super powers temporarily), but overall I just didn’t care for her. And I think if there’s any chemistry between Downey and her, it’s because Downey is doing enough acting to make them both look good. I’m just not a Gwyneth Paltrow fan, I guess.

MA: I don’t get that sense at all.  Maybe one of the reasons she doesn’t appear relaxed is because her character is dating Tony Stark!

Don Cheadle, one of my favorite actors, took over the role of Colonel James Rhodes in IRON MAN 2, and I remember not being all that impressed.  He’s excellent this time around, though, and it helps that Rhodes is integral the plot here.

LS: I think Cheadle is wasted in these movies. He’s Iron Man’s uptight sidekick. (Yawns). It’s funny how many good actors are wasted in this thing.

MA: Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin, I suspect, is going to generate some strong reactions from fans.  Diehard fans of the comics will probably hate him, while those of us, myself included, who aren’t as familiar with the comics, will find his performance refreshing and funny.  I loved it.

LS: I’m a diehard comics fan, or at least I used to be, and I didn’t hate him at all. I was disappointed they made him a Bin Laden clone—that just seemed very lazy to me—but despite any problems I have with the character here, I think Kingsley is the best thing in the movie. Maybe even better than Downey, because he doesn’t have to appear onscreen in almost every scene like Downey does, and doesn’t seem as burnt out.

MA (shaking his head):  Downey doesn’t come off as burnt out at all.  I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Guy Pearce is excellent as the villainous Aldrich Killian.  Killian is a particularly cold-hearted scientist, and Pearce does a good job bringing him to life.  I enjoyed Pearce here more than in last year’s PROMETHEUS (2012).

LS: When we first see Killian in a flashback, he looks like a reject from REVENGE OF THE NERDS (1984), with sloppy hair and bad teeth. When we see him in modern day, “cold” is the operative word here. Pearce might as well be playing a robot. He has about as much depth as a puddle. I really didn’t like him, and usually I’m a fan. I also hated the whole Killian character and storyline. He’s a major villain here, and yet he seemed generic and boring. The villain(s) might just be the most important thing about a superhero movie (if it’s not an origin story). And as one of the major villains here, Killian, is a complete snooze.

MA: For a complete snooze, he’s pretty damn deadly! He has the upper hand over Tony Stark/Iron Man throughout the film, and he was believable doing it.  I liked him.

I also enjoyed Rebecca Hall as Maya Hansen.  Hall was memorable in Ben Affleck’s THE TOWN (2010), and here as Maya she’s sexy, smart, and she has a dark side as well.  I liked her a lot.

LS: I liked Hall a lot, too. I didn’t care about her character’s storyline all that much, but I found that she was warm and human onscreen in ways Paltrow never comes close to being. Rebecca Hall just seems to relax in front of the camera and seems like a real person, and her scenes with Paltrow just make the contrast all that more glaring. Based on this movie, I’d rather date Rebecca Hall any day of the week. Paltrow comes off as an android ice queen.

MA: I’d have no problem dating either one of them.

The supporting cast is also very good.  I particularly enjoyed Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan.  He was a bit goofy, but I found him likeable.

LS: I already said what I thought about Favreau. They should have killed the character off in the explosion scene and spared us.

You didn’t mention James Badge Dale, who plays Eric Savin, Killian’s right hand man. I had a mixed reaction to him. It’s not like Savin has much of a personality either, but there are a few times where he seems to be trying to do something with the role. Most of the time, he’s just this killing machine, but I actually thought he was pretty good.

MA: Overall, I loved IRON MAN 3.  As the third film in the series, I had hoped it would be good, but wouldn’t have been surprised if it dropped off a bit in quality. Far from this, it was better than I expected.  It just might be my favorite film of the year so far.  Then again, I have a soft spot for the Marvel superhero films, mostly because they tend to feature strong acting, solid writing and storytelling, and impressive visual effects.  IRON MAN 3 is no exception.

I give it three and a half knives.

LS (stares at him): You’re joking, right?

MA: No way.  I loved it.

LS (shakes his head): And I notice you completely overlooked some of the worst aspects of the movie. Just didn’t mention them at all.

MA: Like what?

LS: Like a character named Harley Keener. Who is he? He’s a kid who helps Stark out after his Iron Man suit crash lands in Kansas. He’s a cute kid who lives with a single mother we never see, and Stark meets him when he stashes his damaged suit in the garage behind the kid’s house. There’s this big chunk of the movie that’s just about Stark and Harley, to give us some kind of surrogate father/son bonding that is meant to warm our hearts and show us that Stark has a heart of gold after all.

They have this cute banter back and forth, and Stark says some obnoxious stuff to the kid, and you think, “Wow, he’s still the same wise-cracking Tony Stark,” but he’s not. He’s gone soft, and he’s gotten stupid. This entire storyline played like an outtake from REAL STEEL (2011), another movie about a cute kid and a metal guy. These scenes were sappy and dripping with saccharine.

MA (laughing):  No they’re not!  The scenes in REAL STEEL were much more syrupy sweet than these!  These scenes were just amusing, and I didn’t mention them because I didn’t think much of them.  They’re a small part of the movie – it’s not like the kid is main player in the film. He’s not.  So, there’s a big difference between REAL STEEL and this.

LS: It’s long enough. It seemed to last a good half hour. It probably felt longer than it actually was.

In IRON MAN 3, Simpkins plays a sickeningly cutesy kid who is the visual equivalent of fingernails on a friggin blackboard. Every time he was onscreen, I completely hated this movie. And Stark’s smart-ass interplay with him was just as aggravating. This sequence made the entire movie grind to a halt, and the movie never fully recovers, going forward.

MA:  I think you just hate kids.

LS: I didn’t have any problem with Pierce Gagnon, the kid in LOOPER (2012), or Haley Joel-Osment back in THE SIXTH SENSE (1999). I don’t have any problem with kids who can act, and aren’t in a movie just to provide some sappy subplot.

I also think that Marvel movies are starting to get in a rut.  They take the comics and dumb them down, sandpaper away any real rough edges, and then hook them up to a script that is by-the-numbers and predictable. Aside from one surprise in IRON MAN 3, the movie is so predictable that it could have been written in someone’s sleep. These movies are all cookie-cutter products, and anything that was cool about them is going stale pretty quickly.

MA: Wow. I don’t view IRON MAN 3 as dumbed down or predictable at all.   And you think it could have been written in someone’s sleep?  Then that guy must be pretty smart to come up with a major unexpected plot twist in the middle of his nap!  It’s a cool story.  I can’t believe you’re complaining about it so much.

LS:  THE AVENGERS was a rare exception. But for the most part, the more recent Marvel movies have been pretty bland. And I grew up on Marvel Comics. I was a hardcore fan of the comics and these characters. So I should be the target audience, right? Someone who actually cared about these superheroes? Not even close. These movies aren’t made to appeal to long-time fans. They’re made to appeal to the widest audience possible—compromises and illogical changes are embraced without question—to separate them from their money.

MA:  They also appeal to people who appreciate good movies!  I can see why you, as a fan of the comics, would be more critical of the Marvel movies, but it’s not like for the rest of us the movies suck.  They’re well-produced, well-written, and well-acted.  I don’t see them as cookie-cutter movies at all.  That’s not to say that the Marvel movies don’t all follow a similar formula.  They do, but it’s a formula that so far is still working.

LS:  But it’s not just about comparing this stuff with the comics. If I was a hardcore comics fan and that was my only gripe, then I would hate the movie because of the way it treats the Mandarin, for example. But that’s not my problem. My problem is the script is very weak. Maybe it is no surprise that Marvel is now part of the Disney family. Because anything that was unique and exciting about Marvel’s characters is being washed away to give us the most assembly-line type of product possible.

I wish Downey would move on to better movies. He’s done what he could to make Tony Stark cool, despite completely moronic scripts. And he deserves to get the chance to actually act again.

MA:  No.  He should keep playing Tony Stark.  He has yet to wear out his welcome, and he might not.

LS:  I give IRON MAN 3 just one knife. And that’s only for Ben Kingsley and Rebecca Hall, and maybe 10 minutes of Robert Downey’s Tony Stark here. Otherwise, I think this movie is a waste of time. I’m sure it will make a gazillion dollars. I’m sure there are there are fans who will go completely gaga over it. But I’m one long-time Marvel fan who thinks it’s a dud.

There’s an end credit montage after the movie, that looks like a 70s action TV show, and it’s more fun than the entire movie that came before it.

Oh, and by the way, this one has a “cookie” at the very end. A secret scene after all the final credits role. Just like almost all other Marvel movies recently. This is annoying, because the end credits of this movie seem to go on forever, and the secret scene isn’t worth the wait at all!

MA:  I laughed at the last scene.  I thought it was funny.  And unlike you, I think people should run out to see this one.  It’s one of the more entertaining films of the year.

So how are we going to get back home?

LS: Hitchhike, of course!

(The two of them walk across the beach to the road and stick out their thumbs. A huge military-looking vehicle stops for them. The door opens)

LS: DOCTOR DOOM! I sure am glad to see you.

DOOM: Hop inside, gentlemen. You can accompany me in my latest plan for world domination.

LS: Excellent! After seeing IRON MAN 3, some world domination sounds like a great antidote!

MA: How do I get into these situations?

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives IRON MAN 3 ~ three and a half knives!

LL Soares gives IRON MAN 3 ~one friggin knife!

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THE DICTATOR (2012)

Posted in 2012, Comedies, Controverisal Films, LL Soares Reviews, Parodies, R-Rated Comedy with tags , , , , , , on May 18, 2012 by knifefighter

THE DICTATOR
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

I have to admit, I was dreading going to see Sacha Baron Cohen’s new movie, THE DICTATOR, mostly because I have been seeing the trailers for the movie every week for what seems like six months now, and I’ve seen the same jokes over and over, and I was afraid that these were the best scenes in the movie, and it would turn out to be very unfunny otherwise.

Luckily, that’s not the case. The people marketing Cohen’s movie did something very clever. The trailers actually include scenes not in the movie – or scenes that are very different (outtakes, probably)—and therefore, a lot of the comedy we do see in the movie is fresh. Some scenes that are in the movie, like Admiral General Aladeen (Cohen) running in his own version of the Olympics and shooting his competitors, happen right away in the beginning of the movie, so the fact that you might be immune to them by now shouldn’t affect your reaction to THE DICTATOR as a whole…too much. This is the problem with comedy—if you see something funny over and over, it can lose its kick, and fizzle like soda left out overnight.

So, all that said, how is THE DICTATOR? Well, I went in with low expectations, and I was pleasantly surprised by this one. Although this one stars Cohen and is directed once again by Larry Charles (who also directed Cohen in his previous films BORAT, 2006 and BRUNO, 2009), it’s a departure from Cohen’s usual modus operandi, where he plays characters who interact with real people, to capture their genuine reactions. In THE DICTATOR, everyone is a fictional character, so there are no “ambushes of the innocent.” This is too bad, because Cohen is at his funniest when he is at his most spontaneous, and yet THE DICTATOR works very well as a comedy about a ruthless despot.

Right off the bat you know what you’re in for, when a dedication flashes onscreen. “In loving memory of Kim Jong-il.” And then we are whisked away to the North African country of Wadiya, ruled over with an iron thumb by Cohen’s Aladeen. One of the running jokes is that whenever anyone questions him, or even accidentally gets in his way on the stairs, he has his men execute them. So everyone in his country are “yes men” and Aladeen is like a very obnoxious brat in a humungous toy store, where he can do whatever he wants. Including refining weapons-grade uranium.

When he’s called to the carpet for his attempt at getting a “weapon of mass destruction,” Aladeen agrees to go to America to address the United Nations. So he and his second in command, Uncle Tamir (Ben Kinglsey, that SEXY BEAST (2000) himself—Cohen and Kingsley also recently co-starred in Martin Scorcese’s film HUGO, 2011), and their minions, all go to New York City.

After a secret agent (John C. Reilly) sent to torture Aladeen shaves off the despot’s beard and tries to kill him, Aladeen is out on the streets, desperate to figure out how to get back into the hotel, where a moronic shepherd who happens to look just like him (also Cohen) is masquerading as the dictator himself.

It turns out that Tamir has an agenda of his own, which includes turning Wadiya into a democracy (the first thing he has the imposter shout out at the U.N, when he thinks that the real Aladeen is dead) and selling off oil leases to the highest bidders.

Along the way to recapturing his throne, Aladeen comes upon Zoey (Anna Faris) an activist with the bowl cut hairdo of a boy, the armpits of a yak, and who runs a radical feminist food collective in downtown Manhattan. She thinks the beardless Aladeen is trying to get back into the hotel because he is a Wadiyan rebel, protesting his leader, and Aladeen takes full advantage of this misunderstanding to get a job at Zoey’s store, and plan his next move.

Aladeen, of course, being the racist, misogynistic, anti-Semitic monster that he is, spouts comments throughout the movie that are politically incorrect and purposely offensive. He’s supposed to be a horrible person, after all, and Cohen’s dictator fits the bill just fine as a man we love to hate. Strangely enough though, as the movie goes on, we even start to feel sorry for his character as he appears to be on the verge of enlightenment. Whether or not he actually changes his ways for real is something you’ll have to see the movie to find out, however.

Scenes that are particularly funny include a helicopter ride where Aladeen and his former nuclear expert, Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas), talk in (fake) Arabaic, scaring the hell out of a middle-aged American couple also onboard; a lengthy, graphic and very funny “woman having a baby in the middle of a store” scene; and Aladeen’s desperate attempt to foil his double’s signing of a new constitution that will give his subjects the right to vote in free elections.

There’s even a speech by Aladeen toward the end that would fit right in at an Occupy Wall Street rally, that is touching, ironic, and hilarious all at the same time.

I really don’t want to go into too much detail about the gags themselves. That would just ruin the impact of the humor. Suffice it to say that I laughed a lot during this one, and was surprised at how much I liked it. While it doesn’t even come close to the brilliance of BORAT, THE DICTATOR is pretty successful in reaching the goals it sets for itself. I give it three knives.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE DICTATOR ~three  knives.

SHUTTER ISLAND!

Posted in 2010, Cinema Knife Fights, Crime Films, Ghost Movies with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 22, 2010 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SHUTTER ISLAND
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares


CUT TO: THE SOUND OF THE WIND HOWLING

(SCÈNE: the grounds of a menacing-looking mental hospital on an isolated island. A storm is brewing and the wind is building strength, as rain clouds threaten to release their bounty. Our intrepid reviewers, MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES have arrived on the scene. An armed guard greets them.)

GUARD: What would you fellers be wanting around these parts?

LS:  An apartment. I hear the housing market’s pretty good here.

GUARD (Looks over his shoulder at menacing building.):  An apartment?  Here?  What?  Are you crazy?

MA:  Well, if we were, we came to the right place, didn’t we?

GUARD:  Who are you guys?

MA (Leans into guard, very serious): Cinema Knife Fighters. (On cue, there’s a blinding flash of lightning combined with an explosive crack of thunder.)

GUARD: Oh, those idiots…I mean, guys. Come to snoop around our hospital. You’ll find nothing out of the ordinary here.

LS: This is a hospital for the criminally insane. What would you consider “out of the ordinary.”

GUARD: I know, I know, you want me to say “A peaceful day,” like they do in the movie, but I ain’t gonna say it…Follow me, won’t you?

LS: Didn’t you used to be the cross-dressing brother on THE DREW CAREY SHOW?

GUARD: I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. (Suddenly sings out) Cleveland Rocks!

(GUARD leads them to the office of SPOOKY OLD PSYCHIATRIST, who runs the joint)

SPOOKY PSYCHIATRIST: Nice of you boys to visit our homicidal maniacs. Er… I mean patients.

MA: This isn’t a visit, Doctor.

LS: Yeah, we’re here to review a movie.

PSYCHIATRIST: Well, don’t let me stop you!

MA: Don’t worry, you won’t.  L.L., how about you start us off?

LS (To PSYCHICIATRIST): Has anyone ever told you you look a lot like Ghandi?

PSYCHIATRIST: I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.

LS:  Okay…Our movie this time around is the new film by legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese, SHUTTER ISLAND. This one was based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, who also provided the source material for the Oscar-winning film, MYSTIC RIVER.

MA: Another Boston-based crime drama, although to be honest, the island and psychiatric fortress perched on it reminded me a bit of Alcatraz, and so for some reason the Boston location didn’t fit for me. I kept thinking they were off the coast of San Francisco.

LS: Well, the Shutter Island of the title is off the coast of Boston, and this story is a bit spookier than your average crime drama. There are ghosts, and sometimes horrific hallucinations.

(Camera goes to an EXTREME CLOSE-UP of MA’s face. He looks out the window at the storm, and a glazed look appears in his eyes, as if he’s falling into a daydream. We suddenly see MA and LS dressed in drag skipping through a field of flowers. MA SCREAMS!)

LS:  Hey, partner, are you all right?

MA (Face dripping with perspiration):  What a horrifying image!  I’m sorry. I’m okay. I’ve just got this headache.

PSYCHIATRIST:  You must be getting a migraine. Here, take these pills. (Hands MA pills).

MA:  Gee, thanks, Doc. (Grimaces and looks at pills – they have skulls and crossbones imprinted on them).

LS (Notices pills):  I used to take that brand when I was a kid. ( MA downs the pills)).

Anyway, SHUTTER ISLAND is the story of U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio), sent to the harsh, isolated Ashecliffe Hospital on Shutter Island to investigate the escape of one of its inmates, a woman who drowned her children years before. Teddy and his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) immediately find themselves in a tense situation, as the hospital’s security force, led by Deputy Warden McPherson (John Carroll Lynch), makes it clear that they are unwanted there, and the marshals are ordered to surrender their firearms upon entering the facility. From here, things go from bad to worse, as the marshals are introduced to the man who runs the hospital, Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), who at first seems helpful, but who is anything but. Clearly nobody wants these strangers snooping around the facility, and no one is particularly willing to cooperate with their investigation.

Teddy is plagued by migraines during their stay, and a hurricane traps them on the island for several days. As the movie progresses we find out about several plotlines that run through this film, such as Teddy’s visions of his dead wife Dolores (Michelle Williams), who appears to him as a ghost and gives him bits of information which actually seem to help him in his investigation. He also has flashes back to his time in the army, when he was one of the American soldiers who liberated the Dachau concentration camp during World War II, an experience that left a severe scar on his psyche, seeing what humans were capable of doing to other humans. Teddy is also searching for another possible inmate, Andrew Laeddis, the man who set the apartment fire that killed his wife.

With the storm raging outside, and the staff and inmates being uncooperative and hostile inside, Teddy seems to be in the middle of some vast conspiracy, with possible ties to the U.S. government. As he gets closer and closer to the truth, we approach a twist ending that turns everything on its head.

(MA groans, stumbles into corner).

LS:  Hey, bud, you okay?

(MA snarls and whips around, revealing he’s now a werewolf.)

LS:  Holy crap!

MA (Now normal):  What is it?

LS (Camera zooms in for an EXTREME CLOSE-UP of his face, as sweat is dripping from his forehead):  Now, I’m seeing things. I don’t know. I think I’m getting a migraine too.

PSYCHIATRIST:  Here, take these aspirin.

LS:  What the hell are these?  I want the ones with the skulls and crossbones on them!  You can’t trick me!

(MA turns to camera and looks perplexed.)

MA: Yeah, the twist in SHUTTER ISLAND. It didn’t work for me at all. There’s not a whole lot I can say about it without giving it away, but, because of the numerous clues early on in the movie, I saw this twist coming long before I should have, which in effect, spoiled the movie for me. For example, when Dr. Crawley (Ben Kingsley) explains his philosophy of psychiatry to Teddy Daniels, right there, I saw the way the movie was going to play out. To me, it was just WAY too apparent, and it’s difficult to explain it here, since I don’t want to go into too much detail and be a spoiler.

LS: I had a very mixed reaction to SHUTTER ISLAND. I thought it started out great – very claustrophobic and with a hint of film noir to the atmosphere. It goes without saying that Scorsese is a master of his craft and after making films for so many years, he has a lot of this down pat. However, once the movie begins to head in the direction of its twist ending, everything fell apart for me. I’d say, around the time Leonardo has a strange conversation with Patricia Clarkson in a cave. From then on, the movie becomes very talky as various characters reveal their secrets, and everything is explained in great detail. Too much detail, if you ask me. This all culminates in a finale that I saw coming a mile away, but which also was very unsatisfying for me as a viewer.

MA:  I agree, but it happened much earlier for me than that cave scene. I could argue that in the opening scene, when DiCaprio and Ruffalo are on the ferry to the island, right there, I saw hints which led me to believe this film would have the kind of twist it had. I know I should stop, but I can’t help myself. The clue has to do with water. Okay, I’ll shut up about it.

LS: Yeah, zip your lip. I saw the ending coming before the scene in the cave, too, but I kept hoping it wouldn’t go in that direction, that the story was still salvageable. By the discussion in the cave, I knew it was sunk.

MA: Anyway, I also enjoyed the plot early on. I like the reason the marshals come to the island, to investigate the disappearance of a female patient who disappeared from a locked room. I thought this was a compelling mystery, and I was really into it, and I think I would have enjoyed SHUTTER ISLAND more, had it been a straight crime-thriller rather than an exercise in the M. Night Shyamalan school of storytelling.

(Suddenly M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN pops up from behind a spooky corner)

M. NIGHT: What is this about another director stealing my idea for twist endings?

LS: But it’s the great Martin Scorsese! Besides, you haven’t made a good movie in years.

M NIGHT: That doesn’t matter, I AM THE TWIST GUY!

(CHUBBY CHECKER drops down from the ceiling and starts dancing)

CHUBBY (Singing): Come on Baby! Let’s do The Twist!

(LS and MA run to another room and close the door)

LS: Ahh, it’s nice and quiet here.

There were actually a few things about the movie I didn’t like. First off, I have a hard time taking Leonardo DiCaprIo seriously as some world weary, hard-edged G-Man. Maybe it’s his baby face beneath the stubble, along with his acting limitations, but I just didn’t find him completely believable in this role. Every time he tried to sound like some hard-edged cop, I just didn’t buy it. I know that Scorsese has really taken DiCaprio on as his favorite leading man these days (Leonardo also starred in Scorsese’s films GANGS OF NEW YORK (2002), THE AVIATOR (2004), and 2006’s THE DEPARTED), and Scorsese has gotten some good work out of him, but I still don’t find all of his performances to be equally compelling. And I think he is often miscast. Compare DiCaprio to the man who used to be Scorsese’s “go-to guy” earlier in his career, Robert De Niro, and there is a vast chasm between these two actors. De Niro, in his prime, could act circles around DiCaprio. Sadly, De Niro hasn’t had a really good role in a long time, either.

MA:  I would disagree with you here. Not about DeNiro, who remains one of my all time favorite actors, but about DiCaprio. I bought him in this role, and I think he was completely captivating as Federal Marshal Teddy Daniels.

LS: Because of his work with Scorsese, I like DiCaprio a lot more than I would have otherwise. But I don’t think he’s a great actor. And I still think someone else could have done a better job with this role.

MA: It took me a while to warm up to DiCaprio. For example, I didn’t really enjoy him in TITANIC (1997) all that much, but in films like THE DEPARTED (2006) and BLOOD DIAMOND (2006) he was excellent. I would argue that DiCaprio is one of the best actors around, and in terms of talent, I would put him in the same class as Johnny Depp. In fact, I’ve enjoyed his recent performances more than Depp’s.

LS: I think Depp is a much better actor. But he’s got to stop making those lame PIRATE movies.

MA:  But back to SHUTTER ISLAND, I thought DiCaprio was completely believable as the hard-edged federal marshal, and even more, I thought in the film’s climactic scene, a very disturbing scene that was difficult to watch, that he nailed the agonizing emotion his character was put through.

There were a lot of things I didn’t like about SHUTTER ISLAND too, but the acting, especially that of DiCaprio, wasn’t one of them.

LS:  As for the rest of the acting, for the most part, it’s all very good.

MA:  Yes, the acting was definitely my favorite part of the whole film.

LS:  Ben Kingsley and Max Von Sydow as creepy doctors, turn in excellent performances.

MA:  Isn’t Von Sydow great?  I am so happy this guy is still making movies. He’s such a dominating presence, and he clearly steals the scenes he’s in. He’s wonderful to watch. He’s also probably the only actor still going today who can say he’s been making movies longer than Christopher Lee!  Though I bet Lee’s made more.

I liked Kingsley too, though at times I thought he was doing an impersonation of Donald Pleasance from the HALLOWEEN movies.

LS:  Ruffalo is pretty good, too, as DiCaprio’s partner – a new guy who Daniels doesn’t know well, but who he has to trust in this situation. Michelle Williams is very effective in her scenes as Daniels’s dead wife (even if her accent seems a bit off sometimes), and there are great cameos by Elias Koteas (who we saw most recently in THE FOURTH KIND), as the man who’s pyromania led to the death of Daniels’s wife, and especially Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach from WATCHMEN, and the new Freddy Krueger in the upcoming remake of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) as another inmate who, in trying to help Daniels, has gotten himself locked away in a hellish ward where the most dangerous inmates are kept – inside a former Civil War fort.

MA:  Yes, the cameos by Koteas and Haley were highlights, and Haley’s scene was the better of the two. Blink and you’ll miss Koteas. I liked Michelle Williams very much, and as the plot moves along, her character and her performance grow all the more haunting.

LS: I thought Michelle Williams’s role was risky. Often in movies when a character returns as a ghost to help the hero, it can come off as really lame. But Williams does a great job. Also very good is Ruby Jerins as a dead little girl who Teddy Daniels has visions of as well. She’s very spooky.

Another character I found compelling was Ted Levine as The Warden. The Warden is not on screen for very long, but there’s a scene toward the end where he gives DiCaprio’s character a ride in his jeep, and they have a very disturbing conversation. I thought that was a highlight, too. I wish he’d been in it more.

Hell, I really wanted to like this film. By half way through, I was definitely enjoying it and I thought it was a no-brainer that I was going to be giving this movie a good review. But by the last part, the movie just let me down in too many ways for me to recommend it.

Another major problem I have with Scorsese’s recent films is their length. All of the movies I mentioned that star DiCaprio run well over the two-hour mark. You could argue that when you’re someone as iconic as Scorsese, you  should go on as long as you want, but you’d be wrong. This man needs an editor who is not afraid to sit him down and tell him that he needs to start cutting his films down a bit. The length adds to the fact that there are definite slow spots (I found the final half hour, when all of the secrets are revealed, to be pretty tedious and badly paced). Better editing could have kept the entire film moving along as steadily as it does in its first hour.

MA:  As much as I like Scorsese’s work, I would have to agree with you here. The pacing of SHUTTER ISLAND suffers greatly towards the end.

LS: It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when Scorsese was great at pacing. Just look at classics like TAXI DRIVER (1976) and RAGING BULL (1980), two of my favorite Scorsese films. There’s not a minute wasted in those films.

There’s enough good stuff in SHUTTER ISLAND to recommend that you see it on DVD when it is released. But I don’t recommend paying the price of a movie ticket for this one.

MA:  This is scary, but I had nearly the same exact experience. I really wanted to like this movie too, and I was liking it, but like you, towards the end, things soured.

Technically, this movie was like a juicy steak. It looked terrific, the scenes were crafted to the point of making your mouth water, and I don’t know, I could pretty much watch a Scorsese movie all day. I mean, there was atmosphere everywhere:  storms, jagged cliffs, a lighthouse, mentally unstable patients and dark corridors. There’s nothing wrong with the look or feel of this film.

The acting was phenomenal, powerful to the point where some scenes silenced the crowded theater I was in. The flashbacks and the dream sequences were compelling, and they really worked for me.

There was certainly a lot to like, but the twist –which wasn’t much of a twist, since I saw it coming – cut the film down several notches. Also, the subject matter of a parent murdering her children is about as unpleasant as they come. This, combined with images of Nazi death camps doesn’t exactly make for a fun night out. By the time the end credits had rolled on SHUTTER ISLAND, I felt totally drained and depressed.

Now, I don’t mind that a movie tackles serious subject matter such as this, but in a murder/mystery /crime thriller, it’s too dark for my tastes.

LS: I didn’t think the darker aspects of the film were a detriment at all. In fact, they packed a punch. Too bad there weren’t more punches in this movie. By the end, it’s pretty limp.

MA:  Ultimately, SHUTTER ISLAND is a fine example of movie-making expertise by a master movie-maker, and it’s well acted by veterans of the field, but its story is dark and depressing, without any reward, and its effectiveness is further muddled by a forced plot twist that–if you’re paying close attention to the clues in the movie– you’ll know about long before you’re supposed to.

So, in spite of the fact that it’s a well-made thriller, I can’t recommend SHUTTER ISLAND either.

PSYCHIATRIST:  That’s too bad, gentlemen, because now you’ll have to stay here forever! (Laughs maniacally).

LS:  Not a problem. (Snaps fingers. A valet enters with their bags).We like it here. I’ll take the room overlooking the spooky lighthouse.

MA:  Damn!  Oh well, I’ll take the one with the view of the brick wall.

PSYCHIATRIST:  You two gentlemen are crazy!

MA:  No, we’re Cinema Knife Fighters! (Lightning flashes, thunder booms, and the lights flicker).

LS:  And don’t you forget it! (Turns to camera)  Don’t you forget either. We wouldn’t want to do this alone. Thanks for tuning in.

MA:  Yes, as always, many thanks to our readers!  Until next time—.

(THE LIGHTS GO OUT WITH A CRACK OF THUNDER)

FADE TO BLACK.

© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares