Thursday, May 23, 2013

Iron Man 3

Who will deliver the goods this summer?  Iron Man or Man of Steel?
I've been sitting on this review for a while, not quite sure if my opinion on it is set in stone.  Even while watching Iron Man 3 I went through periods of loving it to periods of hating it.  What's clear is Iron Man 3 is a movie that seems so eager to please.  I think they tried to do too much with it and the end result is a mixed bag.  Sometimes it's trying to be a character movie with Tony Stark suffering anxiety attacks in the wake of his harrowing experience in the Avengers movie.  Then they have some very dark scenes with the movies main villain, the Mandarin, played by a creepy and ruthless Ben Kingsley.  Then it alternates between being a buddy comedy, with Tony and Rhodes (Don Cheadle was badass!), a buddy comedy with Tony and some little kid (which was funny).  It's also a Bond movie, a slapstick comedy and of course a super hero movie.

All the little parts work really well on their own, the movie's funny, the action is great, somehow I just felt when it all came together it seemed like too much.  Robert Downey Jr. is Robert Downey Jr and therefore fun to watch.  His scenes with Don Cheadle are lots of fun but far too few.  Ben Kingsley was excellent as the Mandarin and almost all of his scenes were really strong. Guy Pearce was fairly interesting villain.   Sadly though, the weakest part of the movie for me ends up being the 'super-hero' part.  Stark spends a good part of the movie out of armour, having anxiety attacks, bickering with Gwyneth Paltrow and doing other things I could have done without.  Worse stilll, when he is in armour, you don't really care.  Probably because there is so much over the top, almost cartoonish action taking place that the movie loses a lot of tension.  And by the time the movie gets to the scene with dozens of Iron Mans flying around, the thrill of seeing Iron Man is completely gone and the grandiose super hero is somewhat diminished.

I like Iron Man.  I like bacon.  Would I eat 20 packs of bacon?  Maybe.  But this is too many Iron Mans.
The movie is really funny, but this eventually becomes a problem for me.  On the one hand they seem to want this to be a darker Iron Man. On the other hand any time things are about to get serious and you get any sense of menace, they undo it with some comedy.  Something horrible happens, then there's a cheesy one liner or comedic slapstick.  So tonally it sometimes comes off as sloppy to me. Add to that, all the characters are too quick to deliver one liners.  So not only are there dozens of Iron Man suits, there's also dozens of Robert Downeys.  Didn't bother me too much, but you notice it.

Then, there is the twist! The plot twist in Iron Man 3 has been very polarizing and I can't say too much about it without spoiling the movie.  But I will say that when I first saw it I felt let down.  No, that's not strong enough.  I was incensed!  As a comic book fan, what they did was nothing short of heresy. However, as the movie progressed I grew to appreciate it and now I even think it's pretty clever.  I guess the director was making a satirical statement about the face of terrorism by the end.  I can appreciate what the movie was trying to say, but then they play even that for laughs and we're back to status quo comedy and frenetic action.

Ben Kingsley as Osama Bin Ladden as the Mandarin.  Not the villain we deserve, but the villain we need?
Iron Man 3 is hit and miss for me.  Maybe it sounds like I didn't enjoy it, but I really did.  Good laughs, good action...  It's just that as a follow up to the Avengers it's bound to disappoint some and the geek in me really wanted more. The painful reality is that no super hero movie this year is going to be as completely satisfying as the Avengers.  I'm almost dreading Captain America, Wolverine and Thor and I fear the Marvel vehicle may run out of steam before the year is up.  The consequence of the Avengers movie is, the Marvel movies up until that point were all building up to this big amazing thing.  We were paying our dues because the promise was a big payoff!  We've seen the Avengers and it was everything fans wanted.  Now we have to go back to the milquetoast adventures of the individual characters again : Hero X has girlfriend Y and fights villain Z.

Not that the movies will necessarily be bad, I'll probably even enjoy them, but they certainly won't be amazing.  Also, Iron Man is the strongest of those characters, so as far as Marvel Movies this year, we've already peaked.  In short, the only Marvel movie I'm really anticipating at this point, is Avengers 2.  I'm hopeful that with Man of Steel on the horizon and the Dark Knight trilogy still a fan favourite, it may be DC's chance to take back its throne at the box office becoming the paragon of super hero movies once again. Here is what nerds like me are hoping for.  1) Man of Steel is amazing. 2) Chris Nolan gets involved with making a Justice League movie (or at very least a World's Finest movie) and 3) we get to see a few new DC superheroes get their own movies in the next year or so (and those movies won't suck).

Quite frankly, if Man of Steel doesn't deliver in a big way, I ... I just don't know.

3.5 exploding bad guys out of 5

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness review and a list of my favourite Star Trek movies

I am a hardcore Trekkie.  Star Trek is a rare example of optimistic sci-fi, one that paints a future where diverse cultures get together to make the universe a better place.  Over the years that theme has taken a back seat to things with wider appeal and cheaper thrills : special effects, action, sex, youth...  Consequently, although I enjoyed the rebooted Star Trek of 2009, I wasn't thrilled by it. It was just a fun sci-fi action movie with characters I used to know and love inserted into a paper thin plot.  There was a generic villain who wanted to destroy the universe (why?) and a handful of heroes dressed up as Kirk, Spock and Uhura to take him down.  Fun movie, but was it a Star Trek movie?

I saw this movie a few hours ago and can't remember why this woman is in her underwear.
That said, the latest entry into this franchise, Star Trek Into Darkness came as a very unexpected surprise for me.  First off I would like to thank the director JJ Abrams for keeping most of the details of the movie under lock and key.  It's one of the rare movies that I went in without knowing anything about the premise, aside from a few rumours here and there.

So, I won't do you the disservice of ruining the movie for you.  I'll just say I really enjoyed the story.  I thought it brought back the 'Star Trek' element to the universe and we get to consider, briefly, the Federation's mission to be at peace with scary alien cultures all the while trying not to interfere with their evolution in the galaxy.  It was there just enough to feel like you were watching a Star Trek movie, but subtle enough that it wasn't a preachy movie about 'the Prime Directive' and peace among races.  When they did deal with the themes of the movie, there was always a powerful human motive driving the story forward. 

Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto as Kirk and Spock are phenomenal.  I must say, there were some emotional moments for me in this movie with both actors really pulling at your heartstrings at some moments. Those moments could have come off as schlocky to some, but they resonated with me for some reason.  Kirk and Spock are vulnerable heroes facing some interesting dilemmas which to me has always been the heart of Star Trek.  Benedict Cumberbatch is an intense, brooding villain stealing scenes from beginning to end.  Bruce Greenwood and Robocop (Peter Sellers) were really engaging in their supporting roles.  The movie does a masterful job of handling its different elements.  Action, sentimentality and humour come together without clashing.  I mention this because I recently saw Iron Man 3, which is a hilarious movie, but when the jokes come in Iron Man 3, they sometimes suck the life out of everything else that's going on and ultimately diffuse the tension of a scene.

There isn't much in this movie that didn't work for me.  One minor complaint : it's difficult to watch a movie where they need to give characters something to do.  Zoe Saldana is given her Uhura moments, which are fun and well done.  We get an extra helping of Simon Pegg as Scotty which fans will appreciate.  The rest of the crew is dutifully given a nod here and there.  The biggest disappointment for me was that I found Karl Urban's Dr. McCoy to be underused.  I like the actor and I like the character but in this Star Trek franchise he is not the presence that he was in earlier movies when played by the late Deforest Kelley.  Dr. McCoy, once a main character, is now there for gags.  There is also a ham-fisted cameo by a Star Trek alumni which is pointless to the plot but I thought served to add some gravitas to a scene.

Some people may find the movie too frenetic. I would go as far as to compare this to Michael Bay levels of flashy colors and explosions, all being shot by a camera man who is shooting the movie while on a truck, driving over speedbumbs while he is being electrocuted. But, there is actually a story to justify the action so the intensity and spectacle are justified and even welcome.

I love seeing new movies, and get excited after watching them if they're this good.  As such, I would need to see the movie again to really finalize the opinion I'm about to give you, but this Star Trek has at very least made it into my top 3 Star Trek movies of all time, battling it out with Star Trek 2 and 6 for top spot.  It easily out-classes any of the other movies.  I think it has wide appeal, the fan service is there and it actually has a great story IMO. 

rating : 5 dying tribbles out of 5

Oh, you're still here?  Let's rate the Trek movies in order of preference, shall we?  Which one is your favourite?

Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country : Star Trek at its finest.  Kirk, Spock and Bones endeavor to make peace with their long time enemies, the Klingons.  This movie has great action, the Star Trek brand is being used to talk about real issues like racism, international conflict and we get to see our characters dealing with personal issues like friendship and old age (a common theme in a franchise starring actors that were past their prime decades before this movie was released).  It marks the return of Nicholas Meyer, the man who many believe saved Star Trek by directing the Wrath of Khan.  I love this movie. 5 eye patches bolted to your face out of 5

Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan : Speaking of Nicholas Meyer, Wrath of Khan is a a fan favourite and as I said, the movie that saved Star Trek. Kirk fights his nemesis, the super genius Khan.  A good balance of quiet character moments and tense action, Wrath of Khan is something of a space thriller with a classic, unforgettable ending.  5 brain controlling ear parasites out of 5

Star Trek 3: The Search for Spock :  I liked the science fictiony ideas they had in this Star Trek movie.  Search for Spock has the feeling of a fantasy adventure and again, the friendship between our main characters comes out a lot in this movie. 4 space coffins out of 5.

Star Trek 8: First Contact : Possibly the only good Next Generation movie.  This was pretty much a sci-fi action movie, but they shoe horn in the 'peace with other cultures' theme fairly appropriately.  Definitely a fun watch and our only opportunity to see the Next Generation crew shine in a motion picture.  It keeps a brisk pace that usually manages to outrun the many plot holes.  4 borg queens out of 5.

Star Trek (2009 with Chris Pine and Co.):  A competent reboot of the franchise, featuring a swaggering, convincing Chris Pine as Captain Kirk.  An undeniably fun action movie with the 'Star Trek' themes mostly lacking.  Like First Contact, the fun and the action allow you to overlook the elements that don't work.  4 cases of pandering to the audience out of 5.

Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home :  A Star Trek comedy?  I can never decide how much I liked this movie about time travel with a heavy handed message about the environment and biodiversity.  It's fun, and basically it's part of 1 big story (with Star Trek 2 and 3 being the first parts of that story).  It's impossible to hate, and in many ways I believe will be the only Star Trek movie of its kind.  4 aliens who befriend humpback whales out of 5.

Star Trek 5: The Final Frontier :  A lot of people hate this one, but I had fun with the somewhat underwritten adventures of Kirk, Spock and McCoy on their quest to find God at the behest of a charismatic Vulcan cult leader. 3 fake deities out of 5.

Star Trek 10: Nemesis : A disappointing swan song for the TNG cast.  A plot full of holes, desperate attempts at fan service while using the aging next generation cast to fight a villain who, of course, wants to destroy Earth.  But why?  2.5 years past its expiry date.  Umm... out of 5.

Star Trek 9: Insurrection :  A mediocre episode of the Next Generation TV show, barely dressed up for the box office.  A planet with a cure for something is attacked by guys... Then picard shoots stuff and kisses a lady.  2 purple bazookas out of 5.

Star Trek the Motion Picture (which I have yet to watch without falling asleep).  Dated, slow and boring, I can't believe that this movie was the beginning of a series of what is now 12 movies spanning over more than 3 decades.  I'm told the story is pretty good, but I wouldn't be able to say.  2 mid movie naps out of 5.

Star Trek: Generations : An incoherent mess with Next Generation crew and Original series crew thrown together using silly plot devices.  Humourless, tasteless and senseless, it fails as Star Trek, it fails as sci-fi and it fails as a movie.  Eff this Ess!!! 1 lame flying pink plot macguffin out of 5

It is very difficult to place the rebooted movies on this list as they seem to be in a class of their own.  But in terms of pure enjoyment, as I said in my review, Into Darkness is really fighting hard for top spot.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Gun control works

Kind of depressing for a blog post, but I read a story that really bothered me. Consider this tragic and infuriating story of a 2 year old who is accidentally shot and killed by her 5 year old brother.

Perhaps the story stuck with me a little more because I know this weekend in Houston, the NRA is having a conference, which has been described as something of a victory rally for the gun laws that they shot down recently in the US. Celebrating the very same love for guns that have killed so many children in homes and schools in the past year alone.

I can't decide what is more depressing, the actual story, or the family's reaction.  Uncle Mann says, "It's something you can't prepare for."  Except you can... By not buying guns for 5 year old children.

Grandmother Linda Riddle says of her grandaughter's death, "It was God's will. It was time to let her go."  I guess it's easier to hide behind pseudo-pious garbage like that than to take responsibility for killing a two year old with a gun.  Don't get me wrong, I can't imagine how devastating it would be if someone in my family died because of my negligence and I don't know how I would handle it.  And tragedy can happen to anyone.  My heart goes out to this family and their loss.  BUT....Can we maybe get a revelation beyond the moronic, "It was God's will"?  Is it possible that God doesn't want children to kill other children?

I guess I'm talking about two different things.  Gun control and gun safety are two different things.  But the story of this poor family seems to reflect the general attitude of a culture in love with guns.  "Children are dying, but what are you going to do?  God MUST want a society like this!"

Again, kind of depressing.  But here's John Oliver to lighten things up a bit and give us an enlightening piece about the positive effect strict gun control has had in Australia for over 2 decades. Of course gun control works, here's the proof.  It's a hilarious three parter worth watching.  It is also really inspiring to see politicians standing up for what is right, at great personal cost to their careers.  I have so much loathing for the politicians running my little province of Quebec, I was encouraged to see that it is possible for politicians to do something besides parasitize millions of people.  Politicians who care about making the world a better place more than they care about money and their careers?  Revolutionary!