Iron Man 2

[Screenshot]I liked the first Iron Man movie. It had a reasonable amount of style and built in an interesting way on the established characters, making Tony Stark a thoroughly horrible human being in a way that was fundamentally likable.

Iron Man 2, by way of contrast, is 125 minutes of every single male character in the film systematically being a raging asshole to every other character. The female characters are occasionally catty but mostly sensible. Seriously, Tony Stark was so unsympathetic that I found it hard to be even remotely invested in the fact that he was secretly dying of palladium poisoning, which was probably just as well since the whole dying-of-palladium-poisoning subplot actually ended up not making a whole lot of sense, either narratively or physically. On the other hand, without that subplot all we really have is Iron Man pissing off his best buddy and then defeating the villain with The Power of Friendship. Woo.

I like Tony Stark and think he can be an interesting character; it kind of burns me to see the franchise torpedo like this. I’d like to blame it on the fact that these recent superhero films are apparently all supposed to build up towards some big blockbuster Avengers team film, but surely they could write a good film that leads up to a plausible Avengers team-up, no? It’s not like most of the sound and fury in this one was actually relevant to the whole S.H.I.E.L.D. subplot, and, at that, Nick Fury’s role here seemed completely random and he could’ve been slotted in any of a dozen different places if necessary. As far as I can tell the only real effect of the Avengers connection on this film was to make the role of the Black Widow far larger than it really needed to be.

On technical issues: Iron Man 2 is very whooshy and shiny and full of things crashing into and destroying other things. These are kind of par for the course for a big-budget superhero film and it gets no points for them (not that they’re bad, as such, but it’s no more and no less than I expect).

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Red

[Screenshot]I knew, based on the reports on Warren Ellis’s blog, and by a quick look at the trailer, that this film would not be entirely faithful to the themes of the original comic. But I figured I wanted to see it anyways. If Warren Ellis was OK with it, I figured it wasn’t my place to say otherwise, and the reasons why it couldn’t be faithful were fundamentally sound: the original work was, among other things, far too short to actually make a satisfactory feature-length film.

But I’m afraid “Not entirely faithful” is a bit of an understatement. Taken on its own merits, it’s a fun comic action-caper flick, with wisecracking, quirky, supercompetent secret agents sticking it to the man and executing elaborate, complicated plans; which is one of the most extraordinary subversions of themes in the original work I’ve seen since Mankiewicz’s adaptation of The Quiet American. The comic had a fair amount of exposition and philosophizing about monstrosity and loyalty and responsibility which is notably absent, either in dialogue or plot, from the film. In this movie, Moses and Co. are just Big Damn Heroes, going out and doing what is right, for justice. Which is enjoyable in a brainless kind of way, but it wasn’t really what I expected to see at all.

Cinematically, it’s quite excellent. There was something quite naturalistic about the camera style during non-action sequences: long takes, with smooth and organic-feeling pans and dollies that manage not to seem self-indulgent. The action sequences are, by their very nature, self-indulgent, with a lot of flash and occasional slo-mo and suchlike. It manages to stay mostly on the tasteful side of cheap (unlike, say, Transformers, which was full of wholly unnecessary whoosh and bewildering camera-shake). The actors play the parts they’ve been given well: Malkovitch chews the scenery but believably and Mirrin delivers a delightfully prim ruthlessness so well that they actually upstage Bruce Willis, whose character comes across as pretty colorless and dull by comparison.

On balance, I enjoyed the time I spent watching Red pretty well, although I might feel disappointed if I’d gone to see it in a theater. Mostly my lack of enthusiasm derives from it being pretty far afield of what I expected. A writer with a characteristic style can make a good story, but take away all those signature flourishes and thematic elements and you have, as it were, a tale told by an idiot.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Inglourious Basterds

[Screenshot]Quentin Tarantino has had some good ideas. This is maybe not one of them. A lot of people loved this one, and I really can’t figure out why. It has a fatal plot-progression flaw: very early on in the film we learn exactly what’s going to happen at the end. We then spend an inordinate amount of time on a bunch of characters who, in spite of having the movie named after them, really only serve as the B plot, if one can dignify their staggering from setpiece to hardass setpiece to show off the kind of magnificent bullshit which has appeared in every Tarantino film to a greater or lesser degree.

So, er, yeah, I didn’t like it, and found it to be too much style and not enoguh substance. There’s some good in there. Laurent demonstrates an excellent acting range, so it’s nice that she gets the plto that actually matters. Waltz is a bit of a mixed bag, with his mannered performance seesawing between ridiculous camp and utter cold terror, but giving credit where it’s due, he does a good job at it.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

The Hurt Locker

[Screenshot]Once again, I am late to the show on an excellent film about which everyone has already said everything worth saying. I approached this one with some caution: what if I found its political attitude completely unstomachable? But to my pleased surprise it’s actually mostly palatable, message-wise. I knew I was in good hands on this front early on when we opened with a quote from Chris Hedges. There’s a fair bit of unavoidable Truffaut-effect glorification of war, but mostly the point came home (without seeming too over-the-top except in places; see below) that soldiers in combat are mostly either in way over their heads or seriously screwed up or both.

On technical issues, I feel unqualified to judge. ‘m given to understand this really wants to be seen in a theater, or at least with a theater-quality sound system, and I didn’t. Suffice to say that better people than me have judged the cinematography and found it unimpeachable. I focus mostly on thematic, tonal, and character issues, and here i found some interesting promise, because this film can’t quite find its place. It is more or less imposbbile for the leads not to look cool: they’re hard-asses doing a hard job and female bystanders are liable to experience spontaneous sex-change from all the testosterone in the air. To try to balance this out, James has to be a really really fucked up human being, and his position in the larger hierarchy seems a bit grotesque: I don’t actually know military explosive-disarming procedures, but even I can tell that he violates them all the time. The lack of any response at all from the upepr echelons bewilders me. I particularly recall this being driven home in an early interaction with a (apparently senoir) officer who brusquely asks him for his identification and report, and which I reasonably expected to end with him getting bitched out bumped to a position where he’s not making decisions abotu other people’s lives. But no, it dissolves into backslaps and handshakes and praise of the hard, hard men and their hard, hard job. I dunno. Maybe things are actually like that in the field, but if they are, that too is disturbing. Which may have been the point, but I honestly couldn’t tell which parts were meant to be taken at face value, which is what made the thematic unevenness a bit of a problem for me.

Nonetheless, it’s a pretty solid war film technically, and it’s thematically within acceptable ranges. It’s well worth seeing.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

[Screenshot]Prince Caspian seemed to be the least meaty of the Narnia books when I first read it, as its plot is basically a linear rush towards a foregone conclusion with very few digressions. Evidently the moviemkaers felt the same as me, except, instead of concluding that it just wouldn’t make a very good movie and washing their hands of it, they bogged it down with side-plots and scenes which seemed to be lifted from Lord of the Rings.

Production values are high, as befits a Big-Studio Blockbuster, and the acting is fairly good. The problem more than anything else is pacing. The story gets bogged down in side details which, by the nature of their introduction, can’t really advance the story, such as the idiotic castle-raid, which serves mostly, as far as I can tell, to add a big fight scene to a movie up ’til then lacking one, and to create dramatic tension between Caspian and the Pevensies, which never actually serves any narrative purpose.

I could’ve done with a film half as long without the digressions. It wouldn’t be a very good film either, but it’d be free of bloat and waste less time.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Hoo boy, was this one ever a disappontment. Pretty much every geek between the ages of 25 and 45 was overcome with anticipation when it was reported that there was another Indiana Jones film coming out, and, lo and behold, it was an awful pile of crap. Lucas and Spielberg remember the components of an Indy film, but somehow seem to have forgotten the connecting tissue and character interactions which make an Indy film actually enjoyable to watch. Crystal Skull jerks spastically from one setpiece to another with little regard for narrative continuity or science. No, one doesn’t go to these films for plot coherence or good science, but one expects a modicum of effort along these lines, and when pretty much every single scene is unrelated to the last as well as completely scientifically wrong, the audience loses faith. So after an exciting cart ride from a warehouse where magnetism works completely wrong (Spielberg checks off “cart ride” from his list of Indy-things), we end up in a suburban mockup which is nuked for no good reason. And then, later, on, the jungle car-to-car fight (Spielberg checks off “jumping between jeeps and trucks and other vehicles”), terminates with a completely random and biologically suspect ant attack, and the apotheosis of Shia LeBoeuf as the Monkey King, a revelation which makes no sense and is thus never referred to again. The whole fucking film is like this. It makes my brain very sad.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Sin City

[Screenshot]It’s been a long time since I read (part of) the comics on which this was based, so I’m fuzzy on how closely it hews to them. This is, however, a Frank Miller story, which means it hits certain attitudes which it’s pretty easy to find icky. I’ll start with cinematography just to get it out of the way: production values are high, and even thoguh it’s a bit of a post-Schindler’s-List cliche to use sparing coloration in a black-and-white film, it’s at least done effectively here. Now on to plot, characters, and acting, which get all knotted up inextricably in my head. Sin City is full of loathsome men and women who are either victims or prostitutes. Those are really the only two options, and it’s an unsettling attitude. I’m sure Frank Miller has some folderol about empowerment and sexuality, but I don’t care. From where I sit it seems like the preponderance of examples is not so much “sexuality is empowering” as “female power comes solely through sexuality” and, specifically, solely through commoditization of same. This is, to say the least, a pretty revolting thesis for a film to present, and it detracts from any enjoyment I might derive from it. It’s not groundbreaking enough to be, say, Triumph of the Will or Birth of a Nation, so I can’t stomach its revolting themes.

To end on a rare positive note: Bruce Willis is actually a pretty good match for the whole older-macho-man schtick he’s shoved into here.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia, that Shortpacked comic about Frank Miller.