Tag Archive: Movie Review

Review: Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2Iron Man 2

Studio: Paramount Pictures
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Mickey Rourke, Don Cheadle, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson
Rating: Rating System!Rating System!Rating System!/ 5 purses

Iron Man 2 throws you right back where the action left off in Iron Man. Tony Stark has just revealed to the world that he… is… Iron Man, and the media frenzy has begun. Accolades, adulation flow like wine, but one man is not celebrating. He is dying in a squalid apartment in Moscow watching the drama unfold on TV. His only companion is his son – Ivan Vanko. As his father, bitter and vindictive to the end,  breathes his last, Ivan gets to work on an arc reactor similar to the one Stark built in Afghanistan using forty year old plans developed by his father and Howard Stark.

Six months later, Tony, as Iron Man, has opened Stark Expo with a self-indulgent display that is cringe worthy. Given his level of hubris in the first movie, you are aching for someone to give him a smackdown. It only gets worse at the Senate arms committee where he embarrasses the government and humiliates his corporate rival, Justin Hammer.

It’s only after the Senate committee meeting that we realize that Tony *is* getting a smackdown of biblical proportions – the arc reactor that is keeping the shrapnel from destroying his heart, is slowly poisoning him. He’s dying and the only thing he cares about is his legacy as the protector of world peace, and he will do anything to keep that glory all to himself, even alienate his best friends Rhody and Pepper.

The scene changes at this point from California to Monaco for the Grand Prix, where Tony finally encounters Ivan Vanko as Whiplash. From this point on, the film chugs along slowly, setting Vanko up as Justin Hammer’s go-to guy for destroying Tony, the degeneration of Tony’s personal relationships and the loss of one of his Iron Man prototypes to the US Military. It doesn’t pick up again until Hammer’s presentation at Stark Expo, which sparks the final action packed third of the movie.

Sam Rockwell as Justin HammerI enjoyed Iron Man 2. It has its problems, mostly with the melodrama involving Tony and his father which drags the movie down during the middle of the film. It also criminally short changes several characters: Pepper Potts, SHIELD’s insider Natasha Romanoff aka The Black Widow, but worst of all Ivan Vanko and Justin Hammer. Mickey Rourke could have made a great villain, but he’s given so little to work with in terms of back story and motivation. The scene that he shares with Tony is lifeless. Rourke is so bogged down in his accent, that he isn’t able to generate any passion for his cause. He is neither menacing or sympathetic. As for poor Sam Rockwell, he does a great job playing a buffoon. I can see shades of Guy Fleegman from Galaxy Quest in Justin but in Tony Stark’s chief rival, that is a bad thing. Hammer has all of Tony’s arrogance but none of his charm or intelligence. He’s that nerd from high school who had the clothes, had the car, had all the trappings of popularity, but was such an imbecile that his financial standing didn’t matter – he would never be accepted, he could never get the girl. At no point in the movie do you actually believe that Justin Hammer is ever a real threat to Tony Stark, either personally or professionally.

Pepper and Natasha are also one note characters. Pepper is reduced from Tony’s patient, witty, competent foil to being nothing more than a screaming shrew. She is never able to make a point, or go toe to toe with Tony as she once did. She is completely impotent. As for Black Widow, she could have not made it into the movie and I don’t think you would ever notice. The role that she played in terms of the story could have been better served by Pepper, rounding out her character and role as Tony’s most capable associate without the movie losing anything except skin tight leather.

Scarlett Johansson as Black WidowNone of these players ever really challenge Tony in the end, for better or for worse. It’s disappointing if you’re thinking in terms of this movie and this movie only, but it has interesting potential if you look at it in terms of the greater story arc. At the end of Iron Man 2, Tony Stark has yet to be successfully challenged by anyone. His greatest enemy is yet to come. His greatest enemy, ultimately, is himself. And that premise sets up for a  for a truly delicious sequel. I just hope Jon Favreau and his team of writers are up for the task.

Visually, the movie is stunning, although there was one effect during Scarlett Johansson’s fight scene near the end that bothered me. There seemed to be some sort of double exposure on her movements that was distracting and honestly hurt my eyes. I know it wasn’t just me because DH mentioned it as well. I’m not sure if it was the print of the film, or some sort of special effect, so I’ll be interested to hear if anyone else saw the same thing.

Iron Man and War MachineAll and all, Iron Man 2 was a fun film. It didn’t quite live up to my expectations, I was hoping to see an expanded role for Pepper Potts, as well as more interaction between Nick Fury and Tony Stark. Sam Jackson and Robert Downey Jr. sparkle when they’re on screen together. The film maintained its humor throughout – no one quips like Robert Downey Jr. Happily, Don Cheadle walked into the role of James Rhodes and nailed it. He was with Downey beat for beat and I actually preferred his characterization of Rhodes to Terrence Howard’s who struck me as whiny and self involved. It will be interesting to see where Tony and James’ relationship goes from here. I do think it’s a fine set-up for both The Avengers movie and the next Iron Man sequel.

For those who are wondering, Iron Man 2 is definitely worth seeing in the IMAX format. The scene where Iron Man and War Machine are being chased through the Stark Expo grounds is amazing and definitely worth the extra coin.

BTW, stick around after the credits for a teaser of epic proportions.


Review: Kick Ass

Kick Ass Kick Ass

Studio: Lionsgate
Starring: Aaron Johnson, Chloe Moretz, Nicolas Cage, Mark Strong, Christopher Mintz-Plasse

Rating: Rating System!Rating System!Rating System!Rating System!

Yes, I’m late. I’m very late. I’ve been sitting on this review for over a week now, trying to decide if my opinion of it is going to change. It hasn’t, so I’m getting on with it.

Let’s get this part over with first. Kick Ass is violent. It is very violent. It is steeped in blood without crossing the line into gory. And most of the bloodshed is caused by an 11-year-old girl. Yup, a girl just a few months older than my sweet, beautiful Elfkin is literally tearing men, 3 times her age and 4 times her body weight, to bits.

That’s disturbing. And seeing brutal violence visited on that little body, very similar to my own child’s, is disturbing all the more. As a parent, it’s almost too much to bear.

And if this was a reality based film*, I could never watch it again.

But this isn’t a reality based film. It is very much a fantasy. Everything about it screams fantasy, from its colour palette (all bright colours), to the relationships, to the premise and the circumstances. Everything is designed to tell you that if you take this as anything more than a live-action cartoon, there is something wrong.

If you are able to put on the emotional brakes and step into the fantasy realm with this movie, you should be able to live with the level of violence in Kick Ass.

All that being said, I enjoyed Kick Ass. It’s not your typical comic book movie, it’s not even your typical send up of a comic book movie. It sits very firmly on the line between parody and homage. And I think that straddling of intentions is what is fueling a lot of disappointment that people are feeling towards the film. People want it to be one thing or the other and they aren’t happy with the tension between the two.

Kick Ass, aka Dave LizweskiWhere that tension plays out is in the main character, Dave Lizewski (played by Aaron Johnson), typical male comic book geek, invisible to girls, disrespected by his friends and betrayed by his hormones. He feels invisible. Sick and tired of being pushed to the sidelines of his life, he buys a green scuba suit and begins his life as the vigilante Kick Ass, protector of the innocent, finder of cats. But here’s the kicker, once he decides to move onto the field if you will, that’s when his character in the film is pushed to the sidelines by the twin whirlwinds of crime fighting known as Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) and Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage).

Hit Girl and Big Daddy are the real ‘super heroes’ of the piece. A father and daughter team, wronged by mafioso Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong), are seeking bloody revenge for tearing their family apart and will stop at nothing to get it. Their relationship is an interesting one. Damon MacCready is not your typical dad. I mean the guy takes his daughter out and shoots her in the chest so that she learns to trust her bullet proof vest and not to fear gun shots, but in a way, that’s what parents do. We teach our kids, we equip them to handle situations and give them the confidence to know that they can handle just about anything. And if they can’t, we, their loving parents are there to back them up. In a perverse way, within their extreme circumstances, that’s what Damon is doing with Mindy. He keeps referring to her as ‘Child’ as if he’s reminding himself that that’s what she is, even though he never treats her as anything other than an adult.

Contrast that with Frank D’Amico’s son Chris’ (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) lifestyle. While at the surface it seems pretty normal, this is the relationship that is the most messed up. Chris is incredibly sheltered, followed everywhere by burly security guards that prevent him from even the most normal interactions of any teen. Sure he goes to the movies with his father, but he’s never included in his fathers life, nor is he given the responsibilities or the trust that will help him move into the realm of the adult. Unlike Mindy, Chris will never be anything but a child in his father’s eyes.

I was hoping to see some tension between the kids vying for their father’s approval, but alas, it wasn’t to be.

So, where does all this leave poor Dave? Well, still sitting on the sidelines unfortunately. He’s moved from wishful thinking about helping the hopeless to essentially being a poseur. He suddenly has the notoriety that he’s always wanted and he definitely has the girl. As an added bonus, he’s friends with real superheroes who will take him under their wing and teach him what he needs to know. If this were the typical teen comic book movie, it would end here, but it isn’t. Dave has everything he ever wanted, but he *isn’t* everything he wants to be. He hasn’t stepped up to the level of the superhero, where risk and sacrifice for the greater good becomes their raison d’etre, not the thrill and adrenaline rush of catching the badguys. And he can’t do that without an example. That’s where Hit Girl and Big Daddy come in and take him by the hand.

Big Daddy and Hit GirlNicolas Cage and  Chloë Moretz give the standout performances in Kick Ass. Cage is at his best when he brings out the crazy, and he’s in fine form here. His Adam West voice, when he’s playing Big Daddy, had me in stitches. It’s hard to see someone as deadly when they talk like that and the juxtaposition is just hilarious. It’s almost worth the price of admission.

What is definitely worth my admission money is Chloë Moretz’ portrayal of Hit Girl. There’s been a lot said about the appropriateness of having an 11 year old playing such a violent role. I’m not going to comment about it here beyond saying that from the interviews I’ve read featuring Chloë and her mother, I can say that they are both well grounded and have good heads on their shoulders. There has also been a lot of talk about Hit Girl being the new poster child for women’s empowerment. By being  a strong, forceful character, Hit Girl is a step forward in the depiction of…. blah, blah, blah. Personally, I don’t think that’s the case. I think Hit Girl is everything we’ve all wanted to be as children when faced by something beyond our comprehension. How many of us as youngsters haven’t yearned to be strong and able to beat bad guys and keep them from hurting the people we love when faced with a situation that our small hands were powerless to change. She’s the protector, the miracle cure, the fantastical invention that’s going to make it all alright for our young selves.

She is definitely the heart and flinty soul of the movie.

The film may be named after him, but this is not Kick Ass’ film. It’s a great set up for the character and his future adventures, but this time around it focused, rightly I think, on the people who most influence his new life and started him down his path.  It will be fun to see the three kids, Kick Ass, Hit Girl and Red Mist grow into their new roles. I’m looking forward to the sequel.

So suck on that Wil Wheaton! 😉

Welcome back Yancy.On a side note, it was great to see Yancy Butler from WitchBlade in a major movie, even if it was just a bit part. I’m hoping this is the start of a comeback for her.

* I can’t watch A History of Violence again. It doesn’t matter how much I love Viggo Mortensen or David Cronenberg, the opening scene disturbed me to the point that I almost turned off the movie then and there. My husband is the one who told me to watch the movie through, but I will never watch it again. It’s funny though, this time around, he’s the one who’s more disturbed by the violence in Kick Ass than I am.

Clash of the Titans

Clash of the Titans

Studio: Warner Brothers
Starring: Sam Worthington, Gemma Arterton, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Mads Mikkelsen, Jason Flemyng, Alexa Davalos
Rating: Rating System!Rating System!Equals 1/2 purse/ 5 Purses

I was so looking forward to this movie.  I was a huge fan of the original Clash of the Titans. I had a stuffed winged horse named Pegasus and a rather scratchy owl named Bubo; both of which I believe are cuddled in Sprout’s bed as I write this. Ray Harryhausen’s Medusa scared the dickens out of me and I loved her for it.

Needless to say, I was looking forward to seeing the reboot.

The basic plot remains the same.  Perseus, son of Zeus, is on a quest to kill the diabolical Medusa and use her head to turn the frightful Kraken to stone before it can kill the princess Andromeda. The princess is being sacrificed to the beast in order to make up for her mother’s frightful arrogance in face of the gods.

In the original, this was the straightforward story, but this time around, it’s only the framework for bigger narrative.  In the new movie, humans are sick of being ruled by the capricious and venal gods of Mount Olympus and are staging a rebellion against their deities by denying them worship and tearing down their temples and monuments. Manipulating the situation is Hades (Ralph Fiennes), the god of the underworld, who looks to use the conflict as the means to usurp his brother Zeus’ throne and gain Mount Olympus.

Enter Perseus (Sam Worthington), newly rescued after having his family ripped apart in the war between mortals and god.  He’s plenty pissed off to find out about his demi-god status, but is willing to lead the quest if it means he gets his chance for revenge on the Olympians who ruined his life.

The biggest problem with Clash of the Titans 2010 is the lack of  a character worthy of audience support.  You have no idea who’s side to be on.  Are you on the gods’ side even though they are corrupt and selfish and regard their creation (which they claim to love) as nothing more than playthings, easily discarded or destroyed? Or do you back the mortals who are trying to overthrow the Olympians tyranny but act as flawed and feckless of their would be masters, ignoring the plight of the poor and displaced while they revel in their supposed  moral superiority?

Finally, there’s the focus of the narrative, Perseus, who is, technically, the hero of the piece. Yet he behaves in such a way as to make a fangirl want to whack him upside of the head with her overweighted handbag in order to knock some sense into him.  Throughout the film, he behaves like a spoiled brat, refusing to use any of the abilities that come from being a demi-god to help the people who are traveling with him or to achieve his goal.  He even refuses to accept the magical sword that Zeus has given him in a rather tardy expression of paternal devotion.  You could practically hear him stomping his foot like a teenager while arguing with Draco (Mads Mikkelsen – best actor in the movie) who tries to convince Perseus to use whatever tools he has at his disposal to keep them all alive.  While Perseus throws a hissy fit, his companions are dropping like flies.  Worthington barely cracks a smile, or interacts with this companions in a meaningful way. It’s hard to see how Perseus could possibly inspire the loyalty of his comrades that would be required for men to follow their leader to the banks of Hell itself.  He barely seems deserving of their devotion.

The only person who invokes any audience sympathy is the Princess Andromeda.  She alone behaves as a hero should, risking her life to go out amongst people who are calling for her death in order to feed the poor and orphaned.  I would have loved to have seen more of her, she certainly was more interesting than any of the main characters, but unfortunately, she only gets about 10 minutes of screen time.

The lack of anyone heroic in the movie also makes for a rather somber atmosphere to the whole thing.  There are some feeble attempts at humour, but they fall flat against the unrelieved grimness of the story.  There is one scene however, probably the best in the movie, where you can’t help but chuckle.  The men are in the armory getting kitted up for the quest, when one of the young recruits ask what they should bring.  After discussing the possibilities of success, Draco tells them to pack everything.  Perseus, starts looking around for equipment, reaches into a bag and pulls out Bubo, the owl from the original, still whirring and flapping happily.  Confused, he looks to the others, who just shake their head and tell him to leave it.

And that is what the movie is missing, a sense of fun.  These stories are supposed to be grand adventures. How can a movie involving flying horses, snake women, giant sea monsters not be fun? It’s frustrating because all the ingredients are there, but director Louis Leterrier manages to suck all the joy out of it.

Technically, the movie is fine, but nothing to write home about. We didn’t see the movie in 3D, mainly because it wasn’t shot in that format and the producers only converted to the format after they saw how well Avatar did.  I don’t think we lost anything by seeing it in 2D. If asked, I would say that unless seeing a coin bounce towards you across the River Styx get’s your rocks off, save your money.

There really isn’t much more to say. The acting is passable, some times more than passable considering Gemma Arterton didn’t choke on such brilliant lines as “Perseus, you’re not just part man and part god, you’re the best of both!” The CG monsters were alright but nothing to marvel at and are completely devoid of the charm that infused their predecessors. Frankly I preferred the Harryhausen’s herky jerky beasts in the previous incarnation to these monsters.

The original Clash of the Titans was one of those films that was so bad, it was good.  Unfortunately, the new one is just bad.  It certainly isn’t worth the crick in my neck that I got watching it.

By the way, check out the great interview The Toronto Star has with Ray Harryhausen.

How to Train Your Dragon - 3D

How to Train Your Dragon – 3D

Studio: Dreamworks
Starring: Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Rating: Rating System!Rating System!Rating System!Rating System!Rating System!/ 5 Purses

Go see this movie.

I can’t make it any plainer than that.  It is a movie that I will be recommending to people that they *have* to see, even more so than Avatar.  It is that good.  It is that fun.

I took Sprout and Elfkin out for a Girls Night Out to see HTYD on Friday night and it’s the first time we’ve walked out of the theater with both kidlets thanking me profusely for taking them to the movies.  And these are polite kids.  On the drive back home, the girls were calculating if they have enough money to buy the BlueRay when it comes out.  They are even counting down the number of weeks until the disc is released (usually it’s about 17 weeks post theatrical release).

The story is simple, we’ve seen it hundreds of times before.  Hiccup, the town misfit, is the son of the great chief  Stoik the Vast.  As if being the nerdy son of a viking chieftain isn’t hard enough, his village is under seige by marauding dragons. Slight and smart, Hiccup isn’t exactly brawny dragonslayer material, but he’s a wicked weapons designer, becoming the only viking on his island to ever catch the mythical and deadly Nightfury.

But how deadly is a creature that loves chin scratches and regurgitating fish tails?  As Hiccup quickly finds out, not very once you know and understand these animals.  They are powerful yes, but when all is said and done, these are nothing more than overgrown, scaly, house cats with a propensity to belch fire. Now he has to convince his father, who is hell-bent on their extermination.

Yup, it’s an all too familiar story, but where the sheer joy comes in is how the film makers, Chris Saunders & Dean DeBlois, cram this movie to the rafters with smart imaginative narrative and visual touches that breathe life into the tale.  All the characters are fleshed out, but never devolve into caricatures of themselves and they all have a believable story arc.

The biggest emotional payoff comes from the evolution of Hiccups and Stoik’s relationship.  Hiccup is the odd man out, he doesn’t fit the image his father of him and Stoik struggles with accepting the son he has.  It’s clear how much he loves his son, but he’s painfully aware of Hiccups limitations. Stoik does what he can to protect Hiccup and to give him purpose by apprenticing him to Gobber the Belch, the village blacksmith and trainer. You can imagine his delight when he comes home from another failed attempt locating the secret dragon hideout to find out that his son is tops in his dragonslaying class. Finally, they’ll be to relate! And when Hiccups relationship with Toothless the Nightfury comes to light, his disappointment is palatable. His inevitable acceptance of his son never feels trite or routine, even though you expect it in the end, it feels well and truly honest.

As for Hiccup, he struggles with who and what he is.  Early in the movie, Gobber tells him to accept himself, that he’ll never be a great dragon slayer, but the limitations don’t sit well with Hiccup and he struggles and fights against it.  He knows he can be so much more than what he is and it’s great to see him applying his considerable brains to the problems at hand without succumbing to the ‘Poor Misunderstood Me’ syndrome.  I think often as parents we want to be accepting of our children, but never think of what that acceptance means.  I remember a scene from the Cosby Show where Theo, trying to explain his poor school performance to his dad by giving a heart warming speech about understanding  that he really isn’t that brainy and that a loving father would learn to accept his son as he is.  Cliff looks deep into Theo’s puppy dog eyes and with a straight face tells him that his posturing is an unmitigated load of crap and to pull up his socks. There’s a fine line between accepting a child for who they are and giving them an excuse for being lazy, and this movie really demonstrates the difference.

All the characters are a lot of fun, and it’s hard to pick out just one, but I think my favorite was Fishlegs Ingerman, the lovable but brainless lout who’s memorized dragon guide front to back and quotes it like a nerd quoting D&D’s Monster Manual.  The characterization is so perfect it brought me back to my Game Club days and warmed the cockles of my natural D20s.

How to Train Your Dragon is going to draw two obvious comparisons, the first to Shrek and the next to Avatar.  HTYD, like Shrek is a Dreamworks film with all the beautiful visuals that come with it, but that’s where the comparison stops.  The Shrek films rely on pop culture references to generate its humour, while  HTYD does not.  All the humour is character driven without relying sly self referential gags.  As a result, it’s going to age far better than Shrek and will stay much more relevant.

Comparing Avatar to How to Train Your Dragon is actually painful.  HTYD is everything that I hoped Avatar would be.  Both movies tread familiar ground in terms of narrative, but while HTYD treads an unexpected path in terms of characterization, Avatar is an amalgam of all the same old tired tropes that we’ve seen hundreds of times before. In terms of the aerobatics, Saunders and DeBlois completely school Cameron in how to shoot a flying scene. Both films featured heart stopping aerobatics, but HTYD infused the experience with so much joy and energy that the superiority of these scenes over the ones in Avatar cannot be denied.

Another added bonus is the score.  Written by John Powell (Kung Fu Panda, Xmen: Last Stand), the music is magical and plays such a role in transporting you to the god-forsaken rock in the middle of the ocean.  Blending Celtic influenced melodies with big orchestra themes make it a must have for my music collection.  It is big, it is dramatic and I haven’t been this enthusiastic about a movie soundtrack since Howard Shore did the music for Lord of the Rings. It is fantastic and well worth a listen.

How to Train Your Dragon is simply great.  It’s so good that I’m actually considering buying a 3D television just so that I can experience it all over again at home.  I’d recommend it for kids 5 and up.  The two girls were fine with it, but the Big Bad at the end could be a little overwhelming for a younger child.  I’m not sure that The Goob, at four could have handled it.  If you are going to take little ones, I would suggest the normal version over the 3D simply because it might be a little overwhelming.