Iron Man

Iron Man was the superhero movie we were all waiting for, we just didn’t know it; discovering the missing ingredient from all those that came before it – comedy. Though many that came before it weren’t overly serious, dark or gritty, they still took themselves too seriously, but Iron Man ensures a thick vein of comedy runs right the way through it. Released over 2 months before the masked behemoth and current comic book movie touchstone The Dark Knight, Iron Mancame out of nowhere with an untested star and middling director in Robert Downy Jr, and Jon Favreau. RDJ was still making his comeback after years of exile from Hollywood due to substance abuse, and Favreau’s most mainstream work was Christmas classic Elf, but he wasn’t exactly known for blockbusters, but after the movie’s release both found themselves sitting pretty on the A list.
Stark is such a great creation. By his own admission a “genius billionaire playboy philanthropist,” yet Downey Jr. somehow makes such a character not only likable, but one you’d willingly like to go for a drink with, and not just because he’d not only pick up the tab, but probably already owns the bar. He ably assisted by Gwyneth Paltrow and Terrence Howard as his dependable assistant and best friend, and Jeff Bridges is on fine menacing-brow villain mode as Obediah Stane, the business partner of Stark’s deceased father.
Iron Man has an advantage over other superhero stories in that Stark’s story is actually interesting. A twist of fate doesn’t have him bitten by a spider, he isn’t an alien from a distant planet and he isn’t avenging his parent’s death. No, Stark had all of his superpowers before the film even starts. Wealth, intelligence, a sharp with and an immaculate goatee are goals he’s worked towards and achieved; he just needed the push to fit them all together in the form of a titanium-gold alloy flying suit with a rocket launcher and flamethrower, and what greater motivation than a terrorist attack against him, using the very weapons his company created? This means that the villains are also people every can be against – terrorists and the evil corporation heads who supply them.
The best scenes involve the subtle yet inspired gadgetry around Stark’s house, from the Paul Bettany-voiced quasi-butler Jarvis, to the robotic arms that are a little over zealous with the fire extinguisher. The flawless suiting up sequences and Downey Jr. interacting with nothing but a mechanical three clawed appendage aren’t too showy, yet set the film above its rivals.
The only possibly problems are that Howard’s Officer Rhodes is bland, but then who wouldn’t be compared to Stark, and the Stane-is-a-villain story arc is clearly signposted from the get-go, having been given the perfect set-up as the man who took on Stark Industries when it’s CEO passed away, only to be muscled out by some upstart genius, that and his full head with a thick, lustrous beard mean at some point in the near future he’ll be laughing with maniacal glee and threatening the hero’s love interest. Now that the Avengers (sorry, Avengers Assemble) is in place, this film does seem like a bit of a precursor to it, especially the scenes involving Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson, which don’t really add anything here other than some fanboy cheers every time someone says Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division, but the scenes don’t detract too much, and can be forgiven as they tie everything up nicely.
Otherwise, the film is pretty much perfect, and remains enjoyable after many viewings.
Choose film 8/10
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The Big Lebowski

I’ve made the point before that the list contains films of three varieties; great, popular and important. The greats arrive via the Empire 5-star 500 list, the popular from the two lists voted by the general public, and the important ones are provided by the 1001 Films to See Before You Die. Many films, though arguably important, aren’t actually very good, so one could argue that they should be remembered and acknowledged for their gifts to cinema, but not necessarily watched, as was the case with the Jazz Singer, marking the introduction of spoken dialogue to the big screen, which nowadays is dull, racist and features too many unnecessary songs. The Big Lebowski, on the other hand, is also an important film, spawning a cult following so vast there is a fan club (the Little Lebowski Urban Achievers), several books and an annual festival (creatively named Lebowski-Fest, I hope to attend one day). And yet, it does not appear among the important list, appearing here after being awarded a 5-star review and obtaining positions on both nominated lists. This is less a crime and more a cultural injustice, as the impact this film has had on society is measurable from space. Hell, they even played clips of it recently on Something for the Weekend.

So just what is it that resonates so much with the public? Maybe it’s the snappy, endlessly quotable dialogue (“Obviously you’re not a golfer), particularly everything said in the bowling alley. Or perhaps it’s the borderline caricature roster of characters on display, from John Turtorro’s lilac-hued pederast Jesus (whom nobody fucks with) to Julianne Moore’s naked yet cultured Pollock-esque artist Maud and of course John Goodman’s psychotic ‘Nam vet Walter. It’s probably got something to do with the extremely crowded plot that bears little effect upon the characters it happens to. But mainly, it has to be Jeff Bridges turn as The Dude, a man shambling and smoking his way through life, following the flow it leads him on via nihilists, urinating Chinamen, porn moguls and private detectives. That, and it’s the first great film to feature a pot-smoking lead since Cheech and Chong, and one must conclude that many of those attending Lebowski-Fest, drinking white Russians in their dressing gowns and sunglasses have similar feeling towards the weed as his Dudeness.


Me? I love it because it’s a quintessential Coen Brothers movie. It features everything you need to make a great film – a twisting plot, stellar cast (I haven’t even mentioned Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tara Reid, Sam Elliot, David Thewlis, Aimee Mann or the Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Flea), terrific performances all round and a cracking soundtrack. The film introduced me to my cocktail of choice – Vodka, Kahlua and milk, easy on the Kahlua and heavy on the ice – and every time I watch it I either see something new or am reminded of a moment of pure gold I’d previously forgotten.
Choose film 9/10

True Grit (2010)

I’m a massive Coen brothers fan. I’ve got all their films, a couple of posters, and eagerly await any and all of their new releases, as in a perfect world all films would be directed by the Coens. After the release of Burn After Reading on DVD I even completed a 23 hour marathon of all their films in a single day, and man that was a good day.
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