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

A Christmas Story

I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts recently. A friend of mine turned me onto the Adam Carolla Show, essentially a man complaining about rich white guy problems on a daily basis, but with great guests and an excellent sense of humour. From this, I’ve branched out to several others, some film related, of which I can recommend Doug Loves Movies, the Film Vault and How Did This Get Made. A regular guest on the Adam Carolla Show is Larry Miller, whose distinctly bald head you may recall from Pretty Woman, 10 Things I Hate About You, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and about a million other films you’ve seen and gone “Hey, it’s that guy. He’s funny” and then promptly forgotten all about. He has his own podcast, This Week with Larry Miller, in which he, in a very good natured, old fashioned and entertaining way, tells tales of his life in LA, diverting constantly on such subjects as Kim Kardashian, hotdogs and anything else he may have thought of that week. Since I’ve started listening, he has mentioned rather frequently a little film called A Christmas Story. If, like myself, you live on the more cultured side of the Atlantic, chances are you’ve never heard of this film, yet across the pond in the States it seems to be something of a festive phenomenon, its viewing a mandatory tradition for all families involving children or anyone who’s been one, so had it not been on the List I’m sure I would still have sought it out, if only to see what all the fuss is about.
It turns out that this is another of those cases where the event in question has been so over-inflated in my mind before taking place that it just couldn’t live up to expectations. Miller’s near constant praise for the film set my sights at the sky, expecting to file it alongside It’s A Wonderful Life, Die Hard and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation as my Yuletide movie go-to, but alas I remain thoroughly disappointed.
A Christmas Story follows 9 year old Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) on his quest to receive a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, but is confounded at every turn by his parents, his teacher and a shopping mall Santa with the repeated warning that he’ll shoot his eye out. There are kid-friendly fantasy scenes where Ralphie saves his family with the aid of the gun – vanquished foes have ‘X’s drawn on their eyelids – and Ralphie and his family deal with the usual child issues – run-ins with bullies, the first swear in front of a parent, the disappointment of a toy arriving in the mail, as well as some genuinely original moments – the frozen tongue on a flagpole –  but it’s all just a bit too twee. There’s no sense of drama, no tension. Only children would understand the sense of urgency Ralphie feels at having to have that gun. Anyone older knows he wouldn’t remember it 2 months down the line, so there’s no real problem if he doesn’t get it. The ending is trite, but the narration, by an adult Ralphie, is well used and executed, but there is definitely a reason this hasn’t caught on over here in the UK.
Choose life 6/10