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Things that Go Clank in the Night
by Lucius Shepard
May 6, 2008

Not since the last Marvel comic-book movie has there been a film such as Iron Man. Not since, what, the summer of 2007? Not since the resoundingly awful Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, or was it that bloated piñata stuffed with plot devices, Spider-Man 3? No matter. Despite a budget big enough to choke Galactus (a reported $225 million), Iron Man is just another-one-of-those, a picture described as “electrifying” and “a thunderrific thrill fest” that will be remembered by the ADD generation for weeks, perhaps even for months, until Hulk 2 checks into the Cineplex and brings down the house with an earth-shattering roar above which we may hear a snatch from the movie that the dread Directoricus is making of our world, the cosmic cackling of Stan Lee (played by Hal Holbrook), latest in a long line of Marvel-type villains, once-virtuous corporate heads and scientists gone over to the dark side due to financial pressures or some inner turmoil; and perhaps we’ll even catch a glimpse of Stan, his withered body encased in science-fictional armor of suitably demonic aspect, a high-tech Satan clanking along the avenues of Middle America with a coterie of Hugo Boss-wearing imps, rendering folks so brain-dead from blasts of his Mento-Rays that, come the Apocalypse, we’ll all die happily, waiting for Superman to save us in the sequel.

Iron Man’s first hour or so is made diverting by the presence of Robert Downey playing off his image as America’s Favorite Substance Abuser. (When he gets blown up, he wears an expression similar to that he displayed in criminal court after being sentenced to the slammer—it might have been cool, an in-joke of the sort inclined to pass for wit in such films, if Iron Man’s armor had been modeled after those orange prison jumpsuits.) But thereafter the movie lapses into a by-the-numbers Biff Bam Boom affair with stale special effects.

You know, I’m tired of throwing darts at these balloons, so I’m going to bring in Darryl Schoonover to dialog about the movie. Darryl’s a twenty-something uber-nerd who hangs out down at the local comics store when he isn’t zapping whiteheads in his bathroom mirror. He lives with his mom, thinks of himself as a comics intellectual, and hasn’t had a date in two, three years, unless you consider it a date to have a high school bimbo hustle you into paying her way into Spiderman 2 and a half-hour later you’ve managed to sneak your arm over the back of her seat and let your hand dangle so it just grazes her breast, whereupon she brushes your hand away, but stays put because she wants to see how that dreamy Tobey Maguire makes out against Doc Ock.

But first, the plot.

Tony Stark is every adolescent male’s wet dream: a billionaire genius gearhead who makes cool weapons, drives cars with names that end in i, and gets babe after ungettable babe, so many of them he can’t remember them a week later. Then one day after blowing up half a mountain range while demonstrating a powerful new missile in Afghanistan, he sees US soldiers shot to pieces by Stark Industries weapons and is captured by forces led by the menacing Raza (Faran Tahir, soon to be seen in Star Trek), who directs Stark to build missiles for him in the terrorists’ underground hide-out. Stark pretends to comply, but with the aid of a fellow captive he builds instead a prototype of the Iron Man armor and crashes out, returning to the States where he’s reunited with his Lamborghinis; his aide, Pepper Pots (Gwyneth Paltrow); and his partner in crime, Obadiah Stane (a bald, bearded, and slightly porcine Jeff Bridges). This sequence, culminating with Stark donning a sexier version of the Iron Man armor and returning to Afghanistan to wreak vengeance on Raza and put on display his newly developed conscience regarding the scummy nature of his business, is admittedly entertaining—you’re carried along by a mix of snappy one-liners and action, and given no time to think. But once Stark becomes a force for good and the real villain of the piece is “revealed,” the momentum of the picture begins to dissipate.


Darryl? Your thoughts?

OK, Loosh. I see what you’re saying. Sure, the second hour is kinda lame compared to the first. The director isn’t Tim Burton or Chris Nolan. It’s Jon Bleeping Favreau, the guy who gave us Elf. ‘Nuff said. But this is an origin story, and origin stories are freaking hard to film, so you have to give Favreau some credit.

No, I don’t. For two hundred and twenty-five million he should have done better.

Seventy-five mil of that was the ad budget.

Excuse me. For a hundred-fifty million he should have done better. They could have made a hundred-and-fifty good little movies  . . .  or fifty good little movies and one bloated idiot’s delight.

Hey, this is a comic-book movie, dude! It’s no Batman Begins, but it’s no Daredevil either. Tony Stark isn’t as complicated a character as the Dark Knight, and Favreau did . . . 

You’re kidding, right? They’re the same character. Rich ass-clown grows a conscience and turns to crime-fighting. One has a sadomasochistic streak and a kink for black leather; the other has a satyr complex.

Favreau did the best he could to lay in some subtext. For instance, did you notice that all Iron Man’s fights in Afghanistan take place in broad daylight and all his fights in the USA take place at night? Huh?

Wow! That is deep. So you’re telling me Favreau was being subversive? Equating the oppressed people of Afghanistan with the Good, the Light, and the US, at least the current administration, with the Dark?

Duh!

Even if that’s true, I scarcely think one symbolic allusion qualifies as subtext.

You know what, who cares what you think? All comic-book fans care about is that stuff looks right . . .  and it did. Iron Man’s armor rocked!

You mean that haute couture take on Robocop that looked like it was designed by some Project Runway reject? It even made Robocop noises. [I affect a feminine voice.] Darling little precision whirs and clanks, with just a hint of whiney imperfection. And the amplified voice was so butch!

You just don’t get it. You should never review another comic-book movie.

I’ve often thought that myself. I say to myself, You must be missing out on some indefinable magic, some rarefied essence. I keep hoping one day I’ll discover that I’ve evolved, that I finally grasp the majesty, the sacred feng shui . . . 

You don’t even like comics, man.

Not true. I’ve read and enjoyed a lot of comics. Not so many, I admit, since I started shaving . . .  but occasionally I indulge. And I’ve enjoyed some movies based on superhero comics. The original Superman, Batman Begins, and so forth. I just don’t see the need to sink billions of dollars into crap like Ghost Rider and Electra and like that. Most of them should be rated MC.

MC?

Mentally Challenged.

Your problem is, you don’t have any kid in you. You can’t sit back and have a good time at the movies.

Not when the movies suck . . .  no.

That’s your opinion.

Yeah, that’s right. It’s my opinion. It’s your opinion I’m unclear about . . . unless “Iron Man’s armor rocked’ is the sum of it. Is there anything else you liked about the move? Apart from the first hour, I mean.

Pepper Potts.

God, all she did was say lines like, “Hello.” “Good-bye.” “Do you want a muffin?”

What do you want? For her to deliver a speech on ethics? It’s obvious she has a thing for Stark, but frowns on his warmongering. Because of that and his womanizing, she doesn’t trust him. Paltrow did a good job of conveying that non-verbally. And she looked great. Jeff Bridges was a great bad guy!

Careful, Darryl. You’re verging on a spoiler. Though it’s debatable whether you can spoil something of Iron Man’s quality.

Okay. Jeff Bridges was good, too. It was a faithful adaptation. Everything I wanted in a comic-book movie.

So you had no quibbles with it.

Sure I did. Like when Stark gets back to the States, the first thing he wants is a cheeseburger, so they stop off at Burger King and grab a sack of Whoppers. When I saw that I went, Burger King? If this guy needs a cheeseburger fix, he’s going to hit a Carl’s Junior. Get one of those six-dollar jobs. Maybe with Portobello mushrooms. But there’s people who think Burger King was the way to go—it lends Stark an All American Guy patina and makes his character more palatable. (A pause.) What’s the matter?

I was thinking about all the people who’re going to watch this thing two or three times and buy the DVD and stare longingly at the cover image while fondling their genitals. It’s really disturbing. You know what else is disturbing? Hollywood green-lighted a whole fresh batch of comic-book movies after Iron Man’s massive opening weekend. Now we’re going to get films like Antman and Thor. I bet they’ll be good, huh? It’s never going to end.

There’s a reason for that. People love these movies because they illuminate the myths of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Oh, please! They aren’t myths. They’re wish-fulfillment fantasies for fourteen-year-olds . . .  and primitively mounted ones at that. Then again, maybe you’re right. It’s a desperate age we live in, with a devalued intellectual currency. Maybe these are all the myths we’ve got . . .  or the only myth, because they all tell the same basic story and have the same underlying purpose, to make the real world go away.

There’s another reason why people go to these movies. They go for the same reason they go to Fry’s (a chain of immense electronics stores in the NW), to check out state-of-the-art gear.

You mean it’s a consumerist fetish?

Yeah . . .  sorta. If you want to put a negative spin on it. Back in the Middle Ages they had the Sistine Chapel and stuff. Now we have these two-hundred-million-dollar movies that . . . 

Gee, look at the time. I gotta run, Darryl. I need to decompress after all this heady talk.

Asshole!

Cretin!

Hey, Loosh! You going to The Hulk?

I hope not, but probably. I’m interested in seeing how far Tim Roth is willing to debase himself.

Can you get me into the screening?

I’ll pick you up.


REMAKE CORNER


Due this fall is a film entitled Quarantine, the remake of a Spanish movie called [Rec], yet another picture shot with a hand-held camera, directed by Jaime Balagueros. It’s an intense, exceptionally frightening movie that few will see. Both an American release of [Rec] and the Spanish DVD have been suppressed in order that attention be focused on the inferior (judging by the trailer) remake.

The premise is this: A young TV reporter, Angela (Manuela Velasco), is spending a night at a fire station, when a call comes in. She and her cameraman talk the firefighters into taking them along. When they arrive at the building from which the call was phoned in, they enter and soon find themselves (along with the entire building) sealed off from the outside world by sheets of thick plastic and a police guard who have been given orders to shoot anyone who tries to escape.

I’m not going to tell you a lot about this picture for fear of giving too much away, but I will say that thanks a good script, to Velasco’s excellent performance as a reporter who does fluff pieces and is in over her head, and to deft direction, this is a must-see for all horror fans. It features the most-realistic and least disorienting use of the hand-held technique, a fact that becomes evident when the cameraman sets his camera down to assist a person who’s been injured and, apparently inadvertently, captures another intriguing moment. [Rec] can be watched via torrent and, though it’s not as effective on a computer as on a regulation movie screen, it’s nonetheless capable of generating an atmosphere of terror.