All posts by James Humphreys

Iron Man 3 – Review

 

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Another summer, another Marvel blockbuster.  Marvel has been on a roll lately with their franchise characters.  Now under the big Disney tent, the publisher is able to benefit from a large studio backing, as well as a high-profile marketing campaign.  This worked spectacularly well with The Avengers, a record shattering blockbuster that not only reached a diverse audience, but was also pleasing to the fans of the comics who hold these superheros in high regard.  The Avengers was also the culmination of a multi-film strategy to build a franchise around characters who exist within the same universe, apart from their own respective movies.  This was know as the “Avengers Initiative” Phase 1, which kicked off with the first Iron Man (2008), and continued on through films like Thor (2011) and Captain America (2011).  Each film did the job of establishing each character’s own story lines, while at the same time, alluding to their eventual team-up in The Avengers.   But now that the first Avengers has come and gone, Marvel is gearing up Phase 2, which will lead to the eventual sequel to last year’s film, and once again, Iron Man is the one who’ll set things in motion.  Is it a worthy successor to what’s come before, or does it collapse underneath it’s high expectations?  Unfortunately it’s a little more of the latter.
Iron Man 3 takes place post-Avengers, rather than following up the plot of Iron Man 2, so this might cause some confusion for those who haven’t seen The Avengers; which I’m sure is very few.  Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) deals in this film with some of the post traumatic anxiety that he developed after his near death experience in The Avengers, as well as the current threat he faces when a new terrorist threat named The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) shows up.  The Mandarin sets off a bomb in Hollywood, leaving Tony’s chauffeur and friend Happy Hogan (former Iron Man director Jon Favreau) in a coma.  This leads to Tony making a personal threat towards the terrorist, who then goes after Mr. Stark and destroys his home, while Tony and his assistant/lover (Gwyneth Paltrow) are still in there.  Tony looses almost all of his armor, and escapes with only what he’s got on his back.
The rest of the film involves Tony tracking down The Mandarin’s base of operations, where he finds the group experimenting in a new scientific breakthrough called Extremis, which makes its human subjects gain healing powers that turn them invincible, as well as super heat-conductive.  The scientist behind the Extremis procedure, Dr. Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) is creating an army for the Mandarin with the intent of attacking the president and taking over the government.  As Tony delves deeper into the mystery, he discovers that there is more to the proceedings than meets the eye, and that he’ll have to rely on his intelligence even more than his metal suit in order to survive.
One thing that I did like in this film overall was Robert Downey Jr.’s performance.  The guy is Tony Stark.  Nobody owns a character like he does, and he doesn’t disappoint here.  There are plenty of one-liners that will have everyone chuckling in the theaters; including probably the best A Christmas Story reference ever.  He also works well with his co-stars in the movie, particularly with Paltrow and Don Cheadle (as the Iron Patriot).  One other thing that makes Downey’s performance so good is how he deals with the addition of a child sidekick in the movie.  In the middle of the film, Tony Stark has to rely upon the help of a pre-teen boy mechanic to get back on his feet.  Adding a child character is usually the kiss of death for an action movie like this, as it could turn the film cute and sentimental, but here it’s handled well with clever writing and unsentimental performances.  It’s to Downey’s credit that he can make something like that work, and his best lines in the movie comes from his interactions with the kid.
The main problem that I had with this movie is the fact that it lacks the kind of focus that the other Iron Man films have had.  Iron Man 3 suffers from the same problem found in Spiderman 3.  In that film, the filmmakers tried to please too many of the audience’s expectations by cramming things together into one movie that don’t belong together at all, and would’ve worked better if given separate narratives.  In Spiderman 3, we were promised the inclusion of fan favorite villain Venom, only to see his inclusion shuffled to the final 20 minutes, with a watered-down and corny characterization that just ruined the character.  In Iron Man 3, the film does better at mixing it’s elements together, but it’s still awkward and disappointing.
First of all, the thing that disappointed me the most and will probably anger a lot of fans as well is how the Mandarin is used in the movie.  I haven’t read the comics, but I’ve come to understand that overall, The Mandarin is Iron Man’s arch-nemesis; much like what Lex Luthor is to Superman.  In the early scenes, Sir Ben Kingsley does an effective job of portraying the Mandarin as a sadistic, Bin Laden-esque super-terrorist; playing the role both menacingly and with charisma.  I was hoping to see what would happen once the hero would meet his ultimate foe later in the film; and then the movie suddenly throws a twist at us that changes everything.  I’m not going to spoil what happens, but suffice to say this is where audiences are going to break apart on this film.   The audience I was with had that kind of reaction; half enjoyed the change and loved Sir Ben’s performance, while the other half started hanging their heads low and tried not to watch.  For me, it took a character with a lot of potential and ruined it in almost an instant.  I don’t blame the actor so much as the writer/director Shane Black, who seemed to want to shake things up when he didn’t really need to, and the result unfortunately messed up what was starting to be a good thing.
The other problem I had was the use of the Extremis plot in the film.  This is another element from the comics that they wanted to bring to the screen, but it just doesn’t feel like it fits as well as it should have.  For one thing, we the audience are supposed to eat up a lot of information on what Extremis is, which the movie doesn’t really give us a chance to.  Exposition is dumped pretty clumsily, as if director Black got bored with it while writing it into a scene.  We get a basic understanding of what Extremis does, but the science behind it remains fuzzy, which makes it feel more like a plot gimmick rather than an actual threat to the characters.  By the end, I didn’t know whether or not any of the Extremis-enhanced characters were vulnerable, or could be killed, which made the climax a little confusing.  Again, this could have been done better if they had devoted an entire film’s plot to the Extremis storyline, and not try to combine it awkwardly with the Mandarin storyline.
To me it seemed like the filmmakers wanted to have their cake and eat it too.  But the cake is only sweet if the ingredients are mixed well together.  Unfortunately, Iron Man 3 undelivered on what it promised and that’s a shame.  I like Shane Black’s work; from the Lethal Weapon scripts to his first film Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005).  But unfortunately, I can only see this film as a missed opportunity, especially when it comes to The Mandarin; a character who could have become one of the all time great villains if given the focus he needed.  That being said, Iron Man 3 is not a complete failure; just a disappointment.  I did like Robert Downey Jr., as well as a lot of the clever and funny dialogue.  Some of the action scenes are also very well executed, like when Iron Man has to save a bunch of people falling out of the sky from a crippled airplane.  I’m sure that many people are going to like the movie regardless of my reservations, and I’ll say that watching Robert Downey in his element is worth the price of admission.  I just wish this film could have delivered better on what it promised and didn’t try to be too many things all at once.  The other Iron Man films managed to do that, as well as The Avengers.  I just hope that “Avengers” Phase 2 is able to pick up from its shaky start.
Rating: 6/10

The Movies of Summer 2013

 

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For those of us who love going to the movies, Summer begins in early May and not mid-June.  The first week of May has become the big start off point for big summer releases over the last few years.  Before it was Memorial Day weekend, but because of some major releases like Spiderman, Iron Man and last year’s record breaking Avengers, we’ve seen that it doesn’t hurt to get a head start on the summer season.  I always like this time of year, mainly because going to a movie starts to become an event rather than just a night out.  This is when the studios release the films that we wait years to see and sometimes even longer.  The rise and fall of some of these behemoths also become fascinating stories on their own.  Last year, we saw the assembling of Marvel’s finest; a welcome return to sci-fi for Ridley Scott; Batman and Bane dueling it out; the everyday life of a foul-mouthed teddy bear; and also proof that a movie based on a board game will be a massive failure.
The summer of 2013 looks to be a very different animal, featuring a surprising amount of new franchises, though there are still plenty of sequels to be found.  Today, I would like to share my outlook on this summer with all of you and tell you which movies I am most looking forward to, the ones I’m concerned about, and also the one’s I’m likely to skip because I know they will suck.
Must Sees:

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (MAY 17)




This is the movie that I am most looking forward to this summer, and I’m not even a Trekkie.  My enthusiasm for this sequel is entirely based on my appreciation of the previous installment in the series.  J.J. Abrams Star Trek (2009) was a perfect example of how to do a summer blockbuster right; by putting emphasis on the characters and story, rather than the special effects.  Abrams himself is not a Trekkie and he said that he wanted to make a Star Trek film that anyone could watch, while still adhering to what made the franchise work in the first place.  My hope is that this sequel delivers on what the first promised, and prove that it wasn’t just a lucky fluke four years ago.  The trailer gives me a lot of hope, mainly because of the emphasis it places on the new villain, played by rising star Benedict Cumberbatch.  I hope that his performance lives up to what we see in the trailer, because he already looks terrifying.  Hopefully J.J. Abrams leaves the series on a high note and delivers yet another solid Trek film behind before he travels off to that other space-based franchise in a galaxy far, far away.
IRON MAN 3 ( MAY 3)




It’s obvious that I’m excited for this film, since I’ve already purchased my advance ticket before writing this.  Like many others, I enjoy the Iron Man films.  I even thoroughly enjoyed Iron Man 2 (2010), even though a lot of people didn’t.  This entry has the distinction of being the first directed by someone other than Jon Favreau.  Marvel couldn’t have found a better person to fill the director’s chair than Shane Black; best known for writing the Lethal Weapon films.  Mr. Black has also worked with star Robert Downey, Jr. before.  Check out the movie Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005) to see the kind of sweet music these two are capable of doing together.  I’m also excited to see what Sir Ben Kingsley manages to do in the role of Iron Man’s arch-nemesis, The Mandarin.  All in all, it looks like a lot of fun, which is what an Iron Man film should be.
THE LONE RANGER (July 3)




This film may turn off some people; some may think it’s an overstuffed Western, while others may think it’s Pirates of the Caribbean in the wild west.  Sure, director Gore Verbinski may be drawing upon some familiar tricks here that he used in the Pirates films, including having Johnny Depp on board.  It could be just the excellent marketing, but I think that this may end up being a great action film in the end.  Depp’s casting as Tonto is an odd one, but I think he brings enough creativity and humor to the role to where it will avoid feeling mundane or worse, offensive.  Also, Social Network’s Armie Hammer looks right for the part of the Lone Ranger himself, and it could be a good star-making part for him.  In addition, the cast is made up of some great actors like Helena Bonham Carter, William Ficthner, Barry Pepper, and Tom Wilkinson; all chewing up the scenery in a good way.  We’ll know whether or not it works when it releases in July, but I’m willing to give it a shot.
THIS IS THE END ( JUNE 12) & THE WORLD’S END ( AUGUST 23)




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This summer bring us not one, but two comedies set around the apocalypse.  The first one comes from Seth Rogen and the rest of the usual Judd Apatow stable.  For the most part, I haven’t been impressed by much the comedic work these actors have done in recent years, so I’m quite surprised as to why I’m excited to see this movie.  I think it’s because of the unique gimmick of having these guys play themselves instead of characters, which opens up a lot of comedic possibilities.  Danny McBride looks especially hilarious as he picks apart each of his co-stars.  Also, the trailer gets points for the line, “Hermione just stole all our shit.”  Later in the summer, we also get another apocalyptic comedy in The World’s End, the long awaited follow-up from the team that brought us Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007).  Both are classic comedies, so hopefully Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost are able to deliver a third time around.  Another plus is the inclusion of The Hobbit’s Martin Freeman.  Less is known about the plot of this movie, so I’m eagerly awaiting the trailer once its out.
Movies that Have Me Worried:

MAN OF STEEL ( JUNE 14 )




Maybe it’s because I’m more of a Batman fan or maybe it’s because I hated the previous Superman film, but so far I haven’t been moved by anything I’ve seen from this upcoming film.  I hope that Zack Snyder is able to breath new life into this franchise, but even he’s a question mark, given how bad Sucker Punch (2011) was.  The trailer seems too somber for my taste, which makes me worried that the film is going to be too ponderous and self-important for it’s own good.  Russell Crowe looks like a pale imitation of Brando’s Jor-El and Henry Cavill doesn’t look right as son of Krypton in my opinion.  Again, it could just be the marketing and my own biases, but so far I’m not as enthused for this film as it seems everyone else is.  I could be wrong, and I hope I am.  That being said, I do think Michael Shannon looks awesome as General Zod.
PACIFIC RIM (JULY 12) & ELYSIUM (AUGUST 9)




High concept science fiction films are often hard to get right.  You usually have to spend several minutes of the movie’s running time just to set up the world that the story takes place in, and that can drag down the whole thing if done poorly.  Here we have two movies from acclaimed directors that are trying to do new things in the sci-fi genre, and it mainly involves a lot of CGI trickery to tell the story.  I do have a lot of faith in Guillermo del Toro, who has an incredible visual style.  With Pacific Rim, he’s working with his biggest budget to date, which means the pressure to deliver is even bigger.  I’m interested in seeing what he does with the material, but so far I can’t help but see this as nothing more than a darker version of Power Rangers, based on the trailer.  That could be a big misreading, but it’s what came to my mind.  Likewise, Neill Blomkamp is going bigger with his sophomore film Elysium.  The visuals are amazing, but the trailer left me a little cold.  Possibly because it sticks so stylistically close to the director’s first film, District 9.  I’m hoping that Neill Blomkamp isn’t a one trick pony and is able to do some great things in his second effort, but there’s a lot more I need to see before I’m convinced.
MONSTERS UNIVERSITY (JUNE 21)




It’s hard to make a sequel work 12 years after the original, but Pixar has done it before.  However, Monsters Inc. is no Toy Story.  Also, Pixar seems to be loosing some of it’s footing lately in the animation world after a couple of underwhelming entries: Cars 2 (2011) and Brave (2012).  So, I’m a little apprehensive about this new film, despite the fact that I think it has one of the more clever ad campaigns in recent memory.  Monsters Inc. was a wonderfully told and self-contained story on its own.  A sequel would’ve made sense, so it’s surprising that the filmmakers chose to go backwards and do a prequel instead.  My hope is that Monsters University is able to reclaim some of that missing Pixar magic, but that’s a tall order that I’m not sure it can pull off.
Movies To Skip:
WORLD WAR Z ( JUNE 21)

More than any other movie this summer, this one has “dog” written all over it.  I haven’t read the book it’s based on, but from talking to people who have, they say the movie is nothing close to what they’ve read.  Apparently the book World War Z is told through vignettes, depicting a zombie infestation from many different points of view.  In this film, it appears that this idea was dropped in favor of making the whole thing a starring vehicle for Brad Pitt.  The movie is already being plagued by bad buzz and unfavorable press due to rumors of numerous re-shoots.  To me, the whole thing looks like a promising project that got watered down by studio interference and the resulting film is what I think will be the big flop of the summer.  Funny how we’re now looking to TV shows like Walking Dead and Game of Thrones to see zombies done right.
THE INTERNSHIP (JUNE 7)
 
Once upon a time, Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson were comedy’s golden boys after their smashing success with Wedding Crashers (2005).  Unfortunately the two actors have put out some duds in the years since, especially in Vince’s case.  Need I bring up The Dilemma (2011).
Now the two of them have reunited in what unfortunately looks like a 100 minute commercial for Google.  It’s shameful and disappointing.  I want to see something original, and not a shallow example of blatant product placement in place of comedy.
AFTER EARTH (MAY 31)
 
I was once a believer in M. Night Shaymalan a long time ago.  I still see the film Unbreakable (2000) as a minor masterpiece.  But after being disappointed time and time again, I’ve lost all faith in the director.  His latest, After Earth, looks like more of the same melancholy and self-indulgent BS that we’ve been getting from M. Night for the last decade.  I’ve given up on the once promising filmmaker and I’ll probably pass this one up as well.  It doesn’t even look entertainingly bad like The Happening was.  Also, a word to Will Smith; stop pushing your untalented kids on all of us.  We know you love your son.  It doesn’t make the movies any better.
Well, those are some of my thoughts on this summer’s big releases.  There are many others coming as well, but these were the ones that were on my mind.  In the months ahead, I plan on reviewing a few.  Hopefully there are more surprises than disappointments.  That’s all for now.  Time to ramble off.

Little Troublemakers – Why the controversy around Django Unchained was unnecessary.

 

django unchained
Last week I purchased what I thought was the best overall film of 2012 on blu-ray; Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.  Watching it all over again, I couldn’t help but revel in the way that Mr. Tarantino was able to put his own spin on the Western genre, with vivid characterizations and instantly quotable lines of dialogue that you will only find in his body of work.  Anyone who hasn’t checked this movie out yet should do so, because it has to be seen to be believed.  But one inescapable thing that you will encounter in this movie is the near constant usage of a very derogatory word: nigger.  I’m not going to sugarcoat it here and refer to it as the “n-word”, because it defeats the purpose of my argument in this post, which is the importance of free speech in film-making.  It is a hateful word, no argument there, and I usually am disgusted when I hear it used so casually in popular culture; but Django Unchained is a different case.  I believe that the controversy that surrounded Django’s release, with regard to it’s use of the word nigger, represented an unnecessary condemnation of an otherwise thought-provoking film and only highlighted some of the hypocrisies that are apparent in the media.
One of the first things that you will see made obvious upon watching Django is that it not meant to be a serious examination of slavery.  It does represent the Antebellum South as a horrific place and time, with sometimes hard to watch cruelty towards African-American slaves depicted on screen.  But to say that Tarantino’s movie was trying to deal with history seriously is clearly missing the point.  The film makes it’s farcical tone apparent right from the get go, once we see the bouncing tooth on top of the wagon belonging to Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz).  From that point on, it is clear what kind of movie Tarantino is making.  And by the time you reach the “baghead” scene, you’ll not only be invested, you’ll be laughing your ass off.
But somehow it’s the use of a single word that got people upset, and that was before the movie was even released.  Director Spike Lee, a filmmaker that I do respect, commented in VIBE magazine that, “I can’t speak on it ’cause I’m not gonna see it.  The only thing I can say is it’s disrespectful to my ancestors, to see that film.” (December 12, 2012)  Now I can’t fault Spike Lee for taking a strong position on the use of the word nigger.  It obviously affects him a lot more than it does me.  But what bothered me about what he said is that he called the film “disrespectful,” after clearly stating that he wasn’t going to see it.  I think it’s hypocritical to condemn a film publicly that you haven’t seen personally.  Mr. Lee isn’t new to making ill-informed judgments about other people’s work; he’s condemned Tarantino before for using the word in Jackie Brown (1997) as well.  It’s unfortunate for a person as talented as Spike Lee to take such a low blow towards something he hasn’t watched.  If he put aside some of his own pride and take in the film objectively, he might have come away with a different perspective.
It goes to a much larger issue that I have with the media in general; the way we easily condemn people over the use of language, without understanding the context.  Tarantino wrote the word nigger into his script mainly to represent the way people spoke in the Antebellum South, and not to be shocking or crude.  There’s a context for it to be there.  It’s highlighting the hurtful nature of the word and the way it demonizes a whole group of people.  But at the same time it’s also highlighting the barbarity of the whites who use it so casually.  Much in the same way that Blazing Saddles (1974) dealt with the word nigger, Django walks that fine line between humor and harsh reality.  This movie plays with people’s emotions like a grand piano, and Tarantino is a pro at it.  He’s often stated that he deliberately plays with people’s sensibilities as he builds his scenes.  A typical Taratino scene can often be described like this: Laugh, laugh again, keep laughing, now stop laughing, disturbed, horrified, really horrified, now laugh again.  But unfortunately Django exists in a more sensitive time, where people will now hold you accountable for what you say, even when it’s in jest.  There are several examples now where comics, of all people, are getting in trouble for things they have said in their acts.  Whether it’s Louis C.K. getting in trouble for his jokes about AIDS, or Ricky Gervais getting slammed over a rape joke, there’s a disturbing trend of people being punished for things they say, without anyone looking at the context.
But, thankfully, Django Unchained weathered the storm of controversy.  It earned $168 million at the box office, the most for any Tarantino film; it was almost universally praised by film critics; and it won two Oscars, including Best Screenplay for Mr. Tarantino.  The film’s controversy died out fast, thanks partially from the support of the film’s African-American stars Jamie Foxx (Django) and Samuel L. Jackson (Stephen), and mainly because most of the audiences got what the movie was about.  It’s a love letter, not just to the Spaghetti Westerns that Taratino grew up with, but also to the blaxploitation films of the ’70’s that addressed issues of race, but with a clear mocking style that subverted the norms of the period.  There were many blaxploitation Westerns too that Tarantino had to have been inspired by, like The Legend of Nigger Charly (1972) and Boss Nigger (1975).  And yes, those movies were released with those titles.  There’s a trailer below if you don’t believe me.  Personally, I’m happy that Taratino won out in the end.  There’s no word yet on whether Spike Lee has seen the movie by now.  Hopefully he will someday.  I certainly loved it and I hope it will be considered a classic in the years to come.
Well, this was my first official blog post.  Sorry I took on such a harsh subject the first time around, but it’s what’s been on my mind this past week.  Next week I plan to give all my readers something more upbeat to look at, as I give thoughts on the upcoming movies of the Summer of 2013.  Until next week, it’s time for me to Ramble off.
“MY NAME IS DJANGO.  THAT’S D-J-A-N-G-O.  THE “D” IS SILENT.” – Django (Jamie Foxx)

Welcome to CineRamble.com, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Movie Blog

Hello Everyone.  My name is James Humphreys.  I am the author and creator of this humble blog.  It may look amateurish now, but this is my first foray into internet literature, so I hope to get better as time goes along.  In any case, this will the first post that I’ll ever write on this site, so I better make it count.  (Sits alone at the computer)…………(time passes)………. Is it time for work already?  Shoot.  That was a waste of time.
Okay, seriously, I do have a plan for what I’m going to write here at CineRamble.com.  In case it’s not obvious already from the title and picture I put up, this will be a blog about movies.  I’m very opinionated when it comes to films and filmmaking, and I enjoy sharing my thoughts with anyone; friends, family, and sometimes just the person I’m sitting next to in the movie theater.  Yeah I’m that guy.  I always try to stay informed and keep up with all the current trends in the media, as hard as that sometimes can be, and I always try to keep an open-mind and look for new and exciting things that are developing in Hollywood.  Until now, I’ve had a lot of things to say, but no place to say it, hence my decision to start a blog.
My mission on this site is to present my views on a variety of subjects within the movie realm, through an entertaining and often informative personal perspective.  My posts will mostly be opinion pieces, where I will share my own two cents on what’s currently happening.  But, I also plan on writing movie reviews for this site, both for current releases and movies already out on video.  I will also write reports about my experiences in the film world itself.  I live in Los Angeles, just over the hill from Hollywood itself, so there are plenty of potential things for me to report on, such as special screenings, premieres, or exhibitions at the local museums.  I also plan on doing top ten lists and retrospectives for this site; whatever I think would be worth writing about, I will bring it here.
In any case, I’m not looking for agreement on everything I say on this blog; in fact, if you disagree with me on something, I welcome it.  I’m always looking to inspire discussions about movies everywhere I go and I hope that this website is able to do the same.  If I can inspire a passionate rebuke that is able to change my perspective on things, it will be incredibly worthwhile.  My hope is that I can bring people’s attention to movies and ideas that have sometimes fallen through the cracks, and help shed new light on them.  I welcome feedback, because frankly, I’ll need it if I am ever going to get the hang of this.
So, having said all this, I’m going to formally welcome everyone to CineRamble.com and I look forward to actually getting this thing off the ground.  Expect my first official post in the next week, or so.  Hopefully it expands from here into something special.  So, it’s time to take that first step down this rabbit hole and see where it goes. “LOOK, MEIN VIEWERS, I CAN WALK.”