Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Iron man was one of the first comics I ever collected. I was only allowed to collect three at a time and along with Alpha Flight (Canadian superhero team!) and Transformers, Tony Stark always found a place in my collection. I loved the adventure aspect to the stories that had a dash of esponiage to them as well. As a James Bond fan, Stark always came across to me as essentially the same guy but with a ridiculously cool set of armour.

I started collecting Iron Man with issue 195, which takes place right before the huge Iron Man 200 which saw Tony get new armour and his battle with Ironmonger on which the first Iron Man movie was based. It's been a while since I have read Iron Man in comic form though. If I remember right my discerning tastes saw the art going downhill and I jumped ship. I have looked in on Tony from time to time but never as intensely as I did as a kid.

For me, the Iron Man movies are intensely nostalgic. As a kid I fantasized about how amazing an X-Men movie would be, or a Spider-Man movie, or an IRON MAN MOVIE! I was excited when I heard production was moving forward on the first one. When Jon Favreau came on board as director I was really stoked because he is a character driven director first which tells me the powers that be are taking the movie seriously and then they cast Robert Downey Jr. and my head nearly exploded. In my mind there has never been a more perfect actor for a part than this. Robert Downey Jr. has the right attitude and in real life, much like Stark, treads on the edge of addiction with a sense of arrogance and narcissism that somehow makes him charming and irresistible at the same time. To top it off Jeff Bridges was playing the bad guy! My suspicions were correct as Iron Man arrived in theatres and I loved every minute of it. I saw it twice the first week of release (which is rare for me). They captured the character perfectly, the origin story was bang on and surprisingly close to the original (in the comic he was in Korea which was a hotbed when then comic was created as opposed to Afghanistan where he was in the film), and the action was amazing. I wasn't a huge fan of the armour design, but hey it could have been worse. The icing on the cake was the scene at the end of the credits in which we meet Nick Fury and realize that something much bigger might be going on here.

Then came Iron Man 2. Not surprising considering how crazy popular the first one was (can I say its nice to know that I am not alone in my geek love for Tony Stark?) and I am glad to say I enjoyed this one even more. The biggest reason is that this one feels like it is taking place in a bigger comic universe. There are a ton of references to other characters (don't worry, you don't have to know them all to enjoy the movie) like Captain America's shield, and another one that is a cool surprise at the end of the credits. New concepts are introduced like the War Machine armour worn by Rhodes (played well by Terrence Howard in the first one, and better by Don Cheadle in the second) and Justin Hammer, a rival arms dealer. Additionally the trademark suitcase armour that is so loved from the comics makes an AWESOME appearance in the movie.

There was one thing that confused the heck out of me when I was reading about the development of Iron Man 2. Whiplash. Whiplash sucks. He has always sucked. In the comic he is one of the weakest villains in Iron Man's respectable rogues gallery (he is one of the few in the Marvel Comics Universe who can claim a good rogues gallery). I HATE Whiplash. When I heard he was going to be the bad guy in the next movie I would have spewed milk out my nose had I been drinking it at the time. Then they cast Mickey Rourke. The comeback king who must have gotten a best agent in Hollywood based on how the guy's career has suddenly come to life. He was absolutely amazing in the Wrestler so I was heartened to hear he would be playing the part. Still, WHIPLASH!??!? As it turns out they took a few more liberties with character this time round which is a good thing in my mind because it brought a lot of elements together very well.

Iron Man 2 opens to Tony Stark facing multiple threats. After coming out as Iron Man at the end of the first movie the industrialist is having to answer for his armour to congress while squaring off against sharks like Justin Hammer who are all trying to imitate his new weapon. Congress is demanding he hand the armour over to them while Tony eats up the limelight as he has successfully privatized world peace. It raises some interesting questions for sure. What would happen if a guy created some crazy piece of advanced technology and was suddenly able to beat anyone on the planet? It is for this reason that Iron Man 2 has a cold war feel to it. Everyone is a little bit scared about what the other guy will do. Then Rourke's Ivan Vanko enters into the picture. Vanko's father helped Tony's father develop some of the tech we know from the first movie, namely the arc reactor that fuels Stark Industries and Iron Man himself. Vanko's father tried to sell the secrets to the enemy and ended up sent back to Russia to languish and eventually die in exile. Ivan is no slouch in the physics department and develops an arc reactor similar to Tony's and attaches "whips" to the which unleash the energy so they can cut through pretty much anything… race cars… Tony Stark…

Vanko comes to claim his birthright from Stark, teams up with Hammer who really wants to have the Iron Man armour… yada yada yada Iron Man saves the day. Seriously though, there is a lot going on in this movie that is good. Tony's relationship with Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow as a redhead is crazy attractive), Tony's relationship with Rhodes which is complicated by Rhodes' duties to his government, and the overarching conflict. There were a few things I found to be a bit of a cheat and made for weak story telling. First, Tony's mini arc reactor is killing him (think radiation poisioning) and he only has days to live which leads him on a self-destructive binge. This doesn't sound so bad but when you see it on screen it feel shoehorned in there. Of course a solution is found and everything turns out OK which certainly doesn't help that aspect of a mystery created for a mystery's sake. Second, the question must have come up as to how to top Tony's fight with Ironmonger in the first one, to which someone likely responded, "Simple, add more of them!" Well, not exactly but it does come across that way as Iron Man and War Machine (who is so awesome onscreen its not even funny) face off against a bunch of Hammer's drones and finally against Vanko who now has an armour of his own. It works fine, but they have definitely exhausted the armoured guy vs. armoured guy route for sure. It makes for good fights but it does nothing to make you feel like Stark is really at risk. You know Iron Man is going to live through this, but IM2 failed to make me think the guy might be hurt or damaged from the battle.

It is a good movie (minor griped aside) and certainly a great start to the summer. It is worth seeing in the theatre for sure. Its nice to know that at my age childhood dreams are still coming true.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Crazy Heart (2009)

    I hadn't heard about this movie until the Oscar nominations when Jeff Bridges was nominated for Best Actor. I love Jeff Bridges. He has starred in some of my favorite quirky movies and I think the guys is an amazing actor. As The Dude in The Big Lebowski the man is a legend with an attitude and quotes that make me giggle every time. In Men Who Stare at Goats he almost reprises the role as the man who founded the US Military's psychic division (apparently this is also based in truth somehow, gotta love the 80s). In Crazy Heart he plays fictional country legend Bad Blake, a burned out musician who has fallen to playing Bowling Alleys for chump change while his protégé has gone one to ridiculous success. Blake is fading into obscurity and he knows it and rather than fight it he helps it along with cigarettes, booze and women… until he meets Jane. Bridges deserved the Oscar for this performance. Blake runs the gamut of emotions once he realizes he may not be going quietly into the good night after all. He finds the love of a younger woman who has a son who loves him too. Late in life he find the family that has always eluded him and is inspired to be better.

    The music in this movie is equally amazing. I hate modern country, but thrown on some Johnny Cash and I'm there. T-Bone Burnett, who has produced some amazing soundtracks in the last couple of years, notably Oh Brother, Where Art Though provides the kind of music one needs to make a film like this work. This film needed to be full of country music that was good enough to make you wonder why you had never heard it before. Bad Blake is a legend because of his songwriting and this movie could have failed outright if it had terrible music but I have to say it is totally amazing. It is deep and soulful, thought provoking and sorrowful… reason enough to see the movie.

    I think the thing that blew me away about the movie in the end is how optimistic it really is. We should never count ourselves out or give up just because life is in a downward swing. You never know what will happen next, where you will be taken. Its tough to feel depressed after Bad Blake gets done with you, that's for sure.

The Blind Side (2009)

    If I had known this movie was based on a true story I would have skipped it. There are no words that make me shudder more than "based on a true story". Personally I have never wanted to see true stories on the screen. I prefer my movies to be stories. They can look like real life, play out like real life, as long as they are fiction. But hey, that's just me. I am glad I didn't find out about the Blind Side until I was a ways into it then, because I was pleasantly surprised by the great story and the terrific acting.

    Had I been a football fan I might have been familiar with Michael Oher and his life. An African-American man who grew up in poverty with danger and drugs all around him manages, through fate and circumstance to get out of it with the help of a Christian school and a Christian family that goes the extra mile and goes on to become an NFL star. Sandra Bullock deserved the Oscar. She does so well as the tough hard-nosed mom who has hopes for Michael and helps him find his dreams.

    It was refreshing to see a movie in which life is portrayed so hopefully. You really end up rooting for Michael from the very beginning because he is the gentle giant and the pay off is huge in the end. I am not gonna write a massive review for this one simply because I think everyone should see it for themselves. I normally detest these kinds of movies and it totally sold me, which is saying something.

Kick-Ass (2010)

    I have read comics since I was a kid. Like any other kid I have fantasized about having powers, what those powers would be and how I would use them. I have wondered what real life heroes would be like, given that powers just aren't real. What are the limits of what a person can do. Mark Millar used this as his central premise in creating Kick-Ass. It was created as a comic and a movie simultaneously, and I have read the comic and I was curious to see if the movie would confirm my suspicions. To me the story need to be realistic. If you are going to tell a story that takes place in my world then I want to believe it is happening in my world. Unfortunately this never really plays out and comes across more like a parallel world that exists somewhere between ours and the realm of heroes.

    Dave, a geek, decides that the world needs heroes and so orders a wet-suit off the internet, dons a mask and becomes Kick-Ass. The scene brilliantly parodies the Spider-Man origin from a few years ago. From there Dave tries to help people in trouble and shows, as the big bad in the movie says, you should have been called, "Ass-Kicked". The thing of it is, Dave never really gets better at it. Coincidence and Deus Ex Machina elevate him slightly but he never truly show that he has the brawn to match the brave in himself. Along the way he meets other "heroes" Big Daddy and Hit Girl, the more controversial characters of the film. Imagine if the vigilante hero Punisher had an 11 year old daughter and trained her to be lethal in a million ways. This is where most people will get uncomfortable if they are going to get uncomfortable in the film. Hit Girl slices, she dices, she has a mouth like a trucker and childhood innocence is assassinated along with myriad drug dealers. It is played to be funny, but on film its just plain creepy/weird/inappropriate. I am a moderate guy, I see a lot of films that push the boundaries, but this just failed for me. She gets beat on towards the end of the film and there is just no way to appropriately show a 40+ trained martial artist punching an 11 year old girl in the face… a lot. It goes beyond disconcerting.

    The reality issues come up in a few other areas as well. First of all, if you want to convince me that this is my world how about you don't use one of the most clichéd bad guy groups in film history. The mob? Really? That was the best "real world" villain you can come up with? YIKES! Second, I am not one to nitpick on bad language in a movie but swearing is used to such a degree in this movie that it makes you weep for the English language. Its amazing there is room for plot development and exposition in between the curses.

    I liked a lot of the movie, and that is the weird thing. It is stylistically made. There are moments the premise plays out well, and the relationships between Dave and his friends are genuine and believable. I loved the hilarious storyline where Dave fails to correct a girl on the notion that he's gay in order to stay close to her. At times it was very funny and paid off well later on in the film. The acting was done well, with the exception being Christopher Mintz-Plasse of McLovin fame playing Red Mist. He never seemed to fit in the world for me.

    It always sucks when you are really looking forward to a movie and it fails as this one did for me. I am glad I saw but I wont be rushing out to see it again.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Alvin & The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel (2009)

Seriously. Yes, I watched it, and if I am to remain honest in the purpose of this blog which is to review every movie I see then I must review this one! Possibly the biggest surprise of all is that I liked it. Rest assured I will explain why.

I saw the first movie back when it first came out on DVD because I was looking for something, anything new to watch and The Chipmunks was all I could find. I was surprised at how faithful it was to the original cartoon and music material, how much the characters felt like the ones I knew. Dave was Dave, Alvin was Alvin, etc. Basically if you didnt like the chipmunks then you werent going to have great love for the movie. But then isnt that the point? Why would you see it if you hated the original material?

The Squeakquel introduces Alvin, Simon, and Theodore to the world of public school where they face bullies and other such cliche school situations. They also get to meet the Chipettes, the girl versions of themselves who are destined to one day get married to them and have many many broods of talking wiseacre rodents (I sense a partridge family-esque sequel on the way). Just as in the cartoon the 'Munks and the Chipettes are put into competition against each other in a singing competition that will win their school 25,000 bucks for the music program.

This movie will not reveal profound truths to you. It will never win an Oscar or any other award. What it does is give you exactly what it says it is... a movie about the Chipmunks. If you loved them as a kid, you will love them now. If you hated it as a kid, you will hate them now. I loved their show in the 80's, it was fun and had good music.

I do have one question though. As the credits rolled I was amazed to see the Chipmunks and the Chipettes were voiced by the likes of Justin Long and Jesse McCartney, Amy Poehler and Christina Appelgate but for the life of me I cant figure out why! The voices are so high pitched and the vocal patterns so specific to the characters that it renders celebrity voices moot. It doesnt make the movie better or worse, it just means they spent money for something unnecessary (In Hollywood!?!?! surely not ;) )

As fluff movies go, there are worse ways to spend 1 hour 28 minutes.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Clash of the Titan (1981 & 2010)

As a child I loved mythology of all kinds. I read it all the time and I credit the stories of Perseus, Hercules and all the Gods of Olympus with giving me a passion for comics. Their exploits were amazing and I simply could not get enough.

I would love to say I knew where I was when I saw Clash of the Titans for the first time but I honestly dont remember. What I do know is that this masterpiece is firmly etched in my mind as a personal favorite.

Perseus the hero goes on a quest to save his love and defeat the Kraken (borrowed from Norse mythology) so that he may not munch on the love of his life Andromeda. Throughout his journey he faces peril of all kinds on his trusty steed Pegasus and accompanied by a group of monster fodder soldiers along with Bubo, a totally off the wall mechanical owl who is arguably the most iconic creature of the whole show. Perseus faces the Stygian witches, Medusa, giant scorpions, Kalibos, and a couple of two headed dogs for good measure.

This was the last film done by legendary special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen (quick fact: The restaurant in Monsters Inc. is named Harryhausen's after him) and it is a masterpiece of stop-motion animation. The designs are fantastic (if now a little dated)and you can see the care that went into making it.

The performances are pretty good with Harry Hamlin in the role of Perseus. I get the feeling he was supposed to be kind of an "it" guy at the time, but I havent seen him in much else beyond TV. Burgess Meredith acts as Perseus' corner man (see what I did there?) and the likes of Laurence Olivier, Ursula Andress and Maggie Smith (Professor McGonagal to you younger lot) inhabit the hallowed halls of Olympus.

This flick is nostalgic no question. I love it now because I loved it when I was young. It isnt going to hold to the cynical viewer all keen on CGI and modern filmmaking. It is a fun movie, a movie you can laugh at, cheer with, and enjoy.

On April 2 a remake of Clash of the Titans was unleashed upon the world. I was excited for this movie. The cast seemed amazing, the story was well known. What would the new Kraken look like? How would Perseus save his love Andromeda?

As it turns out the remake is the pissy and brooding younger sibling of the original. Dark and forboding it likely spent its formative stages locking itself in its room listening to emo music to get good a ready to make the world feel its angst.

Perseus is now an adopted fisherman whose family gets killed by Hades and he wants revenge for such a transgression. The quest remains much the same as the first film only this time it is motivated by the need for blood vengeance instead of love. Who needs romance anyway? Romance is for losers! Well what it does is make Perseus a self-righteous jerk who is willing to get a number of people killed to meet his need for blood. Yes, he will save Argos in the process but that isnt really important to him.

Neither is Andromeda. Apparently a girl cant even get a date as a princess anymore, even when she is offering a kingdom! Perseus simply blows her off to go on to further adventures... if the box office warrants it.

This movie is so dark it actually made me laugh. This years Pegasus now comes as a sleek black model! OOOOH! Now I dont have to feel all inspired and happy with the white version. White horses are so, so, heroic... ewwww... *sigh* And poor Bubo is used as a single visual gag and then literally tossed aside. I get it, this is not the old Clash of the Titans! But here is the problem... I LIKE the old Clash. It was fun and romantic and cool. It was also colourful! This movie looks like it was dragged through the ashes of the underworld before being put on the reel.

I did enjoy the fight scenes. They were well staged and exciting. I liked a lot of the cookie cutter characters whom you never really get to know but each have their own charisma. The effects and creature designs were... OK. Its funny how state of the art CGI has somehow made movies less creative with the designs. The Kraken looked like a seafood platter come to life, like a hermit crab and a giant squid had an illicit affair and now junior is trying to find his place in this world. Just like every other major character here. I could swear as a squinted at the screen I could just make out earbuds and hear the distant riffs of Fallout Boy as the Kraken descended upon Argos.

If this were not a remake I dont think I would be as critical. My biggest problem is that it took all the fun out of it! How am I supposed to cheer for Perseus when he is such a self-centred doorknob for most of the film? It was worth seeing once... not sure I'll be picking it up when it comes to Blu-Ray though...

Thursday, March 25, 2010


I have been having a debate within myself about the nature of the internet and how fleeting this technological world really is. Times change, tech changes and new opportunities to communicate pop up with frightening regularity. What I once used my blog for, posting random non-sequiters and other such things, is now largely and more capably taken care of by Facebook. Which has left me with the conundrum as to what to do with this blog. Do I stubbornly hang on to it. Posting every month or so? Do I abandon it for other no doubt temporary spaces? What to do...

Through this blog I have fulfilled a dream of mine. I have always wanted to be a writer. Granted I always pictured it in a more grandiose way, a more fictional way. I wanted to be the next Stephen King or JK Rowling or... whatever. Through this blog I have grown to appreciate writing in a way I never did before which has helped me come to the conclusion that it does provide a unique and interesting way to communicate. I believe though that it is time for me to repurpose it. Arguably it is more of a return to what it once was. If you look back far enough to the beginning I did write stories and do a lot of reviews for books, movies etc. and this is what I want to return to. I believe it will also help me to expand my hobby of the craft of film and allow me to share that a little bit with others. It is my intension to write, however briefly, a review of every film I see this year whether in theater or on Blu-Ray. I am not going to comment on anything but the film itself and I'll leave the technical picture and sound commentary to those who know it best. I would rather reflect the writings of some of my critical heroes, Roger Ebert and Harry Knowles, and talk about how a film speaks to me and why I like it.

Many have said I like every movie I see, which I think this blog will clear up a lot. I rarely see a movie I dont want to see (who does?) and therefore I do tend to look for the best in a film, but as Roger Ebert puts it, sometimes you just have to say, "You're movie sucks!". My reviews will likely go all over the place in the cinematic world, not just new films but also personal nostalgic classics and more fringe films I have heard about.

Right now I am fascinated with the guerrilla-like filmmaking of the 70's and 80's, how film became so much about making a quick buck while at the same time committing to celluloid some of the weirdest attempts at shock filmmaking ever seen. I also love documentaries and try to find ones that are a bit outside the box. I will review books as I finish them, animation as it comes, and do tribute pieces as I see fit. It may seem ambitious since I have written here since February, but the problem was never having nothing to say (any who know me are fully aware this could never be true) but simply WHAT to say and hopefully it will be something worth reading.

Additionally if you ever have an idea for a film you think I should see just plop it in the comments section and I WILL watch it and let everyone know what I think (provided it is a serious request and doesnt involve me sitting through something you hated)!

Expect a re-design in the next little bit, and likely a retitling as well.

See ya soon!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Reading Rampage

As I walked down the halls of the school I get to see a lot of things, usually the kids artwork and projects which is always cool. A school as small as ours allows me to get to know the kids so when I see their projects I know who made them and can see who has genuine talent, who tried really really hard, and who could care less about it (an attitude I had at times from what I remember). This week the poster for Reading Rampage went up. Reading Rampage is the reading competition we have each year where the kids read as many books as possible from a list and the event culminates in a big trivia quiz thingy at the end. Basically it is an attempt to make reading as exciting as football or hockey and for those who see reading as the best thing ever it totally succeeds. I love it because it get some kids reading who don't have the full passion for it yet and any excuse to read is a good one.

Candace and I read to Cordelia a fair bit, I buy her books all the time. Richard Scarry, Tiny Titans (a comic book for those learning to read), and pretty much anything that looks fun while teaching reading (Cowboy, Ninja, Bear was a fun find that modifies the whole Rock, Paper, Scissors game and gives it a cute legend). All the focus on reading lately has helped me to realize how negligent I have been of my own imagination through the written word. I love reading. I have always loved reading. In this modern world though I have a lot of distractions of the video variety. Games, TV shows, movies, you name it I was getting distracted by it. I have always been reading comic books but it isn't the same as reading an old fashioned wordy tome and letting your mind do the work of envisioning characters and defining words that you may not readily know. I didn't realize how much I had missed it until I started reading again.

It actually began as a way to be near Candace and Cordelia at bed time (for Cordy) in case Candace needed me or if I needed to give putting our daughter to sleep a shot (something we are fighting with her on right now) but now I read on after she is asleep and sometimes after Candace has gone to sleep beside me. I am feeling a little trepidatious as I type this because I want to keep it going but thus far I have only gotten through one book and just started another last night. The first book was huge though. I got two copies of Stephen King's "Under the Dome" for Christmas as a sort of omen that I needed to read this one which is an easy task as I absolutely loooove Stephen King. Say what you want about the world's most popular and most criticized novelist, the man knows how to weave a tale. At 1078 pages Dome weighs in as one of his longest books like The Stand or Needful Things but the guy is a master of large scale, huge cast books and I was eating it up. As I got back into reading my mind was like a dry sponge beginning to get its first taste of water in a while. My imagination was in overdrive and I simply couldn't put it down (unless I had to), every night I got to reading a little longer and a little longer. I enjoyed every page, even though the book was slightly anticlimactic and I had that sadness that comes every time I finish a book. Its tale has been spent, there is nothing left but to say goodbye and grieve my companions of the last few feverish nights. Ah, but then there is the next adventure.

I am finding myself in a bit of a conundrum though, I have started my next book and it is a tougher read and I am not sure whether to continue with it or put it down and grab another until I am sure I can handle it and stick with the reading. I feel like have gone from jogging around the block to the Grouse Grind. The book is by one of my favorite authors (Jasper Fforde) but it is clear his vision is more complete in his head than what has come out onto the page thus far. Entitled "Shades of Grey" it takes place in a world ruled by a colortocracy where people are placed into category based on the colors they see the best. Its like a caste system based on colour. I would love to explain it further but I seriously cant yet. At times it is like I have somehow forgotten how to speak English and I must reread a sentence. Fforde often expects a lot of his readers and dives into world that are fully formed without sharing it all with the reader, an aspect I generally like because that is exactly how we experience our world after all. But in this case? Oy! So the question is do I keep at it and pray I don't lose this regained passion, or put it down to return to it when I ready for something a little more advanced? I want to keep going with it, and I have decided two more nights with it for sure but we'll have to wait and see I guess. I don't want my Reading Rampage to end until all volumes of lore lay defeated at my feet its just some of these monsters may be a little mighty to slay right now.

Friday, February 05, 2010


So here we are just a few days shy of the olympics and here I am just as cynical as ever about them. I thought I might get more excited as they approach but it has been hard with all the negative media surrounding it here. On top of the media I have heard some mind-blowing personal stories of interactions with VanOC and it has kind of soured me on the whole thing.

I do think its cool that the whole world will be watching us, but it seems that in order to put on our best we must make a lot of sacrifices of the financial variety. Downtown is now closed to traffic as dozens of volunteers line the streets looking for something to do. People who live and work in Vancouver have to figure out on their own how to get there and how to get out. You are no longer allowed to take your bike on the Skytrain, no longer allowed to do a lot of the normally allowable. I suspect you are no longer allowed to be homeless either.

I dont plan on going anywhere near the Olympics when they are here. I will sit at home and watch them in HD with a better seat than those who paid 3000 for gold medal game tickets courtesy of legalized scalping on the Olympic website (in which VanOC gets a 20% cut, natch) with a beer that I bought at the store for 10% the cost of what one will be in the stadium. As I do this I can sit on my couch at any time without having to go through airport security at GM Place or BC place... or Whistler... or the Oval in Richmond.

To be honest it is not the sports themselves but the nature of the event. Looking at the money spent here on all these venues one cant help but feel a little ashamed. After Expo 86 I never would have thought I would see this again in Vancouver and yet here we are spending billions of dollars when most Olympics are not profitable. Expo at least brought the world to us and helped Vancouver to really grow, I am not sure what the benefit of this event will be yet. I DO hope things go well as I love the city of my birth. I may live in Surrey but my heart lives in Vancouver, it is the most beautiful city in the world to me. I just dont want its reputation tarnished as the world watches.