Robert Downey Jr returns as Tony Stark and reunites with director Shane Black for an overdue tilt at Iron Man’s greatest comics foe, The Mandarin.
Black playfully opens with an extended flashback to
Downey Jr Tony at the height of his partying. In Switzerland for New Year’s Eve 1999, he plays a cruel prank on crippled scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and seduces brilliant scientist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall). Christmas 2012, however, finds Tony suffering anxiety attacks about The Avengers, his chauffer promoted to head of security Happy (Jon Favreau) harassing everyone about authorisation badges, and his girlfriend Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) turning down a business proposal from a now able-bodied Killian that seems to incorporate Hansen’s Extremis research into limb regeneration in plants. Killian’s shady associate Eric (James Badge Dale) arouses Happy’s suspicions, but Tony just obsessively tinkers on new versions of his suit; until a media-hijacking terror campaign by The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) literally jolts him out of his comfort zone into fighting for survival.
Black provided Downey Jr with the definitive iteration of his persona in 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but his script with Drew Pearce only intermittently reaches such heights. Black returns Tony to essential characterisation: a genius inventor who needs to invent quickly, without resources, to save his skin. Tony’s PTSD, after some initial sombreness, is largely played for laughs; especially in scenes with Harley (Ty Simpkins), a helpful kid he meets in small-town Tennessee while following up a clue Happy found. The Tennessee sequences feature fantastic moments as Black pushes the envelope on Tony’s abrasiveness. Once Tony returns to the fray in Miami Black punctuates the escalating action with hilarious undercutting, and one spectacular scene straight out of his customary playbook. But these are touches invigorating a formulaic script (which features an outrageously obvious climactic twist) rather than a page-one subversive deconstruction of superhero cliches.
Dale is very menacing as an Extremis supervillain – combining regenerative powers with super-heating abilities. Dale’s henchman outshines his boss, as Pearce’s part begins ridiculously and never gains either true menace or grandiosity, despite delivering an unexpected shock. Pearce is dwarfed by a Fassbendering Kingsley, who finds very surprising comedy in The Mandarin, despite having a traumatising scene where he tests the President (William Sadlier) live on TV. Hall is sadly underused and Don Cheadle’s Colonel Rhodes is misplaced by the script for most of the second act, but Paul Bettany has fun as malfunctioning computer Jarvis and Paltrow belies her status as America’s most hated celebrity with another charming turn as a Pepper tougher than hitherto. The standout aerial sequence is very exciting, but, once again, the frenetic finale degenerates into wall-to-wall CGI mayhem that defeats emotional engagement.
Downey Jr and Black don’t deliver as much fun as hoped for, but this is an entertaining instalment of Marvel Studio’s only indispensable franchise.
What is one to do with thoughts that are far too long for Twitter but not nearly long enough for a proper blog post? Why round them up and turn them into a seventh portmanteau post on television of course!
Herb Shriner 1 – Craig Doyle 0
DVD as a format throws up some gloriously random things as extras, none more so than an episode of a 1950s TV show on which Orson Welles appears for a few minutes as a feature on a 5 disc set of Welles films. The 2nd ever episode of The Herb Shriner Show from 1956 is the episode in question. What’s startling, especially after watching Conan, is just how early in the game the format was nailed. Shriner begins with a monologue making fun of the presidential race between Eisenhower and Stevenson, and mocks Elvis, and even, very Conan, self-deprecatingly joshes his own show. Add a comedy cheerleading musical number, a sketch about small-town life in Indiana, and a celebrity guest (Welles, who’s there to recite some Carl Sandburg poetry and trade barbed Mid-Western insults with Shriner) and you have a show. American television networks nailed this format a few years after their creation, yet Craig Doyle faffs about on RTE about apparently clueless. Here’s a helpful tip: never tape the show live! Record it in the afternoon, before anyone in the audience gets drunk, so that they don’t heckle the guests or the host.
Confuse a Jools
This is the first season of Later…with Jools Holland in its new studio in Maidstone, Kent. And it appears that the shift of location from central London has addled proceedings considerably. The old title sequence with its delightful ‘Jools no longer on the Tube’ in-joke has regrettably had to be ditched owing to no longer making a lick of sense; being as it was Jools’ adventures using bus, tube and taxi to make it to the studio in time when his own car breaks down. But now the new title sequence takes a virtual tour of the studio naming the bands featured in the episode and to hell with the traditional group riff played by all the musicians as the camera circles the room with the names of the bands popping up. Except now the group riff is played at the end, after the biggest act’s showstopped…
Sky Living is trailing the hell out of its new show Hannibal; starting May 7th, in case you didn’t know. The cast is certainly imposing:
Morpheus Laurence Fishburne as an FBI director who convinces his top profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) to consult with a brilliant psychiatrist Dr Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen), and, once introduced, together they fight crime. But the premise of the show feels more than a bit familiar. Future deadly nemeses, one a storied super-villain of sorts, are the best of friends in the undocumented years before they come into celebrated and chronicled conflict. It’s Smallville, basically…
In the first of an occasional series I round up some trailers for films opening in the next few weeks.
Dead Man Down
Colin Farrell seems to have established an unusual and unenviable pattern whereby he puts in fine supporting performances in big films, great lead performances in small films, and bland lead performances in big films. Bearing that in mind it’s appropriate to be interested in Dead Man Down where Farrell takes the lead in a smallish crime drama. Along for the ride as a gang comes apart while seeking revenge is Terrence Howard, who’s also been doing himself an injustice lately; wasting a very committed turn on Red Tails; and Noomi Rapace; also grabbing a chance for redemption after a bland lead in a big film in Prometheus. The real excitement is that Rapace is reuniting with Niels Arden Oplev, her director on the Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Expect some gut-wrenching tension before the Hollywood explosions.
The Great Gatsby
The more trailers I see for this film the more concerned/aghast I become. I venerate F Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, and Baz Lurhmann’s choices as revealed in this latest trailer seem to bespeak a totally disastrous adaptation. Leonardo DiCaprio is a good choice to play the enigmatic titular old sport, as is Joel Edgerton as his nemesis Tom Buchanan, but what can they do when faced with Lurhmann’s remarkable inability to handle subtlety? Gatsby is not about swooping thru raucous parties and zeroing in on high camp comedy scenes, and this latest trailer seems to suggest that the entire movie is in thrall to Susan Sontag’s definition of camp as a love of the artificial. Not a single thing onscreen seems physically real, even the actors sort of shimmer in soft focus, so how can their emotions convince?
21 and Over
Will 21 and Over be this year’s Project X or not? It’s hard to tell from the trailer… The Hangover writers Jon Lucas and Scott More, who also scripted The Change-Up, turn director with a raucous comedy. On the eve of an important medical school interview, straight-A college student Jeff Chan Justin Chong is surprised by his two best friends, ambitious Casey (Skylar Austin) and party-loving Miller (Miles Teller), who take him out to celebrate his 21st birthday. The usual humiliation, chaos, over-indulgence and utter debauchery ensues. I’ve slowly realised that I largely despise the American R-rated comedy scene, unless Seth Rogen or Jonah Hill are involved. And it’s because while those two writer/actors are as crude as the rest of Team Apatow or Lucas/Moore they have an unstinting devotion to absurdity which this trailers hints at.
Red Dawn sat on the shelf for three years as the studio worried that its replacing of the original Soviet villains with Chinese villains would hurt it in the Chinese market. Little did they suspect their ingenious post-production fix would reignite the Korean War writes B. Bradley Bradlee from Pyongyang.
The evil empire of Soviet Russia never once held the same importance as somewhat Communist China does now when it comes to overseas box-office receipts for the American film industry. So it was that the studio behind the remake of Red Dawn, regularly cited as one of the top 5 films of the 1980s alongside Raging Bull, decided to use extensive CGI to convert the film’s invading Chinese army into an invading North Korean army. Sources refused to comment on whether the marketing department planned to use even more extensive CGI to convince Chinese cinemagoers this CGI villain-swap-out never happened.
But now that Red Dawn (2013) has finally been released in overseas territories around the world it has had the unexpected effect of reigniting the Korean War. Since M*A*S*H ended its run in 1983 the conflict has been justly dubbed the forgotten war, and, bar a flurry of interest around the time of the season one finale of Mad Men, has not troubled the public imagination until the recent reminder that the War never officially ended – an armistice had just put it on permanent suspension; not unlike the dormant 2012 Campaign of Rick Santorum for the Republican Nomination for President.
Little is known for sure about Kim Jong-Un’s character or his foreign policy intentions, but a number of recent off the record comments from former classmates at his elite Swiss school suggest an ironic love of bombastic action movies. This must make us fear the worst according to a senior analyst at the FBI who specialises in cinematic cliché. Clearly Kim Jong-Un has seen the remake of Red Dawn, and, inspired by the film’s first act depiction of an invasion so successful that Washington DC cedes Washington State to North Korea, has ramped up the rhetoric on the international stage.
He does so with an ace up his sleeve, derived from his father’s complete collection of David Mamet-scripted films. Kim, inspired by 1998’s satire Wag the Dog, obviously intends to convince his people that they have successfully attacked mainland America by screening selected scenes from Red Dawn on state television as news footage of their invasion. Recurring Hawaii Five-O guest star Will Yun Lee will be hailed as a great hero of the North Korean people. There can be no doubt that Kim is counting on his people’s ignorance of Chris Hemsworth’s career. He did not suppress Thor for nothing…
B. Bradley Bradlee is the fictional editor of The New York Times. This article was first published in the weekly German magazine Die Emmerich Uhr.
What is one to do with thoughts that are far too long for Twitter but not nearly long enough for a proper blog post? Why round them up and turn them into a sixth portmanteau post on television of course!
CSI: NY’s Pure Cinema
Some timing is so uncanny that it’s best regarded as semi-magical. I’d just seen Rear Window in the IFI’s magnificent Hitchcock retrospective when an hour later CSI: NY’s ‘silent’ season 9 episode ‘Unspoken’ popped up on RTE 2. I had somehow never heard that top writer/producer Pam Veasey had celebrated her return to the show after trying to salvage Ringer from its own absurdities with a high concept episode. So it was a slow penny dropping as I realised that the cold open had been entirely dialogue free, and that the subsequent scenes instead of using dialogue were going to lean on Green Day songs to carry the emotions. And what was startling was how well this worked. The CSI franchise has always showcased montages of forensic science scored by pop music, in which the audience sees the clues processed and turned into leads, but this episode realised that, in addition to such basic visual narrative, Lindsay searching a crowd for her lost toddler or an assassin visiting a hospital ward to kill Lindsay could work equally well as wordless sequences. Hitchcock believed in constructing purely visual narrative in which sound and vision worked together to convey character moments and suspenseful action without needing dialogue; and watching this episode just after Rear Window, such Hitchcockian skill in using sound but not dialogue stood out. It’s odd this episode got such a critical cold shoulder, and you can’t help but feel that a HBO show tossing aside dialogue and doing half an episode with only music by Yo La Tengo would have been hailed to the skies; and such nonsense by critics should enrage anyone who doesn’t subscribe to the idea that the true mark of a quality TV show is that it carries an R rating.
48: Part II
Yes, it’s time for the second instalment of what is in grave danger of now becoming an almost annual ritualised bashing of 02’s MVNO yoof spin-off 48 and its omnipresent and evermore infuriating promotion. Last May I wrote of my annoyance at ever-present TV ads, endless promo voiceovers on Phantom FM, and posters at every bus stop based around the 48 TV spot of a burlesque-costumed orgy in a massive warehouse space. 18 to 22 year olds, you see, have access to vast party spaces that exist only somewhere between 1970s New York and the copywriter’s imagination, where they conduct ‘oh so daring’ bisexual experimentation; but only between girls because that’s titillating whereas say James Van Der Beek and Ian Somerhalder making out a la The Rules of Attraction wouldn’t be. And then there was the voiceover, in which Irish names like Emer were dropped into the middle of a monologue delivered in the neutral tones of the American Mid-West. But then 48 went one better, their next advertisement was of the type which Charlie Brooker rightly labels a Japanese advert for an incomprehensible product. As I was listening to Gwen Stefani’s Love Angel Music Baby at the time this bothered me less than it should have, as one of the featured actresses was a pretty decent Harajuku Girl approximation of Stefani’s 2004 look. But now 48 return with another campaign featuring debauched Westerners – this time apparently in some Tijuana locale. It’s not bad enough that Meteor wrote the book on value, and are apparently determined to read it to us a page at a time in an English accent, 02 can’t seem to decide what bloody continent they’re advertising 48 in, America or Asia. Can you imagine an equivalent American firm pushing Irish-centric advertising in America…?