Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Acceptable Protests

Write searing essay on inadequacy of rape response. Print out copies, place in empty glass bottles, throw into ocean.

Protest treatment of minorities with series of coded blinks during playing of 'The Star-Spangled Banner.'

Make sure everyone knows that, until homelessness is substantially reduced, your boycott of Fabergé eggs will continue unabated.

To register proper distaste for the horrors of war, quietly whisper "He had a family" into headset after each sweet-ass kill during 'Call of Duty.'

Loudly and prominently exercise your constitutionally protected rights to free speech, right to peaceable assembly and right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. (Whites only, please.)

Friday, August 19, 2016

Common Complaints About Millennial Supervillains

Care more about experiences — like blowing up White House — than material things.

Too quick to move in with parents, disintegrate them with some sort of a ray gun

Mock older villains' hashtags, like #loweringbatmanintosharktank,  #tellingbatmanmyevilplan, #ohnobatmanescapsedsomehow

Will not explain what 'Netflix and chill' means, no matter how often they're asked
Would rather post selfies with planet-destroying robot than actually destroy the planet

Monday, May 2, 2016

Revisiting Marvel: Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 remains one of the oddest films in the Marvel canon. Slapdash, unfocused and at times downright nonsensical, it still elevates itself on the smart layering-in of details and its sheer desire to entertain.

Re-watching it, I found myself impressed with the amount of details piled up by director Jon Favreau, who has proven himself over the years to be masterful when it comes to pungent moments that make his movies feel lived-in.

For example, while Tony Stark's opening appearance at the Stark Expo largely exists to provide exposition, the thought and effort put into the crowd's wild enthusiasm tell the story of how popular the superhero has become. (Love the glowing 'heart' on the cheerleaders, and the toy armor crowd members are wearing.) Really, that's the MO of the whole film; it's a lurching, oddly plotted affair, but one forgives it for its scene-by-scene craftsmanship.

That said ... hoooooboy, that plotting. The film opens with a breezy, monster movie-like creation story for Mickey Rourke, then has his character largely operate behind the scenes. (For most of the second and third act, Tony Stark doesn't even know he's alive.) The conceit that Tony is being poisoned by his arc-reactor heart has the potential to be powerful, but instead gets diluted in the half-dozen other plots the film crams in. And, while I can forgive comic-book movies a lot, the solution to Stark's poisoning it maybe the most ridiculous plot turn every foisted on an audience. (Tony's father discovered a new element, but couldn't manufacture it, so instead hid a guide to it in his plans for the Stark Expo, then vaguely alluded to it on the very end of a series of film-strip outtakes (!!!!). Additionally, SHIELD somehow put this together on its own, then let Tony put the clues together himself instead of just telling him, because they're dicks, or maybe just fans of moving father-son storylines.)

Extra Notes

1) I don't think Favreau gets enough credit as a director of small- to medium-scale action. Rourke's opening attack on Tony at the Grand Prix is fun stuff — love the newly activated suit burning through his shirt —and the comic structure of the Black Widow/Happy assault on Rockwell's facility is great.

2) Rourke triggers the final drone attack at the Expo because Tony will get blamed, which makes zero sense as it's Hammer who's giving the presentation based on Stark Technology that was flat-out stolen from Tony Stark. Wouldn't such an attack just help Stark's case?

3) Garry Shandling was a delightful piece of casting as the smug senator from the hearing.

4) Speaking of casting: Man, is Gwyneth Paltrow effortlessly charming as Pepper Potts.

5) Another fun comic beat: the failure of Rockwell's vaunted 'ex-wife' missile in the middle of the climactic action scene. Don Cheadle's resigned "yeah" at the end is priceless.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Revisiting Marvel: Iron Man

Season One of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is, all in all, probably my least favorite season. The budget is chintzy; some of the storylines are ridiculous; many of the performers haven't yet found their voice. But when I rewatch the series, as I do every few years, I find I can't skip it. There's something about watching the story in its embryonic stages — the flinty humor, the warmth of the relationships — that is pleasing.

It's the same with Iron Man, the movie that jump-started the Marvel Universe that's dominated popular movies over the last decade.

When fans rank their favorite Marvel movies, Iron Man usually isn't at the top of the list. It's usually overpowered by films with bigger action, like The Avengers; flashier villains, like Thor; or more shaded plots, such as Captain America: Winter Solider.

But rewatching Iron Man, it's remarkable how many of these films expanded on the blueprint it drew up.

The glowing heart (heh) of it is, of course, Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. I've often praised Marvel's decision-making, and it all began with the choice of Downey, who at the time was thought of as a risky gamble. His wit and fierce, obvious intelligence are such a fit for the character it's impossible to imagine anyone else in the role. This, I think, is one of the areas where Marvel has had wild success: casting actors who suit the qualities of its main characters perfectly. Whether it's Chris Evans as stubborn, virtuous Steve Rodgers; Chris Hemsworth as cocky, powerful Thor; or Scarlett Johansson as guarded, conflicted Natasha Romanov, the company's approach to casting has been top-notch.

The other area where Marvel has excelled, especially when put side-to-side with rival DC, is in establishing real relationships among its characters. That again is a trend that started here. Every time I watch, I'm surprised at how much Iron Man is a movie about the relationship between Tony Stark and Pepper Potts as much as it is about Tony Stark becoming Iron Man. In fact, Tony-as-Iron-Man is only onscreen for a limited amount of screen time; almost as much is devoted to the relationship-exploring banter between the two. (And note that Pepper is given at least a cursory amount to do, as compared to Lois Lane in Batman v Superman.)

One more note: I think it's an oversight that Jeff Bridges is not often listed among Marvel's great villains. Sure, his ambitions aren't grand — which is actually a relief in comparison to the tiresome destroy-the-planet plots of seemingly every other film — but he injects a real, simmering rage below the surface. Watch how he explodes as soon as he discovers Pepper's deception, or the way he slings the line, "Tony Stark built one of these IN A CAVE!" at an underling.


Finally, I think a lot of credit must go to Jon Favreau. It looks easier in retrospect now that Marvel has fine-tuned the formula, but he was able to craft a fun, witty action movie that has brisk action, great banter and real heart. That's rare, with a blueprint or without.

Extra Notes

1) It's amazing how unhurried this film feels. Rather than racing from one universe-building set piece to the next, it actually takes time to let characters talk to each other. How refreshing.

2) Bridges' bit of business bringing Tony a pizza is great. That kind of care makes it all the more menacing when he turns villainous later. ("Oh, Tony, this is your Ninth Symphony" Bridges purrs with real admiration as he pulls Stark's arc reactor out of his chest. Really, guys, Bridges is great.)

3) "I was doing a piece for Vanity Fair" is probably the smuttiest line outside Guardians of the Galaxy. I love it, of course.

4) Shout-out to the effects work, which give the Iron Man armor a texture and weight that makes it feel like a genuine presence in the world they've created.

5) Love the robot in Tony's lab. Love it.