Iron Man (2008) ***1/2
Directed by Jon Favreau
Plot: Based on the famous comic book character, Iron Man chronicles the transformation of multi-billionaire weapons mogul Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) into the film’s title character, consisting of ultra-sophisticated body armor which allows Stark to fly. While captured by terrorists who force Stark to build a powerful smartbomb for their use, he invents the prototype for Iron Man before being rescued. At a press conference, Tony announces that Stark Companies will no longer be producing weapons, much to the annoyance of Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) who is second in command. Eventually, the terrorists find the original Iron Man prototype and use it to build an even more powerful Iron Man than Tony’s. So who becomes the evil Iron Man? Is perhaps Obadiah a bigger threat than we may have originally thought?
Review: I said in my review of Zodiac how happy I am that drugs didn’t kill Robert Downey, Jr because he’s quickly becoming one of the very best actors of our time. Who would have thought that a popcorn flick like Iron Man would prove that sentiment true once again?
Sadly, what holds Iron Man back are its action scenes, especially its conventional, predictable final showdown. I had the privledge of watching this film on my parents’ 42’’ high-definition television, and even so, I didn’t enjoy the special effects much, and I certainly wasn’t all that exhilarated like I was watching The Dark Knight. The CGI effects look almost cartoonish, and the transition into all out mayhem was too abrupt, making the entire final act feel disappointingly absurd.
That being said, I loved all the non-action scenes. I thought the character of Tony Stark was brilliantly realized, and his inner conflicts came across very well. Once again, most of the praise ought to go to
Ultimately, Iron Man can be described as having moments of greatness when not viewed as an action movie.
The Band’s Visit (2007) **
Directed by Eran Kolirin
Plot: Members of the Egyptian Police’s Ceremonial Orchestra, led by the stuffy Lieutenant-colonel Tawfiq Zacharya (Sasson Gabai), are forced to spend the night with an unconventional Jewish family in
Review: If I were a critic that was included on RottenTomatoes.com, I’d be one of the very few party-poopers that would have a rotten tomato instead of a fresh one on The Band’s Visit page. This film received an almost unprecedented 98% on that website! People that I know that have seen it really liked it. I think it’s important to put that out there before I share my thoughts.
The Band’s Visit comes off completely empty, giving me nothing at all to grasp onto and very little to appreciate. It’s certainly a visually interesting film—I love how the bright sky blue of the police uniforms contrasts against different backgrounds. Yes, there is some quality acting—most notably from the two leads, Gabai and Ronit Elkabetz. Unfortunately, the plot goes nowhere, and I can’t ultimately articulate what the characters learn from this one night experience. One thing is for sure—I certainly didn’t learn anything. Also, I have no idea what the film is saying about people from different cultures other than the fact that everyone should get along. That’s a moral lesson that has been played out more profoundly in countless better films.
Again, I’m in the minority, and though I can’t personally recommend The Band’s Visit, there’s perhaps a 98% chance that you will enjoy it. Still, I’m compelled to ask, “What exactly is there really to enjoy?
Tropic Thunder (2008) ****
Directed by Ben Stiller
Plot: Five very different actors travel to the jungles of
Review: There’s quite a lot left out of my plot summary and for good reason. Tropic Thunder is pretty much a stomping ground for a bunch of sight gags, parodies and comic absurdities. Almost too much is thrown into Tropic Thunder—everything from a chubby, profane Tom Cruise to Downey’s character’s method acting which results in him looking and talking like an African American even when the cameras aren’t rolling to a battle on the grounds in front of an opium ring to a character giving hints as to his own sexual orientation despite the fact that most of the songs he releases are explicitly about a certain part of the female anatomy to an amputated soldier who might just be living with two very specific lies and much, much more.
Over the past year, watching the films on AFI’s 100 Greatest Films list, I’ve seen many of the war epics that Tropic Thunder is spoofing including Apocalypse Now, Saving Private Ryan, Platoon and Bridge on the River Kwai. Therefore, I appreciate Tropic Thunder’s humor all the more because these films are so fresh in my mind. War is one of those subjects that filmmakers take so seriously that Ben Stiller probably couldn’t help himself when he thought of the jokes that ultimately appear in the film.
Any comedy needs to be judged by how much it makes a person laugh. I laughed over and over and over again, and much of the credit for this belongs to Stiller who co-wrote the screenplay and wonderfully plays this typecasted actor who recently was panned by critics for his embarrassing performance as a mentally handicapped kid who says things like, “Mama, I'll see you again tonight in my head movies. But this head movies makes my eyes rain!” There’s a hilarious discussion about how an actor can’t go full-out retarted and expect to win an Oscar. Just look at Sean Penn in I Am Sam. It’s best instead to play semi-retarted like Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man or Peter Sellers in Being There.
The weakest element of the film lies in Jack Black’s overacting. Every single other actor in this film, maybe with the exception of Tom Cruise who doesn’t deserve his Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor, uses comic timing and irony to make us laugh. Black instead throws his performance at us, and yes, I can understand that he’s playing a Chris Farley type actor. Still, I laughed least at Black’s attempts at comedy that come across way too broad.
Yes, Tropic Thunder is uneven and crowded with too much ambition. Could it have been funnier? Absolutely. Was it enjoyable? Extremely.