Robert Downey Jr.

March 30, 2017

Know Your Spidey History: Homecoming and The Green Goblin’s Last Stand

We are right on the cusp of the Summer Movie Season and are being hit left and right with a barrage of studio tent-pole films. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably seen the latest trailer for “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” We get to see more snarky Spidey, more Tony Stark, more Vulture, even a little tiny glimpse of Shocker. Sure, we get two villains in the same film, something that doomed “Spider-Man 3,” but you could argue other things killed that movie as well.

But one thing that intrigued me while I was digging around the Internet was something that I’m sure plenty of people know about, but I just thought it would be a good idea to bring it back into the public’s conscientiousness. 25 years ago we were treated to a little film called “The Green Goblin’s Last Stand,” and you might call it one of the first “fan films.” Sure, with the rise of social media, better equipment and the insatiable fandom that does with comic book characters, this is a pretty rough outing, but just check out the trailer below. You have J. Jonah Jameson, Mysterio, and even Bullseye. Who wouldn’t want to see a movie with Mysterio and Bullseye, especially back in 1992!

But, spoiler alert, the trailer isn’t a fair representation of the film, just to warn you,…

As time has gone on, we’ve seen the likes of “The Joker Diaries,” “Power/Rangers,” and numerous Batman related shorts, and in no way am I comparing this year’s “Homecoming” to the Troma-like quality of “Last Stand” but it’s compelling to see how far we’ve come in the history of Spider-Man and the evolution of quality in fan-made films. Click HERE for a great list of some of the best.

Am I excited to see “Homecoming?” Meh, of course I’ll see it, but it’s getting harder and harder for me to really get hyped for anymore comic book films. My saturation point has been reached. Every year, going back to”Iron Man” way back in 2008 (wow, nearly a decade at this point) we’ve seen at least two Marvel movies a year, and now that DC is in the mix, that ups the total, and if you throw in Fox properties like X-Men, and Marvel and DC shows on Netflix and Network TV…you see where I’m getting at…

Oh, I nearly forgot, if you haven’t seen the “Homecoming” trailer yet, click HERE and enjoy.

April 29, 2015

Avengers: Age Of Ultron (DJ’s SPOILER FREE Take)

CELEBRATORY

Now, I’m not a psychic or anything.  I’m not from the future or possess some mutant power over probability or telepathy or the space time continuum.  However, I know…without a shadow of a doubt…that The Avengers: Age of Ultron is going to be taken for granted in the next coming months.  Oh, we’ll all see it, for sure.  But cynics and critics who get paid a dime a word to say such cliched things as “this comic book movie craze is wearing thin for me” are going to crap on this film.  Hell, even some fans of the property are going to take for granted how great this film is.  The main question these groups of people will ask is if it is better than the first Avengers.  My answer to that is…no.  After hearing that, everyone will rush to judgement and think the film is a disappointment or even a failure.  It is astronomically far from that.  What you have to realize is that even before Age of Ultron was made, it was going to be impossible to make it better than the original.  The original Avengers is literally a dream come true.  It is a film that is the first ever culmination of years of planning and set-up for something that was thought to be impossible to pull off.  More so than Sin City.  More so than Watchmen.  The Avengers was not supposed to happen…but it did…and it was great.  Flawed?  Sure.  But despite whatever criticism lobbied toward it, it will forever have that glow of the first time.  All you realistically can hope for in a sequel is for it not to squander its predecessor’s steam or lose its way.  For it to continue exploring and expanding on the things that worked well in the original while managing to fix whatever mistakes the original suffered from.  Thankfully, Avengers: Age Of Ultron does that and then some.

Avengers: Age of Ultron centers around the assemblage of Earth’s mightiest heroes as they try and fend off a global assault from a self-aware computer program called Ultron.  The program itself is accidentally created by Dr. Bruce Banner and Tony Stark.  The team must fight for their lives and fight to stay together while the world is on the brink of total annihilation.  But I don’t want to really talk about that.  I want to talk about the real reason why this film works and why it will continue to work going forward. 

What is the best parts of any Tarantino movie?  Is it the ultra violent action scenes?  Is it the cool soundtrack?  Is it the story?  Not for my money.  It is the scenes where characters are talking to one another.  Their witty verbiage in their interactions.  What was the best parts of the new Star Trek films?  Was it the space battles?  Was it the phaser shootouts?  Was it the lens flares?  Not for my money.  It was the scenes where characters are talking to one another.  Their palpable chemistry.  Their understanding of who each of their characters are.  The same can be said of the first Avengers and thankfully of Age of Ultron.  Don’t get me wrong, the action scenes and set pieces in all these films are crazy good.  However, these team-up Marvel films go as far and will continue to go as far as the characters’ chemistry and interactive dialogue will take them.  Action scenes are easy to pull off compared to the task of assembling a large cast of characters that you have to make lovable in different ways and believable in their conversations with one another.  Special effects are a cinch compared to writing a character so well that fan boys geek out about them as much when they are out of their super suit having a normal conversation as they would seeing them in their super suit battling murderous megalomaniacal robots.  Avengers: Age of Ultron’s chemistry is its superpower.  The story has its flaws, but you are willing to forgive them because you love these characters and you love to be a fly on the wall in their superhero lives. 


The original players that return…Tony, Cap’, Thor, Widow, Banner, Hawkeye…are just as good if not better than before.  Robert Downey Jr. is the rockstar of the group without managing to overshadow the others.  Chris Evans’ ability to be honest and vulnerable as Steve Rogers yet stern and leader-like as Captain America is a marvel to watch. (See what I did there?) Hemsworth’s Thor seems to work best when he is allowed to be humorous and play up the fish out of water trope, which he does again here.  Hawkeye gets a much talked about backstory, but in my opinion, he also gets much better material to work with as a team member.  The Banner/Widow “thang” does take some getting used to, but ScarJo and Ruffalo make it feel genuine.  Scarlett Johansson is also given a scene in the middle of this film that was almost out of place in its subject matter and the dramatic power in which she plays it.  Kudos and whoa.  

Hey Widow.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes Called…

To be honest, the new players are the ones that I really spent my time focusing on.  Getting inserted into a world where the chemistry of characters is so important is no easy feat.  3 out of the 4 newbies manage to slide in with ease.  Elizabeth Olsen really does a fine job with Scarlet Witch, proving that she is keeping all the talent in the Olsen family.  Paul Bettany’s jump from voice over J.A.R.V.I.S. to live action Vision is so good that it is a flaw in the film that we don’t get more of him.  Andy Serkis even steals a scene as a character who may or may not be the nemesis in the upcoming Black Panther film.  But my one standout from the Avengers: Age of Ultron is predictably James Spader’s titular character.  The thing you have to prepare for, which will catch you off guard as it did me, is how funny and alive Ultron is in this film.  Some who have seen this performance already have been put off by this, believing a robot wouldn’t possess this much personality.  However, if you take the time to understand that this is a robot with the soul of one Tony Stark, it makes sense.  Ultron would of course be as eccentric and comically quirky as its genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist father.  Fans of James Spader will be amazed by how many of the actor’s signature mannerisms and facial ticks are alive and well in Ultron.  Getting back to my point about dialogue scenes, Ultron’s verbal interactions with Vision are possibly my favorites in the film.

Quicksilver is the new player that I had the most issues with.  The largest praise I can offer Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s performance is that it was not as bad as I thought it was going to be.  He and Olsen’s accents are not even as bad as I thought they were going to be.  Taylor-Johnson is not really bad at all.  It is just a bit of a low-key performance for a character that had so much more personality in X-Men: Days of Future Past.  And I freely admit that I thought Taylor-Johnson would be the superior Pietro Maximoff.  However, Evan Peters, much like what his character would do, steals Taylor-Johnson’s lunch in comparison.

Here I’ve been waxing poetic about character and dialogue and chemistry and I have neglected to talk about the popcorn action moments in this film.  I apologize.  Rest easy.  There are many. 

PUNY AFFORDABLE SEDAN!

Soooooo many.  So much so, that the biggest action scene in the first Avengers is merely the opening scene to this film.  Whedon, having written great set pieces in comic books for years, seems to have finally come into his own creating them as a director in his films.  The television show composition and cleanness of the first Avengers, a topic of criticism in the past, is gone thanks to the addition of cinematographer Ben Davis.  Davis, fresh off his stint on some film called Guardians of the Galaxy, really makes the film appear more cinematic while keeping its vibrancy. (Sorry DC)  Both know exactly what we want on a base level in an Avengers film, and both generously spoon feed us battle after battle with a wink and a smile. 

NERDGASM!!!

Speaking to the flaws of the film, I will say that there are some very hurried and even skipped over moments of exposition and character development in spots.  You can almost feel when a scene has been trimmed down for time.  This is why I was initially happy when the film was reported to be 3 hours long at first.  Film length never bothers me if there is a lot of story to tell or character development to get through.  You have not one but two beings of artificial intelligence whose motivations come at you at breakneck speed.  This is something in which Marvel appears to recognize, considering their announcement of an extended cut Blu-ray with alternate endings coming our way in the future.  Long films do limit their own box office receipts, so I understand the give and take that Marvel/Disney are up against.  Fans of the stand alone films Iron Man 3 or Thor: The Dark World will also be saddened to see little to nothing being carried over from those two films into Age of Ultron.  Most importantly, why Tony is back to being Iron Man after appearing to give it up in his last cinematic outing.  

Avengers: Age of Ultron is probably the best summer popcorn flick you’re going to see this year…the best you’ve had in two years…and the most fun you’ll have in the theater until the end of the year.  No, I don’t think it surpasses its predecessor on a comic book movie level, but that should not prevent you from CELEBRATING it or the fact that we got TWO of these films that were an unrealistically optimistic fantasy in our minds a little under a decade ago…with TWO MORE on the way!  Have some Vision…get tangled in strings…don’t drink from Thor’s flask…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.  

November 6, 2014

Zodiac (2007)

PACING

Zodiac – Pacing

There are certain films you see once, and they quickly dissolve from your mind. Not because they are bad by any means, its usually, at least for me, that they are so massive, engrossing, or emotionally investing that my body’s automatic response is to forget about them. The best example I can think of at this time is “Inception.” While visually stunning, the film as a whole is still very hard to wrap my head around and I’ve avoided watching it ever since seeing it in the theater. Again, it’s not because I don’t like it, and hell, who knows, maybe if I saw the film again, I wouldn’t like it, especially since it doesn’t have an end credit sequence……anyway. This brings me to “Zodiac” probably one of the most slept films in David Fincher’s filmography. It’s taut, gritty, and paced to perfection with the addition of great acting performances and a truly engrossing story that you nearly forget it based on an actual unsolved case.

“Zodiac” tells the true story of the Zodiac murders that took place across Northern, and possibly South California between 1966 and 1972. Shortly after a unsolved murder in 1969 in Vallejo, CA, a letter is sent to the San Francisco Chronicle which details the crime and claims that another murder was also committed nearly a year prior by someone calling themselves “Zodiac.” Spanning the course of nearly 25 years, “Zodiac” recounts the effort of journalist Paul Avery, cartoonist Robert Graysmith, and SFPD Inspector,  Dave Toschi, as their lives intersect closely with possible suspects, and the obsession to catch Zodiac that nearly destroys their lives.

Throughout high school and college, I had an obsession with true crime and serial killers. I wanted to know the stories behind the crimes and what really made people tick. Some of the most infamous murderers of all time seem like something out of a movie, which makes the most sense why some of the most unnerving horror and suspense films have been based on serial killers like Ed Gein, Albert Fish, and Dennis Lynn Rader, the BTK Killer. However, if you look at the glut of direct-to-DVD and made-for-TV films about serial killers most of them are, for lack of a better term, lackluster, to say the least. At first glance, you might almost think that “Zodiac” might have the same fate, but there is pedigree to spare.

It’s easy to forget that this is even a David Fincher film. Taking into account how diversified his filmography is, “Zodiac” seems like the start of a new Fincher direction. Moving away from dark, gritty horror/suspense films such as “Se7ev” and “The Game,” “Zodiac” was at the time his most mature effort to date, not mention his longest film up to that point, clocking in at 157 minutes (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” would top it the following year with a run-time of 166 minutes). While some might see the long run-time as a negative, I thought it gave Fincher enough time to introduce characters, detail the crimes, and get the point across that obsession; either good or bad, corrupts and destroys nearly everything.

While “Zodiac” could be considered the beginning of a new Fincher era, this film was also a breeding ground for what we could expect from Jake Gyllenhaal and Mark Ruffalo. And of course the renaissance of Robert Downey, Jr., who only a year later would become Tony Stark. While the film is called “Zodiac” the infamous murderer is pretty much a plot point or a foil to the actors. We are witness to his murder spree, but it’s the emotion and the portrayals by Downey, Jr., Gyllenhaal, and Ruffalo that drive the film from beginning to end. Fincher is also able to create a giant puzzle where it’s the job of the audience of what to believe and reach their own conclusion. Unlike other killers throughout history, the Zodiac Killer was never caught, which creates a true mystery film where there is no right or wrong answer as to who is the true culprit in the crimes.

While “Zodiac” didn’t really get it’s due in the theater, if you are a fan of true crime, or simply great direction by a master who is dedicated to all of the little details that make a film special, than this film is for you. It features an engrossing story, fine performances, and it delivers where other films about serial killers fall short.

Fun Fact: Over the past 100 years, there have been nearly 20 reported serial killers in the state of California.

April 12, 2014

Simplistic Sneak Peek Ep. 3

This episode of Simplistic Sneak Peek gives us a kaiju’s ejaculate, a Favreau/Vergara/Johansson threesome, and a double-sided dildo street fight.  All that and more in this oddly sexual look at the upcoming films Godzilla, Chef, and Neighbors.  You can watch all three trailers below commentary free then click the video above to hear what the boys had to say about them.

Godzilla

Chef

Neighbors (Red Band)

February 16, 2014

DJ Simply Loves Robert Downey Jr.: Sherlock Holmes

PULSE

After Robert Downey Jr. put comic book films back on the map with Iron Man, I was thoroughly on the RDJ train.  Then I heard what his next big film role was going to be.  Another super genius with substance abuse issues.  A character who might arguably be one of the first ever superheroes.  The immortal Sherlock Holmes.  Despite everything Downey Jr. had accomplished with Tony Stark, I was still nervous about him tackling the world’s greatest detective.  Hell, how many American actors can you count that pull off a convincing British accent?  And Downey Jr. would be under the direction of Guy Ritchie.  Another man looking for a career rebirth after hitting a rough patch.  Then I saw the trailer for the film.  Holy crap!  That was all I could say.  It was everything I imagined in my head a Sherlock Holmes movie would be like, but with something extra.  An energy.  An excitement.  A PULSE.  A PULSE that Ritchie, in his early directing days, always delivered.  A PULSE in which Robert Downey Jr. thrives in.  Sherlock Holmes was the Sherlock for me.

As I’ve said in my review for the BBC show Sherlock, 2009’s Sherlock Holmes was a film that I could appreciate separately and equally with the other incarnations that followed.  As time has passed the difference between BBC Sherlock and RDJ Sherlock have grown.  RDJ Sherlock shares more similarities with the vastly underrated (Even by me) CBS show Elementary than it does with its British equivalent.  That is mainly due to characterizations and relationships.  Where Cumberbatch exudes stoic intensity, both Robert Downey Jr. and Jonny Lee Miller are playful to the point of annoyance and crazed to the point of concern.  Their brilliance seems more like the lasting side effects of some illegally imbibed elixir.  And that is what I like about them, Robert Downey Jr. more so.  Predictably, Downey Jr. brought to the forefront more of Sherlock’s drug issues.  His darker stuff.  And he brought back his physicality.  Physicality most people were unaware of at the time.  Some of the so-called Sherlock Holmes purists saw the trailer and quickly said it was a dumbing down and shoehorning of action into a Sherlock Holmes film.  Unbeknownst to them, Downey Jr. did his homework.  Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote in several stories that Holmes had some fighting skill.  It is turned up in this film, however, it comes from a place of fact.  It more or less showed that Downey Jr. wasn’t sleepwalking through an action role.  He was totally making it his own. 

I put a picture of another actor at the top with Robert Downey Jr. because of his importance to Downey Jr.’s performance.  Jude Law’s portrayal of Dr. John Watson is one my favorites in any incarnation.  Downey Jr.’s humor is undeniable, but it works more so because of how Law plays off of him and sets him up.  On the BBC show and the CBS show, we are introduced to Watson and Holmes as they are introduced to each other.  In Sherlock Holmes, however, we meet Watson and Holmes in the middle of their relationship.  So, Law and Downey Jr.’s chemistry not only has to work but feel like its been working for a while.  A task Law and Downey Jr. completely did for me.

This film was also the first time I really began to recognize the awesomeness that is Mark Strong.  He kind of fell into the background of the large ensemble cast of the first film I saw him in, RocknRolla.   Strong here gets to play a villain that felt like a true threat to Holmes.  Lord Blackwood is equal parts creepy and entertaining.  It would have been easy to fire off the infamous Moriarty in the first film, which they do hint to.  However, I think it was more important to establish Holmes and Watson, while still giving them an enemy that is still a great foil.  Strong helps accomplish that.  The one place I think cast chemistry fails is between Robert Downey Jr. and Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler.  I’m not a McAdams hater, and I don’t think McAdams is horrible in this.  I just felt that McAdams’ energy did not and probably could not equal Downey Jr.’s.  It is more a criticism of casting than anything.  Adler is supposed to be Sherlock Holmes’ kryptonite.  McAdams just didn’t have enough charm or charisma to make me buy their relationship being an actual problem for Holmes.

I was so happy for Guy Ritchie after this film came out.  You have to understand, Lock, Stock, & Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch are two of my favorite films.  Watching him make the film Swept Away with his ex-wife Madonna was like seeing a close friend of yours date that girl you know is gonna f%$k his life up.  Revolver has a small cult following, but is an overly convoluted mess.  RocknRolla gave me hope that the Ritchie I loved was still in there somewhere.  Sherlock Holmes really got him to flex his cinematic muscles again.  The set pieces, the style, the humor, and the action scenes are terrific.  The criticism for their being so much action is akin to the criticism JJ Abrams received for his Star Trek films.  To me the action does not take away from the mystery Holmes is trying to solve at all.  Every action sequence is always in service to the story.  And the bit that Ritchie uses to show Holmes working out his movements before actually doing them was a clever touch that I had never seen before. 

Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes, for some odd reason, gets a cynical bum rap that I wholeheartedly don’t understand.  Not only is his version of Holmes one of the most accurate to the books, the film is fun, entertaining, PULSE pounding, and underratedly smart.  There isn’t any time to waste then…widen your gaze…watch it…if you dismissed it…watch it again…then tell me I’m wrong.

February 2, 2014

DJ Simply Loves Robert Downey Jr.: Iron Man

REBIRTH

This is it.  This is the movie.  This is the actor.  This is the moment.  Before the recent meteoric rise of Matthew McConaughey and before comic book movies became the most unstoppable form of genre films in Hollywood, there was Robert Downey Jr. and Marvel’s Iron Man.  It is ground zero for Marvel’s entire cinematic universe and also the vehicle that gave one of Hollywood’s most talented, charismatic, entertaining actors a much needed career REBIRTH.

It’s hard to imagine now, but Iron Man was a completely fringe comic book character six years ago.  And that was with comic book fans.  Sure, the character has been around since the 60s.  Sure, he had some famous and groundbreaking storylines.  But I’m not going out on a limb by saying that no one gave a good goddamn about Iron Man in 2008.  And now I almost feel silly explaining to you the plot of his first film.  (A playboy industrialist who is mortally wounded and abducted by terrorist builds a suit of armor to save/liberate himself, then keeps building more advanced armors until he becomes a bonafide superhero.) The fledgling Marvel Studios was taking a risk pushing out a summer blockbuster about Howard Hughes in a robot suit.  However, with most of their surefire properties like Spider-Man, The X-Men, and The Fantastic Four belonging to other studios, Marvel was kind of without options.  So, who would they get to helm this tricky endeavor?  Nick Cassavetes.  Yeah, you read me right.  The director of The Notebook was set to direct a summer action blockbuster comic book film.  Before him was Joss Whedon at New Line. (Whoops!)  Before him was Quentin Tarantino. (Interesting.)  Before all of them was Stuart “Re-Animator” Gordon. (Wuh?)  Finally, Marvel settled on hiring an up and coming actor turned director to right the ship.  A guy named Jon Favreau.

Jon Favreau, and all of the other people considered to direct Iron Man, gave me my first clue of how Marvel Studios were going to run things from now on.  Where everyone’s mind at the time would go to hiring a traditional action director like a McTiernan or a Cameron or a Bay, Marvel was picking guys who ultimately understood characters.  Guys who would bring something tangible and real to these characters in the capes and suits of armor.  (Take a gander at the directors of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Ant-Man and Guardians Of The Galaxy to see my point.)  Favreau was lucky because he had a pretty clean slate when it came to the character of Tony Stark.  Other than the basic information that I brought up before, the character could have portrayed in any way.  That is why casting him was going to make or break the film and the studio’s future.  Cast an actor who can create something original, entertaining, believable, and iconic, you cement him into the lexicon of film characters forever and truly put your studio on the map.  Cast an actor who is unable to grab the public and give them something they hadn’t seen before, your film becomes a marginally successful yet forgotten outing along the lines of a Daredevil and Ghost Rider.  Marvel sought out everyone from Tom Cruise, to Clive Owen, to Justin Timberlake for Tony Stark.  To Favreau’s credit, credit I personally think he does not get enough of by the way, he knew the actor who could reinvent this character.  An actor who was in need of a reinvention himself.

Robert Downey Jr. is part of a long list of immensely talented actors who became detoured in their personal and professional lives by substance abuse.  Heath Ledger and the recent tragic death of Philip Seymour Hoffman shows us the commonality of Hollywood’s best and brightest skirting the edge of self-induced oblivion.  I chose Robert Downey Jr. as the actor I simply love the most because, like Ledger and Hoffman, Downey Jr. has always captivated me while equally entertaining the hell out of me despite his personal weaknesses.  He has gone through the rabbit hole of self destruction and used his experiences to not only make himself a better actor, but a better person as well.  Thankfully, Jon Favreau saw some of the same things in Downey Jr..  But how the hell do you pitch a felonious, drug abusing, career burnout as the title character in Marvel’s first big cinematic shot?  You explain that Robert Downey Jr. eerily IS Tony Stark.  And that is exactly what Favreau did.  Stark is a genius at his craft, a celebrity by his birthright, and substance abuser by his own hand who suffers a horrific experience which motivates him to change his life.  Though, breaking in and passing out in a stranger’s bedroom isn’t exactly synonymous with taking a chest full of shrapnel, you can still appreciate the similarities.  Favreau put his foot down for Robert Downey Jr., Marvel reluctantly agreed, and Tony Stark became a household name.

Robert Downey Jr.’s performance as Tony Stark is completely magnetic.  I had an experience with an audience during the scene below that I hadn’t felt in some time.  Watching Downey Jr. humorously ramble and strut in the Afghan desert was like watching Indiana Jones trying to switch a bag of sand with a golden idol, or Detective John McClane cracking wise on a walkie talkie in Nakatomi Tower.  Tony Stark was introducing himself to the cinematic world, and we could not get enough of it.  We still can’t.  Spider-Man uses humor as a guise for his darker nature.  However, Peter Parker can only get so dark.   That is because Peter Parker is a genuinely good person.  Tony Stark does the same thing.  But his darker nature can really be dark.  I mean really dark.  Watch the scene where Tony starts angrily blasting up his lab after watching the news and tell me you can’t see the blackier parts of his conflicted soul bleeding through.  Downey Jr. brought that with him.  That isn’t on the page.  Mainly because there weren’t a lot of pages actually finished on this script when the film was being shot.  The way you hide that problem is by making sure your characters are strong and by making sure the actors playing them are equally so.

That is another forgotten thing about the first Iron Man.  The casting, from top to bottom, is practically perfect.  Want proof?  Clark Gregg’s Agent Phil Coulson made his first appearance as a throwaway character here.  And now he is practically the MCU’s mascot.  Favreau cast actors who knew how to hold their own with Robert Downey Jr.’s constantly adapting approach to the material.  The best example of that casting was with Gwyneth Paltrow as Tony’s Assistant/Counselor/Love Interest Pepper Potts.  I always hear how Marvel films don’t have strong female characters.  Short of Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster in Thor, I think Marvel has some of the most underratedly badass, strong willed, well rounded female characters in this genre.  From Peggy Carter, to Black Widow, to even Maria Hill.  Paltrow’s Pepper Potts is easily the best one of them all.  Every 95 mile per hour argument or flirtation Paltrow and Downey Jr. have is an automatic injection of life into a scene.  It is the truest illustration of onscreen chemistry I can think of.  One cannot exist without the other, which is why Downey Jr. persuaded Joss Whedon to put Paltrow in Avengers.  There is only one “feel good” couple for me when it comes to comic book films, and maybe films in general.  It’s not Bruce and Selina, or Clark and Lois, or Peter and MJ.  It’s Tony and Pepper.

The casting of Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane was also a stroke of genius.  Putting an actor up against Robert Downey Jr. who is just as fearless and creative and charming as him really makes for some great moments.  Watching these two practically create a scene out of thin air is a sight to behold.  So, behold it!   Tony Stark’s biggest flaw as a hero has always been his lacking list of enemies.  However, even I have to admit that the actors who have been cast as his adversaries are always top notch.  Bridges, to date, has been the best of them.

Embarrassing confession, but the first Iron Man also has the best depiction of Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes for me.  Now, I love Don Cheadle.  I like his version of Rhodey a lot.  However, I am a bit skeptical of his depiction because I’m so used to how playfully charming Cheadle is as an actor.  Rhodey is the other half of Tony Stark’s grounding force in his life.  But where Pepper is the spirited verbal sparrer of Tony, Rhodey is typically the more stern and stubborn big brother figure.  I believe Terrence Howard nailed that tone of the character more in Iron Man.  Whatever fallout he and Downey Jr. and Marvel had has always been a tough set of circumstances for me to take.  

If the 900 pound gorilla that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe was an actual living thing, Iron Man and Robert Downey Jr. would be its heart.  With Downey Jr.’s days playing the genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist numbered, let’s hope Marvel Studios can find a suitable transplant before he’s gone for good.  Suit up…Watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.  Why?  Because that’s how Dad did it, that’s how America does it, and it’s worked out pretty well so far.  To Peace.

May 5, 2013

Iron Man 3 (DJ’s Take)

HUMOROUS

I was watching Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and suddenly an Iron Man movie broke out.  I’m sorry.  That was rude.  Okay, let me be clear.  I love Iron Man.  I love Robert Downey Jr..  I love Shane Black.  And I’ve admitted many times that RDJ could spew out Black’s dialogue in a film about recycling Coke bottles and I’d watch.  It’s just that Iron Man 3 does everything it can to test that loyalty.  Is it as good as Avengers?  Of course not.  Is it the best film of the trilogy?  Not in my opinion.  Is it better than Iron Man 2?  I’m not so sure I can say that.  To be honest, Iron Man 3 is a different genre than Iron Man 2 and even Iron Man 1.  And that is where my hesitance to tout it comes from.  When I first heard that Shane Black was doing part 3, I was psyched.  The man has made a living of making great action comedies for years.  Lethal Weapon, Last Boy Scout, and Long Kiss Goodnight, to name a few.  However, the things I loved about those films is that despite the humor and comedic interactions, you could suddenly find yourself in a gritty, bloody, hardcore shootout.  Humorous scenes suddenly turned on their ear by a visceral murder.  A suicidal breakdown.  Revenge at any cost.  And Black could weave these things effortlessly.  Even though those films had the help of an R rating, I had faith that Black could still come close to delivering a little taste of this in Iron Man 3.  Especially with the threat of Tony Stark’s biggest comic book nemesis, The Mandarin, looming over the storyline.  The tone from the commercials also seemed to hint at the darkest plot we’d seen for the character.  However,  Iron Man 3 turns away from Martin Riggs, Charly Baltimore, and Joe Hallenbeck and leans more toward Gay Perry and Harry Lockhart.  In other words, Iron Man 3 is not an action comedy.  It is a comedy with action in it.

Is that a bad thing?  Not necessarily.  Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is one of my favorite films.  However, the tone wouldn’t be the first I’d use to fit this superhero film.  Take for instance the handling of the film’s villain.  Director Shane Black does something with The Mandarin, that I won’t spoil, which comic book fans will either love or absolutely despise.  This…um…how should I put this…’reinvention’ fits the tone of a Kiss Kiss Bang Bang but not any Marvel film we’ve seen thus far.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  The jokes in Iron Man 3 are very funny.  But they far outnumber any action you will see in it.  I, for one, thought the balance of this action comedy franchise was preparing to shift.  I was just misled as to which direction it was shifting.  A direction I thought was  reserved for Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man or James Gunn’s Guardians Of The Galaxy.

The performances by the returning cast are solid once again.  They are the one constant of the franchise.  As I’ve said before, Robert Downey Jr. IS Tony Stark.  He captures the essence of that character better than any actor has any comic book character ever.  Though, this is the lightest lifting Downey Jr. has had to do performance wise.  They touch on Tony’s post traumatic stress disorder brought on from his experiences in The Avengers.  Unfortunately, it is not fully explored and eventually brushed away through jokes way faster than Stark’s self destructive tendencies were in Iron Man 2.  This film is probably the funniest Tony Stark has ever been.  However, the best performance Robert Downey Jr. has given as the character is still, ironically, in Avengers.  Even though Paltrow is disliked in her public persona, she is adored as Pepper Potts.  Keeping serve opposite an actor such as Downey Jr., in four films now, is something she deserves enormous credit for.  Cheadle, though almost an afterthought in this film, also has proven that he can hold his own against Downey Jr. in a scene.  More so than Terrence Howard did in Iron Man 1.  I just wish these two could get more screen time together.  Because when they do interact, the relationship of Tony and Rhodey just sings.

I had high hopes for Kingsley as The Mandarin.  Sexy Beast proved to me how much of a badass he can be.  However, Black’s risky reinvention of his character limited what Kingsley was allowed to do.  Speaking of missed opportunities, Guy Pearce’s abilities were also minimally tapped in this.  His flippancy, though amusing, didn’t really seem to present a viable danger to our hero.  Even through the climax.  Love or hate Iron Man 2, there was no question as to the danger and threat that Mickey Rourke’s Ivan Vanko gave Tony.  The villains in Iron Man 3 don’t scare you as much as Vanko, Stane, or even Hammer did.

After all that, you’d think I hated the film.  I don’t.  Iron Man 3 is not a step backwards for the franchise or for Marvel.  It, to me, is just a risky step sideways.  A step in a different direction.  A direction, as The Mandarin warned, I didn’t see coming.  Suit up…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.

December 6, 2012

Happy Holidays: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

SLEEPER

Robert Downey Jr. is one of the most iconic actors working in film today.  He has solidified himself in the role of Tony Stark the same way Christopher Reeves did with Clark Kent.  But that wasn’t the expectation at first.  Jon Favreau had to fight with Marvel to get Downey Jr. in the role that put their studio on the map.  Whether it was because of drug problems, legal problems, or relevancy problems, Downey Jr. was a hard sell.  However, Favreau fought for him anyway.  Why?  I like to think Favreau stumbled upon the 2005 SLEEPER Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.  A film that was the catalyst for Downey Jr.’s reemergence, but also excellent on it’s own merits. 
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a novel adaption from veteran writer and freshman director Shane Black.  Don’t know who that is?  Well, perhaps you weren’t alive during the late eighties or early nineties and never saw any of the Lethal Weapons, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Last Action Hero, or The Last Boy Scout.  Perhaps you only heard of him when he was named as the writer/director of Iron Man 3 and were puzzled by the choice.  For the former, I recommend you do some netflixing.  For the latter, the notoriously known script Nazi Robert Downey Jr. approved him for Iron Man 3 because of their work together on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.  Black just gets Downey Jr.’s voice and vice versa.  The Tony Stark we know and love might have been born through this collaboration. 

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a crime comedy of mistakes and unusual circumstances.  Very similar to, but not as blissfully odd as The Big Lebowski.  A funny coincidence, seeing as the stars of both starred together in the 1st Iron Man film.  Instead of a genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, Downey Jr. plays a petty thief with an affinity for magic who is mistakenly recruited to solve a mystery.  Trust me, the journey you take to get there is so worth the trip.  You will find yourself laughing one moment and riveted the next.

Like The Big Lebowski, it isn’t really the plot that makes Kiss Kiss Bang Bang good.  It’s the performances.   Robert Downey Jr. is of course great.  He’s charming, witty, snarky, and surprisingly moving in some moments.  It is hard to have a film with narration, especially not done by Morgan Freeman, that avoids being pretentious and out of place.  Downey Jr.’s narration succeeds with that and turns out as one of the most funny and original ones you’ll ever hear.  His costars, no matter how small their roles, are solid.  None more so than Val Kilmer.  This is my favorite Val Kilmer role.  Yes, even more than Iceman.  Gay Perry is an amazing character that could have easily been botched.  However, Kilmer nails every single line he has.  His chemistry with Downey Jr. is magnetic.  I personally would kill to have a sequel with these two.  The greatness of Kilmer’s exchanges with Downey Jr. rivals Jude Law’s and even Gwyneth Paltrow’s
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a SLEEPER comedy that many moviegoers may have missed.  Those that finally do see it, more often than not, come away asking themselves, “Why haven’t I seen this film before?”  Watch it…ask yourself that question…then tell me I’m wrong.  

July 26, 2012

Simplistic TV: Sherlock

BRILLIANT

I am a big fan of Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes films.  That may be because I think RDJ is my favorite actor working today.  However, the best version of the famous detective is definitely the BBC series Sherlock.  It is possible to be a fan of both the way I am because they do possess significant differences.  And not the fact that the films are set during the 19th Century and tv show is set during modern day.

For example’s sake, here is Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock.  And here is Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock.  Robert Downey Jr. nails the manic and playfulness of Sherlock Holmes.  While Cumberbatch, an actor who will be a household name after next year’s Star Trek 12, nails Sherlock Holmes’s cold stoic BRILLIANCE.  Both work tremendously.  Downey Jr. gives Sherlock a bit of a giddiness at his own intellect when explaining clues.  Cumberbatch treats it more like an uncontrollable condition.  His delivery feeling similar to someone fed up answering a nagging five year old who constantly keeps asking “why?”.

Both Jude Law and Martin Freeman are equally great as Watson.  Law, mostly for theatrical sake, plays Watson a bit more over the top while Freeman keeps Watson’s frustrations with Sherlock more internal.  Though, we do see Freeman’s Watson at the beginning of his relationship with Sherlock while Law’s Watson is well used to him by now.

All that said, the most important thing in creating a great incarnation of Sherlock Holmes is getting the chemistry right.  And Sherlock does this as well if not better than the films.  While the films give you more style, the tv show gives you more substance.  Its mystery first and set pieces second.  Thats what puts this ahead.

The series does cheat its substantiveness a bit by having each season broken down into three 90 minute episodes.  They play like mini movies and are each enjoyably different while still connected through a ongoing plot thread.  Don’t be alarmed by the modern day setting either.  Sherlock fits into our world smoothly and creates interesting situations that 19th Century Sherlock couldn’t do.  Like interrupting a police press conference by texting all the reporters simultaneously the truth the police chief is leaving out.

That leads me to mention a storytelling device the editors use on the show.  To illustrate how Sherlock’s mind works, the show uses in scene captions to draw the audience to his conclusions instead of having him always explaining everything.  This is very well done, as apposed to how Tony Scott overuses it in some of his films…Domino comes to mind.

An American version of this modern day Sherlock Holmes is in the works now.  However, I am sure it won’t have the same quality acting, writing, directing, and teeth this show has.  You watch one episode and it’ll hook you.  Go ahead…watch one…I’ll wait…….still waiting……..see?  Tell me I’m wrong.

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