May 17th, 2008


Iron Man review

Iron Man

Despite the fact that he doesn't paint, some may say that billionaire playboy and weapons manufacturer Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is the DaVinci of his time (or Bruce Wayne had his parents not been killed, imo). But during a visit to Afghanistan where he is demostrating his latest weapon that could end the war, Tony is kidnapped by the enemy and ordered to build the weapon for them.

Tony is no traitor, building a metal suit of armor to help fight his way out of the enemy encampment and to freedom.

Unfortunately, Tony's business partner (a bald and bearded Jeff Bridges) is a traitor, selling arms to the enemy, putting in danger the lives of the American soldiers Tony has sworn to protect.

Iron Man starts the summer movie season (despite the fact that Summer is officially over a month away) with the proverbial bang! There is quite a lot of bang for your buck, and Downey does a surprisingly good job in the action scenes, but some of my favorite moments are during his scenes with Stark's plucky assistant, Pepper Potts, played by Gwyneth Paltrow under a luscious-mane of red hair.

My favorite scene involves what I call "The Heart Transplant" scene, in which Pepper helps Stark replace the device he created to protect his heart after injuries suffered during his kidnapping (Tony: "It's like the game 'Operation' only... for real.") Pepper clearly thinks she's underqualified, but Tony trusts her enough to remain cool and calm to help her through the nerve-wracking, thirty-second procedure. Despite Pepper's anxiety, Tony keeps the tone light-hearted, no pun intended. I half expected him to turn to the audience and say, "Don't worry folks, I'm sure she can do it."

The plot isn't too complex (although there are a couple of "huh?" moments), the scenes where Stark builds his new suit are fun, the supporting cast is good, the action is exciting, and Bridges does a pretty darn good job as a bad guy. Plus there's that scene after the credits that helped to boast Iron Man's grade to an A-.

Speed Racer review

Speed Racer

Some time in the not too distant future, race car driving becomes a mix of Formula 1, NASCAR, video games, and Tyco electric racing. It is in this future where we find Speed Racer, played by Emile Hirsch (and occasionally voiced by Tobey McGuire), the hottest young driver on the circuit. Racing is in Speed's blood. Son of one of the best racing mechanics around, Pops Racer (John Goodman with a slimming mustache), and little brother to racing legend Rex Racer (Friday Night Lights star Scott Porter), Speed can hardly think of anything but racing.

But when forced to deal with the sad illusion that racing is literally driven by the corporations after turning down a lucrative sponsorship, Speed teams up with his plucky gal-pal Trixie (Christina Ricci) and the mysterious Racer X (Lost's Matthew Fox with a full head of hair), to fight the blood-thirsty corporations who were responsible for Rex's death and win the seemingly "fixed' Grand Prix.

Speed Racer is pod-racing shoved down a hyper-colored kaleidoscope while tripping-out on acid, something the Wachowski brothers (the guys responsible for The Matrix silliness), were probably doing when they wrote the script. Admittingly, this is all inspired by a Japanese cartoon that started airing in America in the late 60s, and the movie is probably targeted more to that post-boomer, pre-X generation that grew up on the show. I never saw the cartoon series (although I love the Geico commercial), so I went in wanting little, and that's exactly what I got: little.

To paraphrase Speed, the movie only makes sense when there's racing. The sponsor/corporation side of the story tries too hard and slows things down, plus there was way too much of the antics of Speed's younger brother Spritle and his pet monkey. If you thought Jar-Jar Binks was annoying in The Phantom Menace (and I didn't), then you're really going to hate Spritle. A "Phantom Edit" of Speed Racer would be pretty popular, I'm sure. The visual-style is ambitious, but just not ambitious enough for the movie to be admirable, although I sense that it may (like the cartoon series of the same name) become a cult-hit in the not too distant future.

Not even an appearance by Ben Miles of Coupling fame could improve the D- grade for this film.