Friday, May 10, 2013

Worth Mentioning - We Create Our Own Demons

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody marvels again, takes anti-depressants, and has a Harryhausen tribute viewing.


In The Avengers, Tony Stark/Iron Man helped save the world from an alien invasion by flying a nuclear missile through a wormhole that had opened up above New York City, taking the bomb into space to blow up the alien mother ship. It was an experience that he barely survived, and it's one that he's having a lot of trouble moving on from. When he's reminded of it, he has severe anxiety attacks, and the knowledge that there are greater threats to the world out there than he ever imagined before has made him very paranoid and afraid. He doesn't sleep well, and spends most of his (too many) waking hours locked away in his workshop, building suits of armor for every conceivable situation. By the time we catch up with his progress, he's got more than forty suits ready for action.

Above all else, Tony fears that if something horrible goes down, he won't be able to protect the one thing in the world he cares about most: his girlfriend and company runner Pepper Potts. So when conflicts do arise, of course Pepper is caught right in the middle of it all.

The showiest of the new threats presented in the film, and the one that got the most attention in the trailers, is The Mandarin. The inclusion of The Mandarin in the cinematic series was inevitable, as he's the biggest baddie in Iron Man's comic book rogues gallery. The first film seemed to be hinting that a more down-to-earth version of the character would be appearing down the line, with the terrorist group in it being called Ten Rings - obviously a reference to the power-blasting rings The Mandarin wears on his fingers in the comics. Fans assumed that we would someday find out that The Mandarin was the head of the Ten Rings group, and in fact the character was going to be in the first film as such, but he got written out at the eleventh hour. There was an assumption that he would finally show up in part 3, a villain worthy of capping off a trilogy. But when writer/director Shane Black (the wunderkind action screenwriter behind Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout, among other gigs that included doing uncredited on-set rewrites to the Predator screenplay while he was playing the jokester character in the film), the man whose 2005 directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang served as Robert Downey Jr.'s comeback and brought him to the level of Iron Man consideration, came onboard to do the third film, taking over for 1 & 2's director Jon Favreau, he expressed a disinterest in dealing with The Mandarin, shrugging the character off as a racist caricature. Yet here the character is in Black's film, and he clearly found a way to work around the Fu Manchu-ish racism he perceived.

Black's Mandarin is of unspecified nationality, his style cobbled together from various sources, the ten rings he wears just jewelry. But he is a terrorist, and lately he's taken to disrupting television broadcasts in the United States to air quick clips, stamped with the Ten Rings logo, of himself taunting the President and taking responsibility for bombings that have occurred around the world. Sound like a job for Iron Man? Not to the U.S. government and military, rather they've assigned Stark's old buddy Colonel James Rhodes to the case. Rhodes has a suit of armor himself, acquired in part 2, but his War Machine has gotten a red, white & blue paint job and been rebranded the Iron Patriot.

But soon the Mandarin attacks take a personal turn for Stark and to avenge a friend, protect his girl, and for the sake of the United States, Iron Man once again flies into superheroic battle.

Returning to solo hero movies after the Marvel cinematic world reached the crossover heights of The Avengers, the Iron Man 3 filmmakers have done a great job of following up the mind-blowing events of that film while also showing how/why every following movie wouldn't just be a team effort. The story deals with Stark's own issues and relationships, there are personal stakes and connections, and he's also isolated from everyone he knows for a good portion of the film. Crashlanding in Tennessee with a malfunctioning suit and a failing computer system, Stark has to rely on his smarts and detective skills to figure out what's going on.

Whatever's happening involves the head of a scientific company called Advanced Idea Mechanics, a man named Aldrich Killian, and a scientist named Maya Hansen, both of whom Stark met once before, thirteen years ago, back in his conscienceless playboy days, at which time he was introduced to the concept of something called Extremis, a virus of sorts that "hacks" the brain and "recodes" genetics or something like that. Killian and Hansen have moved on up to human test subjects in the years since their encounters with Stark. Extremis gives people enhanced strength and abilities, even enables them to regrow lost limbs, but there's also a glitch that causes catastrophic side effects in some users.

As Stark gets closer to the truth, Black and co-writer Drew Pearce reveal another change that they've made to the character of The Mandarin, and their reaction to this twist is the deciding factor for a lot of viewers in whether or not they like the movie. As I said in my Marvel Marathon write-up, I haven't read many Iron Man comics, I'm not sure I've ever read an issue of something that had The Mandarin in it, so I don't know what the potential of a film with a more reverential treatment of the character would've been. I was very surprised by how the character was handled, it's quite a gutsy move, it's not what I hoped for after watching the trailers, but I went with it, just a little reluctantly.

Black does a fine job directing, his script is full of good humor, funny lines and scenes, and his actors do well bringing the material to the screen, from the returning stars to fresh faces like Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce, Ty Simpkins, and Rebecca Hall (though I would've liked if Hall had been given more to do). There are good buddy cop-ish moments with Stark and Don Cheadle's Rhodes, Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper gets more involved with the action this time around and looks great in a sports bra while doing so, and of course Robert Downey Jr. is magic as Tony Stark.

I liked Iron Man 3 a lot. I'm not among those calling it one of the best comic book movies ever made, but I'm also not one of the fans calling for Black's head. I'm comfortably situated in the middle as someone who simply enjoyed my time watching a fun summer comic book action flick.

Issues with my dogs have disrupted my theatrical movie viewings a bit so far this year, and Iron Man 3 was another case of that - I was all set to see the first showing on its opening Friday morning until I realized that its release date was also the same day that my puppy Zoso had a veterinarian appointment to get neutered. So I missed IM3's opening day, but after Zoso had gotten a couple days of home rest, I went to see the movie at a drive-in and took him with me.


Director Steven Soderbergh teams again with his The Informant! and Contagion screenwriter Scott Z. Burns to tell the story of Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara, who rocked my world in David Fincher's version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), who, even though her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) has just been released from prison after serving a four year sentence for insider trading, is still dealing with the depression that first hit when he was initially incarcerated. Emily feels so hopeless and lost in the fog of depression that she even attempts suicide. She starts seeing a psychiatrist, Doctor Banks (Jude Law), and after giving Zoloft and Paxil a try (the SSRIs that I myself have been prescribed during my own quest to become a functioning member of society), she asks about Ablixa, a new-on-the-market anti-depressant that her former psychiatrist (Catherine Zeta-Jones) has taken to recommending.

Emily starts experiencing sleepwalking as a side effect of Ablixa, but the drug works so well for her otherwise that she chooses to stay on it. It looks like Emily and Martin's life together may be taking a turn for the better... Then, during one sleepwalking episode, Emily fatally stabs her husband.

Martin's death occurs around 40 minutes in, and the film is a slow build up to that. Even though I could relate to some of the depression aspect and have experience with the drugs prescribed, the pace was starting to make me restless. But then Martin dies, and the film is a rollercoaster of a murder mystery from that moment on as Emily goes on trial and others try to get to the bottom of what happened. Even though we seemed to have seen everything that went on, there are still twists and turns and ups and downs and I was riveted throughout.


When a scientific expedition carries out a test detonation of a nuclear bomb in the frozen lands beyond the Arctic Circle, a test done under the less-than-imaginative codename Operation Experiment, they unwittingly release a prehistoric beast from the ice. The large reptile (33 feet tall, 98 feet long), likely a Rhedosaurus, is soon swimming its way through the Atlantic Ocean along the east coast of North America, taking breaks to destroy ships, kill people, and smash buildings along the way. The creature's destination: the old Rhedosaurus stomping grounds that is now Manhattan and the Hudson River.

The armed forces find that the beast has quite a good defense system to keep them from just blasting it to pieces: its blood contains a virus that is highly infectious to humans, a fact that's discovered when bystanders get seriously ill after confrontations with the creature. When it comes down to it, the fate of the city and its residents lie in the hands of a small group of people who have taken it upon themselves to figure out how to stop the ancient reptile - among them Kenneth Tobey as a military Colonel and Lee Van Cleef as a sharpshooter.

The making of this film was inspired by the success of a 1952 re-release of King Kong (1933). While it takes its title from a short story by Ray Bradbury, there was actually a script already in place before Bradbury was consulted about the project and the producers found that he had written a similar story.

The world of cinema lost one of its greatest legends this week, when stop-motion special effects maestro Ray Harryhausen passed away at the age of 92. Harryhausen himself had been inspired by a viewing of King Kong when he was a young boy, the awesome creatures on display in that film are what got him into doing stop-motion animation of his own, and before long he was working alongside Willis H. O'Brien, the man who had brought King Kong to life one frame at a time. It was Harryhausen who brought The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms wonderfully to life, one of his earliest feature credits.

Harryhausen's Rhedosaurus was the first movie creature to be awakened by nuclear bombs, something that would go on to happen quite often. One of the most famous monsters to draw inspiration from the scenarios, success, and artwork of this Beast was the great Godzilla, who arrived on screens in Japan the following year.

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