Thursday, May 27, 2010

Popcorn Pick 5-28-10

No movie based on a video game ever went on to become a classic. Most are just big, dumb action movies with no plot and lots of overblown special effects. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time carries on this grand tradition of Hollywood pumping out crap movies from popular video games, starring the strapping Jake Gyllenhaal as the brainless action hero. Said hero has found a dagger with the power to turn back time. The film follows him and a random hot girl (newcomer Gemma Arterton) on their epic quest through the Arabian desert to destroy it. The plot is meaningless and sure to be abandoned halfway through; all that matters is the big action and even bigger special effects. This looks like The Mummy with slo-mo shots. Ben Kingsley also stars as the villain, which may be the film's one smart move.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Iron Man 2 **1/2

One of the most anticipated films of the year is, alas, not one of the best, and to be perfectly honest, a bit of a disappointment.
Not that Iron Man 2 is bad. Far from it. The entire cast is terrific, the action scenes are big and often exciting, the special effects are dazzling, and the direction is spot-on. The film simply suffers from an ailment I call sequelitis. It's very common and easy to catch. The symptoms are a rushed production started immediately after a specific film becomes a big hit, trying to copy whatever worked best on the original, and having one too many plots. An especially ugly symptom is re-casting a main character for the sequel. While Iron Man was thrillingly original and followed no rules, Iron Man 2 can't help but be the lesser film because it tries far too hard to be a sequel and not its own film.
This one opens where the first film left off, with Tony Stark (the pitch-perfect Robert Downey, Jr.) revealing to the world that he is in fact the superhero Iron Man, propelling his fame through the roof. From there, the film splits itself in several different directions. On one side, the government wants Stark to hand over the suit, believing it to be dangerous. In Russia, a dead scientist's son is proving them right by using Stark's designs to build his own version of the suit, with electromagnetic whips. On another side, Stark promotes his assistant Pepper Potts to CEO of his company so he can focus on other things. He hires another hot young thing to be his new assistant, in the form of Scarlett Johansson as ass-kicking Natalie, who has a secret. On yet another side, his business rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell, in a splendidly enthusiastic performance) is trying to build Iron Man suits of his own. After a failed assassination attempt on Stark, Hammer enlists Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler) to show him the secret. Rourke's comic book villain is very dark and often silent, which is supposed to show intensity but comes across as him just looking bored in all of his scenes. Oh, and Stark's power source is giving him a rare blood disorder that is slowly killing him.
As was foreshadowed in the first movie, Stark's buddy Rhodey gets his own Iron Man suit, but beyond this plot point, his presence in the movie seems pointless, especially since they recasted Terrence Howard for the older and less hip Don Cheadle. Samuel L. Jackson also appears, acting very Samuel L. Jackson-y as the eyepatch-strutting Nick Fury, still trying to recruit Stark into the Avengers.
The best part of the movie is the humor, most of which still comes from the fast-talking Downey. Director Jon Favreau expands on his own cameo as Stark's lackey Hogan. It's a self-serving mood, but at least we get a few laughs out of it. For all its faults, the movie delivers on all its promises, by offering several good action scenes, my favorite of which is the Stark vs. Rhodey smackdown in his mansion. The finale sequence is tight and exciting, and there's even a great in-joke about Captain America. Fans of the comic books will want to stay for a short but great here's-what's-next scene at the end of the credits.
Iron Man 2 is not a great film, or even a great sequel, but it is good solid summer entertainment that demands very little from its viewer and gives a lot back in return. It's exactly what you'd expect from it, nothing more and nothing less.
I would recommend this film to fans of comic-book movies and of Robert Downey, Jr.

You can watch the trailer here:

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Popcorn Pick 5-21-10

It's always tricky adapting a movie from something that doesn't have a complete story to it. Examples: a short story. A pirate ride from Disneyland. A series of sketches from Saturday Night Live. It's especially difficult when the lead is a risky goofball who's never headlined a hit movie before. But if it's worked for movies that weren't even that good, why couldn't it work for something that looks at least halfway decent, like this week's MacGruber? Will Forte and Kristen Wiig upgrade their popular SNL sketch characters to the big screen in this action-comedy that looks less MacGyver (which the sketches spoof) and more Lethal Weapon. The plot (retired hero gets called back into action to stop a powerful terrorist) is simple, but is still more complicated than each of the sketches (MacGruber and sidekick are stuck in a bunker with a bomb, get distracted, and die). This film has promised to push the R rating to the limit, with coarse language, crude humor, and gratuitous sex in every scene. I'm hoping for a laugh-a-minute pace, a new star in Forte, and the comedy event of the year. Co-stars Ryan Phillippe (Crash) and Val Kilmer.
(I feel I have to put a postscript on this week's Pick. While I'm excited to see MacGruber, it was difficult for me to put it as my pick when Shrek Forever After opens on the same day. Unfortunately, buzz for this animated sequel isn't good and seems likely to disappoint fans of the series. Forte's film appears to be impressing audiences and it seems we might have a surprise hit on our hands there. Regardless of its quality, Shrek is opening in 3-D and will probably open at number 1 this weekend.)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Popcorn Pick 5-14-10

Popcorn Pick

The newest Robin Hood interpretation stars Russell Crowe as the legendary archer, with, as always, Ridley Scott directing. It takes a more "realistic" approach to the age-old story, with Robin rallying armies to fight against the tyrannical Prince John. This version seems to focus more on epic battle scenes than anything else; any character development and romance will probably be inconsequential to the film. I admit that it doesn't look all that good, but you probably can expect some great action from the makers of Gladiator. The film also stars the always-brilliant Cate Blanchett as Marion. In this movie age where audiences prefer giant talking robots and superheroes as opposed to old-fashioned bows and arrows, this probably won't make that big a splash after its opening weekend.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Popcorn Pick 5-7-10

Popcorn Pick

This week's pick is easy- a certain superhero movie starring one of the kookiest actors currently in Hollywood. Two years ago, Iron Man started off the summer with a bang, wowing audiences and leaving them panting for more. No one expected it to be as big as it was, but this time around, expectations are very high. Iron Man 2 finds Tony Stark dealing with the newfound celebrity he has with the whole world knowing his double life and facing down the badass Russian villain Whiplash. Robert Downey, Jr. is back as the iron-clad stud with a performance that's sure to impress. Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler) looks like he puts everything he has into Whiplash to create a complex and real-seeming villain. The glittery cast is rounded out by Gwyneth Paltrow, once again playing Stark's tireless babysitter Pepper Potts (a comic book name if ever I heard one); Don Cheadle, sadly replacing Terrence Howard to play Rhodey and suit up in his own Iron Man uniform; Scarlett Johansson, clad in tight leather as Black Widow (hero or villain? See it to find out!), Samuel L. Jackson as the one-eyed Nick Fury, expanding on his cameo from the first film, and Sam Rockwell as a businessman interested in building more Iron Man suits. Expect lots of slam-bang action, awesome special effects, and witty banter. Sure to be one of the biggest films of the summer.