Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Iron Man 3

It’s time for the summer movies to start rolling in, the popcorn fare that entertains us during those dog days.  Iron Man 3, the third installment in Marvel’s popular franchise, kicks off what should be a promising season for super hero movies.  This time around we find Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) recuperating from the otherworldly showdown that capped off last year’s Avengers.  He is physically fine, but his shaken mental state leaves him in a reflective mood.

The movie opens with Tony thinking back to a chance encounter on New Year’s Eve 1999.  After attending a glamorous party with then girlfriend Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall, The Town), Tony runs into a scientist, a developer named Aldrich Killian, who wants to discuss some exciting new ideas for his technology company.  Aldrich (Guy Pearce, Prometheus) appears nerdy and disheveled, not the kind of person who leaves an impression.  Tony snubs the man, unwittingly setting him on a course of scornful retaliation.

Fast-forward to the present day, and Aldrich has reinvented himself.  Gone is the meek intellectual who could barely a muster a sentence. With a new hairdo and some much-needed dental work, he is confident and bold.  His intentions have grown more nefarious since Tony spurned him all those years ago.  He has created Extremis, a chemical that could restore limbs to maimed soldiers returning home from war.

Unfortunately, Extremis can have terrible side effects, including spontaneous combustion, which would sort of defeat the purpose of regenerating a lost limb, wouldn’t it?  These spontaneous explosions are related to a series of terror attacks that have been charged to a radical extremist known as “The Mandarin” (Ben Kingsley, Hugo).  His relationship with Aldrich isn’t immediately clear, but the pair is up to something fishy.  When Aldrich kidnaps the president in a misguided attempt to further their twisted terrorist agenda, Tony and his buddy Colonel James Rhodes (War Machine aka Iron Patriot) (Don Cheadle, Flight) come to the rescue.

Hope I didn’t give away too much; I tried to keep it simple.  Iron Man 3 was exciting and entertaining, and I understand why it opened at number 1, given its format and the time of year.  The special effects were cool; particularly the way the Iron Man suit strategically broke away from Tony and then quickly reattached itself, piece by piece.  The movie was funny, and even though he’s a billionaire, Stark is one of the more accessible superheroes because he doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously.  There were lots of one-liners, and Robert Downey Jr. will be missed if it’s true that this is his last outing.  You know what though?  I was rather underwhelmed.  I actually dozed off for a quick second.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but maybe I like a darker protagonist.  This was a feel-good movie for all audiences, which is great.  I’m sure I have the minority opinion, but I just didn’t love it.  Good movie, but no big deal. Grade: B+



I’m getting a little repetitive in my reviews here lately, but it can’t be helped. There’s just some good stuff coming out of Hollywood lately, and the last few movies I’ve seen have been amazing.  Flight was another recent addition to what’s been a great year in film.  Denzel Washington (Safe House) is one of the preeminent actors of our generation, obviously.  We already know that he’s talented and marketable, but I think that the further along and more settled an actor becomes in their career, the less likely they are to take risks or to stretch themselves.  Washington has made a career out of being the hero, and when I initially saw the trailer for Flight, I assumed it would be more of the same.  Like, you saved people from a train (Unstoppable), and now you’re going to save people on a plane.  Been there, done that.  But after watching Flight, I was simply blown away.

Washington stars as Whip Whitaker, a seasoned commercial pilot whose experience, knowledge, and gumption make him one of the best.  While he’s in complete control in the cockpit, his personal life on the ground is much rockier.  He has a contentious relationship with his ex-wife and is estranged from their teenaged son.  The movie begins in a hotel room with Whip GETTING. IT. IN.  I mean, whatever you’re into – he had it; pick your poison.  Coke? Check. Drink? Check. Weed? Check.  I thought he was just having a good time, so imagine my surprise when he and his lovely bedmate mention their impending flight!  I like revealing, expository opening scenes, and director Robert Zemeckis (Cast Away) expertly told us all we needed to know about Whip in five short minutes.  Well, almost all we needed to know.

Let’s jump to the actual flight, which includes one of the most intense scenes I’ve ever witnessed on the silver screen.  The real trouble starts when the plane takes an unexpected nosedive about 20 minutes into the flight.  Folks, let me pause here.  This scene was nothing short of amazing.  I have to tip my hat to Zemeckis for this because I’ve never been so riveted by a single movie scene, and I swear I’ve seen it all at this point.  My movie buddy clutched my thigh, and my eyes began to water.  That’s how amazing this crash scene was.  Everything was depicted perfectly, from the panic and terror of the passengers, to the bravery and sacrifice of the flight attendants as Whip once again showed his mettle.  To stabilize the plane, he inverts it…and they fly upside down!  The plane levels off and he rights the aircraft, lessening the inevitable impact of the crash while lives hung in the balance.  To put it simply…Whip is The Motherfucking Man.

I’ve chosen my words carefully and tried not to reveal anything that I don’t think you’d already have gleaned from the trailer.  Whip’s aviation abilities are above reproach, but his pre-flight behavior was indicative of a man with a serious problem.  After the crash, that behavior is scrutinized and it’s revealed over the course of the film that Whip is a raging alcoholic.  The depths of addiction know no bounds, and I’m speaking from experience.  If you’ve never struggled with it or known someone who has, some of the things Washington’s character does will seem unbelievable, but I thought it was spot-on.  Anyone who has dealt with addiction knows there’s a dark place you have to go before you can vanquish whatever demon threatens you – and that place is called Rock Bottom.  I was greatly impressed with Washington’s ability to portray a character that was deeply flawed, yet sympathetic.  His obvious addiction is expertly juxtaposed with the heroism and skill he displayed on the flight.  As a viewer, you want to despise the recklessness of his actions one minute and applaud him the next.  That conflicting duality of his personality made for an excellent film.  We are the sum of our parts, but it was hard to define Whip Whitaker at times.

Flight literally took my breath away, it was that good.  Washington is a force to be reckoned with and he swagged all over this joint.  His sex symbol status is different now, and I could have done without the shot of his booty, but he is still handsome and oozes charisma.  I’ve never seen him in such a fluid role, where the dichotomy between right and wrong and hero and villain becomes blurred by circumstance.  Actress Kelly Reilly (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) was also a revelation in her role.  I’d never heard of her before this, but she was a wonderful counterbalance to Whip’s addictive personality, as they forged a tentative romance that never really had a fair shot.  Go see this movie! Grade: A.

The Avengers

My mom reads my reviews, so I’ll censor myself a bit for this one.  Suffice it to say that the excitement I feel when I see a good movie trailer is akin to the adrenaline that coursed through the veins of the women who used to throw their panties on stage at Marvin Gaye et al.  When I saw The Avengers trailer, I didn’t throw my panties at the movie screen.  But I could have.  Oh yeah, I wanted to.

This is my favorite movie going time of the year.  The Oscar movies tend to come out some time in the fall, but it’s the summer (and early spring) that gives us the popcorn fare we love.  There was no question I’d be front and center for The Avengers, even if I couldn’t swing the midnight showing.  The excitement in my theater was nearly palpable, and we were all in for a treat.  If you’ve seen Iron Man, The Hulk, or Thor – you’ll at least be somewhat familiar with these Marvel mainstays.  The movie begins with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, Meeting Evil), head of S.H.I.E.L.D., a covert government organization charged with protecting American interests on domestic and global levels.   It picks up where Thor left off, as Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth, The Cabin in the Woods) nefarious brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston, War Horse) has obtained the tesseract, an otherworldly energy source that can destroy the planet.  He wants to harness its power and bring humanity to its knees, enslaving the populace.  Fury knows that he can’t stop Loki on his own, after witnessing him take out an entire room of armed security forces.  His first call is to the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, We Bought a Zoo), a spy who is already in the fold.  The other members of the team will require varying degrees of persuasion.  Starks (Robert Downey Jr., Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) is in.  Thor comes forward of his own volition to battle his brother and fellow Asgardian.  Captain America (Chris Evans, What’s Your Number?) is a soldier who is accustomed to taking orders and as such, requires the least prodding.  Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, The Kids are All Right) is the most reluctant of the bunch, as he’s spent the better part of a year trying to keep his cool.  Rounding out the group is Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner, MI: 4), a recently rogue agent who was temporarily under Loki’s powerful spell.  Hawkeye and Black Widow are a tandem, bound by a shared mysterious past.  The movie highlights each hero’s skillset, and by the end they have accepted the values of teamwork and cooperation while forming an unbreakable bond.

The plot wasn’t terribly important, and it’s about what you’d expect: good guys unite to defeat the bad guy, whose wish list includes the subjugation of all mankind.  Some have an issue with the simplified plot, but I don’t.  I mean, it’s always a variation of the same theme.  I didn’t have a problem with the plot but I did have an issue with Loki’s reasoning that humanity’s natural desire is to be enslaved.  Quite the contrary, humans have an innate desire for freedom – so I thought writer Joss Wheedon could have tweaked that element a bit more.  It’s my only very minor criticism in a movie that was otherwise perfect.  What I enjoyed most about the movie was the interplay between each superhero.  Each character in his/her own right is capable of saving humanity, but it will take a concerted effort to defeat a foe as formidable as Loki, who has enlisted an entire interplanetary army to help him.  There was a natural chemistry among all the actors, and I can tell they genuinely had fun making this movie.

The Avengers succeeded where other superhero movies have failed.  Just because a movie is family-friendly does not mean that it has to be corny.  Spiderman 3 was horribly cheesy, and Superman Returns was equally bad, for similar reasons.  There has to be a middle ground between the darkness that Christopher Nolan brings to the Batman franchise and the corniness of those two aforementioned movies.  I believe The Avengers had the right balance of heft and fluff, if that makes sense.  It wasn’t all smiles and sunshine, as Black Widow has a shady past, Captain America is woefully out of touch, Thor is dealing with the worst form of sibling rivalry, Hawkeye needs redemption, and The Hulk is just trying not to spazz out.  The dialogue and interplay between characters was well worth the price of admission.  I think people should refrain from superlatives though.  This was not the best superhero movie ever made.  As long as Batman is still considered a superhero, that distinction remains with The Dark Knight.  That being said, The Avengers is a must-see summer blockbuster.  Grade: A+