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March 2011

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Rating History

Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3 (2013)
17 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

"Iron Man 3" is in an unenviable position. It has a tough act to follow, namely last year's blockbuster "The Avengers".

Well, knowing that, I, for one, was overjoyed when I saw that Shane Black would be directing this one. Because if there was ever someone whose work could pass for a clone of Joss Whedon, it's Shane Black. And Black delivers here spectacularly.

Black is one big factor in the film's success. The other is Robert Downey, Jr. It used to be common knowledge in the comic biz that Spider-Man and Robin were the two joker/punsters of super-heroes. But, that's not the case for the movies. Downey's breezy Tony Stark/Iron Man makes those guys look as stone-faced as Calvin Coolidge by comparison.

But--and this is what I liked most about "Iron Man 3", it's finally revealed that Stark's jocular attitude masks a lot of self-doubt and nightmares that have been consuming him since the mayhem in NYC that was portrayed in "Avengers". I LOVE it when the movie humanizes the hero like that. I loved it with "Green Lantern" and the way Ryan Reynolds portrayed Hal Jordan's self-doubts. And, I love it here. It makes the hero more empathetic to the audience. In the case of this movie, it causes Stark to make a rash public challenge that he will later live to regret.

This is also a TRUE sequel in the sense that it not only expands the character of Tony Stark, but it expands his mastery of those awesome iron suits. I won't say how. Hell, the ads for the movie are doing their best to give that away. Let's just say another title for this flick could have been "Apocalypse Iron Man" by the time of the last battle sequence.

There is only one problem I had with the movie: If you're going to take on an issue like international terrorism, don't play cute with it. Really deal with it. And the movie never DOES deal with the incredible reveal of who's behind the terrorism. It's just, "Well, they're in cuffs, folks. Now drive home safely."

And that's a cheat.

The movie has some stunning aerial action scenes and a blast of a climax involving (you'll love this, Marvelites) Roxxon Oil. It is a WILD, fun ride and I highly recommend it.

But, next time, stick to alien invaders if you don't have the stones or the self-awareness to follow through on the social and political ramifications of the huge reveal of your story. That's all.

Skyfall (2012)
17 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

A stunning, spectacular Bond movie! And, as I will argue in my review, a Bond movie that deserves some REAL gold at Oscar time!

The movie starts with Bond chasing a hired killer through the streets of Turkey and never lets up from there. Yes, there's the Bond Resurrection theme, which has been used before, most notably in "You Only Live Twice". But those previous uses of that story device are as dull as a 3 AM infomercial by comparison to this rollicking blockbuster.

The action sequences are beyond belief, even for a Bond flick. They give him a train to partially destroy at the beginning of the flick and quite a few more fun sequences after that. And there is ONE action sequence that turns this classic movie franchise on its head. Instead of Bond invading the bad guy's HQ, he turns the tables and devises a trap for the bad guys to come to him. How? Where? That would be telling. Suffice to say, the locale and the action set pieces will live in Bond lore for ANOTHER 50 years. This movie is THAT unforgettable.

"Skyfall" also serves to wrap up a trilogy, as the conspiracy to destroy MI6, that was revealed in "Casino Royale", is now concluded here and Bond fans get to see who was behind it. The revelation of that villain will be yet another great moment in Bond Movie history! Suffice to say that this movie may have the best Bond villian, in Javier Bardem, since the late, great Robert Shaw pulled a wire out of his watch in "From Russia With Love".

It's also timely. There are terrorist attacks that take place in it that will have you thinking of today's headlines. Along with governmental investigations and politics. Ever since Barbara Broccoli re-booted the series with "Casino Royale", she has tried to make the Bond movies a thinking person's action series. Here, she has succeeded beyond ANYONE'S expectations.

And, she started by getting a great director. Sam Mendes puts his foot on the accelerator, starting with that chase scene in Turkey, and he never lets up. The suspense is tremendous. Not to mention the technical quality of the picture. This may be the most beautifully shot Bond picture ever filmed. You can almost smell the opium when Bond enters an Asian casino or feel the dampness of dawn as it breaks on the Scottish highlands. Here's hoping the DP, Roger Deakins, is remembered at Oscar time, as he so richly deserves to be.

Speaking of that, this is a chance for a Mulligan for the Oscars. The Academy blew it when it shamefully snubbed "Casino Royale" (although its British cousin, the BAFTA, most decidedly did NOT) in 2006. Here's a chance for them to make up for it with this masterpiece of a blockbuster. If nothing else, "Skyfall" offers the Academy the opportunity to pay homage to the Broccoli family, perhaps the greatest producers in motion picture history.

And, speaking of "Casino Royale", this movie falls just short of THAT masterpiece because there is no romance in this movie to match the screen-sizzling chemistry between Daniel Craig and Eva Green in that picture. But, that's a niggling, minor criticism. "Skyfall" is easily the BEST action movie of the year and one of the best pictures of this decade.

By comparison, Craig's Bond makes the tired, wimpy invalid Batman in "The Dark Knight Rises" look sad. Here's hoping the Nolan brothers caught this masterpiece and were armed with notepads. Sam Mendes outclasses the Nolans with "Skyfall" about as much as Stanley Kubrick outclassed every science-fiction director of his era when he made "2001: A Space Odyssey" decades ago. And, like "2001", "Skyfall" will be in every serious film fan's library for decades to come.

Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid
22 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

In our modern era, I would call "Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid" an Occupy Wall Street Western. And, I mean that in the most complimentary sense.

So many westerns romanticize the transition from the American West to The American Industrial Revolution. Not Sam Peckinpah's westerns. He was one director who showed how the greed and brutality of the cattle barons despoiled the American landscape and the American heritage. He portrayed these visions very well in his two most famous movies, "The Wild Bunch" and "Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid".

Please note that many of the film reviews from the critics here are for the original cut that was rushed into release in 1973 by then-MGM Studio Head James Aubrey. The key cut of this picture to see is the 2005 restoration that was put together based on Sam Peckinpah's notes.

The picture is hardly free from flaws, but the overall sense of the upper 2% of the 19th century despoiling the land, corrupting friendships and brutalizing the people is crystal clear and gives the picture a resounding power that covers up those flaws. When Garrett's wife tells him that he's dead inside, in a scene that was cut from the original release, we can't help but agree as he goes down an ill-fated path of just being another killer for the cattle barons.

The movie also does not romanticize the violence of the Old West either. People die in bloody shoot-outs while longing to cling to life. No scene better embodies that than the one depicting a sheriff dying next to a brook while the famous Bob Dylan song "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" is playing. It's quite a powerful scene.

James Coburn has a perfect world-weary, beaten-down look to him throughout the picture that reflects a man who's compromised himself to the point where he has to murder his old friends. You can tell what an outstanding actor he is as I remember Mr. Coburn having that same look on his face a few months after this picture was released. Only, in that case, it was happening in real life, as he was a pall-bearer at a funeral for one of the best friends he ever had: Bruce Lee.

When an actor's performance conflates with an event from his own life, you know you're seeing some great work in a great movie. And, that movie is "Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid".

Thor (2011)
23 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

"Thor" is a fun comic book flick, but there's even more to reccomend it.

The story is direct and simple: As heir to the throne of Asgard, mythical realm of the Norse gods, Thor defies Odin, goes on a personal invasion of Jotunheim, the land of the Frost Giants, and finds himself banished to Earth as a mortal. There, he meets a group of scientists and must prove hismself worthy of wielding the hammer again.

There's a lot to like about "Thor", from the plucky scientists, the government agents who are trying to figure out the hammer, the battles in Jotunheim and Asgard. But the part of the story that really piqued my interest was the relationships. Or, more specifically, the family relationships--those between Thor, his brother Loki and their father Odin, who is king of Asgard.

I won't give away any of the spoilers about the relationships between the three, but, suffice to say that I found this movie to be wonderfully moving and involving about them. There's the universal kind of drama that we can all relate to about family secrets and hidden agendas that we've ALL seen in our own lives. And, to see them here in the setting of the Norse gods, is both terrific entertainment and a great emotional story.

To exemplify what I mean: Sci-fi or action movies rarely get Oscar nominations. The last one to get one was Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker in "Dark Knight". However, as great as that performance was, that award was also a memorial to Ledger's career due to his untimely passing. And how long had it been since Ledger's award that a movie in this genre got a major acting Oscar nomination? You have to go all the way back to Sigourney Weaver's nomination for Best Actress for "Aliens". I rest my case.

Regardless, I think a strong case can be made that Tom Hiddleston deserves a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his performance as Loki in "Thor". He makes one of the most sympathetic villains I've ever seen in any movie, much less a movie based on a comic book.

And, back to that aspect, I don't want to ignore what a fun movie this is! "Thor" has a great sense of humor, tremendous action and a sweet romance between Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman.

With all of that going for it, you know that cheesy statement of "a movie that the whole family can enjoy"? Usually, that means kids will love it and adults will be bored stiff. Well, "Thor" can wear that label as a badge of honor.

2016: Obama's America
2 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

LOL! The only suspense this flick generates is whether it will be a bigger EPIC FAIL than "Undefeated" was. Conservatives make the most lame documentaries. They really need to give up when it comes to this genre.