Tropic Thunder (2008)

Generally speaking, movies about the inner workings of Hollywood and how fake the industry is usually don’t too well at the box office.  Sure, they’ll be critically acclaimed and such, but for the most part it seems that audiences don’t care about how movies are made, they just like the movies.  And most audiences like terrible movies.  How else can you explain a painfully average and boring film like Avatar becoming the #1 grossing movie of all time?  The championing of mediocrity and the higher cost of 3D movie tickets I guess would also be completely plausible reasons, but in my opinion it was just catering to the marketplace, and the market loves unchallenging shit.  Anyways, rant over, let’s talk about Tropic Thunder.

Directed and co-written by star Ben Stiller, it’s a sorta spoof of the movie industry that touches on numerous topics.  Endorsement deals, revenue streams, awards baiting, method acting, contract riders, all those and numerous other topics are touched upon, in some cases almost too spot on.  Robert Downey, Jr. actually scored a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his performance as Kirk Lazarus, an Australian method actor who performs in blackface for almost the entirety of the film.  There was no way Downey was going to win, as this was the same year that Heath Ledger’s phenomenal Joker performance in The Dark Knight was released.  Still, props to the Academy for legitimizing that role of Downey’s.

I’m not going to go into too much detail about the plot of the movie, because you’ve probably heard about it by now, and it just comes across as preposterous.  The strength of the movie is in the performances, and actors knowing their role and playing to it.  Stiller’s character of Tugg Speedman is probably the most on-the-nose role in the movie, and if he wasn’t surrounded by an able supporting cast, honestly, the movie wouldn’t be as good as it is.

As it stands, it’s not a perfect movie by any means, but it is highly enjoyable and one that certainly lends itself to multiple viewings (do yourself a favour and watch it with Downey’s commentary at least once, the man is a national treasure).

3.5 / 5

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The Incredible Hulk (2008)

I’m going to set the record straight right off the bat.  I prefer the 2003 Ang Lee-directed Hulk movie to this one.  There are notable tonality differences in the two films, as the first one is much more of a “real movie” whereas the second one is a better “HULK SMASH” movie.  Not everyone will agree with me.  In fact, most Marvel fanboys will completely disagree with me, but whatever, everyone’s got their own opinions.  I also think that is the weakest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films released so far, and I don’t think too many people will disagree with me on that.

Playing the part of Bruce Banner this time is Edward Norton, taking over the role that Eric Bana played in Hulk.  And for The Avengers, it was switched a third time to Mark Ruffalo, which is completely acceptable.  Norton plays a decent enough Banner, but didn’t really strike me as I don’t know, maybe miserable enough to fully capture how much Banner disliked losing control and turning into the other guy.

I don’t really have too much to say about this movie.  It did its job well enough, while also furthering the Marvel Cinematic Universe storyline and getting Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) in an end credits scene to push The Avengers further to the forefront.  There are numerous call-aheads to Captain America as well as developing a potential future villain with the mutation of Dr. Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson).  However, if they end up making a third Hulk film, the question is whether or not they just “requel” it again or actually make it a full-on sequel.

As it is, for full enjoyment of the work that Marvel Studios has done in crafting their Cinematic Universe, you should definitely see the movie.

3 / 5

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Alright, so I did a whole nice write-up yesterday for the first Iron Man movie, and well, this one is more of the same.  It’s not The Dark Knight sequel to Batman Begins, it’s more like what Batman Forever was to Batman, if that makes sense.  It probably doesn’t since I just casually omitted Batman Returns, but Forever had sooo much Batcrap shoved into it that the movie actually shat out a sequel.

I just wanna sit back and appreciate that thing that I just wrote.  Man, I hope I didn’t subconsciously steal it from someone, because it is such a perfect description of Batman & Robin.  You can LIKE this review or G+ it or RT it or whatever.  I don’t even want to write anymore.

Alright, fine.  So Iron Man 2 brings back almost the exact same cast and creative team as the original movie, minus the unlikable Terrence Howard (replaced with the awesome Don Cheadle) and bringing in Justin Theroux as the screenplay writer.  At this point The Avengers movie release date was (I think) set in stone and there were preparations and things shoved into the story that seemed to be less about just Iron Man, and more about pumping up the Avengers plotline.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but it gives the whole movie more of an episodic feel.  Like, you can’t have “The Body” episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” without “I Was Made to Love You” which I had to research (and I actually dug that episode too) to remember it took place directly before “The Body”.

I feel like I’m getting all Pitchfork-y with this review, making allusions to other things that seem quite brilliant in my head and maybe seems assholeish when someone else reads it.  Anyways, the film also brings in Mickey Rourke as the main villain Whiplash, Sam Rockwell as Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey, Jr.) main business rival, Justin Hammer, and Scarlett Johansson as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent – and future Avenger- Natalya Romanov or y’know, Black Widow.  There’s also a lovely little appearance by John Slattery as Tony’s dad in archival footage, and the whole Stark family thing reminds me so much of “The Venture Bros.”

So there are parts I like about Iron Man 2 because they remind me of other things, and it’s a competently enough made movie, but not nearly as great as the first movie.

3.5 / 5

Iron Man (2008)

Okay, so this is the movie that kicked off the whole Avengers Initiative thing that ultimately led to The Avengers being made and probably becoming one of the Top Five highest grossing movies ever (pure speculation at this point).  If this movie had ended up being a box office bomb, well, it would have bankrupted the newly made Marvel Studios, Robert Downey, Jr. would probably have had a relapse and the entire world would be a different place now.  Probably.  But it didn’t, so yay!

I’m a DC Comics fan, so most of the characters in Marvel’s comic universe I have only a smattering of knowledge about, though I do tend to pick up little tidbits of info here and there.  Iron Man probably wasn’t what Marvel would consider a first-tier marketable character, but they didn’t have 100% control over their most recognisable movie characters – Spider-Man and Wolverine/X-Men – so the film for Iron Man became the launch pad of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It was directed by Jon Favreau in an apparently less than 100%-scripted environment, which leads to some scenes of dialogue which feel much more natural because of Downey’s nature of neverstoptalkingwhenotherpeoplearetalking.

Downey was probably no one’s first choice for Tony Stark/Iron Man, but the actor took that ball and fucking repulsor rayed it to the moon.  The rest of the cast is 95% perfect as well, but only because I find it hard to buy Terrence Howard in anything.  This film also marks the first fun appearance of Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) of S.H.I.E.L.D. and boy I hate typing acronyms like that.  Iron Man also pretty much laid out the formula for all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, with Coulson appearances, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) appearances, post-credit scenes and numerous nods to the future films in the Universe.  Like Pixar, only more fanboy serverish.

Anyways, solid fucking movie.  Great launchpad for the Avengers franchise, and I wish DC would be able to replicate the same formula for a future Justice League movie, but oh well.

4.5 / 5

The Avengers (2012)

I have to admit, I’m a bit jealous.  See, I’m not a Marvel Comics fanboy and the success that their high quality movie versions of their characters are enjoying makes me – a DC Comics fanboy – insanely jealous.  See, I know that if there ever were to be a Justice League movie, well DC Comics would have to have some sort of alternate (read: inferior) version of Batman, because it’s quite clear that the Christopher Nolan Batman isn’t in a world populated with heroes.  And while I enjoyed Green Lantern there are loads of others that didn’t.  Not to mention how every Superman movie that has come out since Superman II has been pretty craptacular.  Marvel went and signed Joss Whedon to direct The Avengers, so there went the best hope for any Wonder Woman movie, and there aren’t even any rumours that I’ve heard about a Flash movie.  So yeah, super jealous because DC can’t get their cinematic shit together.  Moving on.

In the next couple days, my reviews for the rest of the movies that are part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be posted (except Captain America, as that one was already posted) and what you’ll find is that they’re all pretty damn good movies.  For the most part.  The sum of them all is The Avengers, and honestly, you couldn’t find a better director than Joss Whedon to helm this ship.  Whedon has an affinity for the characters that he’s been reading for decades, and if we’ve learned anything from Whedon’s fanbase, it’s that he can make us feel in a way that most directors/writers take for granted.  When Wash dies in Serenity, he wasn’t the only who felt like they’d been impaled, and that was because of the heart that Whedon instills in his characters.  So the whole time watching Avengers, I was wondering which ancillary character was going to bite the dust so we could truly feel like This Means Something.

Another trademark Whedon-ism is the wry sense of humour that characters have in the face of insurmountable odds, and that humour is very much evident throughout the entire film.  I’m pretty sure every character, from Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) to Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) hell, everyone of them gets a laugh in the movie.  Of course, front and centre is the most fleshed character out of the Avengers team (so-far), Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), but this movie isn’t his.  It’s not Captain America’s (Chris Evans) or Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth).  In fact, I think that the Big Bad of the movie, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), might have had more screen time than anyone else.

The movie doesn’t really have to waste time with showing the origin stories of all these heroes, because they have their own series, just like in the comic book world.  It’s the story of a bunch of combustible elements coming together to form a super power to combat the end of the world.  Honestly, I would have to say that this is the greatest comic book movie of all time, and that’s mostly because I think the Christopher Nolan Batman films can actually hold their own as non-comic book movies.  The Avengers movie and the Marvel Cinematic Universe has a lot of fanboy pandering to them, but it’s all great popcorn, summer blockbuster fun.  The Nolan Batman films, well they’re exploring areas outside of the comic books with the implication that they take place in a very realistic world.  Nolan’s Batman would never be in the Justice League.

Anyways, The Avengers is pretty much what any comic book nerd dreams of: the action on the screen taken directly from the pages of their comic books.  The heroes they love, the villains they hate, they’re all expertly interpreted into a new medium and it’s a goddamn great movie.  I don’t even think you’d need to see the other Marvel Cinematic Universe movies to completely enjoy the movie, but they would certainly add more depth to the experience.  Also, the 3D was much like Toy Story 3, not invasive and all OMG LOOK IT’S 3D so I strongly recommend seeing it in a theatre when you can.

5 / 5

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

Earlier this year, I re-watched the first Guy Ritchie-directed Sherlock Holmes movie to hopefully get some extra traffic due to the sequel having recently been released in theatres.  I also fully intended on seeing that sequel, but at a more convenient time and cost than the theatre (small town theatres are generally shitty if they haven’t been built in the last 10 years).  I wasn’t sure if A Game of Shadows was going to be a direct sequel or a somewhat stand-alone movie, so I wanted to refresh my memories of it and realised that it wasn’t as great a movie as I initially thought it to be.

I think Guy Ritchie has some sort of directing tic, where he absolutely must have a slo-motion scene that shows SO MUCH else that us regular-speed watchers would never catch onto.  There are so many trademark Ritchie scenes in the movie that I’m sure it could easily inspire a drinking game where alcohol poisoning is almost a certainty.  He’s almost a cerebral British Michael Bay, except not as shitty.  The usage of those filming techniques is almost a crutch at this point, and if it weren’t for the writing and acting in Ritchie’s movies, he’d pretty much be Zack Snyder.

The acting and writing are the only things that kept me involved in this movie, completely honest here.  Robert Downey, Jr. again carries the bulk of the film as the titular character, with ample screentime devoted to his Watson, Jude Law.  The best part of the movie is Jared Harris though, appearing as the nemesis of Sherlock Holmes, Moriarty.  A far different foil for Holmes than Mark Strong was in the first movie, much more intellectual and actually making one doubt Holmes’ James Bond-esque ability to amply prepare for everything every time everywhere.

However, much like the first movie, my interest waned and I was easily distracted from the movie.  That’s one of the few advantages a movie theatre has over home viewing, where the fact that I paid for this damn movie is the only thing keeping me watching it.  It got a bit unnecessarily convoluted and I got a bit bored and probably missed some intrinsic plot detail that was a red herring or some shit and whatever, it was an alright movie in the end, nothing more.

3 / 5

Zodiac (2007)

After watching David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo yesterday and watching his Zodiac film today, I can see why he was interested in making TGWTDT.  It was probably a slam dunk for him, considering he’d already made practically the same movie.  Both movies contain large casts and attempting to unravel a decades old mystery.  One is based on TRUE LIFE EVENTS and the other was adapted from a dead Swede’s work of fiction.  INTRIGUE~!

Honestly, Zodiac is near perfection, a wonderful .. well, “wonderful” seems like a poor choice of a word to use to describe a movie about an unsolved series of murders from Back in the Day.  It’s a Fincher film, so it’s darkly humourous, and pretty much dark all around.  The blacks are so black.  It’s been written by many writers better than me (me card read good) that Fincher is pretty much a perfectionist, and every small detail in the film is perfect, right down to the smallest role.  The numerous leads are note perfect, and the supporting cast features maybe Familiar Friends of Fincher, all top notch, though I will give out huge props to John Carroll Lynch (biased note: he has the same birthday as me) because the way he acts during his entire less than 10 minutes of screen time, man, he should have gotten an Oscar nom for that.

It’s so near perfect that it’s maddeningly frustrating that it isn’t.  You want the movie to reveal this one little detail that was missed decades ago, have everyone slap their foreheads and the mystery solved.  And … it might be?  With a nearly three hour running time to get to such an unsatisfying conclusion, oh man, it’s just.. I can’t think of the perfect analogy or metaphor for it, other than maybe something to do with getting dry humped but not getting off.  YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN.  Maddening.

4.5 / 5