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A Hero’s Demons

Iron Man 3 (2013) by Shane Black

Iron Man is back with a new director. The hero’s third solo movie is a mess – you may think it’s a solid movie but it’s really not. It’s the one I’ll be hating on unasked until the end of my days. Why? I’m not quite sure, there are enough reasons. Let’s have a look at them.

But first, as always, here’s what happens:

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has PTSD. The things that happened in New York left him paralyzed with fear, he can’t sleep, and he’s got panic attacks. On top of that, there’s a new threat that America faces: the Mandarin. He’s attacking the free world with bombings that don’t seem to use bombs.

Meanwhile, Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) isn’t very happy with Tony as he takes little time for her but rather tinkers in his workshop. Tony tries to tell her about his fears but then his Iron Man suit attacks Pepper when she tries to help him and things get positively rocky when an ex-girlfriend appears at his door.

What a mess! Really, I hate this movie. On some level, I know that it’s watchable but there are a lot of things I don’t like and they just culminate into what is probably the worst MCU entry to date. You don’t believe me? You actually like it better than Iron Man 2? That’s your prerogative but let’s have a closer look at Iron Man 3:

I think the first problem is the narration, having Tony Stark tell this story in voiceover takes away some imminent threat. Think about the scene where he almost drowns. Of course, we kinda sorta know that he’ll be all right but the voiceover makes sure that we do know. There’s no real threat, we know Tony will be all right and that also extends to Pepper because if she weren’t Tony wouldn’t be telling this story. He would probably have disappeared in a hole somewhere.

In the beginning, Tony tells us about demons he’s raised and it all started at a conference in Bern in 1999 where Tony meets three people that will make their mark on him. First, there is Jinsen (Shaun Toub), the man who in a cave somewhere in the middle east will save his life. Tony brushes him off. Then there’s Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), a beautiful woman who also happens to be a genius working on DNA that can spontaneously repair itself. While Tony tries to help her with the kinks she still has to work out, he seems more interested in sleeping with her – which he does before he leaves her the next morning. The third one is Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), the founder of A.I.M., a think tank. He’s what you may call the worst stereotype of a nerd, but also rather obnoxious. Tony tells him they’ll talk on the roof and never shows.

So his demons consist of a woman he slept with and never called and a guy he left waiting on the roof on New Year’s Eve? Considering the kind of asshole we’re to believe he was that’s a short and rather tame list. It seems that Tony’s ego once again gets the best of him and wants him to believe that he”s responsible for what happened. Neither Hansen or Killian seem that traumatized, to be honest, and Killian’s focus seems to lie more on Pepper than Tony. He calls her his trophy after capturing her and injecting her with that still unstable serum Hansen has concocted. The one thing we really don’t need in the MCU is a villain who uses the love interest to hurt the hero. As if they weren’t treating their female characters worse enough already!

They are and case in point is this movie because, in the first drafts of the screenplay, Maya Hansen was the villain, not Aldrich Killian. But Marvel was concerned about (get this!) toy sales. They didn’t think anyone would buy a female villain toy and that’s why Hall’s role was cut down and changed to what it became, a one-night-stand with a grudge.

I don’t really have words about how fucked up this is. Ultimately, Aldrich Killian is the worst villain the MCU probably has. One that makes no sense at all. I mean, Hansen really had to resort to working with THAT guy? She invented something genius, she probably could’ve been funded by universities or the government with what she was doing but instead, she chose THAT guy. That’s mind-boggling.

And it’s the worst part about this movie – the villain(s). Compared to the reveal which wasn’t really surprising by the way the movie has been set up (with Tony’s narration), the fake Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) is rather amusing. It’s a commentary on how we perceive terrorists, our prejudices. This commentary is, however, overshadowed by the white-washing of another Asian character because it turns out that Killian is the Mandarin.

Basically, the whole villain storyline is stupid and sexist and racist. The worst. And that’s frustrating because there are parts of this movie that are way better than most of Iron Man 2. Like when Tony bonds with that kid, Harley (Ty Simpkins), in Tennessee. How he deals with his PTSD (except for the end-credit scene, that was just Marvel making a joke of everything), how he tries to let Pepper in and not repeat his mistakes from the second movie. He’s become a better man and there’s growth in the character. But all the rest of the movie is so messed up you hardly notice it.

And that’s why I hate this movie.

Next: Thor: The Dark World (I just noticed that the German title is Thor: The Dark Kingdom, what’s that all about?)

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Back to tv: The Closer

The Closer (2005-2012) created by James Duff

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As you can see, I’m only just starting on the show and have now watched the first two season. I have watched a couple of episodes on German tv (that’s how I came across it, after all) but watching stuff on German tv is tricky because it is all dubbed. For a show that relies so much on its main character and characterization in general this means: no accents. Yeah, you see where I’m going with this: watching The Closer without Brenda Leigh Johnson’s distinctive accent is kind of missing the point.

thecloser1It took me a while to even find out that Brenda had an accent and why everyone was acting the way they did around her – but I got there and decided it was time to watch the show in the original. And I’m not sorry I did. For once, I have always liked Kyra Sedgwick. I’m not sure where I saw her first (could have been Singles) but the moment I saw her I liked her and that hasn’t changed. For another, I’m partial to Jeffrey Deaver’s books and I recognized in Brenda Leigh Johnson what I like about his Kathryn Dance-series: the shrewd intelligence of a person who is good at reading people and using this to her advantage. I like people – if I’m not hating them with a passion. I like the complexity of us, the diversity and the sameness – and I like watching people concerning themselves with people. And this is what The Closer is about.

That isn’t to say that it’s all good. As you can easily see in the pictures, the show has a gender-challenge. The challenge being that of a woman in a man’s world and a lot of what is going on in the first season made me angry. The feeling of Brenda Leigh Johnson having to fight old boys club-windmills was prevalent and it irked me. Fortunately, they eased up on this in the second season. I’m thecloser3not saying that this isn’t a real issue, it is, but sometimes real issues make me so mad in real life that I don’t want to deal with them in an imaginary world, or at least not too much. The glass ceiling exists, Brenda Leigh likes to ignore it but she doesn’t have to do this in every episode for women to feel empowered, or for everyone to acknowledge that it exists.

It is difficult for me to watch a show with so many male characters, I’m not going to lie to you about this. Fortunately, most of them are if not likable then at least characterized convincingly which is due in great part to having good actors play them. I really hate Will Pope, for example, the way he strings Brenda along, the way he sometimes hangs her out to dry and always demands that she’d do her job by yesterday and then criticizes her for how she does it. And J.K Simmons is just the actor who can still make Pope annoyingly sweet. You can see why she fell for him but also why he’s bad for her and her career. And the other male characters are portrayed and cast just as well as he is.

thecloser4
The show has very strong assets to convey police work. the acting, the writing, the characterization. It’s a good show, a clever cop-show while also not being a typical cop-show. Then, of course, there’s the fact that I’m a sucker for a Southern accent – and beautiful women. And although most of the characters are male, there is Kyra Sedgwick and there is also (at least so far) Gina Ravera and seeing those two walk onto a crime scene… definately worth watching.

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Red Riding Hood – she’s not little anymore

Red Riding Hood (2011) by Catherine Hardwicke

That’s what I watched last night and am not even sure why (my movie habits are out of control these days probably because I am waiting for “Scream 4” – which opens today, finally). The trailer looked okay and I am always interested in how old legends/myths/fairy tales are being reproduced in out time and age. I guess that is a good reason.

What almost kept me from watching this was “From the director of Twilight.” I watched it, I didn’t like it. On the other hand, had the poster said “From the director of Thirteen” it would have been another story entirely and Catherine Hardwicke has made both these movies.

The original story has been changed: the wolf is now a werewolf and it terrorizes a whole village. The village in which Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) lives with her parents (Billy Burke, Virginia Madsen) and sister. Said sister is promptly the first victim in the movie. Valerie is devastated and the village people set out to kill the wolf. They kill something, too, unfortunately it is not the werewolf they had aimed for but just a common wolf. They are informed of this by Father Solomon (Gary Oldman), a self-proclaimed expert who has killed a werewolf who then turned out to have been his wife. He has come to the village to help but turns out to be a despotic nuisance who spreads paranoia among the villagers and finally claims that Valerie is a witch because she can talk to the wolf. The wolf wants Valerie to come with him, which narrows the suspects down to Val’s two suitors – the man she loves, Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), and the man she is supposed to marry, Henry (Max Irons).

Solomon sets a trap but things get jumbled and he is bitten by the beast which leads to his death as one of his men kills him, using the same reasoning Solomon has used as he killed the man’s brother, “A man bitten is a man cursed.”

Valerie meanwhile sets out to her grandmother’s (Julie Christie) to find out who the real beast is and kills him in the end. Only, her love is bitten by the werewolf in the final battle and becomes a werewolf. So, no happy ending.

The movie looked a little like The Brothers Grimm meets Twilight but that is not necessarily a bad thing since they are visually quite interesting. Unfortunately, the story did not make it into that realm since Hardwicke gave away the identity of the werewolf too early, at least if you’re observant you find out quite easily. The references to the old fairy tale are amusing and the changes thought through quite well. Yet, what remains of the fairy tale is the partriarchal narrative of men’s angst of female sexuality and thus Valerie remains a virgin. Marriage does not turn out to be all it promised and the killing is set into motion by infidelity. I came out of the movie a little confused and a little disappointed because on the surface it is a good movie, if you look closer the story is quite disturbing in it’s old-fashioned views and thus reminded me of the whole Twilight-franchise. It values the same hidden messages: no sex before marriage, man is beast, woman best remains a virgin, blah blah. I know that this is classic fairy tale narrative but we live in the year 2011. Would it have hurt to put in a little self-empowerment for women? Would it have hurt to not put in any lesbian titillation – that was as that totally out of place AND character? And would it have hurt to integrate people of color and not have them pose as “the other”?

There’s no doubt the movie has some good acting in it. Especially Julie Christie as grandmother is fantastic – a little new age but at that time and place with the underlying promise of witchcraft. Unfortunately, that does not make the underlying messages any less dangerous and old-fashioned.