Monday, May 05, 2008

Iron Man's Island

I know you're all dying to read my review of Iron Man, which I had intended to post Friday night/Saturday morning, right after the movie, but I suck, so I didn't. Well guess what? You get a bonus review of Nim's Island first! Aren't you lucky! Don't say I never gave you anything nice. Now, for those of you not interested in the heart-warming tale of little Nim and her self-titled island, feel free to skip past the review and head straight for my take on the face rocking that is Iron Man.

Nim's Island

For a movie that could be described as a three-way cross between Swiss Family Robinson, Home Alone, and Romancing the Stone, Nim's Island does pretty good. It is definitely a family movie, with the most threatening villain played by a bevy of fat cruise ship tourists and their hosts, but it had its moments.

Nim's Island is the story of how Nim (Abigail Breslin) and her scientist father, Jack (Gerard Butler), come to meet agoraphobic adventure novelist, Alexandra Rover (Jodie Foster). Early in Nim's life, her scientist mother was lost in an unfortunate scienty accident involving a blue whale. Searching the seven seas for their lost mother and wife, Nim and her father eventually settle on an uninhabited "secret" island in the South Pacific.

Naturally, life is idyllic in their tropical home. Nim has a host of animal friends to educate her
"Mr. Pelican, can you teach me the Galileo's principles of falling objects?"
"Caw!" [drops two differently-sized fish at the same time]
"Gee, thanks!"
Yes, this movie features intelligent, animatronic animals. This is not a selling point in my book, but thankfully the animatronic scenes are rare. Life like this continues until Nim's scientist father has to take a trip out into the ocean to do scienty stuff while Nim has to stay behind to help baby turtles (cue soft ooohing.)

Of course, this doesn't end well. It ends horribly, with Nim stranded on an island and her dad stranded in the middle of the ocean. Nim turns to the only person she can think of in her time of need, adventurer Alex Rover (played imaginarily by Gerard Butler, graduate of Eddie Murphy's school of acting,) conveniently reached by satellite email. Since the person behind Alex Rover is agoraphobic Alexandra Rover, mistaken identity hijinx ensue. After a not-so-helpful phone call to a New York 911 operator, agoraphobic Alexandra can't think of anything to do to help but brave the outside world and travel to Nim's island to help the little girl in distress.

The rest of the movie details Alexandra's attempts to make it to the island, which are by far, the most entertaining scenes of the movie. While Jodie Foster has never been at the top of my hot actress list, she really looked haggard in this movie. I think it was intentional, as near the end, she looked a bit better. Perhaps it was a statement on how the human condition improves when one focuses on the needs of others rather than one's own problems. Perhaps she just had a crappy makeup artist that got fired before the last few scenes were filmed. I don't know. These scenes treat us to the best in novelist-traveling-in-unfamiliar-locations moments since Romancing the Stone.

Also covered are Nim's too-cute attempts to keep her island secret from the aforementioned cruise ship tourists. It was no worse than I expected, but the Home Alone factor ceased to entertain after the first Macaulay Culkin feature.

I felt the worse for scientist father as he struggled to return home to Nim despite increasingly overwhelming odds. Every time he made progress, Mother Nature would deliver a soul-shattering backhand.

There's really nothing to say about the supporting cast, other than the cruise ship captain was fun to watch, if a bit of a caricature.

Nim's Island is not a bad movie. It's just not a good movie either. Chances are, if you have kids, they'll love it. It's good enough as little-kiddie fare goes. Having children that are very sensitive to scary imagery (they get nightmares from watching Monsters Inc,) I can sign off on this one as harmless as Pete's Dragon.

I give Nim's Island 22 out of 56 flying cgi lizards on a scale I just made up that doesn't mean anything.

Iron Man

Damn, this is a good movie.

Let me address the few minor complaints I have heard about this movie so far. First, the music. It's not horrible, no cheesy keyboards or anything like that, but it's not the thrilling fare you'd expect in a movie like this. Sadder still is the fact that its score was produced by legendary film soundscape creator, Hans Zimmer. Go ahead, click on his link. You'll see why I call him legendary. Those are some impressive credits.) I can't really defend the movie on this criticism. The music score should have been better.

The only other complaint I have heard is about the pacing. I really can't agree with this. Unlike other superhero movies (I'm looking at you, Hulk,) we see Iron Man kicking terrorist butt within the first half-hour. Act II doesn't feature many explosions, but we get important plot, character, and technology progression, without which, Act III would make no sense. Not only that, but most of the movie's laughs happen in Act II.

Gwyneth Paltrow as Virginia "Pepper" Potts, our lead character's major domo. While I have never found Paltrow stunning, I can't deny that she's attractive. I wouldn't have chosen her for the role of the ginger Potts, but her acting skills are undeniable. Her actions and reactions as the caretaker of the brilliantly eccentric Tony Stark are spot on, preventing me from thinking twice about Paltrow as Pepper. Although I did have a problem with her role as damsel in distress, or rather, as how she became such. More on that later.

The final complaint is my own. I understand that the creators wanted Pepper to be the one to take care of Tony's every need, but I missed his companion from the comics, Jarvis. Jarvis is to Tony Stark what Alfred is to Bruce Wayne. relegating him to a British-accented computer was a misstep, I think, but not a deal-breaker.

The superhero genre has been richly blessed in the past decade since Blade was released. We have seen amazing casting such as Patrick Stewart as Professor Xavier, Ian McKellen as Magneto, and J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson (born for the role.) Now we have Robert Downey Jr. I don't think there is another actor that could have nailed the role of Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man, as good as Downey. The fact that Tony Stark is an alcoholic @$$hole and Downey has had numerous scandals for substance abuse in the past few years may have a little to do with it, but I credit Downey's talent with his excellent depiction of the billionaire superhero.

Another great casting call is Jeff Bridges as Obidiah Stane. I don't think Bridges has had enough roles as a villain. I don't say this because he did a poor job at it. I say this because I would love to see him in that role again. He was cold as ice. One of the other villains, Raza, was played by Faran Tahir. Not bad. He definitely had enough malice to fill the shoes of the Mandarin, if that is who is destined to become in a sequel.

Terrence Howard played the part of Tony's military liaison and closest thing to best friend, James "Roady" Rhodes. As the straight man to Tony's eccentric, he does well. He doesn't shine, but he does well. If he is to take up the Iron Man mantle in the future like his comic book analog, I expect a better performance then. Rounding out the cast are Leslie Bibb as a reporter/mindless conquest, who will always conjure up images of the red-neck ex-wife of Ricky Bobby in my mind, and Jon Favreau in a bit of self-casting as Harold "Happy" Hogan, Tony's chauffeur.

As for Favreau's other duties in Iron Man, he directs a mean movie. For those not familiar with Iron Man from the comics, here's the story in a nutshell. Tony Stark is the brilliant progeny of a weapons manufacturer tycoon. He stays in the family business until he is near-fatally wounded by some shrapnel in a war zone. Captured, his fellow prisoner creates a device to prevent the shrapnel from entering his heart, giving Tony the idea to create a mechanized suit of armor to protect himself and escape. The armor is wildly successful and Tony goes on to create ever more advanced suits while fighting supercrime and moonlighting as a billionaire tycoon.

That's pretty much the story in both the comic and the movie. The movie, however, is much more exciting than that little paragraph implies. Not only do we get to see Iron Man school terrorists once, but twice. We also get to witness some of what made the Armor Wars storyline in the comics the greatest Iron Man story so far. The special effects on the suits were phenomenal. Depicting believable metal is perhaps one of CGI's greatest strengths. ILM worked that strength for all it was worth. I never once suffered a break in my suspension of disbelief. Of course, having one of Hollywood's greatest special effects houses work on your movie will get you that. Favreau does his part with the live characters to keep that going.

He faltered in one place, though. Having Pepper accompany the Strategic Homeland Intervention Espionage Logistics Division (Just call us SHIELD, har!) agents to arrest the villain made no practical sense. If we take a more meta-textual look at it, the move was an easy way to make her a damsel in distress. However, there must be dozens of different ways to achieve that effect.

No worries, though. The break in suspension is only momentary as the action draws you right back in. So we have Act I, character development and terrorist @$$kicking, Act II, character, plot, and technology, with frequent tasteful humor capped by terrorist @$$kicking, and Act III, culmination of Act I and II, the Armor Wars. Well done, Favreau, well done. Kudos also go to Stan "The Man" Lee, comics god and cameo actor extraordinaire.

I give Iron Man 94 out of 99 shellheads on a scale I just made up that doesn't mean anything.

Oh, and wait through the credits to see an awesome scene.