Saturday, May 17, 2008

The View from the Tank: Variety-Pak

Iron Man (2008)

Notice the Perrier in the glass fridge behind him. You will also notice Verizon phones, several Audi cars, and a bag of Burger King strategically placed throughout the film.

Generally, a decent superhero film. Although, the recent trailers I've seen for the second attempt at the Incredible Hulk movie reminded me that at some point, we've got to get past superhero movies; at some point Hollywood will exhaust Marvel's and DC Comics' stable of characters. What then? We can only wait and see.

I saw Iron Man when it first came out, and now I'm forgetting all the stuff I wanted to say about this. Basic problems, no good enemy. The build-up portions of the movie, where Tony Stark was working on the suit, getting the kinks out, etc., were entertaining, but the denouement came abruptly, and left me feeling a little short-changed. The filmmakers have tucked a little teaser at the end of the credits as if to apologize and to promise oh so much more a few years down the road.

Robert Downey was pretty good as Tony Stark. I wasn't annoyed by Gwyneth Paltrow as his perky assistant. It took me some time to get my head around Jeff Bridges as the bald, bearded, avuncular bad guy; he seemed to be really savoring playing the heavy here. I kept on expecting him to lapse into the Dude.

The one scene that stuck with me was the one where Iron Man lands in Afghanistan and confronts a bunch of bad Afghanis holding a bunch of good Afghanis hostage at gun-point. It's a tricky situation, and Iron Man's targeting system quickly pinpoints the bad Afghanis and shoots them dead with a barrage of super precise missiles, even as these bad guys are holding the good Afghanis, who escape unharmed -- no collateral damage! It's like wish fulfillment for the disaster we currently find ourselves in in Afghanistan and Iraq, trying to sort out the "bad" Arabs and Afghanis from the "good". Trying to sort out which Shiites are on our side, and which are on Iran's. If only we could pinpoint and destroy all of the baddies while leaving the good ones entirely unscathed! Even if that were a desirable objective, that's not even close to what we're doing, even with our own "smart" weapons.

I thought it was also interesting how the flying suit collapsed the distance -- spatially and emotionally -- between Tony Stark's dreamhouse in Malibu and the warzone of Afghanistan. At a time when it's all too obvious that most of us here in America hardly ever think about the two active wars we're currently engaged in and the untold pain and suffering those conflicts have cost (consider, in relation to this point, Charlie Rangel's reinstitution of the military draft proposal), it's interesting that Iron Man would take the excuse of the supersonic suit to collapse the distance between here and over there. Tony Stark, sitting in his basement in Malibu, feels guilty and responsible for the misery and suffering going on in Afghanistan. So what does he do? He puts on a suit and flies over there to blow shit up. What do the rest of us do? Go shopping, blog, and go watch Iron Man.

I won't say too much about the obligatory Islamofascist Threat depicted in this film. I thought it was noteworthy that the head terrorist dude seemed to want to take over only Asia. (And, as any seasoned Risk player knows, that is a foolish strategy.) In the end, he seemed less threatening than the Obadiah character played by Bridges. Is it heartening that the arch-villain here is the number 2, the Vice-President, of a weapons manufacturer? Maybe.

[Updated 5/18/08: So after posting this, I continued to think over the movie, and I've decided that, in its own Burger King-peddling, jabbering Arab darkies with bazookas way, Iron Man is sort of an anti-war movie. Tony Stark renounces his role in participating in the military-industrial complex, he takes up an independent project and refuses to keep the military in the loop, he flies over to Afghanistan to blow up Stark Enterprises weaponry, and his arch-enemy is a Vice-President merchant of death arms dealer selling to all sides and fomenting more aggression: Iron Man is at war against war. Hollywood is nothing if not adaptable. If the kids like Barack Obama so much and are bored or sick of Bush/Cheney and the war, why don't we just give them what they want? With Gwyneth Paltrow and some new Audis thrown in to boot?]

Also, ANNOUNCEMENT,, starting today, movies reviewed in The View from the Tank will receive ratings, on a scale of 1-5 tentacles. The rating system is as follows:
1 tentacle = watch only if forced to on a bus, or in the back of a Honda Odyssey.
2 tentacles = perhaps fast forward to good parts on your phone.
3 tentacles = Netflix, or perhaps worth watching in the theater, if you don't have to wait in line, or if your date is paying for you.
4 tentacles = go to theater to see, but your life will not change. You may, for a short while, go around telling everyone how awesome it was, but you will cut it out after about a week.
5 tentacles = AYBABTU, you are on the way to destruction, etc.

Iron Man receives 3 1/2 4 tentacles.

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (2008)

I can't actually offer a full review of this movie, as the sound cut out about half-way through in the theater we were watching this in. It was interesting though, as most of the audience stuck around for ten minutes or so to watch the movie in silence. The gestures and expressions in H&K are grotesque enough to make dialogue largely irrelevant anyway. If the action had been sped up just a bit, made a little jerkier, and if we had had an organ player and the occasional frame of peppy dialogue in an elongated, curlicued font, it would have been perfect.

I was disappointed with one point in particular. At some point, H&K arrive at a "bottomless party" one of their buddy's is throwing. All the women there are bottomless, as is their friend. Their friend urges H&K to drop their pants, and after some hesitation, they do, but the camera cuts up to their faces, and then their butts. We're left to imagine (even though we had been shown their friend's business). It was a disappointing decision for the following reason: I feel like it undermines part of the point of the H&K movies, i.e., Asian guys can play leads and not just be sidekicks, etc. The squeamishness about showing their stuff (heck, they could have used prosthetics, a la Boogie Nights, or maybe CGI?) seemed to be a hole that swallowed up all the other stuff about empowering Asians through new and and non-conventional roles, etc.

Okay, that all sounded more convincing to me a few weeks ago when I saw (half) the movie than it did just now when I wrote it. Who really cares, I guess? (But see Forgetting Sarah Marshall, below.) Also, a friend raised a good point: if they did show H&K's business, whose would have been bigger? Wouldn't that have raised issues? Would they have to depict them as exactly equal? Anyway, I am now officially bored with this line of thought. I will probably Netflix this movie to see the rest. We didn't even get to the part where Neal Patrick Harris shows up.

3 tentacles

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

I can't remember what the point of this movie was. Was the point to have some schlubby guy hook up with a number of super-attractive women way out of his league? Was the point to update the Woody Allen genre on a different coast, in a different decade, etc? What is it about these Judd Apatow movies that feels so hermetically sealed? Is it the whole sense that they are all filmed in the same Los Angeles neighborhoods, with people that grew up in Los Angeles. It was disappointing (and I guess, in retrospect, unsurprising) to me to learn that people like Seth Rogin and Jack Black, who play these uber-everyman types are in fact children of the Hollywood elite, having gone to school at super-expensive and elite L.A. privates schools like Crossroads, etc.

Anyway, the lead in Sarah Marshall, Jason Segel, ends up on screen naked a bunch of times, with some dangling full-frontal. It's gratuitous and good for a couple opening night giggles at the Vista, but, that's about it. (It did call to mind the glaring omission in H&K, see above.) I liked the English rock-star dude, played by Russell Brand, who seems to be having more fun than anyone else in this movie. Segel is good, in his dopey, sad, heartfelt way, but so what? A nice date movie?

I like muppets, too. I am sad now that muppets have been coopted by the Judd Apatow empire.

Why do these Judd Apatow films insist on tossing in sidekick ethnic types still? Message: Real people are white. Other people are amusing/cute.

3 tentacles


MK said...

The rating scale should go up to eight tentacles. When was the last time you saw an OCTOpus with five?!

PS: It's curlicue, not curlique. ;-)

Octopus Grigori said...

MK, MK, MK, my dear friend, you fell for the devious octopus trap that I set just for you. Octopuses don't have tentacles, they have arms! The five tentacles are obviously squid tentacles from a cuttlefish or squid that the OG caught. As we like to snack on apples, octopuses like to munch on other sea creatures. Also, "5 tentacles" sounds better than "5 arms". So five tentacles!

Blogger spell-check beat you to the curlicue, I thought!

Ranta said...

I think you've got Iron Man right, for the most part. I esp. like the idea that Tony Stark was able to compress the distance between "us" and "them," if only b/c going shopping is not going to make the monster that we built -- and continue to feed -- go away.

I do think it's an anti-war movie. I was reminded immediately about the Iraq War vets who have come home after taking in fully exactly how bad -- and poorly managed, from day one -- the situation is and made a point of very publicly objecting to it (like Marshall Thompson, who called for troop withdrawal by walking 500 miles across his home state of Utah).

Oh, and The Dude. Yes.