12-7-08: Punisher War Zone Review

by Brian LeTendre

People who listen to the podcast know that I hated the 2004 Tom Jane version of the Punisher. I had no problem with Tom Jane in the role, but I felt the movie missed the mark entirely, spending way too much time trying to humanize a character who by nature has lost most of his humanity. So when Punisher War Zone was announced, my only real wish for the movie was that it would for the first time represent the character of the Punisher as he is in the comics—a ruthless, cold blooded killer that exists only to punish those who deserve it.

I am overjoyed to say that in that respect, Punisher War Zone absolutely nails it, and this movie is by far the best representation of the Punisher on the big screen. From the moment the movie starts, you are made to understand that the Punisher is one violent, badass wrecking machine. The first act features a higher body count than the entire 2004 movie. It's bloody, over the top, and exactly the way it should be.

To be honest though, the movie certainly has its flaws. The acting is not great, the dialog is horrible, and there is an attempt to humanize Frank that at times seems to contrast the tone of the rest of the movie. However, all of that is outweighed by what the movie gets right, and when you look back on the whole experience, none of those flaws will be what you remember about this movie.

Ray Stevenson is the Punisher. He's old, grizzled, and you can see there's a piece of his humanity that is gone. He's a blunt object that pummels anything that gets in his way. He doesn't care how the job gets done, just that at the end of the day, justice is served. Dominic West is completely over the top as Jigsaw, and I thought he was great. He felt like a Dick Tracy villain and stole every scene he was in, even before he gets disfigured. Wayne Knight also did a nice job as Microchip, turning in a more subtle performance than he is usually known for.

While the plot eventually deteriorates into a “save those in distress” cliché, the action is immensely satisfying. I didn't come into the movie hoping for a great narrative, so I wasn't overly disappointed.

As the movie came to a close, I couldn't help but feel a little sad. This is likely the last Punisher movie we'll ever see, as Marvel is more focused on the PG-13 crowd now, and they've done nothing to market this movie, ensuring little box office success. The good news is that in the Punisher's big screen swan song, he went out with a loud, bloody bang. Thank you Lexi Alexander, for making this movie.

5 out of 5 Bloodbaths

11-19-08:  My Name is Bruce Review

by Brian Letendre

A couple of weeks ago I had the good fortune to catch a screening of Bruce Campbell’s new movie, My Name is Bruce.  This was a project that I’d been hearing about for over a year, and when I found out Bruce would be there in person for a Q&A afterward, it was a no-brainer.  A friend and I headed down to Hartford, CT to catch the show.

We got there a few minutes late, so the movie had just started, but the premise is pretty simple.  A couple of teenagers in the small mining town of Gold Lick, Oregon accidentally set free the spirit of a Chinese war god, Guan Di.  After his friends get skewered, the surviving boy decides to enlist his idol, actor Bruce Campbell, to defeat the demon.  He figures that since Bruce played Ash in the Evil Dead movies, he has the skills to fight the undead.  The trouble is that Bruce is a complete jerk, a coward, and probably the last person that you’d want to help fight the Chinese god of war.  The boy kidnaps Bruce and takes him to Gold Lick, which Bruce thinks is some sort of elaborate birthday joke played on him by his agent (Ted Raimi).  Bruce pretty much goes on to abandon everyone in their time of need, only to grow a conscience and help save the day by the end of the movie. 

If you go into this movie expecting something fun, you’ll be ok.  This is not a serious horror movie; it’s a movie for Bruce Campbell fanboys.  The plot is silly, the acting is silly, the dialogue is silly, and even the action scenes are silly.  In tone it’s about on par with Army of Darkness and The Man with the Screaming Brain.  It also fits somewhere between the two in terms of quality.  I laughed a lot, especially at the bit parts that Ted Raimi played, as he was three different characters throughout the movie, and he was over the top with all of them.  Bruce was funny as usual, and even did some of the physical comedy he has been known for in the past.  The gore was almost non-existent, and what was there fit within the tone of the movie.  All in all it was a fun ride. 

After the movie, Bruce came out for about 25 minutes for a Q&A.  He was gracious and witty as always, but I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed.  Mind you, it wasn’t because of Bruce, as I said, he was great.  It’s just that he has to answer the same four or five questions everywhere he goes, and I kind of feel bad for him.  “When is Evil Dead 4 coming out?”  “What about Bubba Nosferatu?” “Are you going to be Mysterio in Spidey 4?”  “What’s the worst movie you’ve ever been in?”  Honestly, he must get so tired of answering the same stupid questions whenever he does one of these.  He did get to talk a little bit about the actual movie, and how he is doing this tour to try and get the word out, and to get people to support the film.  It’s too bad more people didn’t want to talk about that, as opposed to Maniac Cop. 

As a total experience, the night was great.  Any time you get a chance to see Bruce Campbell you should take it.  The movie itself is fun and I would recommend you pick it up when it hits DVD. 

4 out of 5 Gods of War

11-16-08: Quantum Of Solace Review

by the Matman

Quantum of Solace finds itself in a no win situation! First, there will be a natural letdown from the excitement of Casino Royale. The last Bond outing was a perfect blend of story, action and deep emotional toil. Second, the anticipation of Daniel Craig in the roll of James Bond had everyone wondering and when he delivered it made a great film even better. In his sophomore effort, Craig doesn’t disappoint! His good look, swagger and charm impress and hold you from the opening action to the emotional climax.

Quantum of Solace takes place days following Casino Royale. As Bond brings in “Mr. White” in for interrogation and a bit of revenge, he and MI 6 soon discover “Mr. White” is just a small piece of a worldwide puzzle. White is part of an organization that has no boundaries and have infiltrated there way into very influential places. As he follows the trail, he meets Camille, who is on her own trail of revenge and both lead them to Dominic Greene. Bond soon discovers Greene is a major player within this group, but in the hunt angers M and puts Bond on the run as well.

As film 23 in the series, this one fits in quite nicely. It’s fun with plot twists, adventure, interesting characters and exotic locales. The unfortunate is that we don’t get to enjoy much of that. Tight camera angles and quick cuts can and do distract from the action. Instead of seeing a wide view of the scene we are put right into the middle. This makes us miss the landscapes, vehicles and beautiful locations we have come to expect. This is the trend in action films I wish would go away.

The film moves much faster than past films, but thankfully the story doesn’t suffer. Build ups still have serious drama and human loss still has time to envelop us emotionally before moving on. The death of Agent Fields was a pure tribute to Jenny Masterton from Goldfinger. Instead of gold paint, her body is covered in oil since oil is the new gold!

Bond Girl 2008 is Olga Kurylenko; beautiful and real in her portrayal of Camille Montes. She follows great characters like Melina Havelock (from For Your Eyes Only) who’s vulnerable but can take care of herself. Mathieu Amalric (Greene) plays the new age bad guy; more calculating than violent, and more business than killing. Judi Dench is typically brilliant! Her many scenes not only steal the show but present to the audience a woman who has earned her position. And welcome back Jeffery Wright as Felix Leiter! 

The Film Score by David Arnold was very pleasant and contemporary. It added a nice color and texture to the film. Unfortunately, the theme by Jack White and Alicia Keys did nothing for me but made me think how much worse was Amy Winehouse’s attempt? To go with it, the title sequence seemed a little um, not so good!

Director Marc Forster wasn’t a good choice for a Bond Film. Although he has a proven track record and is excellent at what he does, it doesn’t work well for Bond! This seems to be the biggest complaint from Bond fans.

Overall, I did like and enjoy this film. I walked out of the theatre feeling satisfied, but a little disappointed. Where does it lie in my list of the 23 (I count Never Say Never Again) Bond films? Somewhere around Tomorrow Never Dies and You Only Live Twice.

Matman Rating – 3.5 out of 5 trashed Astin Martins.

10-28-08:  Saw V Review

by Brian LeTendre

When it comes to the Saw series, I’m a little torn.   The first Saw movie was a classic, and kind of came out of nowhere.  I was on board for Saw II and even Saw III.  I also really liked the fact that there is a series which comes out every Halloween, as there should be, that being the horror holiday and all.  But then came Saw IV, and it was clear that the creators were straining to try and put together a complex narrative based on the simple concepts in the first movie.  You needed a road map to figure out the plot of Saw IV, with its flashbacks and concurrent scenes.  The twisted narrative overshadowed the movie, and raised a red flag about where the series was heading. 

Enter Saw V.  Or as I like to call it, Saw for Dummies.  Whereas the narrative in the previous movie was over complicated, the narrative in Saw V is painfully simple.  To make matters worse, the rest of the movie takes a back seat to the desire of the creators to set the table for future installments by connecting all the dots from the previous movies. 

To sum up the story, FBI Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson) is one of the remaining survivors from the last movie.  In the beginning of Saw V, he almost dies in a Jigsaw trap, but manages to save himself, much to the dismay of Lieutenant Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), who was working withy Jigsaw and had planned on being the only survivor from Jigsaw’s last “game.”  Strahm then makes it his mission to find out what’s going on, and he goes through old files and crime scenes (recycled from previous movies) to piece together the fact that Hoffman has been working with Jigsaw for quite some time.  Armed with this information, Strahm tries to take Hoffman down, and the results are….well, lets just say there’s already a Saw VI in the works.   

With all the CSI stuff going on, it’s easy to forget you’re watching a Saw movie.  The “game” that is featured in this movie is merely a subplot, involving five victims who are all somehow connected to a shady land deal.  A shady land deal.  These are the type of victims that require Jigsaw’s special brand of justice?  The traps are weak, the gore is weak (with the exception of the last part of the trap, which was gross), and the acting was bad.

Actually, the acting was bad all around.  Agent Strahm has a penchant for stating all of his conclusions out loud, as if the viewer was unable to follow the montage of clips that connect the plot points.  “So, he was working with Jigsaw from the start!”  Yes, Agent Strahm, he was.  Costas Mandalor seems bored, as if he’s become the main character of a series that he doesn’t want to be in. 

Ultimately, this movie feels like a bridge to Saw VI, and it’s clear that the creators are trying to reposition the series for future sequels.  Hoffman is nowhere near as compelling a villain as Jigsaw however, and it remains to be seen whether or not audiences care about the story that Saw V spend so much time trying to piece together. 

2.5 out of 5 Manicures Gone Bad

8-16-08:  Star Wars: Clone Wars Review

by Armand Nadeau

Despite the ubiquitous advertising on Cartoon Network and TNT, and various commercial spots during prime time television on the major networks, Clone Wars has pretty much flown under the radar with regard to movie goers and even many so-called Star Wars fans.  In my theater alone, approximately 47 people had pre-purchased tickets to the midnight premier, a stark contrast to the nearly 1,000+ who lined up for each of the prequels.  The question remains whether this apparent lack of interest is due to the fact that Star Wars fans are afraid to be disappointed once again, or that this particular adventure is a cartoon and not a live-action film. 

I went into this movie knowing that there are four reasons this movie will be as good if not better than at least a few of the prequels:  

1) Uncle George is not directing it.

2) Sam Jackson is not acting in it (though he does provide the voice for Mace Windu).

3) There will be a significant amount of action featuring clone troopers.

4) Dave Filoni (Avatar: The Last Airbender) is a die-hard Star Wars fan, and he wouldn't do anything to jeopardize the Star Wars brand any further. 

That being said, my chief concern about this movie was the character models, which are allegedly anime-inspired, but noticeably stiff.  I'll address this particular topic further along in my review. 

The movie starts off with the Warner Bros. Logo (as opposed to the 20th Century Fox logo and familiar drum procession), followed by Clone Wars signage that fades into space.  The original Star Wars theme is modified using a different tempo, but is still clearly Star Wars.   Absent is the opening text crawl that has become a trademark; Clone Wars features a series of brief cut scenes with a voice-over that details where we are in the timeline, leading us up to the story that is to be told - very similar to many old WWII movies where newspaper headlines would flash past the screen accompanied by a narrative.   Between the opening graphics, introduction and narration, Clone Wars had a decidedly un-Star Wars feel to it, that is, until familiar ships and characters took the stage. 

The opening battle is a spectacular display of computer animated wizardry.  As opposed to most similar movies where only a few elements are animated on a set background, Clone Wars literally has hundreds of animated objects on the screen at any given time.  The level of detail in the environment, vehicles and characters is amazing, with "real-time" weathering on clone trooper armor as they were getting pelted by debris.  In addition to the outstanding visuals, the camera work is second to none for an animated feature.  The panning and zooming and various angles make you feel like you are actually in battle with the troops, and really comes off as remarkable. 

The sound effects are all pulled from the LucasFilm archives, providing an authentic Star Wars audio experience. 

As the opening battle concludes, we learn that the Separatists led by Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) are still waging war against the Republic, and he has hatched a plan to kidnap Jabba the Hutt's infant son and frame the Jedi for doing so.  If successful, the fragile relationship between the Republic and the Hutts would be shattered.  The end result would be that the Hutts would then aid the Separatists in their revolt, and prevent the Republic from entering Hutt space in addition to cutting off their trade routes. With the help of Dooku's Sith assassin, Asajj Ventress (first introduced in Genndy Tartakovsky's Clone Wars Micro Series, and voiced by Nika Futterman), they set a trap for Anakin (Matt Lanter) and his Jedi friends knowing that a rescue attempt would be made.

 Early on in the film, we are introduced to a new character, a Togruta named Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein).  She's a spunky female youngling who aspires to be a Jedi Knight and despite her diminutive size, is quick witted and mentally sharp in the heat of battle.  Per instruction of Yoda (Tom Kane), she will become Anakin's padawan learner.  Anakin is apprehensive at first, but eventually develops a bond of friendship with Ahsoka. They go from trading barbs early on to eventually offering affectionate nicknames such as "Sky Guy" and "Snips."   While this sort of banter may come off as corny to many adult fans, kids will likely find it amusing.  Along with ARC Trooper Captain Rex (Dee Bradley Baker), Anakin and crew attempt to rescue the kidnapped son of Jabba, while hoping to elude the trap set by the Sith. 

The skills of Anakin, Ahsoka, and Obi-Wan are put to the test as they face off against the Separatist Droid Army as well as Count Dooku and Asajj Ventress in the final quarter of the movie.  Luckily, the Jedi have Captain Rex, Commander Cody, Commander Fox, and a host of other experienced clone troopers to assist in their struggle. 

Several familiar faces make their appearances in Clone Wars, including Obi-Wan, Padme Amidala, C-3PO, R2-D2, Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious and others.  Aside from the three live-action film actors reprising their roles (Sam Jackson as Windu, Christopher Lee as Dooku, and Anthony Daniels as 3PO), the remaining voice talent is hit or miss, despite most returning from their work on the Clone Wars micro-series.  James Arnold Taylor does an outstanding job as Obi-Wan Kenobi where he could almost be mistaken for Ewan McGregor.  Unfortunately, the voice work for Palpatine and Anakin were less than satisfactory.  Ziro the Hutt (voiced by Corey Burton) was actually a bit disturbing.  Stated as being Jabba's uncle, Ziro appeared to be somewhat of cross-dresser with an effeminate voice.   

After processing this movie for about an hour after it concluded, I feel that I can honestly say that it was exactly what I expected, and I am not too disappointed.  That being said, I am not tremendously giddy about it either.    

I loved the vehicular battles that were visually outstanding.  The beauty of the battlefields visually rivaled anything seen in Wall-E (which in my opinion is a landmark film); however I could not get over some of the character models (clone troopers excluded).  Anakin was notably wooden, primarily in his facial features, as opposed to the softer Ahsoka who appeared to me as having more non-verbal cues from expression than any other character in the movie.  George Lucas was quoted as saying that he wanted his cast of characters to resemble that of the 1960s series "Thunderbirds" along with the latest in hand-painted CGI animation.  What we get is a hybrid of both, resulting in a retro stylish appearance with unusual facial details and awkward movements, almost marionette-like.  I believe that George succeeded in his plan, but that's not to say that either I or the multitude of other Star Wars fans will embrace it.  I would have much rather preferred more human looking characters.  The stylized animation worked for Genndy Tartakovsky's 2-D Clone Wars, but it doesn't necessarily translate well in a 3-D feature film. 

Another reason I feel this movie may not be universally embraced by the Star Wars community is that our generation wanted the Star Wars movies to grow with us as we've gotten older.  Instead, Lucas threw the Star Wars bus in reverse in an effort to bring young kids along for the ride too, thus to some degree alienating the 30 and 40-somethings who were most impacted by the original trilogy.  Those who have buckled up for the entire voyage will still remain faithful, but there is no doubt that many will unfortunately step off at the next stop - which could very well be this movie, or the live action TV series due out around 2011. 

Overall, the movie was pretty good; the battle scenes were vibrant and adventurous, and the new characters interesting.  I really enjoyed how the clone troopers actually received some of the spotlight, and shown as human beings as opposed to simply faceless disposable grunts.  Despite there being rarely a dull moment, I felt that there were some pacing problems with the movie from time to time - but nothing too serious.  The soundtrack is mostly original with some John Williams themes integrated throughout.  This created a rather interesting feel throughout the entire movie. 

I have no doubt that this movie will be a favorite among the 7-10 year old male market, and Ahsoka has the potential to bring in new young female fans too.  The fact that she isn't seen in Revenge of the Sith leads me to believe that at some point, she will meet her demise during the 100 episode run of Clone Wars on Cartoon Network.   The movie provides a good lead-in to the upcoming TV series, and from what I've read, Clone Wars for TV will be identical to the quality of the movie (the first six TV episodes are rumored to have cost between $750,000 and $1M each). 

3 hydrospanners out of 5 

Highs: Outstanding vehicular battles and camera work.  Clone trooper battles are superb. Fairly decent voice acting.  Full of action and adventure, rarely a dull moment.   Interesting new characters. 

Lows:  Character models (especially Anakin and Dooku) and some animated character movements. Pacing of movie seems to be a bit off at times.  The voice and appearance of Ziro the Hutt.  Storyline better suited for upcoming TV series. 

Conclusion:  An entertaining movie overall.  Clone Wars sets up a seemingly infinite list of story possibilities for the TV show, where this sort of presentation would best fit.  The theatrical release will likely be hit or miss with dedicated Star Wars fans, but kids will surely love it.  The characters are very clearly defined with regard to good versus evil, which will likely keep your children from constantly nudging you asking "Is he/she good or bad?"  

Things to look out for:  

- Matthew Wood, the voice of General Grievous in Revenge of the Sith does the voice work for all the battle droids.  His sound editor, Dave Acord, does the voice of Rotta the Hutt. 

- Commander Gree, the Kashyyyk clone trooper in Revenge of the Sith that gets beheaded by Yoda is shown in animated form without his helmet.  He's the trooper with facial scars and a red double-mohawk. 

- The "Wilhelm" screams that are featured in the Star Wars Classic Trilogy, Prequels and Indiana Jones films can be heard once in Clone Wars

7-26-08:  Step Brothers Review

Step Brothers is a foul, irreverent masterpiece.  Adam McKay, who wrote and directed both Anchorman and Talladega Nights, has once again proven that he should be the only director that works with Will Ferrell.  Ditto for John C. Reilly.  This guy gets what makes those two so funny, and in Step Brothers, he delivers the raunchiest, cruelest and funniest movie in a long time.

The plot is fairly simple.  Dale (Reilly) and Brennan (Ferrel) become step brothers when their parents get married.  That doesn’t sound like such a hysterical premise, except for the fact that both Dale and Brennan are 40 year old losers who have never moved out of their respective parents homes, and have the maturity level of an 8 year old.

From the moment Ferrell and Reilly first appear on screen together, the magic begins.  Like two dogs being introduced for the first time, they each try to mark their territory and establish who the alpha male is.  I was already hysterical before the title of the movie appeared on screen.

Much of the dialogue between Ferrell and Reilly is obviously improvised, which is what makes it all the more funny.  You get the sense they are trying to outdo one another, and we as an audience reap the reward of that little competition.

The ‘R’ rating means that the shackles are off, and there are no limits to what McKay and crew will do for laughs.  I think I realized that when, after being told by Dale never to touch his drum set, Brennan proceeds to pull out his manhood and…well, you can probably figure out the rest.

I laughed harder in this movie than I have in a long time, and my faith in Ferrell’s comic genius has been restored.  Reilly deserves a ton of credit as well, because he is never overshadowed by Ferrell, and he provides some of the biggest laughs in the movie.

Step Brothers is an absolutely hysterical comedy.  If you like your humor twisted and foul, this is a must-see.

5 out of 5 Boats n’ Hoes

7-13-08: Hellboy - The Golden Army

The big fears I had going into this one were probably the fears of many of us. Number one is that Hellboy was an incredible film! Number two is Guillermo del Toro! Since the first film he has gone on to direct some visually stunning films like Pan’s Labyrinth, so would his vision overshadow Red and the rest of the BPRD?

No Way!

Based on an original story by del Toro and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, man finds itself the target of Prince Nuada. Angry of the truce signed between mankind and the magic realm, he looks to reclaim it all by awakening the most savage and indestructable force of all time; the Golden Army! If that isn’t enough of a story, Hellboy is not happy and he should be! He and Liz are together but that’s not enough. Hellboy wants the world to know he exists and be treated as any human would be. But when you’re big and red that may be hard. Much of the secondary story revolves around Hellboy not belonging to this world.

The film is a work of beauty. del Toro utilizes every bit of space and doesn’t waiste anything. His use of creatures doesn’t overshadow the movie or take it over. Like in Pan’s Labyrinth, every ‘monster’ seems real and natural and wherever they are, they should be.

But it’s the human cast that makes this movie what it is! Ron Perlman was made to be Hellboy and like Doug Jones (Abe Sapien), he shows emotion and power. The ultra lovely Selma Blair (Liz Sherman) is the one that has grown the most since the first one. Where once she was a scared girl she has now grown as a leader and fighter. Luke Ross as Prince Nuada is as bad a villain as you’ll ever see. His fight scenes are seamless and incredibly entertaining. Commanding the BPRD on this one is Johann Strauss, a whisp of smoke living in a deep sea diving suit and voiced quite nicely by Family Guy’s Seth McFarlane.

Hellboy – The Golden Army is the perfect progression for this franchise. There is action, special effects and story that will grab you from the opening scenes. In the obvious comparison of both, let’s look to Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. Both Hellboy and Star Wars are fun, introductions to great characters and plenty of action. Like ‘Empire’, The Golden Army is a more mature film in both themes and story and everyone has grown up just a little bit.

Matman Rating – 4.5 out of 5 Barry Manilow songs. Can’t Smile Without You indeed!

7-12-08: Jin - Roh - The Wolf Brigade (DVD)

As an enthusiast of Word War Two it is only natural to be interested in alternate World War Two history. Thanks to our good friend David Anderson (or Ares Blue), I was introduced to an Anime film that would be the first full length Anime film I ever watched. 

Jin Roh – The Wolf Brigade is a look at a very different Japan. Following World War Two, the government has become Totalitarian; keeping the people under control to the point of marshal law! With a Nazi influenced police force called Panzer Cops, the government can not only take care of little incidents with local police forces, the Panzer Cops can take care of violent problems with extreme violence of their own. Within this story we meet Kazuki Fuse, a Panzer Cop who makes a choice that not only almost gets him killed, but changes his entire world. 

During a demonstration gone ‘riot’, Fuse is chasing down members of the Sect, the guerrilla into the sewer when he is confronted by a little girl who is a courier for the Sect. Carrying explosives in a pack, she blows herself up in front of Kazuki when he hesitates to shoot down the young girl. Following a trial, Kazuki is sent back to ‘school’ for retraining. But what ends up happening is the next plot in the story. Kaziki meets and starts a relationship with Kei, a young girl claiming to be the dead courier’s sister. What she ends up being is a trap, and more confusion and emotional problems for Kazuki. 

Since I’m not a regular to the world of Anime, I was amazed at the intricate and very deep detail to the story and the depth of emotion in the characters. There are things you just need to accept like the situation in Japan. Nothing is explained and events just happen. But if you go into this with an open mind and just let the story go, you may just like this…like I did! Whatever mindset you watch this with, the subtle political commentary will leap out at you and the grey area the characters live in will make you uneasy.  

Jin – Roh is amazing to look at as well. The animation is very realistic and at times disturbing and very scary! As I watched this, I began to wonder how much influence the western film genre has on Anime, at least a film like this. Pacing and the protagonist line not being very clear is very ‘Eastwoodesque’. I also noticed a similar feel to the Star Wars films. Story layered upon story, characters with internal struggles and government influenced by the Nazi machine are characteristics of Jin - Roh and the vision of George Lucas.

This was my first, but not my last! Not full of big eyes and schoolgirls, I will now be looking for more films like this. David, can you help me? 

Matman rating – 4 out of 5 glowing red eyes!

7-11-08: Final Fantasy - Advent Children (DVD)

by Sarah Hodge-Wetherbe

I admit I came late on the bandwagon with this film. When FF 7: Advent Children was released on DVD in 2006, it was one of the most highly anticipated anime of the year. I however, didn’t rush to get it as I had played Final Fantasy 7, and liked it, but didn’t consider myself an uber-fan of the game.

Reviews were very mixed, but the fan base embraced the film with a passion that rivaled the fans of properties like Fullmetal Alchemist and Bleach.

So to be clear I am not the target audience of this film, and I was made to remember that through most of the DVD.  I checked this out of the library, really wanting to love it, to be blown away. After watching the film, I came away thinking, “Well, the animation was pretty good.” Not a good sign.

First, if you didn’t play the game, don’t bother with the film. The filmmakers tried to address this by including an extra feature called Reminiscence of Final Fantasy VII (which is mostly edited scenes from the original video game that explain the story) and it falls short. Its far too long, and its all reading text on little more than 8 bit screenshots of the original game. They chose very odd scenes as well, many confusing the watching ratrher than clarifying things. Keep in mind this is trying to summerize a 40+ hour game.

The film is obviously a love letter to the die hard fans. Its hard to explain the plot without dipping heavily into what happened in the game but I’ll try my best. If you want the detailed version, you can look it up on wikipedia. 

In a nutshell, the game goes like this: A boy named Cloud meets a girl named Aeris. Theres a bunch of other people there too, and they find out that a company called Shinra is tapping the very energy of the planet to run everything, slowly killing the world. There’s also a long haired Emo guy named Sephiroth. Theres a terrible planet killing creature called Jenova that crashed into the planet thousands of years ago and was fought by a race of ancient people directly tied to the lifeforce of the planet. 

Aeris is the last of these people, Cloud and Sephiroth both have some of the cells of Jenova in them. Sephiroth wants to destroy everything in the world, cloud decides to stop him. Sephiroth kills Aeris (In the first thrid of the game by the way) and everything comes to a huge showdown where the sky is literarly falling. They beat Sephiroth, keep Jenova from destroying the world, and the game ends on a bittersweet note.

Keep in mind I’m chopping HUGE plot details here, and the above is kind of like saying “Well, Star Wars is about a kid who becomes a fighter and beats a bad guy.” Okay, its true, but it takes so much out of it.

So that’s the basic game plot. And without that you’re lost. Lost to who these people you’re watching are, what modivates them, and what the heck they’re talking about.

The movie picks up 2 years after the game. Cloud is staying away from his friends, doing his emo guy thing, and feeling generally miserable that he failed to save Aeris’s life. He rides around on a black motorcycle, carrying huge swords bigger than Manhattan, and brooding.

There is a sickness going around called Geostigma that a bunch of kids have, and adults are getting too. Cloud has it, and there’s no cure. It seems to be fatal, although no one that I could see actually dies of it. There are three bishonen guys, who all look like Sephiroth’s younger brothers running around looking for “Mother” and kidnapping kids. They beat the snot out of anyone in their way, and look bored through the whole film. Trust me guys, I know the feeling.

They finaly find mother, which turns out to be some of Jenova’s cells, one of the three emo-brothers, Kadaj, merges with the cells, turns into a re-generated Sephiroth, and fights Cloud. He;s defeated, and in the end the spirit of Aeris sends lifestream (the force of the planet) infused water down as rain to cure all the Geostigma victims. Everyone lives happily ever after.

Keep in mind that this plot is flushed out over about an hour and a half. How do they do it? With mind blowing fights that have nothing to do with anything, except to show off some CGI-Fu. It boils down to about 6 minutes of every 10 being a fight scene. The animation is pretty impressive, and its kind of fun to say “Oh! Oh! Its (insert character name) from the game in this fight! They did him/her very cool!” But after awhile, I found myself actualy fast forwarding through the fights, a bad sign in an action movie. They simply seemed like the same thing over and over with some different faces (I say some because Cloud’s in 80 % of them).

In a weird way, this film reminded me a little of the recent live action Speed Racer in the fact that it was a lot of flashy cool things to watch without much of a deep story. But while Speed Racer felt fun, and the actors seemed like they at least embraced the rolls they were playing, Advent Children dragged on and on.

The voice actors were respectable, but not overly great. One got the feeling many of them simply showed up, read lines, and took a paycheck. But can we blame them when they’re given dialog that sounds word for word from a bad 90’s anime?  The following is actualy from the movie:

Reno: Mother schmother... it's Jenova's friggin' head.
Loz: HEY!
Yazoo: I will not have you refer to mother that way!

I think its supposed to be funny, but it comes off as being written by a 15 year old Final Fantasy Fanfic writer….and not a very good one at that. The whole movie seems like a fanfiction, written to bring back characters well loved, but with no real solid story or character development to couch them in. Even having played the game myself, I kept feeling like I wasn’t watching anything happen. Nothing really changes, nothing is really risked. We know who will win; we know the twists and turns before they happen. Unlike the game, when Aeris’s death was so shocking because we at that point, had hours of getting to know her, this feels so empty.  It was like cutting into a really lovely decorated cake only to find out there’s nothing in there but a cardboard display.

It’s a shame to, because it’s a beautifully animated film. The characters are transformed from little chibi-style digital characters, to realistic people. They move well, they fight fluid and almost like they are flying and dancing at the same time. The animators obviously put time and love into making this film. It’s a shame it’s the only thing about it worth watching.

1/2 Horking Huge Emo Boy Sword Out of 5

7-10-08:  Wall-E Review

Wall-E is without a doubt Pixar’s most ambitious work yet, and it may also be the biggest risk the studio has ever taken.  It’s not so much the fact that this movie has something to say, but the way in which the message is delivered.

Wall-E is the story of a robot whose primary reason for existence is to clean up the mess that mankind has made for itself.  A mess so large that the human race can no longer inhabit the planet earth.  What we see in the first half of the movie is one possible outcome for our current society.  We see a culture that was overtaken by the self-indulgent, big box store mentality of “more is better.”  Humankind became so self-gratifying that the world became a giant receptacle for the remains of everything it consumed.  When man could no longer keep up with the waste it was creating, robots were created to take care of the job.  When even the robots couldn’t keep up, humans left the planet to live on a giant cruise ship in space until the world was habitable again.

Wall-E is the last functioning robot left on the planet.  He lives a meager existence, spending his days making and stacking cubes of refuse, trying to organize the piles of garbage that overshadow even the tallest skyscraper.  Each night he goes home and watches old Disney movies on an iPod, and his only companion is a cockroach, who Wall-E feeds Twinkies.  Everything changes when a new robot is dropped off on Earth, whose job it is to scan for signs of plant life, which would signal that the planet is ready to support life again.  When the robot find a plant that Wall-E found sealed in a refrigerator, it triggers a series of events that lead the remaining humans to mistakenly think everything is fine on earth and they can return home.

Watching this movie with my 5 year old, I can confirm that it has the kid appeal that most Pixar movies are know for.  There are quirky robots, an innocent romance between Wall-E and Eva, and plenty of comic relief to satisfy most youngsters.  Adults, however, will find a much deeper and darker story than they may be expecting.  For example, when the story moves to the cruise ship where the remaining humans are living, we find that they have all evolved into overweight, lethargic slobs, who are whisked around on hovering chez lounges and waited on by robots who feed them all of their meals in giant cups.  Ironically, it’s the same “big box” company that has been ushering the decline of humanity all along the way.  Fred Willard plays a brilliant part as the CEO of Buy’n’Large, whose stores fueled the mass consumption of everything, then sponsored the cleanup efforts, and now oversee daily life on the cruise ship that is owned by the company.  There are some pretty clear indictments of not only our current culture in America, but also the large corporations that influence our culture.

The movie does an excellent job of telling a cautionary tale through the eyes of Wall-E, who could be seen as a metaphor for a child.  Wall-E’s innocence and genuine curiosity about everything around him causes everyone he comes into contact with to be changed.  People and robots start to question their reality and look at their surroundings with new eyes.  This leads to the eventual realization that they must return to earth, even if it means they’ll have to work hard to make it livable again.

While the messages in Wall-E are deep and thought provoking, the movie can also been enjoyed at the superficial level, which is where most children will view it from.  For parents that are used to tuning out when they take the kids to the theater, however, they’ll be pleasantly surprised to find a very well executed tale about where we may be headed if we don’t clean up our act.  It remains to be seen if audiences are ready for the depth this movie brings, but that does not take away from what Pixar has accomplished.  Go see this movie.

5 out of 5 Hover Lounges

7-4-08:  The Hulk vs. The Incredible Hulk

Recently, I commented during the podcast that I thought Ang Lee’s version of the Hulk was a better film than its recent counterpart from Louis Leterrier.  So, I went back and watched that film again in order to better compare the two and make the case for my preference.

Let me start by saying that like both the Hulk and the Incredible Hulk.  While both movies offered something different in their interpretations of the character, I thought they both did the Hulk justice on the big screen.  For me, however, there are places where I think Ang Lee’s version stands out.  I will break down the films in the following sections:  cast, story, villain, action, special effects and direction, and make the case for what I think each film does better.

Edward Norton is a better actor than Eric Bana, and I would have loved to see him in Lee’s film.  I don’t think anyone would argue that Jennifer Connelly is much more believable as Betty Ross than Liv Tyler, especially when it comes to her being a scientist.  And while William Hurt did a fine job as Thunderbolt Ross, he can’t hold a candle to Sam Elliott in that role.  Finally, Tim Roth was much more consistent in his portrayal of Emil Blonsky than Nick Nolte was as David Banner.

Advantage:  Tie

The main reason I like Lee’s version better than Leterrier’s is because of the story.  Leterrier played the Incredible Hulk close to the TV show, focusing on Banner trying to isolate himself and find a cure for the Hulk.  Lee’s version explored the origin of the Hulk, and created a powerful story about a boy whose childhood is marred by tragedy.  Lee’s Banner was a boy who was born with the consequences of his father’s obsession, and has spent a lifetime repressing the trauma of his mother’s murder.  Both Leterrier and Lee have Banner being caught up in a freak scientific accident, but it’s Lee’s backstory that makes his Banner a much more compelling character.*

Both movies also have the theme of the military pursuing the Hulk in order to use him or his genes for their own purposes.  The selling point for me again was that Lee’s Ross was not only motivated by fear, but also the guilt over what had happened to Bruce when he was a child.  In Leterrier’s movie, Ross is motivated by fear and greed as opposed to fear and guilt, which contributed to the military storyline of Leterrier’s movie being more superficial.

*It should be noted that neither movie followed the origin story of the comic character.

Advantage:  Lee’s Hulk

Both movies feature the military as the primary villain for a good portion of the film.  There are differences in the way that the story plays out, but in both movies the military gives way to a larger threat by the end of the movie. 

In Lee’s version we have Banner’s father David, who is a twisted version of Absorbing Man, and in Leterrier’s version we get the Abomination.  While I like what Lee was trying to do, his David Banner was more interesting for what he did in Bruce’s childhood, rather than what he became.  The Absorbing Man twist was never fully realized, and Nolte’s over the top performance toward the end of the movie took the shine off what could have been.  I also think this was the one place where Lee’s direction faltered, particularly in the end fight between the Hulk and AbsorbingMan.

Tim Roth’s Emil Blonsky was a great villain.  Not only do we get to see what the super-soldier formula does to a man, but we see Blonsky crave the power it gives him, and he eventually goes over the edge.  Roth did a great job of selling the soldier who doesn’t want to become obsolete.  Leterrier also gets extra points for setting up the Leader for future movies.

Advantage:  Leterrier’s Incredible Hulk

While Lee’s Hulk has some beautiful action sequences, Leterrier did a better job of capturing the visceral nature of the Hulk in battle.  Leterrier’s Hulk seemed stronger and more aggressive than the one we saw in Lee’s film.  The fight with the Abomination was much more satisfying from an action standpoint than the Absorbing Man or the Hulk dogs battles.

Advantage:  Leterrier’s Incredible Hulk

Special Effects
In 2003, the special effects in the Hulk were absolutely amazing.  In 2008, they still hold up.  From the facial expressions of the Hulk, to the way that Bruce returns to human form, the Hulk was fully realized on film.  Even the Absorbing Man sequences looked great, despite the acting of Nick Nolte becoming a distraction.  With the exception of a few seconds in the Hulk dog sequence, the effects were near perfect.

The Incredible Hulk, on the other hand, is much less successful, despite having a larger budget ($150 million vs. $137 million).  The Abomination, and the entire climactic battle between him and the Hulk, looks like a cut scene from the Hulk video game.  Not once did the environment seem real when you are watching the two creatures on screen.  Even the scene with the Leader’s brain looked lousy.  There’s no excuse for a Hulk movie with that budget to have such mediocre effects.

Advantage:  Lee’s Hulk (hands down)

For me, this is where Lee shines again.  His film feels epic, and more importantly, it looks epic.  We get sweeping external shots of the locations as well as the action.  The desert sequences are amazing, with Hulk bounding across the terrain while being pursued by tanks, jets and choppers.  Not to mention the comic book paneling of many sequences, which are absolutely brilliant.  His handling of the childhood trauma that Bruce goes through is very powerful.  The only place where I felt he stumbled was in brining the movie home.  It actually could have ended after the big military fight, when Betty comes and calms him down, getting him to transform.  The end scenes with David Banner/Absorbing Man feel tacked on, despite some good special effects.  Overall though, the work he does establishing the backstory give the entire movie a weight that is absent from Leterrier’s movie.

Leterrier does a nice job directing the action sequences, especially with how the camera follows the Hulk, sometimes losing him amidst the chaos.  Where Leterrier struggles, however, is moving between the set piece sequences.  The scenes with Betty and Bruce feel flat, and even unintentionally awkward at times.  The narrative does not hang together well, despite being a simple story.  Where he does do a great job is with the nods to comic book fans.  From the outfits that Bruce wears, to the shot for shot homages to the television show, this movie feels familiar to hulk fans, something Lee’s film was not.  There are also some nice moments with Hulk, where you get a sense of the tragic character he is, and how he just wants to be at peace.  For me, the high point of Leterrier’s direction came during the cave scene, where the Hulk is raging against the lightning.  Great stuff.  

I can’t forget about the Tony Stark Cameo in the Incredible Hulk, as many fans will point to that as a reason that the movie is better than Ang Lee’s.  The problem is that Lee would not have been able to have that same cameo, due to licensing issues, so it’s a luxury that only the new film had.

Ultimately, Leterrier does a serviceable job with a simple story, whereas Lee tries to tell a truly great story and falls just a little short.

Advantage:  Lee’s Hulk

So in summary, I do prefer the Ang Lee’s Hulk over Leterrier’s Incredible Hulk, although there are a lot of things to like about both movies.  Leterrier’s movie fits much better into this new Marvel movie universe, and sets the stage for the Hulk to be in some of the other movies.  As a standalone though, Ang Lee’s Hulk actually improves upon the Hulk’s origin and creates a movie that is more on par with Batman Begins in terms of taking its subject matter seriously.  If Lee had executed just a little bit better, I think Hulk would have been looked at as a truly great movie.

But that’s just one man’s opinion.

5-13-08:  Speed Racer Review

by Sarah Hodge-Wetherbe

Even before I knew what anime was, there were a few animated series I used to watch as a kid that made a big impression on me. Voltron of course, was wonderfully cheesy and edited but was my first look into the giant robot branch of the art form, Robotech introduced concepts and ideas I had never seen in an animated cartoon before, and Battle of the Planets was my first exposure to the theme of the Super Sentai group.

Speed Racer however has always held a special place in my heart. The dialog was cheesy, the dubbing set up anime for years and years of jokes (anytime most people imitate anime it’s in the
“OhgoshIhavetohideinthemach5andhelpseedwhenhegetsintotrouble…ooorh?” tradition.) Trixie was the absolute worst example of what a girl should act like (Helpless, Fickle, and always complaining), and the storylines were completely predictable.Yet somehow, I still loved it. There was such a sense of fun, of absolutely cotton candy abandonment to it.

So it was with excitement and a little dread that I headed for my local theatre as soon as the new Speed Racer movie hit the screens.
The fact that Andy and Larry Wachowski directed it made me nervous. I loved the first Matrix film, but felt like I had been beaten up and mugged after sitting through the sequels. I had heard that the Brothers W had called this their “first family film” and somehow that just made it worse.So the question is: Did they succeed in capturing the 1966 series. My not so humble opinion: Yes and No, and they couldn’t have succeeded any other way.

Lets be honest, a live action carbon copy of the old show simply couldn’t work without being a straight out parody. Do we really want to watch Trixie fawn over Speed, see a cuter guy, fawn over him, and then go back to Speed only when he wins the race? I think I can speak for comics loving women everywhere when I say “No thank you, unless you’re looking to insult my whole gender.” Do we really want to have the single-minded bizarre dialog from the original series where the kid can only think about winning, at the expense of everything? No, it gets boring, and it makes Speed unlikeable.

Instead the brothers take what still makes the old series fun (Thrilling car races) and mix it with more modern tastes.
Pop Racer is blustery but loving, and never pushes the blustery part too far. John Goodman’s look is perfect, and he controls himself well to be funny, but not too over the top. Mom Racer, as played by Susan Sarandon, is a little bit 1960’s housewife with her Donna Reed costumes, and her ability to make huge quantities of sandwiches. But we also see her working in the Racer shop on a car, and her tenderness and pride in her children surprised me into wet eyes in one scene. She blends a gentle and loving side, with a more independent side than Mom in the original cartoon, and the blend works.Sparky, the Racer families assistant and pit mechanic is played by Kick Gurry, who is a fairly new actor on the scene. His take on Sparky is a lot different than the earnest young kid from the series. He comes off as a kid of goofy but sweet Steve Irwin of engines, a kind of side kick that is bumbling in some situations, but completely in control when he is in his element.

Trixie is no longer the flighty “girly-girl” of the cartoon, but rather a smart and sweet young woman who’s able to hold her own. Her relationship with Speed is shown to go back to their childhood, and she is loyal to a fault to her beloved. Rather than fickle, she stands by her man to the point of putting herself in danger (and doing a good job in getting out of it) to help him. All is not sweetness and light, there is a scene where the two bicker a little, but its more for the fact Speed is worried for her, than a shallow and pointless argument over his winnings. All in all, their relationship is well balanced, and realistic, while having a real feel of an iconic romance. Christina Ricci does a wonderful job of bringing both toughness and a cuteness to the character.

Spritle is the one real loose cog in the film. He’s cute, and Paulie Litt does manage not to be too annoying. But the character was always the weakest link, and here he shows it. He’s a kid’s slapstick character in a film that isn’t really a kid’s film. More on this in a moment.

Matthew Fox’s Racer X is pretty bland and deadpan through most of the movie, but it works because that’s the character: broody, mysterious, and all business. Near the end, when he takes off the mask and talks to Speed, an amazing warmth and humor finally can shine through. The switch is natural and endearing, and he handle’s both sides of the character well.

Of course, we couldn’t have a movie without Speed himself. Emile Hirsch handles the character with a charming blend of naive eagerness, determination, and a little tiny touch of angst all blended together well. He’s likeable, and his motivation for racing is changed. He doesn’t race to win because he wants to win. He races to win so he can keep racing. The race itself is the point. Here is the nicest change in the series. Not competitive thought, but the idea of doing what you love for itself. Mom Racer compares what Speed does to art. It’s a beautiful idea, and one that I think society needs to hear badly.

He also races to protect his family in the course of the plot, and that’s where things get dicey.

Before we get into the plot of the film, we have to talk about Roger Allam in the role of Royalton, the corporate tycoon that wants Speed for himself at all cost. He is wonderfully over the top and Tim Curry-like when he’s in evil mode, but in the start of the film when he comes to the Racer Household pretending to be a sort of “Your Favorite uncle” to lure the Racers into signing with him, the sweetness is too false. You can’t picture intelligent people falling for the act. Still he is delightful when he lets it all go loose and bad, and starts ranting, raving, and smashing ice sculptures.
I also have to give a small tip of the hat to a small role in the start of the film. The older announcer during Speed’s first race is played by none other than Peter Fernandez, the voice of the original Speed Racer in 1966. It’s a moment of pure fanboy(girl) Wink-wink delight, but it was a thrill to see the original Speed have a role here as well.So the cast is well chosen and delivers well.

That’s only half the story however. Without a story, great actors can’t do much. The basic plot starts off simple: Speed is winning, bad cooperate guy wants him on his team to win and make company more valuable. Speed says no, Bad man goes about destroying Racer family business on and off the track by cheating. Speed needs to stop him.
With me so far? Okay good. Racer X and the police show up and ask for speeds help exposing bad man as a cheat. And then….I have no idea what happened except for the end…….Even lost, I got the gist of what was going on, but the details flew by faster than the computer generated cars. Here we find the brothers first shortcoming….too much information. This isn’t the Matrix, guys. This is a movie about fast cars, and we don’t really need to know all the corporate-political trappings. It drags the movie down somewhat until you’re lost in it, or just decide to watch for the races themselves.

The Brothers also said they were making this as a family movie. I don’t know about you, but family usually doesn’t mean huge gun battles, or a man's finger getting eaten off by a
school of Piranhas in a tank. Granted, no one is actually shot, and the fish-eating scene is mostly unseen (Although there is blood in the water of the tank). People are beaten up and thrown out of moving cars, Kung fu fights break out. I’m no prude, but I wouldn’t take any kid under the age of 10 to this.And yet we have Spritle gorging on candy, and wandering around the bad man’s factory with Chim Chim on his shoulders in a long lab-coat to look like an adult, and Chim Chim flinging poo at a villain. It’s like the brothers couldn’t decide if they wanted to make an action film for adults that loved the show, or a kid’s movie. Most of the kids stuff is eye rolling, and the action stuff is far too violent for a child. It gives the film several weirdly uneven moments.

Still as a whole, the film works in the sense that its fun eye-candy that’s well acted. If you can get past the convoluted corporate subplot, and just ignore Spritle, it’s a lot of fun. The races are all in mind blowing colors, with visuals that scream by you. Its hard to see who is doing what sometimes, but it doesn’t matter. It’s not the point. Your watching a hot wheels race on a full sized scales, with tracks like often look like roller coasters. If you can here for a deep story, you’ve come to the wrong film. If you came to see a cartoon come to life, then you’ll sit back and enjoy your popcorn, and come out cheering. You might not know exactly everything that happened in great detail, but the big picture is full of swoops and bright colors. Sometimes, you just need to see a film like that. And you will be singing while you leave.

Come on; let’s practice now, along with me:

“Here he comes
Here comes Speed Racer

He's a demon on wheels

He's a demon and he's gonna be chasin' after someone

He's gainin' on you so you better look alive

He's busy revvin' up a powerful Mach 5
And when the odds are against him
And there's dangerous work to do

You bet your life Speed Racer
will see it through
Go Speed Racer Go Speed Racer Go Speed Racer, Go!
He's off and flyin' as he guns the car around the track

He's jammin' down the pedal like he's never comin' back

Adventure's waitin' just ahead

Go Speed Racer
Go Speed Racer Go Speed Racer, Go!”

3 Life-Size Hotwheel Tracks out of 5

5-5-08:  Iron Man Review

by Brian LeTendre

Iron Man is an important movie for Marvel.  In addition to being the first movie that the company has produced since forming its own studio, the movie is also based on a character that is not as well known to the general public.  As opposed to the X-Men or Spider-Man, Iron Man was not a guaranteed success from a box office standpoint.  Throw in a relatively unproven director in Jon Favreau, and a 43 year old Robert Downey Jr. as the lead, and Marvel had a lot of questions to answer heading into opening weekend.

So, how was it?  In a word, triumphant.  Iron Man is a movie that represents that perfect storm of producing, casting and directing that results in a truly great experience.  From the opening two minutes that jolt you out of your seat, to the final line of dialogue in the movie, Iron Man is a great ride.  Mainstream audiences learned what fanboys have suspected all along, that Robert Downey Jr. is the perfect choice for Tony Stark.  He is so good that form here forward, comic writers will have to live up to his performance in the monthly books.   Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrance Howard and Jeff Bridges prove that if you cast real actors in supporting roles, they can elevate the whole picture.  The best examples of this are the scenes that Paltrow and Downey Jr. share, through which we see just how much Pepper Potts and Tony Stark care for each other by what they don’t say, but merely imply in the looks they give each other and the moments they share. 

The special effects are great as expected, and fans will have a tough time determining CGI from practical work.  The cinematography is excellent as well.  There are Raimi-style pan outs during the hostage scenes, and all of the action is framed in a way that conveys the violence in the story, but manages to walk the line of a PG-13 rating.  

The story itself takes Iron Man’s origin, mixes it with the Iron Monger story from the early 80’s, and updates them both for 2008.  Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane evolves into the main villain, shaped somewhat by the choices that Tony makes following his kidnapping.  The final confrontation between Iron Man and Iron Monger is satisfying, and showcases the excellent effects work. 

For comic fans, however, the best parts of the movie are the nods to comic lore that are everywhere.  Favreau as Happy Hogan.  The S.H.I.E.L.D. logo in the parking garage.  Rhodey looking at the second armor suit and saying “Next time, baby.”  And let’s not forget the giant teaser after the credits roll that will have fans salivating at the possibility of what is to come. 

Iron Man deserves to be in the discussion regarding “greatest superhero movies of all time.”  Where it sits on your list is up to you, but it would be hard to argue against putting it at the top. 

5 out of 5 Shellheads