Sunday, February 25, 2024

MCU Sunday #8: Thor- The Dark World


 Preface: As promised last year, I plan to review every single currently available movie in what is known as the  Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) over the year 2024. These will appear in order of their release over that time period. This is the eighth installment. (Oh, and by the way, after I've exhausted all of the currently available MCU movies I will be rounding out the year with some of the other available movies made from the Marvel comics pantheon.)

Notes: In each of the MCU installments you will be seeing references to two recurring events that occur in nearly every MCU movie.

Where is Stan Lee?: Stan Lee was the driving genius behind Marvel Comics.  He usually shows up in a cameo.  Sometimes these are so quick you gotta be sure you don't blink. Occasionally he gets a line  of dialogue.

And the Credits Roll: You should always stay in the theater for the credits when watching a MCU movie, because during the credits and at the end there is a teaser (or two) that is worth the wait.  Often they were a teaser for the next installment of the films.

The director of the first Thor film, Kenneth Branagh, was interviewed prior to the release of The Avengers, after a comment by Marvel Studios prez Kevin Feige that Thor would go off on a new adventure. He basically said he didn't see it happening.  Whether that influenced the future of the franchise or not, it did probably influence the fact that Branagh was not brought on board to direct the new  Thor  film. (I mean, after all, who needs such negativity...?)

The cast of the new film, as previously stated in this series, however, were on board.  Which means we got Chris Hemsworth in his starring role as well as Natalie Portman coming back as Jane, his human girlfriend, and of course Tom Hiddleston as the nefarious Loki. Plus Anthony Hopkins and Rene Russo returned as Odin and Frigga, king and queen of Asgard, respectively.


Thor: The Dark World (2013):

In the pre-history of the realms there was a great battle for control of the realms between the warriors of Asgard and the dark elves led by Malekith. (Christopher Eccleston)  Although Malekith tried to unleash the dark force of the source called the Aether, he and his minions were defeated and the Asgardiands, led by King Bor, the father of Odin took possession of the Aether.  But they could not destroy and so, instead, chose to bury it where "no one could find it". (Good luck with that... Never underestimate the power of the Dark Side... whoops, wrong movie...)


Flash forward to present day.  Dr. Jane Foster along with her crew have discovered a portal that seemingly connects worlds.  Objects dropped into the portal seem to disappear, only to appear again.  During these experiments Jane gets drawn into the portal where she is infected with the Aether and it becomes a part of her.  (Told you...)


There is a new twist on the horizon.  It seems that every 5000 years there is something called a Convergence, a force that aligns the Nine Realms and opens up the possibility of causing some bad things to happen.  And it reawakens the dormant Malekith who uses the convergence to try to regain access to the Aether which he believes belongs to his people, the Dark Elves.  And since the Aether is now in the possession of Jane (or vice versa...), Malekith invades Asgard in an attempt to regain it.

In the process he kills Frigga.  (Not his best decision.  This is not going to go well... ) So Thor, along with his half brother Loki, who had been imprisoned for his malfeasance in the quest to let the enemies take over the realms in the previous adventure (see The Avengers)  gather to prevent Malekith from success in subjugating the realms under control of Evil.


Where is Stan Lee?: Back on Earth, Dr. Selvig, who has been having a little trouble holding on to a grasp of reality has been confined to a mental institution.  He is delivering a lecture on the Convergence using a pair of shoes as helpful illustration.  After he ends his lecture he asks if the are any questions.  Stan is one of the inmates ad says "Yes, Can I have my shoe back?"


When Thor and Loki appear on Malekith's home world, Loki appears to have betrayed Thor in favor of his new ally Malekith.  He asks Malekith for a good seat to watch the destruction of Asgard,  But in the end, Loki's betrayal of Thor turns out to be a ruse to get Malekith to let his guard down. Only during the ensuing battle. Loki is apparently killed.  (But, that is not a spoiler alert because we all know Loki is not so easily defeated, (Although we won't find out that until the end of the film.  However, if you are aware of the future entries, you already knew that... Kind of like killing off James Bond in a Bond film... of course he isn't really dead...)


A the Convergence becomes more and more imminent, Thor and Malekith end up having to battle across the realms.  The Convergence allows them to slip easily between the worlds.  Ultimately, of course, Thor wins the day as Malekith is defeated.

And the Credits Roll: As a squad of Asgardians take the Aether to the home world of a character referred to as The Collector, they tell him that since the Tesseract is on Asgard, it would not be a good idea that two Infinity Stones be located on the same world. And thus the seeds of the massing of the the stones is implanted as, just as the scene ends the Collector says "One down.  Five to go."

It is a mystery why Thor: The Dark World ended up doing so poorly.  Most lists I have seeen rank it at the bottom of the MCU pantheon.  Is it really all that bad?  I don't think so.  The action comes a lot more frequently in it, which makes it a better movie than some.  Although the Convergence never quite makes the impact that the writers probably hoped,

The fact that it garnered a few nominations but failed to win any awards across the realms of critics probably is indicative of it's poor reception.  Some of those nominations even were probably due to the limited options of availability of eligible material.  (After all, only four movies were in the running for Saturn Awards for Best Comic Book to Film.)  Tom Hiddleston still manages to make any appearance of Loki shine, whether the rest of the cast makes any effort at all. 

Well folks, the curtain falls for this endeavor.  Time to roll.  Drive safely


Friday, February 23, 2024

Stone Face Does Comedy?

This is my entry in the Sixth So Bad It's Good Blogathon host by Taking Up Room


So you're asking: "'Stone Face'?  Who the hell is 'Stone Face'?

Well, a few years ago I did a post on Sylvester Stallone doing two movies (Stone Face Vs. the Russians) which, coincidentally, was for another So Bad It's Good Blogathon. In it I made some jesting comments that Stallone never cracked a smile in his entire career.  I could be wrong.

It's a sure bet that not many have cracked a smile over Stallone's comedy career, however.  I mentioned this to a friend at work the other day while listening to a podcast review of Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot! that Stallone's was best at comedy when he wasn't trying to do comedy.  Along with Rhinestone, both movies stand as milestones in the dumpster of Stallone's career when he tried to do comedy.  Both movies are ranked among the worst movies of all time. 

As stated in that previously noted review, Stallone has been the "victim" of numerous Razzies (The Golden Raspberry Awards) for worst actor.  I don't always agree with John Wilson, the creator of the award, and many times I think that Wilson just has it in for Stallone.  But then, I like the kinds of movies that Stallone does (at least the ones where he is trying to be a tough guy)

But Stallone as a comedy star?  Not exactly the best career decision.  That said, both of these movies are entertaining in their own right.  Don't think that just because I am being a little critical of his comedy career that I don't like them in their own context as Stallone films. But I still think that Stallone should stick to what he does best, punching bad guys and obnoxious a-holes in the face.  (Which he DOES do in these two films, just not often enough).

Rhinestone and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot! were separated by an 8 year string of the kind of movies most of us come to expect from Stallone (including the two I reviewed in the previously mentioned post). During that time we also got Cobra, Lock Up and Tango and Cash, all pretty good Stallone tough guy movies.

Since Stallone has famously disassociated himself from Rhinestone, you would have thought maybe he'd be a little reluctant to delve into another comedy.  And maybe he was.  But here's a tidbit for you.  At the time of Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot! Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger were in an intense rivalry for box office status.  The reason that Stallone wanted to do Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot! was because he wanted to put one over on Schwarzenegger because he thought the The Governator really wanted the role.  It turns out that Arnold got Stallone to do it on purpose by just pretending to be interested (as he has pointed out in several interviews, post film).  

So is Stallone actually funny (or at least believably funny) as a comedy star? You have to watch to find out.  





Rhinestone (1984):

(Note: In the opening credits of this film it says it is based on the Glen Campbell song "Rhinestone Cowboy". If you know the song, you'll probably think they should have added "loosely" before the word "based"...)

 The scene is New York City.  Home of one of the biggest country music venues in the nation. 

Or at least in the mind of it's owner, Freddie Ugo (Ron Liebman).  Ugo is a slimeball, prominently foreshadowed by his first line in the movie.  He arrives in a diamond studded limousine where an employee opens his door and greets him with a "Good evening, Mr. Ugo".

"It's always a good evening when you're rich, kid."

Appearing at his nightclub is Jake Farris (Dolly Parton).  She struggles through her nightly set, having to share the stage with Ugo's "amateur night" which includes whatever new sensation that he can find to get him even richer.  Tonight it is Elgart Brunson (Russ {or also Rusty}Buchanan, who was actually a decent singer. He was involved with several bands in the 70's and 80's.).  Elgart plays a song he wrote about a girlfriend who died in a horrible way. And he sings horribly himself. (Kudos to Buchanan for pulling it off.  This is one of the funnier parts of this film.)

Ugo has a contract with Jake to appear at his nightclub, but Jake wants out.  Ugo, never one to miss an opportunity to be a sleazeball, tells her she is committed to the contract, but he could be convinced to null it under the right circumstances.  Jake tells him, rather impetuously, that she could turn anybody into a country star in two weeks, and Ugo takes her up on the bet. If she succeeds, he will tear up the contract.

On the other hand, if she fails, she has to sign on for another 5 years.  And she has to go to bed with him.  (I told you he never misses an opportunity to be a scumbag. I mean, just in case you as the audience, miss the obvious, look at where is eyes go when he is chatting with Jake.  Her eyes are a little farther up, Freddie...)

And he gets to pick the unwitting victim that Jake will have to miraculously turn into a star. Enter stereotypical abrasive New York cabbie, Nick Martinelli (Sylvester Stallone). Nick is in the process of delivering a Japanese tourist group to a spot they didn't even know they wanted to go. They started out for a sushi bar, but Nick convinces them to change their minds, (and not necessarily willingly...)

Backed into a corner and unwilling to sleep with Ugo (even if it was just "sleeping"), Jake finds herself saddled with a man who wouldn't know the difference between a honky tonk and a Tonka truck. And has to find a way to not only get him acclimated to the country music scene, but squeeze out a modicum of talent that will get her the win in the bet.

Of course, the fly in the ointment is Nick doesn't even like country music. Or hillbilly lifestyle as we find out.  Because in an effort to get Nick into country music shape, Jake takes him back to her hometown in backwater Tennessee.

Talk about a fish out of water.  Here's your typical brash New York City Italian dropped in the middle of hillbilly heaven (or hell, depending on your point of view.) Jake introduces Nick to the down home crowd, her friends and her family in good old back home Leiper's Fork. (And, believe it or not, that's a real town in Tennessee. And was the location for some of the Tennessee portions of this film).

Don't miss the debut of Nick in Tennessee.  He sings "Devil with a Blue Dress" and gets the reaction from the crowd that you'd pretty much expect. So Jake has her work all cut out for her. (Two weeks?  Phttt. Piece of cake...)

Nick is on his way, learning the "proper" way of eating (like mixing your peas and potatoes together, and saving your biscuits for dipping in your gravy). And making new friends, like Jake's former boyfriend, Barnett (Tim Thomerson). But don't mention that name around Jake. Their relationship was not what you might call amicable.

The next time Nick gets in front of a crowd he has improved somewhat. He sings a song called "Drinkenstein". Which you've got to see to believe:

The upshot is Nick needs a little more work (obviously). But ultimately Jake does manage to get Nick into some semblance of cowboy shape.  But is he good enough to take on the rough crowd back in New York City, or good enough to capture the prize of getting Jake out of her contract with sleazy Freddie? Well, that all depends on whether he even makes it to the stage... Because before the movie is over there is one final problem. Jake reveals that she hasn't got the kind of confidence in Nick's new found career, even though he thinks he's hot patootie.

When Jake decides she has to forfeit and goes to Freddie to concede, Nick has to ride out to rescue her, like "a rhinestone cowboy, riding out on a horse in something like a star-spangled rodeo". (Had to justify the "based on" portion of the credits, after all...)

And then he has to win over the audience. But he decides to do it his way.  And his way ends up being a foreshadowing of the future of what country would transform into today. (i.e. rock posing as country.)

This movie is not all as bad as it sounds.  Really.  Is it on the level of, say, Blazing Saddles (a movie I consider tops in comedy)? No. But it will win you over as a decent transformation type film.  If you give it a chance.

Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot! (1992):

Joe Bomowski (Sylvester Stallone) is your average detective on your average police force in your average big city. (Well, average for gung ho cop movies anyway.)  The movie opens with Joe and his partner, Tony (John Wesley) on a stakeout.  They are awaiting the arrival of "the bad guys" who, as usual, are "always late". And, as usual, when they do arrive, there is a shootout, and as usual, the partner gets shot.  And, as usual, the main cop shows off his impulsive personality by doing some rather impressive shooting of things that shouldn't be victim of his shooting. (He shoots out the chains holding up a sign.  Poor sign.  What did it do to deserve this treatment?)

 After the shoot out we see Joe, frustrated, trying to call his mother.  Mom (Estelle Getty) is packing for a visit and ignores his call because for the last five times she has planned to come visit he has called her to say this is a "bad time for a visit." 

Joe has a romantic interest, his lieutenant in the police force, Gwen (JoBeth Williams). Gwen doesn't really believe him when he tells her that he was trying to call mom.  She thinks there is another woman. (Of course she does).

When Mom finally arrives on the plane we find out why Joe has such an issue with her.  Mom, loving Mom as she is, seems to have spent the entire plane trip talking about her Joey and showing the flight attendants, passengers, and anyone else who will listen, pictures of her son, in diapers. (No, not an adult in diapers, just as a baby. Get your mind out of the gutter...)

While driving her to the apartment, a radio call comes on stating that there is a suicide jumper. (Why is it that many of these cop movies involve a scene with a suicide jumper?  And why do they always seem to play it for laughs?) Of course, Mom has to jump into the fray and try to help.

Mom increasingly becomes annoying (after all, she can't just let Joe continue to live in his untidy apartment, or eat the decidedly less nutritious fare he is used to...) At one point she decides that Joe's gun is too dirty, so she cleans it.  How? With a mixture of Clorox, Ajax and Comet... (No, I don't have any idea whether that combination is lethal, and I doubt whether the writers researched it to find out.  So don't try it at home.)

The gun, of course, is ruined. (I don't know if it really is ruined, but it has to be for this part of the plot to advance, so...) So while Joe is at work, Mom heads out to find her Joey a new gun.  But the pawn shop insists on following the rules.  It will take two weeks before she can actually buy the gun. (It's called a "cooling off" period so you can't just buy a gun and shoot someone on impulse.)  But a customer in the shop wants to be helpful.  The customer (Dennis Burkley) helpfully takes her into the alley where he and his partner have an armory of automatic weapons.  And sells her one.

But the guns were stolen from another set of hoodlums.  Hoodlums who have been watching the two. And they are given the word by their boss to reclaim their merchandise.  Mom witnesses the hit and murder.  Now, since Mom is a material witness to a crime, she is going to have to stay until it's resolution... an extra two or three weeks... Poor Joe.

And Mom, being what mothers are (at least what mothers are in movies, anyway). has Joe's interests at heart.  So she withholds evidence of what she really saw so she can share it with Joe and hopefully get him a promotion, as well as improve his relationship with Gwen.

Much of the rest of the film involves the kind of things that are bound to happen when a overly pampered son (who is highly resistant to the over-pampering) has to TRY to get his mother to let him live his own life, but mom keeps finding ways to help (and he doesn't want the help.  Need?  That's a different story).

It turns out that the gun Mom bought was part of a stash of guns that were supposed to have burned up in a warehouse fire,  And behind it all is the Mr. Big of the movie, a sleazy big shot corporation executive named Parnell (Roger Rees).  Rees has cropped up over the years as a comedic villain or at least an unappealing character.  He was the sheriff of Rottingham in Robin Hood: Men in Tights and two stints on TV, one as Lord John Marbury in "The West Wing", and as Robin Colcord on "Cheers".

It seems Parnell had the fire intentionally set, not only to collect on the insurance, but also to illegally sell the guns.  And a couple of the cases of guns were stolen by the hoods that tried to sell Mom a gun early in the movie.

All's well that ends well, as they say, as Joe, with the help of Mom, prevent Parnell from leaving the country with the contraband.  And spoiler alert! we find out in the end that Joe finally proposed to Gwen and they are engaged. (A deleted scene on the DVD shows the proposal scene, but it was cut from the theatrical release. Watching it, I can see why.  It wasn't all that funny.)

So here is the skinny on Stone Face in comedy.  I still say he should stick to action, with the occasional comic barbs in certain situations.  But as for the fact that they are considered some of his worst movies? I would have you go watch Oscar (another comedy), or even The Specialist (not a comedy) before you decide that.

Well, that brings us to the time we need to leave the drive-in.  They are already shutting down the lights and blasting "Drunkenstein" through the speakers.  And my mom is texting me to see if I'll stop to get some milk. Drive safely, folks.


Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Riding Into Destiny


Fellow blogger Rachel at Hamlette's Soliloquy came up with this idea of siblings in film.  My first thought was "Hey! I have a sister. That's a sibling! What about doing one of her favorite films?".  But she pointed out that the theme of the event is actually "siblings in film". OK. So fortunately my sister's favorite film is Shane which features a pair of brothers, so I still get to fulfill my goal while staying true to the theme.

I haven't seen Shane in probably about 50 years. My vague recollection is watching it with family during a Thanksgiving holiday on TV.  I haven't seen it since then. But my memories of it are fairly accurate (for the most part anyway).  

To be honest, I thought Jack Palance (who was credited as "Walter Jack Palance") had more of a presence in the film than he actually does.  As the gunfighter hired by the bad guys to come to town to help out in the goal of driving off the homesteaders, Palance doesn't actually appear in the movie until almost an hour into the film.  And his screen time only amounts to about 20 or so minutes in the film, so maybe I should go back and re-watch some of the other movies I only vaguely remember from my childhood.

As far as the casting is concerned: Did you know that Alan Ladd was not the first choice to play the title role?  The first choice was going to be Montgomery Clift, but he proved to be unavailable.  And Jack Schaefer, the author of the original source novel is on record as saying that he didn't like Ladd in the role, calling him a "runt".  Schaefer has said he envisioned someone more like George Raft.  As portrayed on the screen by Ladd, I could see Clift in the role, but I think he would have been an entirely different character as portrayed by Raft. Perhaps he is more in keeping with the vision Schaefer had in the novel.

As far as Van Heflin in the father role, William Holden was one of the first hopes to play Joe Starrett, but like Clift, he was unavailable so Heflin got the role.  Jean Arthur rounded out the primary cast.  It was her final role on the big screen as she retired from film afterwards, although she came back for a couple of TV roles years later.

Some interesting tidbits: One, Ladd did not like guns, and was not very proficient with them.  According to what I read it took over 100 takes to get the scene right when Shane shoes little Joey how to use a gun.  Maybe it should have been the other way around... It is also evident supposedly of his deficiency when he has the gun battle at the end of the film.  Not that I noticed, but apparently he shot quite a bit off the mark when gunning down the bad guys then. Also, Palance had to be filmed several times to get a decent take when he was either mounting, dismounting or riding a horse because he and horses were not on good terms with each other. 

The story of Shane is pretty much a trope these days.  The lone gunman who rides in to town trying to escape a past and falls in with a beleaguered group in their battle against a superior force.  Not only is it a trope in the western genre, it can be seen in various other genres.  Of course, it's most prevalent in the western genre.  Pale Rider comes to mind. For that matter, several of Clint Eastwood's westerns fit the bill.  But also could be added Yojimbo, the Akira Kurosawa tribute to the trope featuring samurais instead of western cowboys.

Shane was well received when it came out.  Witness the numerous Academy Award nominations it got; Best Picture, Best Director (George Stevens), Best Supporting Actor (both Jack Palance and Brandon DeWilde), and Best Screenplay, all of which it lost to various people involved in a competing film, From Here to Eternity. The only one it won was for Best cinematography: Color, which it fortunately did not have to compete with From Here to Eternity, since that one was filmed in black and white (which by the way it won for that category.)

Shane is one of the films on  American Film Institute's best westerns list, only beat out by The Searchers and High Noon in that category. It is also in the top 50 of an overall list of all films.

Shane (1953):

OK, so the sibling aspect of this movie doesn't really become evident until later in the movie. Heads up.

Young Joey Starrett (Brandon deWilde) is out stalking a deer on his family farm. He is still too young, by his father's own words, to have ammunition, so he is only pretending to hunt the deer.  While out there he observes a lone rider coming in to the farm.

The lone rider (a typical western trope) turns out to be a man who calls himself Shane (Alan Ladd), (and another typical western trope, he is only known by one name, so "Shane" could conceivably be his first name, but he is frequently addresses as Mr. Shane).

Shane is only stopping off to ask permission to ride through the Starrett farm, but Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) is pressured by his wife, Marian (Jean Arthur) that the polite thing to do would be to ask the man to stay for dinner, since it's almost supper time.

After dinner, Shane is invited to spend the night.  In the morning, feeling like he must help to pay for the two meals, he starts attacking a tree stump that Starrett had been working on when he rode in.  Together they manage to make short work of it. (And why it only took a short while when Starrett had said he's been at it off and on ever since he moved on the homestead, I can't say.  Maybe it was almost done by that time already... Only one of a couple of plot details I took issue with in an otherwise great movie.)

Although it never really comes out in the movie it turns out that Shane has had a rather jaded past,  Apparently he was a gunslinger in his former life.  It's not clear whether he is on the run from his own past or if there may be some past trying to follow him. (Maybe it is more clear in the original source novel.  I never read it.)

The problem Starrett and his fellow homesteaders have is with a local cattle baron, Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer) and his brother Morgan (John Dierkes).  (And there are the siblings..)  As another typical trope, the greedy Ryker brothers want all the land in the area, not just a portion of it.  And they have been waging a guerilla war of sorts with Starrett and the homesteaders.

Shane stays on as a ranch hand to help out Starrett.  But there may be some ulterior motive,  Perhaps Shane is doing it to make amends for his own jaded past.  He definitely is not averse to helping fight the battle of the two factions, for the side of good (or at least what we are prone to be led to believe is the side of good.)

The battle between the two gets more and more hostile, and, yes, the bad guys do tend to stretch a point in the lawless frontier to force the homesteaders to give u and move on.  But Starrett does his best to convince his neighbors that they have the right, and even the obligation to stay.

Eventually, since Shane seems to be someone with whom the Rykers might have a problem, they hire their own tough guy, Jack Wilson (Jack Palance).  And it's not even remotely concealed from either the audience or the homesteaders themselves what his background is.  He is a notorious gunslinger and even Shane recognizes his name, if not his face,

One of the homesteaders, "Stonewall" Torrey (so called because he is a Confederate veteran of the Civil War) is gunned down in the street (Elisha Cook, Jr, played him. He will be familiar a face even if you don't know his name.  He had prominent roles in dozens of films in his life.  Just click on that link and see how many of them YOU'VE seen...).

Things get even more hairy over the course of the film. Some of the Rykers' cohorts burn down one of the homesteader's farms and many of them are just about to give up.  In fact, if it weren't for the adamant Starrett trying to keep them from conceding the battle most of them would have left by now.  But Starrett is apparently a good talker.

The final confrontation comes when the Ryker brothers, knowing that the glue that's holding them together is Starrett, creates a ruse that will get Starrett into town where he will be ambushed.  And Shane tries to stop him, saying he can't win.  But it takes Shane knocking out Starrett and riding into town in his stead to keep Marian from becoming a widow and little Joey from losing a father.

Joey sees what Shane does to his father and tells Shane he hates him, but has a change of heart and follows him to town.  Of course, you know how it's all going to end, don't you?  If you don't, what have you been doing all your life while NOT watching movies? Or being indoctrinated with classic film culture?

I'll give you a hint:

"Shane! Shane! Come back!"

(The quote made the list of American Film Institute's 100 Years 100 Movie Quotes, so even if you've never even seen one frame of the film, it's highly likely you've heard the quote.)

The film has a bit of history behind it, if you are interested.  The battles being fought between the homesteaders and the cattle ranchers is based on the real events behind the Johnson County War fought in the early 1890's in Wyoming.  Among other films that dealt with this topic was Heaven's Gate (which has it's own reputation in Hollywood).  And if you like the theme (although it covers a different kind of conflict) you ought to check out Pale Rider, one of my favorite Clint Eastwood films. (And I'm surprised that up to now that hasn't been featured on The Midnite Drive-In... maybe soon.)

Well, folks time to saddle up and ride on.  And to that little boy in the back part of the lot yelling "Quiggy! Quiggy!  Come back!"  I'll be back... (Oh wait, that's a different movie altogether...


Sunday, February 18, 2024

MCU Sunday #7: Iron Man 3


 Preface: As promised last year, I plan to review every single currently available movie in what is known as the  Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) over the year 2024. These will appear in order of their release over that time period. This is the seventh installment. (Oh, and by the way, after I've exhausted all of the currently available MCU movies I will be rounding out the year with some of the other available movies made from the Marvel comics pantheon.)

Notes: In each of the MCU installments you will be seeing references to two recurring events that occur in nearly every MCU movie.

Where is Stan Lee?: Stan Lee was the driving genius behind Marvel Comics.  He usually shows up in a cameo.  Sometimes these are so quick you gotta be sure you don't blink. Occasionally he gets a line  of dialogue.

And the Credits Roll: You should always stay in the theater for the credits when watching a MCU movie, because during the credits and at the end there is a teaser (or two) that is worth the wait.  Often they were a teaser for the next installment of the films.





The next movie in the saga after the dynamic coupling of our heroes in The Avengers was this little movie, and if you're keeping track this makes the third Iron man movie when the rest of the heroes have only had one apiece. (That would be rectified in the coming attractions.) 

The movie has some star power involved in it, including Ben Kingsley and Guy Pearce.  There was a lot of stuff that should have made this an attractive endeavor (and you will forgive me if I didn't fall into the reigning opinion that it succeeded...)

Have to admit by the time I slogged through Iron Man 3, I briefly considered abandoning the project.  (It was the first time sitting through it.)  But I knew in retrospect that there were several movies in the MCU pantheon still to come that redeemed my resolve to stick with it.

As I mention in the review, one of my big problems was a rather confusing plot.  The fact that the director, Shane black, had written the script or story for two of my favorite movies, Lethal Weapon and Lethal Weapon 2 gave me some hope for a better script.  Not sure what the problem was.  And once again, this is just me.  Maybe I am losing something that was there from the outset.






Iron Man 3 (2008) :

The film opens on a scene, New Year's Eve 1999. It starts out with a horrendous opening song, "Blue" by Eiffel 65, and if you can get past that it gets better, trust me. Tony (pre - Iron Man) is trying to hook up with a scientist, Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), although not entirely for the reasons that Hansen wants to connect with him...  

In the process of his endeavor to satisfy his goals, Tony is interrupted by Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), another scientist who has some ideas he wants to present to Stark Industries, but, as usual, Tony is unreceptive, and blows him off.


Flash forward to present day.  After the events of the alien attacks on New York (see The Avengers), Tony is suffering from the effects of post traumatic stress disorder.  He has apparently been unable to sleep, and has been working night and day creating new Iron Man suits.


Meanwhile, his associate / girlfriend, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) meets up with a new and improved Killian.  He tries to get her involved in his project of working on improving the human brain.  But, once again, Killian is blown off.

In the mix is a terrorist organization led by a mysterious figure called The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), The Mandarin is the ultimate in terrorist, a man with a grudge against the United States for slights against his people,  And he is going to make the U.S. pay, of course. Or maybe just the President whom he really seems to have a grudge against.

So Tony makes a threat to The Mandarin on live TV, that he to go mano a mano with him, and even gives his home address.  Not exactly the best idea Tony has had recently.  The Mandarin sends attack forces to blow up the domicile.  Leaving Tony apparently dead.  But he just relocated...

To Tennessee.  Where the first known "terrorist" bombing occurred, albeit one before The Mandarin came on the scene.  With the help of a young ally, Harley (Ty Simpkins). Tony tracks down the mother of the guy who initiated that first attack. (And this is the point where I started to get a little confused.  I think they were trying to jam way too much information into this part of the film.) 


The Mandarin makes another appearance, telling the President there are only two more lessons in his education, and executes a hostage, despite the fact that the President complies with his demand to use his cell phone to call.

Where is Stan Lee? For some reason a broadcast of a beauty pageant appears on TV.  Stan is seen in the audience,  giving one of the models a "10".

Now Tony is on the case, downloading information on Killian and his special work, which appears to be some sort of regeneration formula, near as I can tell.  But the things do not go smoothly in the lab tests.  But Killian is still able to find a buyer.  If you guessed The Mandarin, you are on target.

With Harley's help and the help of his A.I., J.A.R.V.I.S., Tony is able to pinpoint The Mandarin's broadcast location.  And it's not Syria, Pakistan, Iraq or even Timbuktu.  It's in Miami.  Unable to get his suit up to power, Tony makes a new one using stuff he finds at the local hardware store. (OK...)

But when Tony arrives at the HQ of The Mandarin, he finds out the the so-called "Mandarin" is a fiction created by some other entity.  The man who has been on TV as "The Mandarin" was in fact just an actor hired to take credit for the explosions.  (Confused?  It gets better... Maybe.)

So who is behind the scenes?  A maniac. (Or a visionary, if you believe him...) Killian.  (And why does Killian keep reminding of the pre-Riddler version of Jim Carrey's Edward Nigma? Maybe it was intentional.  Of course Guy Pearce is no match for the manic delivery of Carrey, but the similarities seem to be there...)

Of course, it's only after Killian, the REAL Mandarin, has apparently defeated Tony (despite the help of the two dozen or so Iron Man suits he has in his repertoire helping him) that he revels himself to be the REAL Mandarin.  But Tony still has an ace up his sleeve.  Even though it appears nothing is going to defeat Killian (that whole regeneration thing...)


So in the end, after Killian is no longer a problem, Tony destroys all the Iron Man suits. Or did he? Because after all this, Tony leaves us with a final line "I am Iron Man").  And no surprise there, because if you've looked ahead, Iron Man is STILL a factor in the future stories...

And the Credits Roll: The end of the movie shows us Tony talking to a "therapist".  Or at least Tony has convinced himself he is.  But as the other guy adamantly claims "I'm not that kind of doctor"...

OK, so after all this, Iron Man 3 does not rank all that high on my list.  Part of it has to do with I could never really get a line on the plot.  And I STILL don't know what Killian hoped to achieve with his tactics.  Unless it was to have a puppet government under his thumb.  It gets a good rating on most lists I looked at, so that may just be me, and I don't make any apologies for that.  

It did get nominated and even won a few awards.  Including an Oscar nom for Best Visual Effects (which was to be expected). It also won a couple of Saturn Awards ( a science fiction/fantasy award, in case you are unfamiliar.).  And I still don't know how Ben Kingsley beat out Benedict Cumberbatch for Best Supporting Actor for the latter's role in the Star Trek: Into Darkness film. Not that Kingsley is not a great actor, just that I don't think he brings it to the film this time.

Time to fire up the Plymouth and roll.  Drive safely, folks.



Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Soul Survivors






My favorite day is still Valentine's Day. I have a romantic bent, even though it doesn't show up very often on this blog.  Years ago I had a tradition: I would buy a carnation for each of the ladies with whom I worked for Valentine's Day.  Most of them appreciated the gesture. I never really had a girlfriend, and as such I never married, so I never had a wife. This tradition was my one outlet for that romantic side.  Unfortunately, in 2009 I was laid off from that job. I got the job back six months later, but I never reinstated the tradition. 

That said, that romantic bent never really took hold when it comes to movies.  I can count on the fingers of one hand the list of movies you might call "romantic" that I like. "Romcoms" as they might be called, usually don't appeal to me.  I make an exception for The Princess Bride, one of my top 10 movies of all time, because I generally don't think of it as a romantic movie, although to be sure, there is some romance in it. My attraction stems from the fact that it has some great action and some of the best repartee in movie history.

In addition, there a few other movies that are classed as romcoms that I actually like. These, too, appeal to me for other reasons than the "rom" side of the romcoin coin: Groundhog Day, for example.  The appeal comes from the situation that Bill Murray's character finds himself in. Dave is also classed as a romcom, but I like the part of Kevin Kline trying to fill the role as President even though he isn't, and not necessarily the romance part that develops between his character and Sigourney Weaver's character.

If you look at the archives of this blog, you may notice a couple more that fit the bill, but in each one of those, there is some other aspect that drew me to the film, not the romance.  This movie today really had nothing to draw me to it initially.  I just happened to come across it once several years ago and had nothing else going on so I watched a few minutes of it.  And then, by gum, I was hooked.  Of course, if it hadn't been for that initial set up, if it had just jumped into the story with Robert Downey's character all ready grown up and only then gradually revealed the part about his having ghostly companions, I probably would have switched channels.

 Interestingly enough, Heart and Souls is actually listed as one of the movies in one of the  Frightfest Guide books I have, one which covers "Ghost Movies". So I'm not the only person with my bent of mind that likes this movie.

The film stars Robert Downey, Jr in the lead role, accompanied by Alfre Woodard, Kyra Sedgewick, Charles Grodin and Tom Sizemore as ghosts. 

It also has David Paymer, an actor whose face you might recognize, if not the name. Paymer was familiar to me because of his role in a short-lived TV show I regularly watched in the early 90's, The Commish.




  Heart and Souls (1993):

The movie starts out by introducing us to the main characters who are still on this side of the world at this point.  Penny (Alfre Woodard) in a widowed mother struggling to take car of her kids. 

Harrison (Charles Grodin) is a man who wants to be a singer, but usually chickens out when he tries to audition and has never really tried. 

Milo is a thief who stole some valuable stamps from a kid and sold them to another guy, who may or may not be a mob guy,. (It is not actually stated as such but that's the impression I got) 

Wrapping it up is Julia (Kyra Sedgwick), a woman who is faced with making a decision to commit to a marriage with the man in her life, but is on the fence. 

Coupled with this are Frank and Eva Reilly (Bill Calvert and Lisa Lucas) who are expecting their first child. When it becomes evident that her time is due, Frank piles Eva into the car and races to the hospital.  Meanwhile all our main characters have boarded a trolley bus. The driver of the bus, Hal (David Paymer) is distracted by an amorous couple and ends up driving off a bridge, hitting the car that Frank is driving beforehand, the result of which causes Eva to have to give birth right then and there.  While Hal is immediately taken to Heaven, the four others end up being attached to the newborn baby, Thomas.

The four are not aware of why they have been put in this situation and end up staying with Thomas for the next 30+ years.  At the beginning they interact with Thomas who grows to love them, but realizing they are inhibiting him from becoming a normal kid they decide to disappear from his life. (How they figured out they could do that is never really explained.) So they are still stuck with him into adulthood, even though they can do nothing for him.

And at some point, even though they really don't want to, they decide they are doing more harm than good for the kid. So they tell Thomas they have to leave him. The kid is distraught, of course, and wants them to stay, but they do "disappear".  Of course, they are still there, just not present in his life.  After all, they still haven't discovered why they are attached to him in the first place.

Now it is years later. Thomas (Robert Downey, Jr) has grown up and is a ruthless business executive.  Julia and the rest are still hanging out, still unaware of what the point of it all is. (Imagine being tasked to accomplish something, not being told what that something is, and having to  spend 34 years not getting it done.)

Well that's all about to change.  Hal, the bus driver guilty of having caused all of their deaths has spent the past 34 years in a sort of Purgatory for his sins, being the ferry man (or trolley man, to be correct).  He returns to Earth because it is now time for Julia et. al. to make complete their journey. 

(Notice how I have encapsulated the four by just naming Julia? There's a reason for that. It simplifies things, for one, but also when I first saw this movie I developed a crush on actress Kyra Sedgwick.  She's still beautiful even today.)  

It turns out that the four had left this world with unfinished business, and God granted them a stay of execution to Heaven. They were supposed to use Thomas to help them clear up said business, either willingly, or if he refused, to inhabit his body and make him do it. (Now he tells them... .) Apparently God has a different ethical standard than you or least different from me, anyway.

So now the four have the goals. For at least two of them, the goal is pretty clear.  Milo needs to retrieve the stamps he originally stole and deliver them to it's rightful owner.  Harrison (through his surrogate, anyway) needs to overcome his stage fright. (And what a way to do it... on stage at a B. B. King concert...) Penny, for her part, tries to discover what happened to her children.  Her two daughters are easy to find. Her little boy, Billy, is not so easy, as he was adopted but neither daughter knows what happened to him.

As a result of the indiscretions that Thomas (or really, the ghosts inhabiting Thomas' body) does, he is seemingly in constant contact with the police. And one policeman in particular, Sgt. William Barclay (Wren T. Brown) who collects for the parking  tickets Thomas has grown to collect over time. Barclay also  just happens to be on the scene when Thomas gets arrested exiting the stage after his impromptu singing at the B. B. King concert.

So what about Penny and her young son... ? Do I have to tell you who Sgt. William Barclay is (or was?)

The final soul left to rectify her past is Julia (hence another reason why I gelled the four ghosts...) It turns out however that when Julia left the bar and her boyfriend back in 1959, that the boyfriend had since died, having never married, and died a lonely broken man. Thomas is angry and yells at the trolley man (and God) about what kind of sadistic thing that was, but Julia sees it all in perspective and tells Thomas that the point was to make him a better man in his own romantic life. (Although how anyone could have foreseen that need is anybody's guess. Unless we are not the master's of our own destiny and it has all been played out in advance by the Supreme Being.  But that gets into a philosophical bent I'm sure the film makers never intended.)

Heart and Souls is not for everyone.  I feel certain that most of the guys who cringe at the idea of a "chick flick" will not be as enamored by it as I was, But it has some interesting things going for it.  It takes a full 30 minutes of the movie to get to the present, and another 10 minutes before the ghosts get active in their quest. However, there is one treat in that first 30 minutes that I would like to point out.  Julia works in a comedy bar. And on stage is one of the best comics of that era, Bob Newhart. (OK, so not THE Bob Newhart. It's actually his son, Robert William Newhart. But he is doing his father in such a great on the nose impression that for a minute or two I thought it actually was the real thing.  You have to be a fan of Newhart's stand-up  to catch it.  I recommend seeking out two albums that are ought there.)

But, anyway, the last 1 hour of the movie fairly fly by as pure entertainment, especially the scenes where Downey has to essay the character of the ghost who inhabits him at the moment. It's not on par with some of the other movies (or plays) I have seen where some actor has to pretend he is someone else in the same picture. (Face-Off comes to mind here, where Nicolas Cage has to convey that he has become John Travolta's character.) But Downey is pretty good at doing it. We have seen over the years what a great possibility that Downey can shine, given the right roles. 

To quote Ty Burr, a critic in Entertainment Weekly on this film: "You may hate yourself for liking [it], but at least you can take comfort in the fact that you've been had by professionals."  Trust me, its a decent date movie, even the guys might not be so turned off, especially with Kyra Sedgwick to look at, or to see a good portrayal by Downey in the lead role.  

Time to head home now.  I'll be extra careful when I see a bus coming the other way.