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New films: Iron Man 3 (two opinions) – Ginger & Rosa – other film news

Iron Man 3
Directed by Shane Black

Malcolm Maclachlan: It’s often that I’ll think more of a flick the day after I see it than when I’m actually watching it. In this case, I like it less. “Iron Man 3” starts out with some compelling ideas and snappy dialogue, but ends up as a typical overstuffed…well, let’s just say towards the end when Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow argue about which one of them is more of a “hot mess,” my answer is “you’re both soaking in it.”

Tony Sheppard: I think we had opposite reactions, or at least opposite post-reaction reactions. I had gone into the film with some fairly specific concerns regarding the storyline and enjoyed the film more than I had expected to and, since watching it, have actually appreciated the overall effort and approach even more as I’ve given it more thought. I do agree that at some point, as with most of these films, the action, explosions, and overall grandiosity of it all reaches a level of overkill, but they’re also catering to folks who rate their films based on the residual level of ringing in their ears.

MM: So let’s start by focusing on the good. Ben Kingsley steals a few scenes as a terrorist leader known as The Mandarin.

TS: Agreed. And there’s far more to this performance than the previews might suggest, on multiple levels.

MM: Plus, the comic relief in the film is often actually funny. Downey is engaging and entertaining as amiable jerk Tony Stark. They also saddle him with anxiety attacks verging on PTSD, which is a lot more interesting and human than that catchphrase-infested coolness of too many action flicks.

TS: Again, agreed. There’s a very interesting method to the way Stark is depicted here – we’re reminded of what a brash <insert bad word here> he used to be and so we’re given more of a character arc than this single film would otherwise have by itself. And the anxiety he experiences seems very real, if not exactly in the way it occurs at least in its presence. We’re too often shown heroes and superheroes who aren’t just strong in one sense, they’re strong in every sense – physically strong, confident, emotionally stable, etc. “Iron Man 3” takes place post-“Avengers” and it’s not an overstatement to say that everything has changed – suddenly we’ve gone from planet saving to universe saving, with wormholes, aliens, ancient gods in the mix, etc. Even the Tony Starks of the world are suddenly brought down to size by all of that.

MM: There are also some interesting ideas around the interplay of terrorism, the media, and the motivations and personas of mass killers. Given that the Mandarin is a bomber who often strikes on U.S. soil, the release of this flick so soon after the Boston Marathon bombing is positively creepy. Toss in drones, oil, the current cultural obsession with bullying, an interaction between two powerful women that doesn’t dissolve into a petty catfight, and you’ve got a lot to work with.

Maybe too much. Some interesting ideas turns into a kitchen sink catch-all. Over time, the focus seems to turn back to Stark’s ennui and midlife crisis, the very same elements that turned “Iron Man 2” into a barely-watchable exercise in daytime television psychology. I’ve never been sold on the onscreen chemistry between Downey and Paltrow, and it feels particularly pallid here.

TS: It’s not just a relative lack of chemistry but I also find myself questioning, at times, why the two characters would even be drawn to each other – but that’s probably a whole different conversation.

As for timing, I thought the same thing last week with “The Company You Keep” and it’s domestic terrorism/protest storyline, as well as the way it told a story about the families of those who choose to take certain actions, for whatever set of reasons they may have.

MM: Meanwhile, while I loved “The Avengers,” going back to a universe of individual heroes feels a bit artificial. I get that Thor is off in Valhalla or someplace, and maybe Bruce Banner/The Hulk is back in hiding. But with a vaguely Middle Eastern terrorist (The Mandarin does seem rather culturally nonspecific, sort of like Ben Kingsley himself) blowing up bombs on U.S. soil and posing a credible threat to the President’s life, are we supposed to believe that Captain America, Black Widow and Hawkeye are just sitting this one out? Of course, it they’d all done cameos, it probably would have cut into Downey’s reported $50 million paycheck.

TS: Now you’re getting at my big concern going into the film. It’s like a story about a guy who makes several of the best friends in the world/universe and who then can’t find anybody to help him move. This is a series of explosions and claimed attacks that is plastered all over the news media – so the other folks would have to be in some kind of silent retreat, comatose, or buying Valhalla timeshares to be out of the picture – and I expected this to completely destroy the story and film for me. But they took an approach which actually made it work despite my misgivings – they made it more like a giant bar fight than a campaign. Stark basically calls this guy out and launches into action without any consultation or plan – it’s a chest-thumping charge (think about it) that doesn’t pause long enough to gather backup. But it’s still a problem they have to overcome every time they revisit one but not all of the gang.

The other part of the film that I particularly liked and which added an element of wide-eyed wonder that these films benefit from but often lose over multiple iterations, is Stark’s involvement with the kid. It has the tone of recent films like “Super 8” but also managed to remind me of “Iron Giant” (iron man falls from the sky, is found by a young boy, the son of a single mom who works in a diner, who helps fix up the iron man and protect him from the folks trying to capture him), which is a desirable association.

MM: “Iron Man 3” does have some fun with Stark creating multiple Iron Man suits. But it also begs the question why people are still driving normal cars and living with the same electrical grid in a world where that kind of power can be mastered. I know I’m probably overanalyzing it, but given the resources both sides have at their disposal, their ambitions seem rather limited.

Then again, superhero movies are about our own limitations and self-obsessions in the first place. I’d even argue that this is embodied, literally, in the hard bodies of Downey, Paltrow (she has a six pack!), Don Cheadle and Guy Pierce. There was a time when Pierce stood out in Hollywood for his near complete lack of body fat, his face always looking like he was headed into a hard wind. Now he’s just another gaunt face in the crossfit-sculpted crowd.

This is aspirational fiction just as much as “The Real Housewives of….” When Downey invokes the catchphrase “I am Iron Man,” it isn’t really about the suit.

TS: Letting your use of “begs the question” slide for the moment, while the multiple suits are fun it takes us deeply into the drone territory you mentioned earlier. We’ve gone from lone hero to clone wars in rapid fashion, except that the suits are generally being operated not by Stark but by his computer sidekick Jarvis (which also undercuts the role, now and in the future, of Cheadle’s character if he could stay home and Jarvis could take care of business).

But despite our disagreement in terms of overall opinion, I think we probably agree about the general direction the film takes – and perhaps I simply like that direction more. Stark/Iron Man is more Wayne/Batman than Kent/Superman – he’s a smart guy with cool stuff and deep pockets. And while we expect to see and enjoy the gadgetry, at some point it has to come back to the decisions he makes and the way he lives with those decisions – he can’t simply fall back on invulnerability. (Interestingly, that’s also the direction the rebooting of the James Bond franchise has taken – more man than machines.) I like my heroes flawed, limited, and vulnerable – not only does it make them aspirational, as you point out, but it helps us to pretend for a moment that they might actually be in jeopardy occasionally.

 

Ginger & Rosa
Directed by Sally Potter

In about as much of a contrast with this week’s major opening of “Iron Man 3” as possible, “Ginger & Rosa” open in an exclusive engagement at the Tower Theatre. It’s a powerful character study of a girl growing up in the early 60’s in England at a time when world news is dominated by the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Although the title includes both Ginger and Rosa, this a film seen mostly from Ginger’s perspective as their lifelong friendship and inter-dependence begins to be challenged. Ginger is surrounded by instability – in her primary friendship, in her parents on again/off again marriage, and in the perceived threat to the safety of the entire world. The only calm opinions she’s exposed to inadvertently fuel her concerns and she finds it harder and harder to cope.

“Ginger & Rosa” has an interesting and talented cast but this is really Elle Fanning’s film. She takes on the role of Ginger and makes it believable, including in her accent (which isn’t true of all the cast). It’s an emotional role and the heartbreak and struggle she embodies are palpable. This is worth watching for her performance alone in much the same way that “The Iron Lady” was worth watching for Meryl Streep’s Thatcher – and that she can accomplish this as a young teenager is remarkable.

 

Other film news

As I pointed out earlier in the week, there are some neat films coming to the Crest Theatre, including Shawn Carruth’s “Upstream Color” in a three-day engagement this weekend, a special screening of “Infinity and Chashu Ramen,” a one-night only screening of a tour movie based on the Co-Exist Comedy group (Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, and Atheist comedians sharing a stage), and a screening of the Wild and Scenic Film festival – all in the next week. So if any of that sounds appealing, check their website at thecrest.com.
 

About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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