Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Iron Man (2008)

Jon Favreau
2008 • 126 Minutes • 2.35:1 • United States
Color • English • Paramount

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow
Writers:  Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway based on characters created by Stan Lee, Don Heck, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby
Producers: Avi Arad, Kevin Feige
Cinematography: Matthew Libatique

Awards and Honors:

Academy Awards
Nominated: Best Achievement in Sound Editing
Nominated: Best Achievement in Visual Effects

American Film Institute
Official 2008 Selection

BAFTA Awards
Nominated: Best Special Visual Effects

Essential Films
#66 - 100 Greatest Movie Heroes (Tony Stark)

Hugo Awards
Nominated: Best Dramatic Presentation - Long Form

People's Choice Awards
Nominated: Favorite Action Movie
Nominated: Favorite Movie
Nominated: Favorite Superhero

Sometimes you gotta run before you can walk.

Iron Man 3 opens in theaters tonight at midnight nationwide and will start raking in millions of dollars in what will probably be the biggest financial success of the year. Will it end up being an artistic success as well? That remains to be seen. In the meantime, let us look at the first film in this powerhouse franchise that will surely remain in the public consciousness for years to come.

Tony Stark is a billionaire genius playboy who has everything he could ever want: money, power, women, gadgets, robots. Everything. He made his fortune inheriting his father’s company, Stark Industries, and is the top weapons manufacturer in the world. While demonstrating the power of his latest weapon of mass destruction to the U.S. military in Afghanistan, he is kidnapped by insurgents and forced to build them their own version of the weapon. Instead, he builds something better: the ultimate weapon as a modern suit of armor. After escaping from his captors, he sets out to use his weapon for the good of mankind, instead of for profit. 

What makes the Iron Man film so fascinating is that for decades he was not an A-list character in the minds of comic book fans. While he was certainly treated as important within the context of shorelines, as far as sales went, Iron Man always ranked behind Spider-Man, X-Men, Wolverine and the Fantastic Four. This film brought him not only back to prominence within comics, but the character is clearly A-list material in cinemas as well, ranking up there with Spidey, Wolverine, Batman and Superman. This is all thanks to one of the most finely crafted action films in recent memory. 

One of the film's biggest accomplishments is the fact that it is one of the most perfectly structured blockbusters in history, rivaling Jurassic Park and Raiders of the Lost Ark.  The film packs in action sequences at the right beats and while it has impressive visuals, it doesn't overload your senses with CGI. It uses CGI as a tool instead of a crutch.  On top of this, the script is masterfully crafted.  Tony Stark has a logical character arc: selfish billionaire playboy who sells weapons of mass destruction to the highest bidder (in this case, the United States government) gets captured by terrorists, sees the error of his ways and after a dramatic escape he turns his life around. He uses his genius and fortune for good, and while ultimately creating another weapon, he then becomes that weapon as force for peace and good. By the end of the film, the audience is cheering for the same man that at the beginning of the film, who if not for his charm would be completely despicable.  

Of course, would you cheer for Tony if he were not played by the incomparable Robert Downey Jr.  It seems amazing that at one time, the studios did not want Downey for the role, wanting a younger and more marketable actor for the role. Now the role and the man are inseparable.  What makes the film work is that Downey imbues the role of Stark with so much charm that even at his worst, the audience still likes him.  Stark is everything the audience admires and wants to be: rich, succesful, intelligent, charming, and by the end of the film, heroic.  The audience roots for Stark's redemption, and poetically, the role of Stark redeems Downey, who for years before this film's release had been the scrutiny of the tabloid press for his well-publicized substance abuse problems.  What could be a better fit for an actor? 

Robert Downey Jr. breathed life into an all but stale character and making him one of the most The Avengers, the billion-dollar grossing film that is currently the 3rd biggest film of all time.  Iron Man was followed by that summer's Incredible Hulk, then Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. Each film stands on its own, but also tied together to build towards The Avengers. This had never been attempted before, and it's amazing that it worked so well. Iron Man 3 kicks off "Phase 2" of another set of movies, but one has to wonder if The Avengers films are part of an even larger scheme.  
bankable characters in the world. Iron Man is one of the most important comic book films in history, and helped kickstart a grand scheme by Marvel Studios to attempt something that had never been before. Marvel kicked off the Iron Man franchise, but also made that franchise part of an even bigger franchise when during the end credits, a hidden Easter egg sequence reveals plans for what would ultimately lead to

A franchise within a franchise... an audacious but wildly successful idea, and Iron Man was the genesis. From a C-List character to an A-List blockbuster (and a damn good one at that), Iron Man will forever be essential entertainment.  

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Batman Begins (2005)

Christopher Nolan
2005 • 140 Minutes • 2.35:1 • United States
Color • English • Warner Bros.

Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, Ken Watanabe, Morgan Freeman
Writers:  Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer (Screenplay); David S. Goyer (Story); Based on characters created by Bob Kane
Producers: Charles Roven, Emma Thomas, Larry J. Franco
Cinematography: Wally Pfister

Awards & Honors

Academy Awards
Nominated: Best Achievement in Cinematography - Wally Pfister

Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films
Winner: Best Actor - Christian Bale
Winner: Best Fantasy Film
Winner: Best Writing - Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer
Nominated: Best Director - Christopher Nolan
Nominated: Best Supporting Actor - Liam Neeson
Nominated: Best Supporting Actress - Katie Holmes
Nominated: Best Costumes
Nominated: Best Music - James Newton Howard, Hans Zimmer
Nominated: Best Special Effects

The Essential Films

100 Greatest Movie Villains: R'as al Ghul
100 Greatest Movie Heroes: Batman
Top 25 Superhero Movies

Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.

Batman Begins is a cinematic reboot of the troubled Warner Bros. Batman franchise. The original franchise (discounting the 1940s serials and the 1960s film based on the campy television show) blasted into theaters in 1989 to critical and financial success. In 1992, the Dark Knight returned to theaters with Batman Returns.  Returns succeeded critically and financially as well, though it was not quite as financially successful as the original 1989 film, taking in "only" $162 million compared to 1989's $251 million haul.  Executives felt the film went to dark and hired Joel Schumacher to replace Tim Burton as director for 1995's Batman Forever. Forever's lighter tone did indeed conquer the box office again with  $184 million. Executives loved Schumacher's lighter take on Bruce Wayne and company, and immediately hired him for Batman & Robin. While B&R did have a strong opening weekend, once word of its overly campy direction came out to audiences, sales dropped dramatically. Batman & Robin remains to this day the lowest grossing and biggest critical failure in the live action Batman entries.  The movie was so abysmally bad that Warner Bros. scrapped plans for an eventual 5th movie, Batman Triumphant.  And so, with the exception of some straight-to-video animated projects, one of the world's most recognizable superheroes sat on the cinematic shelf collecting dust for 8 years. A variety of different projects were thrown around, but it wasn't until 2003 when Memento writer/director Christopher Nolan was hired to takeover the franchise.

Batman Begins completely reboots the previously existing Batman universe.  It takes us to Bruce Wayne's beginnings as a young man, dealing with the rage and desire for revenge for the death of his parents. It follows his exploits across the world as he trains his body and mind for vengeance. One fateful day he meets a mysterious stranger who introduces him to The League of Shadows, a shadowy organization that metes out justice. Bruce takes what he learns back to Gotham City and wages his one-man war on crime as The Batman. While investigating the villainous Scarecrow and fighting Gotham's underbelly of criminals, he discovers a larger plot... one involving The League of Shadows and his former mentor, R'as al Ghul.  The film was a critical and financial success and it kicked off the first part in what was to become the epic Dark Knight Trilogy, culminating in 2012's billion-dollar hit The Dark Knight Rises.

The original Batman franchise had its share of talented A-list actors: Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Jack Nicholson, Danny Devito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tommy Lee Jones, George Clooney and Jim Carrey to name a few. Nolan's trilogy is not to be outdone.  Since grabbing Hollywood's attention with Memento, Nolan's worked with some top notch talent including Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Leonardo DiCaprio, Hugh Jackman and even David Bowie.  Batman Begins, and the rest of the films in the trilogy, are magnificently cast from the title character to the minor supporting roles.

Christian Bale takes the mantle of the Bat this time around, and to date is the actor who has most often donned the cape and cowl on the movie screen.  Billy Crudup and Jake Gyllenhal, as well as future Batman villains Cillian Murphy and Heath Ledger were considered for the role before Bale was ultimately cast.  Bale succeeds the most as Bruce Wayne, probably more so than any of his predecessors.  Bruce Wayne is a complicated character, as when he is alone and around his closest allies, like his ever-faithful Alfred, he is somber and brooding, but when making public appearances he puts on the persona of "Bruce Wayne: jet-setting, irresponsible playboy billionaire."  Bale is the first actor to take on the role who understood that delicate balance.  His Batman was also very good as a menacing vigilante. (The "voice" however has been a subject of much criticism.)

Michael Caine's Alfred is an interesting change of pace from Michael Gough's portrayal in the Burton-verse.  Gough's Alfred felt ancient and tired, where as Caine's is much livelier and witty.  The character is written more as a substitute father figure for Master Bruce.  Alfred is concerned about Bruce's welfare and sanity, yet he understands his desire for justice. He is torn between his duty to the Wayne family and his authentic love for the boy he helped raise.  Caine's performance as Alfred in these films is often criminally overlooked, but he is truly the heart of the trilogy. His final spoken lines in the series, towards the end of The Dark Knight Rises, are probably one of the most impactful and gut-wrenching scenes I've ever seen in a comic book film.

Liam Neeson enters the film early on as Henri Ducard, a mysterious member of the League of Shadows, who helps induct Bruce into a world of ninjas and vigilantes.  Neeson has a big reveal towards the end of the film that, if you haven't seen the film, I will not spoil here.  Needless to say, Liam Neeson shines as the would-be ninja mentor who teaches Batman all his tricks of the trade.  A constant theme in the film is Bruce's desire to find a father figure. Alfred fills that role somewhat, but he sees in Ducard someone who shares his pain and can mentor him. 

Commissioner Gordon, thus far portrayed on-screen as the bumbling Pat Hingle, gets a gritty reboot in the guise of Gary Oldman, in this film only a detective and one of the few uncorrupted cops on the Gotham City police force.  In Begins, Gordon is given extra relevance as a beat cop who helped comfort a young Bruce Wayne the night his parents were killed.  When Batman returns to Gotham City, he seeks out Gordon as an honest cop and forms a bond with him that will last the entire trilogy. Oldman as he does with every role, whether it's a good or bad film, absolutely nails the performance. To date this man has never won an Academy Award. This is a crime.

The film's villain, or so the audience is at first led to believe, is Dr. Jonathan Crane, also known as The Scarecrow, a twisted psychologist that performs experiments on his subjects through the use of a weaponized nerve gas that causes the victim to suffer extremely frightening hallucinations.  Cillian Murphy is cast as the villain and while younger than his comic book counterpart, he brings the creepy, calculating villainy of Crane to life for the first time on screen. 

Morgan Freeman, who like Gary Oldman also nails every role he's cast in, is cast as Lucius Fox, a Research & Development genius who has been demoted within the Wayne Industries hierarchy.  Lucius is ultimately responsible for arming Bruce with the tools and weaponry he goes on to use as Batman. What's refreshing about Fox is that he isn't an idiot, he immediately questions why a billionaire would want some of this gear and puts two-and-two together very quickly. Luckily, he's on the Dark Knight's side.

And these are just the main roles. Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, Ken Watanabe and Linus Roache, among others, are among some of the fine supporting cast in this film.

Batman Begins attempted, and succeeded, at something that previous Batman films had not: it grounded Batman in reality. Yes, the idea of a man dressing up in a bat costume and fighting crime is ridiculous and subject for fantasy. However, Nolan and his team did not make a fantasy film. They made a crime film with some fantasy elements. Batman's gadgets have scientific explanation behind them. His villains early on are mob bosses and psychopaths with nerve gas, not someone who can control plants or has a freeze ray.  His suit even seems more functional.  Instead of a rubber body suit with a leather cape, we get body armor with a lightweight cape that allows him to glide.  Even the Batmobile goes from fancy cool-looking, non-practical car to, essentially, a tank.

We can't close this entry without speaking about the cinematography.  Wally Pfister was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography for this film and it shows.  Supposedly, Nolan screened  for Pfister to convey the look he was going for. I'd say he nailed it. The film looks dark and gritty, yet realistic and futuristic at the same time. Nolan shot in Chicago for most of the Gotham scenes and added in a post-produced "Narrows" to show the slums of the city.  While Burton's 1989 film made Gotham City look like a fantasy, Nolan and his team created a Gotham City that looked credible, real and authentic. A city that could conceivably have a man dressed as a bat fighting crime.   
Blade Runner

Batman Begins is a landmark in comic book filmmaking. It took the hero seriously, grounded him in reality, gave not only him but his supporting players and his villains a motivation and character arcs.  And of course, it jump started one of the most successful film franchises in history with it's two sequels each earning over $1 billion.  Batman Begins is an essential film for starting a franchise, revitalizing a genre and rebooting a character that most had written off as a campy goofball.  

It has become more than just a movie. It devoted itself to an ideal and became something else entirely.

Are you ready to begin?

Forced Perspective, Ep.37 – In the Blue Pacific…

Your favorite movie podcast is BACK to continue its Summer 2013 recap! Join SportsGuy515 & Adolfo as they review In a World…, Blue Jasmine, The Heat, Pacific Rim, White House Down, and The Butler. Plus – Twitter reviews on movie posters, unnecessary sequels, the greatness that was Don LaFontaine, and we answer the age-old question: is Adolfo a racist? All this and so much MORE! DOWNLOAD/STREAM NOW!!!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Captain America – The First Avenger (2011)

Originally published at Superfriends Universe
MOVIE: Captain America: The First Avenger
RELEASE DATE: July 22, 2011
DIRECTOR: Joe Johnston
SCREENPLAY: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely based on characters created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
CAST: Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Toby Jones, Neal McDonough, Stanley Tucci

Captain America is the 5th film in Marvel’s Avengers Phase One series of comic book adaptations, a never-before-attempted crossover of movie characters culminating in a big screen climax known as the record-breaking THE AVENGERS. While it’s the 5th film in the series, it serves almost as a prequel. Not only because it is set in the 1940s during World War II, but without this film, none of the events in the other films are possible. The film blends superhero action with a little fantasy and some out there sci-fi goofiness that actually creates a solid superhero film. It tells the story of Steve Rogers, a frail weakling that wants with all his heart to join the military, not because he wants to kill Nazis, but because he “doesn’t like bullies, he doesn’t care where they’re from.” This is the very essence of the Marvel Comics character, Captain America, and the filmmakers did right by him. It’s this quality that makes Rogers the perfect candidate for the secret Super Soldier experiment that turns him into a perfect human physical specimen. Soon after, Captain America joins the frontlines, leading special ops teams to take down the operations of the villainous Red Skull. What makes this film memorable is the style. The cinematography of the film by Shelly Johnson really captures a nostalgic quality that only helps bring the visual design of the film to life. The production design and costuming add to this element as well, and the film looks and feels like an old 1940s comic book come to life. An underrated comic book film with phenomenal performances by Evans, Tommy Lee Jones and Hayley Atwell.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital Download. It is currently available for streaming via Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Click here to listen to the Forced Perspective Review of the Film
Click here to check out The Top 25 Superhero Movies

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Deer Hunter (1978)

MOVIE: The Deer Hunter
DIRECTOR: Michael Cimino
SCREENPLAY: Deric Wasburn
CAST: Robert Deniro, John Cazale, John Savage, Christopher Walken, Meryl STreep

Winner: Best Picture
Winner: Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Christopher Walken
Winner: Best Director – Michael Cimino
Winner: Best Film Editing
Winner: Best Sound
Nominated: Best Actor in a Leading Role – Robert Deniro
Nominated: Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Meryl Streep
Nominated: Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
Nominated: Best Cinematography
The Deer Hunter is not a film about the Vietnam war, but rather a film about the effects of war, any war, has on the men who fight. The film opens with a wedding sequence that some criticize as too long. However, the sequence is meant not as a narrative tool, but instead as a character developing one. It shows the main characters how the characters were before war, how carefree and almost immature they are, and how close their bond as friends is. When the film transitions to Vietnam, it tests that bond and the impact of the following scenes, specifically the Russian Roulette sequences have that much more impact. The cast is amazing here, with Robert de Niro, Meryl Streep and John Cazale, but the must-see performance here is Christopher Walken in an Academy Award winning performance.

The Deer Hunter is available on DVD and Blu-Ray.