Billy Soistmann

Archive for the ‘Paramount’ Category

Review: Iron Man 2

In 2010, Action, Comedy, Comic Books, Jon Favreau, Paramount, Reviews on May 6, 2010 at 3:30 PM

I’ll be honest. Iron Man 2 surprised me. After such a brilliant start, I was worried that the sequel would either fall flat or try too hard. However, the movie delivers exactly as a summer blockbuster should. Although I have always been adamant that a great film should have something deeper to say, the true purpose of a film is to tell a story, whether it is entertaining, sad, or scary.

Iron Man 2 has no proverb it is trying to get across. No insight into the human condition. What it is is pure entertainment. Now, I hesitate to say this because normally I would attack a film that attempts solely to entertain. But, there is a difference between mindless entertainment and an enjoyable movie such as this one.

This sequel to 2008’s Iron Man is an action-packed tale of how Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) attempts to deal with the ramifications of being Iron Man, as well as a life-threatening medical condition, a competing weapons contractor (Sam Rockwell), and a very bitter Russian physicist (Mickey Rourke).

The film opens in Russia as a very angry Mickey Rourke begins building some kind a weapon and continues into an amazing shot (which you can see embedded below) of Iron Man jumping from a plane into the grand opening of his Stark Expo. The kinetic energy in this sequence really sets the mood for the rest of the movie.

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As the film progresses, there are several great action set pieces as well as a lot comedy. Sam Rockwell delivers a hilarious performance as the wannabe Tony Stark. Overall, the acting was good. Downey Jr. is fantastic, as usual, and director Jon Favreau also has a sizable part. Mickey Rourke is a great villain, although sometimes that accent was just ridiculous. Paltrow is good as the straight-laced Pepper Potts, but Scarlett Johannson, on the other hand, delivers an cringe-worthy performance as Stark’s new secretary with a secret.

The main problem this movie has is its plot. At times, the film could have been paced much more smoothly. Especially in the second half, I felt as if the story became too rushed. However, these issues never reach the level of the atrocity that was Spider-Man 3. The film remains coherent, and interesting, throughout.

The bigger error, however, comes from the science. In Iron Man, if you believed that a device as powerful and tiny as Stark’s arc reactor was possible, the rest of the movie made sense, at least from a technical point-of-view. Unfortunately, the sequel throws this out the window. This isn’t a huge deal, but does detract from the believability of the story, which, frankly, matters little considering the movie’s superhero roots.

So, where exactly does this film succeed? It doesn’t have a fantastic story, but the plot is interesting, the characters are great, and it’s just so much fun. This movie is a blast and, although it wasn’t on par with the first film, Iron Man 2 is a great way to start off the summer movie season.

Review: Shutter Island

In 2010, Horror, Martin Scorsese, Mystery, Paramount, Reviews, Thrillers & Mystery/Suspense on February 19, 2010 at 11:53 AM

Sometimes, it’s not what you’re saying, but how you’re saying it and that is definitely the case in Shutter Island. Martin Scorsese delivers an incredible film from good, but flawed source material.

Shutter Island stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Teddy, a US Marshal who, along with his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), are assigned to investigate the disappearance of a psychotic patient from the mental institution on the titular island. Dr. John Cowley (Ben Kingsley), along with Dr. Jeremiah Naering (Max von Sydow) and the warden (Ted Levine), run the facility with an iron fist. The fantastic supporting cast is rounded off with Jackie Earle Haley and Michelle Williams. As the mystery unfolds, Teddy learns that the island is definitely more intimidating than he first suspected.

From the opening shot of this film, you know you are in for something special. The opening sequence is clearly the work of a master filmmaker. Scorsese lets his shots run their course, rather than cutting away. We watch as the boat slowly emerges from the fog heading toward the island. After some dialog, we see the island for the first time in a shot that says a lot about the character of this wretched place – the jagged rocks, the rocking boat, the imposing cliffs. As the on-edge police force escorts the marshals into the institution, Scorsese utilizes his signature sweeping camera moves which give the film a constant kinetic energy.

Shutter Island is visually stunning. The composition is absolutely perfect. The movie is also partly surrealist. The dream sequences play out through unique visuals and give a glimpse into DiCaprio’s mental collapse. Overall, the pacing and editing make for an incredible thriller. Scorsese channels his inner Hitchcock and continually builds suspense. Rather than rely on simple jump scares, this film is psychological. The score also contributes immensely to the overall feeling of the movie. Incredibly, a score wasn’t even written for the movie. Instead, Scorsese and singer-songwriter Robbie Robertson created an ensemble of already-recorded music. The haunting music and, even more so, the lack of sound during certain scenes also adds to the unnerving atmosphere.

The plot of the film plays like a classic thriller. The movie uses several horror clichés, such as the telephone lines being knocked out by a storm, but I didn’t mind them. As for the sotry, it started out well, but then fell short a little around 2/3rds of the way through. Towards the end, I did not like the direction the story was going, but the ending was amazingly ambiguous. (I’ll definitely have to write more in-depth about this in a later, spoiler-filled post.) In the end, the craftsmanship of the film outweighs any shortcomings in the script.

Apart from the technical aspects, which were virtually perfect, Shutter Island provides several levels of enjoyment. There is suspense throughout – the film is an excellent thriller. On a deeper level, the movie examines the nature of human sanity. Overall, Shutter Island is an engrossing thriller told through excellent visuals that only Scorsese can create. The fantastic directing, acting, and technical aspects of the movie take a typical horror film and make it into a thought-provoking, beautiful film.

Review: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

In Action, Dreamworks, Michael Bay, Paramount, Remakes & Sequels, Reviews, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Transformers on June 24, 2009 at 4:14 AM

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a sheer mess. I really want to like it, but it’s impossible – the movie has a horrible plot and is way too long. The only reason there even is a plot is to set up a lot of cool robot fighting.

This time around, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) finds a piece of the All Spark in a hoodie from the first movie (Why he hasn’t touched that sweatshirt in two years is never explained.) which causes him to have visions of ancient symbols. Megatron (Hugo Weaving) comes back and our hero is joined by his girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox) and Leo (Ramon Rodriguez), who is introduced as an alien/robot conspiracy theorist, but only uses his knowledge once. (In order to get Agent Simmons (John Turturro), who knows more than him.) Sam and the gang finally end up in Egypt looking for the Matrix of Leadership. (Which turns out to be incredibly easy-to-find item, considering it’s been hidden for about 20,000 years.) Of course, an enourmous battle ensues. Besides the logical dilemmas such as the seemingly endless supply of robots who were mysteriously missing in the first movie (I guess it was their day off.), the fundamental problem is that the story leaves absolutely no room for any character development or underlying themes. Sure there’s enough story to fuel copious amounts of cool robot fighting, but there is no meaning or question explored by this film (at least the first hinted at humanity’s capacity for good). This is especially atrocious considering the two lead robots – Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) and the Fallen (Tony Todd).

The first is Optimus Prime, an extremely wise, very old alien robot who has been through a lot. Basically, he’s the Autobots’ philosopher and everything he says sounds world-shattering thanks to Peter Cullen’s fantastic voice work. Why not use this asset to explore more of human nature? The second, the Fallen of the film’s title, has been described as “the Lucifer of the Transformers universe.” No he isn’t – at least not in the movie. The film begins in 17000 BC as the Fallen is working on a huge machine on Earth. Now, I’d figure that a trip back almost 20,000 years would be pretty important. Not in this film. The only purpose that scene serves is to set up the title card and to establish that there is a huge machine underground in Egypt. Essentially, the movie skips right over the Fallen’s “fall”. The pivotal turning point that establishes this titular character’s motivation for 20 milleniums is glazed over.

Throughout the film, there is a feeling of manufactured epic-ness. Of course, the movie spans continents and cost around $200 million, but every potential emotionally-charged scene is overdone almost to the point of losing any real effect. For example, Sam cries out “OPTIMUS!” in a moment clearly overblown to make the scene seem important (and to beef up the trailer). The audience is smart enough to choose for themselves what characters they care about, Optimus Prime included, without the movie spoon-feeding them.

Now for Sam and Mikaela’s relationship. During the hiatus between films, the couple have been dating, but have a difficult choice coming up. With Sam going off to college, Mikaela decides to stay with her ex-con father working on automobiles. Maybe these kinds of things are just not my cup of tea, but I cringed every time they had a serious conversation with each other. I just don’t buy their relationship at all.

At two-and-a-half hours, “Transformers 2” is not a short movie but I’m not against a long movie. A feature film should be as long as it needs to be, but this movie doesn’t need that much time – in this form, anyway. If any meaningful subjects were explored or the characters were developed on any real level, then I could excuse such a runtime.

So, without a decent story, is there anything left? Basically, there’s a whole lot of alien robots fighting and it looks amazing. The special effects are the movie’s high point and the folks at ILM have really given us a spectacular showcase of amazing visuals. The transformers are an incredible sight when they fight and even more so when they actually transform. Another strong point is the humor. There are many funny moments that create a fun atmosphere for all the action. We see much more of Sam’s parents, who are hysterical but start to lose their edge by the conclusion. Still, special effects and some laughs alone cannot carry an entire movie.

How about the direction? Surprisingly, director Michael Bay isn’t too bad this time around. Setting aside numerous gratuitous slow motion shots and a dismal climax, the action is frenetic yet discernible.

From an acting point of view, Shia is not his best. This could be due to the poor script, but he is not up to par with his performances in Disturbia or even Holes. Other than him, Peter Cullen is (once again) perfect as Optimus, Megan Fox replaces her looks for any superb acting (actually, her performance gets better as the movie goes on), and John Turturro does well as an exiled secret agent.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is full of missed opportunities and mindless fighting. Surprised? I didn’t think so. In any case, you should enjoy the spectacle, at least until you realize how much better the film could be.

My Rating: 4.3/10