May 05, 2008
Iron Man freshens superhero genre
Saw Iron Man tonight, and was pleasantly surprised. It seems like the superhero flick has become another tired genre, but this one breaks out of the mold.
I was never a big Iron Man fan as a kid. I always viewed him as Marvel's Batman, the rich industrialist with no innate superpowers who relies on technology to fight Evil. I wasn't a regular reader of “The Invincible Iron Man,” but I read “The Avengers,” which frequently featured Stark/Iron Man, and remember him being a little wooden next to my preferred hero, Spider-Man, who has been an insane cash generator for Marvel Pictures.
On film, though, Iron Man stands up very well. First, Robert Downey, Jr. is probably the best actor ever to make a superhero movie. Downey develops Tony Stark's character through a freshening of the Iron Man creation myth, nailing the laugh lines and making me think so much less of Tobey Maguire, who turned the wise-cracking wall crawler into a callow crimefighter. Downey's an entertaining lead, and he makes the existential crisis Tony Stark suffers believable.
Gwyneth Paltrow usually doesn't do much for me, but she's likeable in the female lead, and is developed beyond the comic-book formula damsel in distress. She's set up for future plotlines, as are director Jon Favreau (as Stark's chauffeur) and Terrence Howard (Stark's friend and pilot Jim Rhodes). I wasn't sure if Jeff Bridges was up to his role, but he was fabulous. The Dude he's not, but somehow, he still abides.
Writers Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby and director Favreau take their time introducing the character and the superhero, so the movie is far more than a series of battle scenes. Downey gets to explore Stark the playboy, the tinkerer, the trust-fund baby, and the figurehead CEO, in additon to the superhero.
Geeks will enjoy the advanced tech that Stark uses in his Dean Kamen-style workshop and playroom. It's probably the best developed set of advanced user interfaces since Minority Report, with speech interfaces, eye-tracking, multi-touch, ubiquitous computing, and gorgeous, beautiful, lickable widgets on all the movie's many computer and view screens.
Action sequences were good, not great, with the key battle happening in the dark, which always drives me nuts. Effects were believably presented and rendered. There's a little bit of naughties-covered sex early in the film, and, of course, quite a bit of comic-book violence.
December 18, 2006
You'll shoot your eye out
I've always been interested in filming locations. When I worked for Coca-Cola, I moved into a recently renovated building across from world headquarters, previously owned by Graybar, and learned that it had been used for interiors in Robocop 3. When I first moved to Atlanta, classmates told me stories about parts of Smokey and the Bandit shot along the Chattahoochee between Roswell and Parkaire Mall, and I once parked in the parking lot where Burt Reynolds pulls in to the fair at the end of that film, at Lakewood Fairgrounds, south of Atlanta.
So when I read that a fan of the movie A Christmas Story had bought the house used for external locations and renovated it to its movie-shoot condition for tours, I wanted to check it out.
The house is an utterly conventional 2-story wood frame house. It sits at Rowley and 11th, just west of downtown, on the edge of a gentrifying neighborhood called Tremont. It overlooks Cleveland's Industrial Valley, close enough that part of the steelyard is visible from the backyard. Adjacent to the steelyard is a site being developed as Steelyard Commons, offering the incongruous sight of a Home Depot and Target, in their typical big-box strip mall, backed up against an enormous factory, smokestacks and all.
I arrived too late for the last tour of the day, but took some pictures and walked through the museum/gift shop, which itself appears in the movie -- it's the white house across the street in the movie's first scene. The interior of the house has been rebuilt to resemble that in the movie, but none of the movie's interior scenes were shot here. Interiors, exteriors of Ralphie's school, and the Christmas tree shopping scene were shot in Toronto.
The parade scenes, scenes of the boys walking to school, Ralphie's encounter with Santa, and the Chinese restaurant scene all were done in Cleveland. The parades are on Public Square, adjacent to Higbee's, which was the department store for the display windows and Santa scenes. Higbee's has been closed for years, but there's some sort of construction underway there, as well. The Chinese Restaurant, which looks somewhat different today, is the C & Y Chinese Restaurant on St. Clair Avenue, just east of downtown.
The only other Flickr user to geotag their Christmas Story house pics is leanore, who had the good fortune to get pictures with snow on the ground. Director Bob Clark, fresh from making Porky's, wasn't so lucky -- his crew had to manufacture most of the snow in the movie.
There's also a fairly active "achristmasstory" tag, from which I found this picture of a Flickr-er with Ian Petrella, Randy the little brother of the movie, and Scott Schwartz, Flick, the friend whose tongue got stuck to the flagpole. And here's the Major Award from inside.
Favorite newly-learned A Christmas Story trivia: Yano Anaya, who plays Grover Dill, the bully-parroting toady to Scut Farkus, had one other Hollywood role, as the paperboy who chases John Cusack through most of Better Off Dead, trying to collect his “Two dollars!”
November 15, 2005
Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
I've just come from the preview of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the 4th movie in the Harry Potter series.
Book 4 is my favorite of the series, but from the first time I read it, I wondered how anyone could bring it to the screen. It's the most sprawling of the books, with a Quidditch World Cup, a Triwizard Tournament, a missing persons subplot tied into Voldemort's efforts to return to full power, background on Voldemort's followers (the Death Eaters -- a punk band name if I ever heard one) and the usual schoolwork and adolescent angst. It just seems impossible to squeeze 734 pages into 2.5 hours on screen.
I was dead wrong. Where I felt cheated by some of the "what's out" choices made by Alphonse Cuaron, director of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Mike Newell (working with a Steve Kloves script) has nailed it with the latest edition.
As the series gets darker, Newell and Kloves deftly play up the humor in J.K. Rowling's work to give us a roller-coaster ride, focusing on the two tournaments and Voldemort's efforts to regain corporeal form, which together make up the heart of Rowling's book.
The cast also lightens the mood, as the regulars have grown comfortable enough to play off the groundwork established in movies 1 through 3 and offer up clever bits of stage business. Alan Rickman as Severus Snape and Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid, in particular, get a chance to ham it up a bit.
If they're a bit of ham, Brendan Gleeson, as Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody, is the whole pig, munching the scenery on a glorious turn through the most entertaining Defense Against the Dark Arts role yet (sorry, Kenneth Branagh).
The special effects are flawless. From the snake's-eye introduction and the combat portions of the tournament, all the way through the final confrontation, all were spectacular. Never once did I find myself saying "That's not how that should look."
My 10-year-old Harry Potter nut loved it, instantly proclaiming it her favorite movie of all time.
I won't go that far, but I would definitely rate it the best Harry Potter movie yet.