by Steve Habrat
There is no question that Jon Favreau’s 2008 Iron Man is one of the best Marvel Studios films out there. It’s a rollicking good time with an incredibly poised and charismatic hero carrying the whole project to dizzying heights that I never thought possible. Iron Man, which clocks in at a speedy hour and fifty-five minutes, remains light and breezy for much of its runtime, never wandering into any overly dark territory or dealing with subject matter that will whiz over the heads of younger viewers, which is who this is all clearly aimed at. Yet Favreau and his army of screenwriters ground Iron Man in the modern world where terrorism is very much alive and deadly, giving the film a level of relevance that makes things interesting for the older viewers. What makes Iron Man such a great film is that is manages to strike a perfect balance of hearty belly laughs, steamy love story, and heavy metal action that will please every man, woman, or child out there. To make things even better, Favreau populates his film with a remarkably strong supporting cast, all who make sure that Iron Man never has a monotonous moment. Iron Man also happens to be the comeback vehicle for Robert Downey, Jr., who cheerfully embraces clanking around in a red and yellow iron suit, zipping around destroying weapons of mass destruction and trading punches with the dreaded Obadiah Stane.
Iron Man introduces us to wealthy playboy and genius Tony Stark (Played by Robert Downey, Jr.), head of Stark Industries, a weapons defense company that he inherited from his father. Stark loves a strong drink, a beautiful woman on his arm, and to vocalize how great he really is. Stark travels to Afghanistan to show off his menacing new weapon called the “Jericho” missile and while there, Stark and his military bodyguards are ambushed. Party boy Stark is kidnapped by a terrorist organization called the Ten Rings, who demand that Stark build them their own “Jericho” missile and in return that will free him. Instead, Stark builds a heavily armed iron suit that allows him to barely escape with his life. Upon returning the United States, Stark attempts to regain control of his company from Obadiah Stane (Played by Jeff Bridges), his father’s old business partner and company manager. Stark declares that Stark Industries will no longer produce weapons, which upsets Stane and sends the media into a frenzy. Stark also reunites with his pretty and uptight secretary assistant Pepper Pots (Played by Gwyneth Paltrow) and his close friend and military liaison Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes (Played by Terrence Howard). After Stark learns that weapons made by Stark Industries were provided to the Ten Rings, Stark begins building a modified suit of armor to set out and destroy the weapons that were provided to the terrorists. Soon, Stark realizes that there may be a traitor close to him who is upset with Stark’s decision to change the course of the company and is working on a deadly suit of armor of his own.
Iron Man never shies away from what it truly is, a sleek summer blockbuster meant to slap a big smile across your face. It succeeds in doing just that, even on repeat viewings. You’ll still chuckle during the first disastrous tests of the Iron Man suit or when Stark throws a witty one liner your way. My personal favorite is when Stark would interact with his robot helpers, who are all fond of blasting him with fire extinguishers. The action sequences are finely tuned with wondrous CGI and rock ‘em-sock ‘em force, leaving you clamoring to see the next action packed situation Iron Man finds himself in. Iron Man isn’t all razzle-dazzle, as the film does offer up a true original in the character of Tony Stark, who has to go form uncaring playboy to embracing what he was destined to become. The fact that Downey, Jr. makes Stark come alive is what makes Iron Man the titan that it is. You begin to feel like you actually know this guy, which makes it even easier to root for him. His transformation is rocky at first, but that is part of what makes Tony so human and win our hearts. He has trouble adjusting from nonstop party boy to a man heavy with responsibility.
While this is Downey Jr.’s show, the background players make sure that you walk away from Iron Man remembering their presence too. Paltrow is smoking as Stark’s assistant Pepper Potts, who at times I feel isn’t really given that much to do by Favreau and his screenwriters (Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, and Matt Holloway). She is basically asked to just chase Stark around and shake her head at his childish actions but she does it well. I enjoyed her awkward love story with Stark, another aspect that adds a little flesh and blood to Iron Man. Terrence Howard is his usually top notch self as Rhodes, who tries to be the voice of reason and authority to the free-spirited Stark. The die hard fans will also get a money moment when Rhodes checks out one of the prototype Iron Man suits and makes a comment that hints that War Machine may show up in latter installments. The most surprising turn here is Jeff Bridges as the baddie Obadiah Stane, who whips up an iron suit of his own and becomes Iron Monger. It was great to see Bridges, who shaved his head and grew a beard for the role, get to play antagonist for a change. At times his role seems a bit familiar (a sinister business man), but Bridges seems to be having a grand time in all the superhero chaos and he does such a memorable job, you’ll forgive if some aspects of his character slightly derivative.
Director Favreau smartly gives Iron Man a human heart, which helps to win ours over. While it is obviously a set up for the future Avengers movie, this installment of Iron Man does seem to have a life of its own outside of being an overly expensive trailer for what is to come. Iron Man does come with a few scuffs in the armor, mostly the final battle between Iron Man and Iron Monger, which seems suspiciously short for all of the build up. I have to suspect that Marvel may have held back a bit and viewed Iron Man as sort of a test run to see how audiences would react. It turned out that they had a new Spider-Man on their hands and that they had something that we didn’t know we wanted to see. The main reason to see Iron Man is for Downey Jr.’s comeback. This is the role that placed him back on the A-list and put him in high demand for countless other projects. A superhero classic and one of the best that you will see, Iron Man is a feisty and playful escape that you won’t mind returning to time and time again.
Iron Man is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
I wish every film could have characters that are as entrancing and three dimensional as Our Idiot Brother, a late summer comedy that has been met with a relatively mixed reception from critics and audiences. But I found Our Idiot Brother to be charismatic, consistent, and a total delight to watch. Its dry, knee-slapping humor is fast and demanding of our undivided attention. The film is kept afloat by its buoyant adult tone that never slips into fantastical slapstick pratfalls or senseless gross out humor. It feels unfeigned and it leaves the viewer feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. The film is a game changer for Paul Rudd, who is usually cast as the prim and proper smart-aleck everyman. Here he channels Jeff Bridges’ The Dude (even down to the tribal print pants), with such likable results, you almost want to leap into the screen and give him a hug.
The film follows organic farmer Ned (Rudd), a gullible, peace-loving stoner who has never really grown up. He sells vegetables at a farmers market along with his dog Willie Nelson. One day, the altruistic Ned is suckered into selling a bag of pot to a uniformed policeman. He gets sent to jail for a couple of months and is let out early for good behavior. He returns to his farm to find that is dreadlocked girlfriend Janet (Played by Kathryn Hahn) has replaced him with another man, Billy (Played by comedian T.J. Miller), another stoner who avoids altercation. Ned moves on to restart his life and shacks up with his three sisters, happily married Liz (Played by Emily Mortimer), lesbian Natalie (Played by Zooey Deschanel), and career driven Miranda (Played by Elizabeth Banks). Ned soon finds himself caught in the middle of an affair, an unplanned pregnancy, and a life-changing job opportunity. He means well, but his sisters deem him the root of their problems and slowly begin to turn on him.
Our Idiot Brother is artfully composed and seems a step above the slew of sweet natured gross out comedies that have been all the rage. It’s Ned’s down-to-earth interaction and nonjudgmental character that makes him such a charmer. He wears his heart on his sleeve. You will smile at his one-on-ones with Natalie’s partner Cindy (Played by Rashida Jones), who agrees to help him get his dog back from Janet. The dog is Ned’s world, and while it seems at first like a flimsy side-story, it warmed my heart that Ned’s world revolved around his four-legged companion. You will also cherish a budding friendship with the aspiring sci-fi writer Jeremy (Played by Adam Scott), who seems to understand Ned’s frequency.
I loved this film’s solemn moments, the one’s with raw family interaction. One scene near the end reveals Ned as a wounded individual who just wants his family to get along. He simply wants to find the joys in life and avoid negativity, which he ironically brings with him everywhere he goes. He has the best intentions in mind. Ned’s sisters are also a pleasure to spend time with. I found Natalie’s aspiring stand-up comic flirt to be dreamy and supportive. She lacks a filter and can be a bit vulgar at times, but she’s just as down to earth as Ned. She does, however, keep her composure elegantly in tact. Miranda, who is tough to love, is a domineering control freak that has a soft spot underneath her concrete shell. She is surprisingly vulnerable. Liz has hippie undertones and is at times a bit jaded, but is also manages to be kind and placid.
Our Idiot Brother is touching and we root for Ned to get his life on track. This man is shit on by life every step of the way and we can’t help but admire his sunny disposition. No matter how bad, or weird for that matter, things get, he still has a smile for everyone. His sudden meltdown is a bit alarming, but we can see where he’s coming from in the wake of all that happens to him of the course of the flick. The film thankfully never falls victim to stoner comedy clichés and instead hurdles over them nicely. The comedy here is restrained and if you blink, you may miss some classic one liners. But the film grounds itself nicely and becomes a pleasant little surprise. If you go into this film expecting something along the lines of Role Models or I Love You, Man, you will be severely disappointed. Ned turns out to be a character that, when the going gets tough, we should aspire to be like. He acts as a lesson to us all if you’re willing to look close enough. If a simple story about a guy and his dog is you’re thing, look no further than the cheery Our Idiot Brother. Grade: A-
by Steve Habrat
When it comes to discussing the Coen brother’s existential stoner comedy The Big Lebowski, I never admit that I did not find myself smitten by the film on my first viewing. Keep in mind that I was in the eighth grade when I first exposed myself to the wickedly fast dry humor that Joel and Ethan wove so slyly into the narrative. I was honestly bewildered by this oddity of a film. Sure, I knew it was supposed to be a comedy but I felt left out of the joke. Like the film knew something I did not. I would later come to realize that this is a feeling that you get while watching every Coen flick.
My cousin directed me towards the film, who vigorously quoted lines from the film like “Shut the fuck up, Donny!” and “I can get you a toe by three o’clock!” He vividly described scenes to me and had me doubled over in laughter just by his descriptions. While making a Best Buy run with my old man the next weekend, I happened upon the DVD and bolted to the register. When I got home, I tore the shrink wrap off the case, popped the disc into the player, and strapped myself in for what I anticipated to be one of the funniest movies I would ever lay eyes on. When the credits rolled, I stared blankly. I was unsure what to make of it. I chuckled a few times but I failed to see the gut busting hilarity of it all. I was disappointed. Furthermore, I had no clue what it was supposed to mean. For an eight grader, trying to decipher a film like this was quite a challenge. It all seemed to signify nothing. That we are just here living our lives and what happens around us is ultimately irrelevant. That’s the message I take away from the film now but back then, I simply had to watch it again. Yes, I groaned at the thought of enduring it a second time.
Upon my second viewing of the film, everything clicked. There is no plot to this movie! It’s just about a lazy stoner who enjoys bowling. He lives a simple life with zero complications. Everything is perfect in the Dude’s universe. Then, along comes two thugs who confuse Jefferey “The Dude’ Lebowski with a millionaire also named Lebowski. Turns out that millionaire Lewbowski’s wife owes some money and the thugs aim to make him pay. To con him into coughing up the dough, one urinates on his beloved rug. The Dude’s universe is shattered. After all, that rug really tied the room together. The Dude gathers his cronies, Walter, an obese Vietnam war veteran with anger issues and the scrawny pushover Donny, and they set out for compensation.
After knowing the background of the film, the rest is all sound and fury, signifying absolutely nothing. The Dude finds himself caught up in one wacky encounter after another. All he wants is a new rug. What he gets is his perfect universe turned upside down. I will admit that after this revelation, the film was automatically hilarious. In fact, it was uproariously funny. There was no reason for any of this to be happening but it was. But hey, that’s life! There are events that take place around us that really have no meaning at all. We can try to understand them but we are just a small piece of the puzzle. Like the song through the opening credits suggests, we are just “tumbling tumbleweeds”.
What ultimately makes The Big Lebiowski a classic is the ensemble of characters that it packs. Everyone from Julianne Moore’s Maude to John Goodman’s Walter is so outrageous that they end up feeling real. No matter how outrageous things get, they seem to stay grounded. The true reason to see the film is Jeff Bridges’ dedicated performance as The Dude. He’s a character that is out of touch and in touch with reality all at the same time. His character is fully realized and never sees any growth but yet he polarizes us. We can’t stop watching him. To be honest, I think we are the ones that ultimately experience a change. Should we really worry about the little things that happen? Shouldn’t we just let it go? These characters exist just to act as our guides through our conversion.
We can debate the films other underlying meanings until we are blue in the face but the truly astonishing aspect of The Big Lebowski is the fact that the film gains more and more popularity as it ages! Its cult status is through the roof. The mere mention of the films title sparks a string of quotes and chuckles. I should note that these are for the people in the know. What further shocks me is the reach that the film has. Everyone from the stoner who lives next door to your doctor has seen it. The Big Lebowski has shot up the ranks and sits as one of my favorite films of all time. I quickly learned that the irrelevance of it all is the point. The film is now available on Blu-ray and I highly suggest that if you don’t own the film, go out and pick it up. It will really tie your film collection together. Grade: A+
The Big Lebowski is now avaliable on Blu-ray for the first time.