Monday, May 13, 2013

A Frank Review of "Iron Man 3" (2013)

The Short Version? Lethal Weapon Mark VI
What Is It? Super-Hero Flick.
Who Is In It? The American Sherlock Holmes, Marty Kaan, Mahatma Gandhi, Peter Weyland and Holly Holliday
Should I See It? Maybe

Following up on both the previous installments and Marvel's The Avengers, Tony Stark is trying to get on with domestic life alongside Pepper Potts while suffering through panic attacks related to the alien invasion of New York. An international terrorist known only as The Mandarin runs afoul of Iron Man, and then things get a bit twisted up.

Iron Man 3 is clearly the worst film of the series to date. That doesn't make it a bad movie, as evidenced by the near-universally orgasmic reviews I've read. It's just not as good as you've heard, and I think once the afterglow wears off, folks will find that it's quite a bit less than its predecessors in the staying power department.

I've been a fan of Robert Downey Jr. for decades, but there was a ten year span or so there where a season on Ally McBeal would be considered a period highlight. 2005's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was a career game changer, in which Downey was not only at his best, but co-star Val Kilmer and writer/director Shane Black were right there with them. Downey continued rebuilding, and landing the lead in Iron Man was the result. In the five years since, we've seen a lot of the guy, but his schtick has devolved through public repetition into the sort of self-satisfied lazy smugness that recalls early '90s Eddie Murphy. Seemingly in response to this, Iron Man 3 tries to take Downey back to the scrappy down-on-his-luck hooligan Harry Lockhart with Shane Black in tow. What it does instead is recall a modern masterpiece during more pedestrian fare where the needs of keeping Robert Downey Jr. happy are now paramount, rather than his ability to serve the role of Tony Stark.

Jon Favreau faced an awful lot of undue criticism for his second directorial turn on Iron Man, and when he was denied The Avengers, he quit the franchise to do Cowboys & Aliens. Favreau seems to have been eating his feelings since, with a visible bloat as he offers a guest turn in a series he used to run. He has even less screen time in his ongoing cameos as bodyguard Happy Hogan than before, and despite seeming to be intended to serve as a motivating factor for Tony in the new film, I'd forgotten all about the character until the film's coda. Pepper Potts was similarly sidelined, turning up in a few early scenes and then dropping out for most of the flick until the big resolution. The presence I did miss throughout the film was Jon Favreau as the director, and one of my first complaints about replacement Shane Black was the obligatory early nods then dispatching of the characters Favreau found necessary in his films.

Ben Kingsley is a gas as the Mandarin for his relatively slight screen time, but his development seemed driven more by an avoidance of the complications Fu Manchu with power rings presented than true innovation. Guy Pearce has two notes as Aldrich Killian, but no power chords. I saw potential in Rebecca Hall as Maya Hansen, vaguely recalling Madeleine Stowe in her glory days, but the role deflates rapidly. James Badge Dale and Stephanie Szostak chew some mean scenery, but they're just muscle. When Ty Simpkins as the adorable boy helper outshines William Sadler and Miguel Ferrer, you've wasted their talents on throwaway parts.

Gone is the cock rock of AC/DC and the punk tunes that helped define Tony Stark, replaced by forgettable tracks and score. No ostentatious displays of wealth and power. No shameless flirtation with gorgeous ladies. Forget about convincing technobabble once you apply anime logic to the Iron Man armor or have Tony Stark bypasses Radio Shack for Home Depot while in dire straits for equipment needs. There's now a kid sidekick, and the genius that invented an arc reactor out of scraps in a cave decides to become a hoodie ninja with gadgets Data from Goonies would have smirked at. The lead character offers omniscient narration that's pointless until the stinger. The one established character with a meaningful presence is Colonel James Rhodes, played by Don Cheadle, who replaced Terrence Howard in the role. Rhodey is essential to recreating the black/white buddy cop aesthetic of Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, and The Long Kiss Goodnight, all written by Shane Black. In fact, the whole movie feels like a greatest hits collection of Black's other movie moments. Of course there's a torture scene. Of course it's set during Christmas. Of course the finale takes place on an abandoned oil platform at night, which is totally different than the abandoned dock yard in Lethal Weapon 2. Again, I'm a fan, but that makes the constant regurgitation that much more tiresome.

Listen, I'm not a pseudonym for Armond White. There's plenty of dumb fun to be had with this roller coaster, and the over-the-top action is very much of the flavor one would hope from a comic book adaptation. The story logic is appalling, but there's kicks to be had with your brain switch in the "off" position. I'd probably be more positive if this was a spin-off War Machine movie, but as the seemingly final installment of an unplanned trilogy? Not so much. It feels set apart from the first two movies, and rushes through massive aspects of closure at the end in a jarring yet perfunctory fashion. For all it gets right, overall the film feels wrong as a sequel to the Favreau efforts. Ultimately, what it serves to prove is that perhaps the franchise not only could survive the departure of the increasingly expensive Robert Downey Jr., but perhaps should at this point, since much of his spirit and that of the enterprise has left the building.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Saturday is Free Comic Book Day For All I Care #174

Adventure Time Free Comic Book Day Edition
Anna & Froga
Bad Medicine #1 Free Comic Book Day Edition
Barnaby and Mr. O'Malley Free Comic Book Day Edition #1
Burt Ward: Boy Wonder
The Censored Howard Cruse
Graphic Elvis: Free Comic Book Day Special Preview
The Infernal Devices: Clockwork Angel: The Manga: free preview #1
Moomin Valley Turns Jungle
Mouse Guard: Labyrinth and Other Stories
Peanuts Free Comic Book Day Edition
Top Shelf Kids Club 2012
Voltron Force: Shelter from the Storm FCBD
Wrath Of The Titans Classic

Last year, my comic supplier of the previous decade allowed me to buy as many FCBD items as I wanted at a rate of about 2-3 for a dollar and even shipped them ahead of the event. At that time, this was a weekly column, so long as I could get my hands on enough material to warrant a review. FCBD resolved that issue, as I covered the major corporate releases, the commercially safe genre material from the minors, the cooler kiddie fare, the multimedia licensed stuff, some tits and blood fodder, before a last gasp with Lo-Rent Sci-Fi. That was last fall, by which point most of the books the spring FCBD event was promoting had already come out. My reviewing schedule started to slip in a major way, and after sitting out three whole months, I have a serious back catalog to burn through. I switched suppliers last year, and while I maintain accounts with both, I never seemed to be able to preorder any FCBD comics. After watching an "unboxing" video last week, I don't feel that's any great loss, but I really should knock out these 2012 opinions while there's still the faintest wiff of relevancy about them...

Adventure Time / Peanuts Free Comic Book Day Edition (kaboom!, 2012, Free)
I understand that Adventure Time is a big cable TV hit that has brought readers to comics, and it is easy to see why. The characters are instantly accessible and endearing, speaking consistently amusing lines in service to charmingly goofy plots. The character designs perfectly balance the simplicity to best convey emotion and the uniqueness to offer immediate iconic reference for type/purpose. I like these guys, enjoyed each of their three tales, and was impressed by the versatility of their presentation under wildly different (and quite atypical) artists. It has the vitality of Liquid Television without all the trial and error failure that comes with experimentation, applied to a structure suitable for children without pandering to them. Very impressive.

Peanuts is Peanuts. I believe that this is the exact same material that I already got in a dollar special from 2011.

Anna & Froga/Moomin Valley Turns Jungle (Top Shelf, 2012, Free)
After reading several kid-skewing FCBD samplers in a row and enjoying none of them, I began to feel like a Grinch. Perhaps I was simply too soulless, arrogant and demanding to appreciate these gentle efforts? Then I read the Adventure Time book, and realized that the other titles were shit. Anna and Froga, for instance, is shit. Anouk Ricard is a poor artist who gets away with it because patronizing adults think kids want art that looks like it was drawn by kids. When I was a kid, I wanted José Luis García-López, not infantile crap my own meager "skill" could conjure up. I suppose Rob Liefeld fell somewhere between those two extremes, which you would think was another matter entirely, but Ricard's writing actually manages to be sub-Liefeld as well.

I'm not as strongly opposed to Moomin, but it did remind of those weird old black and white cartoons kids are forced to watch because we loved and were placated by all forms of animation, right? Wrong. This is weird and foreign and meandering and if there are any jokes my culture doesn't get them and what sort of nightmare landscape was the Fleisher studio trying to craft anyway? Cantsleeporthefleawilldrinkmyblood.

Bad Medicine #1 Free Comic Book Day Edition (Oni Press, 2012, Free)
I want to support a book with a black lead and a female lead, but not one that sucks this hard with grating teeth. Christopher Mitten's art is of the type that makes me not want to read a comic, as it's all flat and scribbly and ugly. It takes really good writing to make up for art this nasty, especially when coupled with the grody coloring of Bill Crabtree. Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir are instead the diarrhea frosting on this cake of shit. The plot is low rent X-Files knock-off involving a scientific experiment and disappearing heads, but the script is pure garbage NCIS dialogue of the sort never spoken by human beings not on a soundstage meeting the low expectations of drama for rrrrreally stupid people like your aunt whose pussy gets drenched over Mark Harmon, who she has a framed picture of on her nightstand. There was not a single character in this book that I didn't want to punch in the temple with an icepick, and the creative team should probably be lined up for one continuous formation slap like Moe Howard used to bring in days of old. Don't forget the back-up creators of the Wasteland strip in the punitive formation, as their promo was surprisingly inept considering their book has reached 44 issues even though 99.999% of readers do not know that series exists.

Barnaby and Mr. O'Malley Free Comic Book Day Edition #1 (Fantagraphics Books, 2012, Free)
When a publisher goes out of its way to tell you how great and important a reprint book is, you should find it suspect. Peanuts doesn't require that kind of hard sell. Crockett Johnson might have been something back in 1942, and his strip seems more palatable than its contemporaries, but after sixty years all the innovations and the gags have been absorbed and improved upon. I didn't hate the half of an adventure featured here, but I did find myself checking how many pages were left repeatedly. I also hope the hardcovers solve the problem of landscape presentation, because running two four panel strips across a spread is counterintuitive for readers and leaves a sea of dead space on the pages.

Burt Ward: Boy Wonder / Wrath Of The Titans Classic (Bluewater, 2012, Free)
Bluewater Comics continues to be the place to be for creators of such small self-worth, talent and/or business acumen that they would choose to give their work away to an unscrupulous publisher whose successes could be described as paltry were that not an overstatement. I don't understand how Darren G. Davis could hold the copyright to "Wrath of the Titans" when it so clearly infringes on Clash of the Titans, but perhaps there's no need to mount a defense over so forgettable a slight. The book tries to dub itself "Classic" by offering a page of silent comic art against a page of prose. It is an essential violation of "show, don't tell," and betrays a complete ignorance of the fundamentals of comic book mechanics on the part of the creators. The six pages of art are already far more than would be needed to depict a guy scaling an unstable mountain ledge, but all the six pages of prose do is awkwardly insert dialogue and unnecessary description where heavily edited captions and some balloons should be. If you're going to do this type of thing, spend one page of art on the scaling, and a full page of text at a reasonable font size describing the struggle in such fine detail as to require prose be utilized at all. Then maybe they'd convey a chapter of a story instead of paragraph of a dry travelogue.

On the flip side, Burt Ward: Boy Wonder is so terrible that it almost makes the first story seem adequate. It's bad enough to tout the license of likeness from a gray, largely forgotten celebrity who was a childhood favorite of people who would be called "middle-aged" only out of kindness, and worse to use the resultant book to champion their pet cause of animal shelters. The worst though is when you restore said celebrity to their glory days through painfully convoluted means, revert to unappealing gray tones, and force them to look and act like a tedious character they played nearly half a century ago that still has a publishing life elsewhere while constantly pointing out the flaws of the story within the story itself. Never have I so wanted to see fatcat scumbag lawyers from a monolithic corporation roll in to crush the little guy who for once happens to be even more detestable. I will say that Ramon Salas illustrated and colored both stories with a quality that deserves better than this. Get out of this abusive relationship before that son of a bitch breaks your arm and kills your children!

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The Censored Howard Cruse Free Comic Book Day Edition (BOOM! Town, 2012, Free)
This was a frustrating read because of the black bars and other redacted elements that sometimes confused the narrative, but there are no flies of Cruse's unobscured efforts. From bawdy trips down fancifully adulterated memory lane to sadly timeless political satire, Cruse works it like a boss in story and art. By the end, you'll want to order The Other Sides of Howard Cruse, and maybe even donate to the CBLDF, if their edits don't infuriate you too much.

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Graphic Elvis: Free Comic Book Day Special Preview (Liquid Comics, 2012, Free)
Liquid Comics was basically formed out of the rotting carcass of notorious starfuckers Virgin Comics, so it's no wonder this book is like higher end Bluewater. I thoroughly enjoyed it for free, since I love The King of Rock n' Roll and pin-ups by Gilbert Hernandez, John Cassaday, Steve Rude, Tony Millionaire, M. S. Corley, Luke Ross, Paul Pope and yes by some fluke even Greg Horn. However, pairing each pin-up with a page of probable photo reference kind of breaks a dick off in their asses, and the various quotes/text inserts aren't exactly substantial. Despite occasional strips by the likes of Chris Eliopoulos and Stan Lee/Jack Kirby Jeevan Kang, this thing is seriously insubstantial, so pimping a $195.00 collectible limited to 2,500 copies is something of a pipedream when your target demographic is suffering from Alzheimer's in an assisted living community on a fixed income. Despite its "scarcity," you can pick it up at a 50% discount for an unlimited time at this point. Call me when it hits $10, and "enjoy" this pants-drenchingly douchey motion comic...

The Infernal Devices: Clockwork Angel: The Manga: free preview #1 (Yen Press, 2012, Free)
I finally started watching Game of Thrones, which is a fantastic show that overcomes all of my biases against the fantasy genre. This led me to view the Conan the Barbarian remake, which I dug as a comic in my youth and starred one of the less utilized badasses from Game of Thrones. I'd only intended to watch a half hour or so, but the narrative was so propulsive and undemanding that I can't believe I vegged out for the whole thing. The script avoided a few expected cliche turns and was generally inoffensive, while the acting ranged from rote to laughable (Rose McGowen specifically.) It was like a mediocre round of masturbation-- time spent in a pleasant enough manner, but in retrospect you wouldn't mind getting it back and putting it to better use.

The Infernal Devices: Clockwork Angel is more Conan the Barbarian than Game of Thrones. What's offered leads to the conclusion that this is Steampunk Sherlock Holmes versus the supernatural. The characters are amiable enough, the premise is comfortable and the pacing is brisk. Had the story continued right there in my lap I would have contentedly read it. However, the storytelling is arch and clunky, the art undistinguished, and the broad characters are prone to exposition. My life was not enriched, and once my concentration was broken by the preview's stopping point, I felt no great need for the resolution a purchase might bring.

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Mouse Guard: Labyrinth and Other Stories: A Free Comic Book Day Hardcover Anthology (Archaia, 2012, Free)
At this time last year, Archaia was a fantasy-skewing also-ran with a dodgy record regarding creator compensation. Coming out with this delightful mini-hardcover helped wipe a lot of that bad will away. This thing has endpapers, a table of contents, creator biographies, and even space provided to write in who the book belongs to. Quite charming, no?
  • David Peterson's "Mouse Guard: The Tale of Baldwin the Brave" was a touching series of shorts that perfectly combined pictures and prose.
  • "Labyrinth: Hoggle and the Worm" was more of a novelty, but the creative team captures the look and voices of the beloved movie's characters.
  • "Steps of the Dapper Men" was excerpted from a graphic novel, and I couldn't make hide nor hair of it outside that context. Janet K. Lee's art was meticulous, though.
  • "Rust: Oswald's Letter" was also problematic on its own. I could follow the story, but it lacked emotional resonance without my having read about these characters previously.
  • "Cursed Pirate Girl: Ramblings From An Old Sea Dog Who Likes To Be Called Alice" was a fun lark.
  • Nate Cosby's "Cow Boy: Long While Ago" was curiously poignant, which Chris Eliopoulos' art sold to the hilt. A great closing chapter to an already impressive reintroduction to Archia.

Top Shelf Kids Club (Drawn & Quarterly, 2012, Free)
This was your basic waste of time. Owly as a character is well designed by Andy Runton, but it's odd how a silent four page story with a splash could manage to feel tedious through stretching out a narrow concept. I didn't quite "get" the Korgi tale, but appreciated the illustrative flare of Christian Slade. Chris Eliopoulos' Okie Dokie Donuts was arbitrary and wouldn't have been my bag at any age. Pirate Penguin vs. Ninja Chicken was exactly what it sounds like, snark and pop culture reference presented as though they were plot and characterization, plus the art looked shit without color. Upside Down was alright, but the art of Jess Smart Smiley was amateurish. I had hoped James Kochalka could salvage this affair, but his final entry was one of the bigger duds.

Voltron Force: Shelter from the Storm Free Comic Book Day Edition (Viz, 2012, Free)
Enough money was poured into this project to make it resoundingly competent. From a production standpoint, everything is tip-top. It's just that for 27 pages, good characters or bad, everyone is barking orders and being dicks to one another. I'm not much in the market for giant robot cats fighting Japanese monsters in space to begin with, but once it's been cleaned up and anglicized, the bloodless product leaves me cold.


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