Casablanca (1942): An Amazing Story of Love in a Time of War

Casablanca

       “Casablanca,” is a film I always caught at the wrong time, every time it was on, so much was going on already so the movie was always in the background and usually remained unfinished by the time I would leave. “Casablanca,” is a fascinating film, considering it was completed when World War 2 was still going on. The Nazis still occupied a lot of Europe and it was unknown who would be victorious in the end. The screenplay itself is based off a play called “Everybody Comes to Rick’s,” by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. The fact that they were writing from a time where history remained unwritten gives the present of the story so much life. 

   “Casablanca,” was directed by Michael Curtiz and is the story of Rick (Humphrey Bogart) who owns a saloon in Nazi occupied Casablanca in the French Morocco. He is a pretty selfish guy whose perspective changes when a former lover named Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) re-enters his life with her fascist resisting husband Victor Laszlo…from here the story unfolds as politics between factions arise as the drama unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

Pros: The Music – God I love the music in this. From “As Time Goes By,” to the orchestra pieces and the jazz…you feel like you are in Casablanca and the music always fits what is going on. I could listen to this soundtrack for days and plan on using it to inspire my own writing. Max Steiner is fantastic.

The Cinematography – The cinematography captures the cramped feel of the bazaar, the open feel of Rick’s saloon and the noir feel of the ending in the escape sequence intermixed with the backstabbing and double dealing.

Rick Blaine – Humphrey Bogart owns this role and creates a compelling character who we never know if he is selfish and all about the money…or still the idealist at heart that brought him to Europe in the first place to fight the fascist governments as a mercenary. We see his complexity through his relationships, from Sam who is his piano player at the saloon to the French Captain Louis Renalt and Isla and her husband Laszlo (as well as smaller smuggler characters too), they  each reveal parts of his selfish and selfless side as the story goes on.

Isla Lund – What would you do if you believed your husband to be dead and fell in love with another? This is Isla’s dilemma as her romance with Rich in Paris occurs when she has believed for some time that Laszlo is dead. Also Laszlo loves the cause more than he loves her and Rick loves her. This is an interesting choice and she only gives up her agency to Rick at the end when he tells her he’ll need her to to help her and Laszlo escape. Ingrid Bergman is amazing in the role and gives us a complex character who makes her own path in a situation where it is difficult to do just that.

Sam – Dooley Wilson is the connection to Rick and Isla and is a character with a lot of awareness. He tries to talk Rick out of dredging up the past and tries to help him and Isla move on even as they use him as a tool to express their feelings of love lost in the song he plays, “As Time Goes By,” he is a great singer and the only downside is I wish he’d played more of a part after the First Act. After his attempts fail, he just kind of exists as the piano player.

Louis Renalt – I love this character. He is the kind of character I love watching in television shows…characters who are a shade of grey but when they sell themselves as truly selfish it is believable because of how charming they are and how they do what is asked of them…though with always an added twist. Claude Rains is my favorite minor character and I’d have watched the movie it was just about him and how the events of the story change him or force him to reveal where his true loyalties are.

The Dialogue – Reveals the distinct personalities of the characters and helps show events rather than tell events. The best example of this is when we see Isla and Rick’s time and Paris and how the romance happens. It is subtle and the lines show how each of them are hiding their past but want to be together with what they can give…as well as Isla’s leaving where you know there is more going on, but until Laszlo’s reveal…we don’t know what that thing is.

The Reveal – Renault sets up a Nazi officer being sent to the airplane where Isla and Laszlo will be escaping but the Nazi Officer is killed by Rick who is fighting for them. His choosing to fight for Isla and a higher cause of the resistance is the big reveal as well as Renault being sympathetic and joining with Rick to go and fight the Nazis.

The Message – Love is greater than romance, there are ideals greater than the individual and the theme of solidarity in resistance. Love is greater than romance in that Rick gets over his wish to be with Isla and lets her leave with her husband telling her “We’ll always have Paris.” He has finally gotten past himself and sees that if they were together it would involve hurting her (letting Laszlo get caught) in the process. The other part is when he kills the Nazi officer and re-devotes himself to fighting the fascists. Renault joins him in this and they decide to join the French Resistance. There are also the themes of solidarity in the singing of “Viva la France,” against the Nazi’s nationalist anthem and Rick helping a Bulgarian couple escape by letting the husband win in his gambling so they’ll have the funds to travel to America. There are others as well, but this theme is pervasive and makes the film even stronger.

Okay: The Nazi Officers – They are just kind of there, but exist mostly as a threat. I never felt like they were fully fleshed out in regards to their motivations. Sure they get lines, but there aren’t any characters like the S.S. Officer in “Inglorious Bastards.” They serve their role, but are pretty replaceable.

Victor Laszlo – I really wanted to like this character. He is a resistance fighter with a compelling backstory (fought for the Czech and other resistances in Europe against the Nazis) is put in a concentration camp and escapes, and he forgives Isla for cheating on him. The actor just doesn’t make his character greater than his role though. He is there to be the face of the resistance and love of a cause (he’d leave if he got the chance and leave Isla if it meant continuing the fight), but he just isn’t as compelling as Isla and Rick. I wish we’d heard more about what he went through, we can really only guess based off what we know.

The Length – This movie at times feels long. This is good for building tension, but sometimes can drag. This isn’t a con though since I love all the time with the characters…it just needs to be addressed since it isn’t a pro. It would have been a pro if it didn’t feel long.

     This is one of my all time favorite films after tonight and one I intend to watch again in the future. There is a reason it won 3 Academy Awards and why it is recognized as one of the classics. It’s themes are timeless, it’s characters are great and the music is some of the best from any movie. It is a near perfect film and reminds us of the things worth living and dying for. I can’t recommend this film enough.

My final Score for the film is 9.8 / 10.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013): A Big Dumb at Times Hilariously Stupid Action Movie

 

Hansel and Gretel

This film had the chance to be so bad it is good, it was so close to getting there…but in the end fell flat for quite a few reasons. I am surprised to say I can list some pros for this film though. I chose to do this film because a friend requested it when I was asking for ideas for bad films to review.

This is part of the gritty and extremifying of Fairy Tales that we’ve seen with “Jack the Giant Killer,” “Red Riding Hood,” and a few others. It really arose around the late 2010ish onward period and I think is largely motivated by a quick profit and taking the easy path of lazy adaptation…which I hope they stop doing. This film is written and directed by Tommy Wirkola which is a red flag in and of itself. Writing and directing a film on your own is usually a bad sign for quality since there is no real feedback or critique that would change your final product.

The story is the title. Hansel and Gretel of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales have grown up after killing the witch in the candy house and now hunt witches as bounty hunters for a living. Their quest for profit and killing witches brings them back to the village they were born in and the story unfolds from there around the plot of a coven of witches.

Here is the assessment of the film:

Pros: Gretel – Gretel is the best part of the film, and I hope to see Gemma Arterton in more films. She is compelling and the first to recognize there mother was a White Witch and good witch and therefore not all witches are evil. She gets captured near the end but holds her own against the leader of the coven, as well as befriending Edward…the witches slave and turning him against them and the Hansel and Gretel fanboy Ben joins them because of her kindness towards him.

Hansel – Jeremy Renner is good in this, even though at times he looks bored. He is the guy with all the one liners and the one who is cold to everybody. He falls in love with Mina who his sister saves who was blamed for witchcraft who is a good witch and uses Ben and her to save the day in taking out the coven. His character arc is simple and predictable, but Renner isn’t bad.

Edward – The stupid muscle is actually a good guy. He saves Gretel from the evil sheriff who had targeted Mina in a wonderfully graphic fashion (crushing heads and limbs) and joins their team at the end after Gretel saves his life.

From here on out there are only cons…

Cons: The Music – Who chose this music? Rock music doesn’t have to be bad in movies like this, but it is terrible music that doesn’t add to the story in any way. So often it just turned scenes that were supposed to be action into comedy.

The Villains: The Evil Sheriff – The evil sheriff is the cliche bully who is bad for the sake of being bad. He is a sexist nutjob who has no backstory and only exists to threaten the good people of Mina, The Mayor, Hansel and Gretel.

The Witch Coven – The designs are boring and clearly being ripped off vampires in “Buffy,” but with more veins. The witches are like creature types (horned witch, swamp witch, water witch, black witch, white witch…Got to Catch ‘em All!) and the leader has no motivation…she’s angry that Hansel and Gretel’s mother married a human and had children so she turns the town on their mother? What…by doing so she played her hand that witches exist which put her at risk. God she was stupid…just like this film.

Big Dumb Action – The action here takes the “Van Helsing” approach of modern weapons in a medieval setting and going steampunk. The difference is that this time there isn’t anything unique about how the action scenes are filmed. We get wide shots and witches being shot down from a distance. The only good action scene is Edward taking out the sheriff and his thugs. The rest is truly forgettable and stupid.

The Story – There are more cliches in this than can be counted…and that aren’t handled well. They are really predictable. From Mina being a good witch and bringing Hansel around to liking witches…and Hansel and Gretel being children of a witch and Gretel’s heart being needed to strengthen the witches…from the fanboy becoming the hero and the muscle of the baddies turning good. Edward was the only one of those that felt unique. The rest were so cliche I saw them coming from the introduction of the characters. The witches never felt like a threat either…no one of importance died and the revenge plot in this setting is contrived and over done. God, this story was terrible.

The re-imagining – This is part of a bad Hollywood movie model that I hope it ends. I don’t think it will though since this movie is getting a sequel…so who knows…we may see a new Cinderella where she is an assassin killing with glass slippers and the step-mother is really the Queen and the ruler of an oppressive regime…this probably will happen at some point. What hasn’t been made dark and gritty is open since the people have spoken…and there is clearly a market…crap…

This film was almost so bad it was good because at times it had self awareness. When you are doing something like this, that is good. The premise is hilarious but the thing is it was played way too seriously but still tried to be comedic…it had to go one or the other fully to make it truly so bad it is good. This film just ended up being bad. Now that a sequel is in the works though…maybe he will commit to fully serious or fully comedic and create a true work of art out of a laughable premise? We will see. For now, if you want to see a film that captures a lot of what is wrong with Hollywood, watch this film.

My final score for this film is 3 / 10. Because Hansel, Gretel and Edward were at least interesting as characters.

Fist of the North Star (1986): Heads will Explode and a Hero’s Journey

Fist of the North Star (1986)

“Fist of the North Star,” is a film based off the manga series by Buronson and drawn by Tetsuo Hara. It was made into two anime series (from 1984-1988) in the middle of which this movie came out in 1986. There is also an American live action film of the same title too. This film was directed by Toyoo Ashida.

The story takes place on Apocalyptic Earth after nuclear weapons have destroyed everything and only the strongest survive. The main drama revolves around Ken known as the Fist of the North Star. The action takes off after the introduction of the world when his fiancee Yuria is taken by his former friend Shin. Ken is left for dead and cast off a mountain by his brother Raoh who wished to take his place in being the Fist of the North Star. From here the story unfolds from there.

Here is the assessment of the film:

Pros: The idea – Post apocalyptic or apocalyptic worlds have given rise to some of the greatest stories, especially in animation…from “Evangelion,” to “Akira,” and to many others I have yet to see. This is a world of mutants and magic fist attacks with some characters larger than life. It is an excellent idea that we are given to kick things off.

The Animation – The animation is fantastic! The characters are drawn with elongated style making their bodies and faces able to express a lot. Most have large muscles too, which fits the desert landscape of where it all takes place.

The Action – The movie is amazing with it’s action. It uses animation to push the boundaries as Ken’s attacks cause people’s heads to literally explode and body parts and blood are flying in most scenes…not to mention it kicks off a person melting in an atomic blast. It keeps that level of action through the movie.

Rei – Rei is a more feminine looking Hero and one of the more interesting characters in the movie. He teams up with Ken after Ken had saved some children and a village before as he was searching for the him…it turns out the man who had kidnapped his sister was Jagi who had taken Ken’s identity. His attack is cool is he creates chi energy that allows him to cut through limbs. He takes care of the kids that Ken saves. He also stands up to Raoh to save Yuria. He sees the big picture too and begs Ken not to fight Raoh so that the children and Julia can live.

Ragi – He’s insane and you can see that Ken letting him live in the past made him worse. His head is boiling and he breathes like Darth Vader. He fights to the end against Ken which is more than be said for Shin.

Raoh – Raoh the Conqueror is great, he shows that Shin is a nobody and manages to best Rei. His goal is stability through fear and his capture of Yuria is only to bring about Ken to defeat him. He is the brother with ambition and I wish the movie had given us more time with him and his conquest. We see him take out a nameless clan easily, but he is largely out of the picture until the last 30 minutes. He also killed his, Ragi’s and Ken’s father.

The Ending – It turns out that the children, specifically Lin becomes the hope for the future. Raoh ends the fight in order for her to be protected by Ken resolving the struggle between the brothers.  I liked that Raoh realized his pride and arrogance were destroying any chance of a future. It ends with the seeds growing and life returning to the dead world. Ken also find an Oasis where he finally can be with Yuria.

Okay: Ken – He is generic hero out to save his fiance. Nothing unique here…at least his design is a little interesting. He looks like Bruce Lee and he screams when he does his super fast multi-punch. Rei is much more interesting than him though, even though he doesn’t have the personal connection to the antagonists.

Shin – He has more depth than Ken in that he tries to win Yuria’s heart after he takes her from Ken, but he doesn’t do anything. He is there purely as a personal connection and motivation for the hero. Jagi was more interesting.

The Kids – Lin and Bat are pretty one dimensional. They play their role as the soul of humanity and human ingenuity though as Bat’s car saves Rei and Ken on a few occasions and Lin is the one who stops Raoh.

Cons: The Presentation of Women – There are a few good examples of them being given agency (the little girl Lin fighting back and helping Rei’s sister Airi find a reason to live) but more often than not they are victims or damsels. Isn’t the world ending supposed to give everyone a reason to fight? This was the most annoying thing about the film.

The Intro. Music – Is way too happy and idyllic given the world that this takes place and the actions that unfold…I don’t think it was meant ironically since this film doesn’t do irony.

The Final Fight – Raoh vs. Ken went on way too long. They destroy the city in the process and just doesn’t feel rewarding at all.

This was a pretty good anime film. I wouldn’t call it great because the protagonist just isn’t that interesting and it doesn’t do anything new with the tropes it uses. Also the overuse of damsels in distress doesn’t help…though Lin stopping Raoh is perfect to at least partially counter this. If you like classic anime or Kung Fu type films you will enjoy this. It has a pretty solid Heroes Journey and some great antagonists.

My final score for this film is 8.4 / 10. Pretty good, but not great.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962): The Idealization of the West and the formation of Statehood

Man-Who-Shot-Liberty-Valance-Poster 

     “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” is a western directed by John Ford. The story begins with Senator Stoddard returning back to the town in the west that made him famous to visit Tom Doniphon’s funeral. From here he tells the story of the past to the press and the story unfolds. The story involves Ranse Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart) who is seeking his fortune out west when he is attacked and robbed by Liberty Valance. From here is found by Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) who brings him in to a restaurant where he is nursed back to health. From here the story unfolds as the path to statehood is used to explore the relationships in the town and to Liberty Valance and his gang. 

Here is the assessment of the film:

Pros: The Cinematography – The film is in black and white and makes great use of shadows. Visually the movie is stunning and makes good use of the sets it takes place on…giving life to the town and the west. 

Ranse Stoddard – James/Jimmy Stewart is a fantastic protagonist. He is the idealistic lawyer who doesn’t believe in force until he realizes Liberty doesn’t care and will continue to hurt and rob and keep the territory from seeking federal protection. After he is abused by Valance at the restaurant where he falls in love with the owners daughter Hallie (Vera Miles) he begins training with a gun. He also teaches Hallie and the town how to read and write and about the law. He is a complex character who respects Hallie and has a respect for Tom who helps him but is doing so grudgingly for much of the film. 

Hallie Stoddard – Vera Miles is fantastic in her role and the writers do a good job of giving her agency. After she learns how to read and write from Ranse she becomes a teacher in the class. She chooses to be with Ranse too and never shows Tom that she feels romantically the same way he does, though she does respect him deeply. 

Tom Doniphon – It is John Wayne, this is his thing. He is the gruff, no-nonsense hero. Really my biggest issue with his character is his condescension to Hallie and thinking he owns her. It takes her clearly showing she loves Ranse for him to finally get that which leads to him burning the cabin he built for them. He is the one who kills Valance but is never recognized for it by anyone other othan Hallie and Ranse since the press refuses to destroy the legend of Ranse being the one to kill him. He also isn’t racist and stands up for the man named Pompey (who is African American) who works for him. 

The Formation of Statehood – Tom represents military and Ranse represents civilization. Tom is all protection and Ranse is all about education. Both were needed for the territory to become a state and get the recognition on the federal level. This dynamic is explored really well in their relationship to one another…ending in Ranse getting the nomination and Tom defeating Liberty and his gang…as well as remaining a symbol of the nameless soldier. 

Okay: Doc. Peabody – The drunk doctor is pretty much just that. He is the idealistic press man who is nearly killed which inspires Ranse to challenge Liberty to a gun fight near the end. He isn’t bad, he just is one note. 

Marshall Appleyard – Played by Andy Devine (famous voice actor for Disney, played Friar Tuck in their “Robin Hood” animated film) is a coward just trying to protect his family. He is cool in that he has a large Hispanic family and protects Peabody as well at one point. His problem is we don’t see that so much of his fear is tied to his family and protecting them. Showing that would have elevated his character to a pro. 

Cons: Liberty Valance – He is cruel of the sake of cruel and extremely one note. He doesn’t elevate this either and his goons are one dimensional cronies as well. He exists as an abstract threat at his best because there is no character there. 

Western Problem – Native Americans are seen as savages and even seen as redskins in this. The fact that there were already people in the territory is glossed over as a Manifest Destiny is embraced as represented by Ranse. I wish this had been addressed at least a little…though this a problem from lots of movies in this era and even westerns today. 

       “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” was an enjoyable western, though the problems of Tom’s misogyny for most of it till the end and the racism towards the natives cannot go unspoken. It is the idealization of statehood where the biggest threat are nameless gangsters who kill and take for the sake of doing so….and it is in that idealization that it is at it’s best. It’s just a shame it didn’t capture the complexity better. I would recommend this movie, just know these problems. 

My final score is 8 / 10. It definitely deserves the praise it gets as a classic in cinema, largely because of how well the leads handle their roles. 

Four Rooms: The Misadventures of a Bellhop

Four Rooms

“Four Rooms,” is the story of a bellhop named Ted (played by Tim Roth) as he deals with awkward situations as he is the only one left on duty at the hotel. There are four directors and each does a short story within the events of the day…each story takes place in a different room as per the title and each director covers a room. The stories are based off some of Roald Dahl adult short stories…which make sense given how strange it is and the quirckyness of Ted.

I’ll be doing the assessment of the stories individually (judging the directors by the individual work they did) and after judging it as a whole.

The Honeymoon Suite – “The Missing Ingredient” -Director Allison Anders

The premise of “The Missing Ingredient,” is a coven of witches need semen to ressurect their Goddess Diane since she was cursed 40 years ago and turned to stone and the witch who was supposed to bring it swallowed it. She has seduces Ted to get the semen and they have sex in the cauldron after she puts a spell on him.

This is  the weakest of the stories. The only compelling character is Ted who doesn’t know what to do and Tim Roth plays being the the crazy situations really well over the course of the story. None of the witches are really memorable…the only one who really  stands out is Jezebel who pays Ted to have sex with the witch. She is is as passionate in the role and gives her all for her small role as Roth does for Ted.

Forgettable in the end though and the special effects are really bad. Also way too much telling rather than showing.

Final score for this one is 4 / 10.

Room 404 – “The Wrong Man,” -Director Alexandre Rockwell

“The Wrong Man,” kicks off when a party is calls Ted for some ice but he mishears and goes to the wrong room where a couple is doing theatre where they pull strangers into their drama. Their story is that Ted has slept with the wife and the husband is holding her hostage…from there the husband kisses Ted and has a heart attack. After trying to escape and after one of the partiers in the room nearly throws up on him he manages to get off as one of the partiers is pulled into the act again.

David Broal and Jennifer Beals own this. They make the drama so real that you can’t tell if it is an act or not till the end. They switch between actors and roles deftly…which understandably contributes into Ted’s growing madness. This is one of the best of the 4 stories and Rockwell does fantastic.

Final score for this one is 8.5 / 10

Room 309 – “The Misbehavers,” -Director Robert Rodriguez

“The Misbehavers,” involves Ted being paid by a husband (Antonia Banderas) to take care of his two kids after he goes out with his wife to party. From here things devolve as he wants to avoid taking care of the kids and they discover horrible things from the last guest (a dead prostitute, a needle and open the champagne that the husband had ordered, as well as watching porn).

This one is fun, the biggest problem is that the kids are kind of blank slates so that kind of brings it down. I wish we could have got more scenes between Banderas and Roth since they have good chemistry and the husband is fine even as his room is burning as he holds his drunk wife. Not Rodriguez’s best work…though it does have the fire, blood and Antonio Banderas who and what he likes to use in his movies…as well as the fantasy elements to how crazy the situation gets.

Final score for this one is 7 / 10. It was alright.

Penthouse – “The Man From Hollywood,” -Director Quentin Tarantino

Ted wants to leave but is told to stay on duty because Chester Rush (Tarantino) is in town with his friends and that it is important that they have a good time. Ted goes to check on them and gets pulled into a bet that Rush’s friend Norman (Paul Calderon) can’t light his lighter ten times but if he loses he has to cut off Norman’s finger. Leo (Bruce Willis) is the other friend present as the events unfold. Ted is presented with a dilemma, cut off the finger for 1000 dollars if Norman fails or to walk away and for it remain a possible regret. Norman isn’t able to light the lighter so Ted cuts off his pinky, grabs the money and leaves. It has both the Tarantino abruptness, the moral dilemmas and the violence that define his style.

This is a good but not great Tarantino short. The dilemma is good, but most of the characters aren’t all that interesting. Leo is having issues with his wife so there is that at least going for the script and Rush is a twisted guy who is all about new experiences. It also leaves us wondering if Ted will continue to be a bellboy after the events or if he has had enough.

Final Score is 8 / 10. Solidly good.

What helps elevate a story that doesn’t quite flow together all that well is the music and most of the acting. With the exception of the first room, all the stories are at least alright and the directors do a good job making each scene unique minus the first director Anders. Tim Roth is good as the guy slowly going mad and we’re left wondering after if he finally snapped or if he found peace given he has his cocky spring in his step he had at the beginning of the film.

In the end I would recommend this film, and I would not call it great…and it has moments of good…but that isn’t the reason to watch it. It is worth watching to see how each director approaches their stories and how they express themselves in the work.

Final score is 7.5 / 10

Iron Man 3: Consequences from the Past

Iron Man 3

       “Iron Man 3,” is the next movie on the Disney Marvel Franchise review list. It like, “Thor 2,” is more enjoyable after a second viewing. The film is directed by Shane Black, who focuses on the human level of the character and the post-Avengers world. 

     The premise of the film is Tony Stark is dealing with PTSD because of battle in New York City while dealing with people who he has slighted in the past who have come back for revenge as well as the new threat of the Mandarin. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

Pros: The Introduction – Tony Stark is recounting how his demons have come back to bite him and later brings it full circle at peace in himself. 

The characters – Shane Black is great at directing actors and this is a great character piece…from the exploration of Tony and Rhody, to the antagonists of Killian and Maya. I’ll go into more details further into the review. 

The Action – The action is quick and even has Tony suitless having to fight against Extremis soldiers (super soldiers who regenerate and can breath fire). It always feels like something at stake at the action rises believably throughout the film. 

Pepper Pots – She is a pro in this, though she gets less exploration than “Iron Man 2,” and the first one. We see her trouble with dealing with PSTD Tony, but also her strength when she fights the baddie at the end. 

Rhody/The Iron Patriot – I hope we see the Iron Patriot used by someone else and War Machine become War Machine again…it is even shown in this movie that Rhody hates the new name. This is a movie where he needs to be saved most of the time he is in the suit, but when he is out and about is as competent as Tony. He even manages to save the President after the suit had been used by Killian’s dragon to capture him. 

the kid Harley – There is a kid who lost his dad who helps Tony repair his suit after the Mandarin blows up his house. He even distracts the Extremis soldiers during the battle in his town. It ends with Tony upgrading his barn since he sees the kid is an inventor like himself…and also thank him since he is pretty funnily cold to the kid throughout the film. So glad he doesn’t team up for the final battle…he feels like an actual character not a wizkid or damsel needing saving. 

Extremis Plot – Created by the main baddie Aldrich Killian with the help of Maya Hansen, these soldiers are seeking to take over the government by using the soldiers as both terrorists and the soldiers fighting the terrorists. The Mandarin was created as the fall guy in the situation since it is just an out of work loser actor who is taken advantage of to create the character. What sets Tony Stark against them initially and openly (telling the Mandarin where he lives) is when his bodyguard Happy is almost killed. 

The Locations – A fight in a small country town before Christmas, a fight on an oil rig on Christmas, a rescue from an exploding plane…the locations of action are fantastic in this. 

Maya Hansen – One night stand with Tony, taken in by Killian and eventually sees that she can still see the consequences of the work she is doing with Killian so tries to stop him. A great complex character who should have got more time for us to know. Rebecca Hall does great. 

Aldrich Killian – Guy Pearce does a fantastic job as the slighted scientist out for revenge. His motivations seem real since he was the guy who was invisible and bullied. It makes his super soldier transformation believable…he’s like the Anti-Captain America. I liked that he fought to the end and that it took everything Iron Man through at him and Pepper Extremised to defeat him. One of the best baddies in this universe. 

House Party Protocol – J.A.R.V.I.S. “House Party Protocol,” is fantastic and I can see why it wasn’t used sooner beyond it being a game breaker (and can’t wait to see how this plays into the creation of Ultron later possibly). Iron Man was in the panic PTSD mode, he wasn’t thinking clearly, it doesn’t occur to him until he’s found himself again…and when he does…all his suits fighting for him is one of the coolest scenes in this entire franchise. 

Tony Stark/Iron Man – From using the suits as a cocoon to hide from the world (his own words) in dealing with PSTD and eventually letting his suits go in the final battle and accepting them as a part of him and that he is Iron Man regardless, is a fantastic arc. We see Tony the inventor who wins through his wits and also Tony at his most believably desperate and paranoid. Robert Downy jr. once again owned this role. 

Okay: The President – He doesn’t do much, he’s just there to be rescued and used.

The Mandarin – Is there to be a fall guy. How he is used is interesting, but as a character he isn’t interesting at all. Luckily the actor is told in one of the short films “All Hail the King,” that the Mandarin is the true leader of the Ten Rings (the terrorist group from the first film) and wants to meet him. Can’t wait to see where this goes. Also, can understand why they got away from making him the traditional mandarin since it is some of the worst of the Cold War propaganda and paranoia. How they make him in this film (and how he might be in this universe) might get away from it though. 

Bruce Banner reveal – We see Tony recounting this story to Bruce who has fallen asleep. Would have preferred the Ten Rings short film reveal instead. This is cute but it doesn’t serve the plot or arc of the universe in anyway. We knew they became friends from “The Avengers.” 

Cons: No one died – The President’s cabinet gets killed…and Maya who changes allegiance to good but Happy and Pepper live…if one of them had died it would have mad the ending more bittersweet. It is almost too happy for all that goes down. 

    “Iron Man 3,” is a sold film and worth the praise it receives. In many ways it is better than the first film since it is structured better. Wish they’d worked Extremis into what we learn about the universe in “Winter Soldier,” though. Extremis would have tied in perfectly to that plot…who knows, maybe it was and we won’t find out until “Age of Ultron.” Regardless loved this film, especially Robert Downey Jr. for the greatest range I’ve seen him take the character and for Shane Black for making an entertaining adventure. 

Final Score for this film is 9.4. It is solidly good, some actual loss would have made it better though…and it still a favorite film. 

Thor: The Dark World – The Legacy of the Throne of Asgard and the Gambit

Thor: The Dark World

After a second watching, I really like “Thor: The Dark World,” it has much more going on than the original and manages to get into the mythology of the Universe and offer us hints of things to come (as well as recognizing past events). But, before I go any further…the premise.

“Thor: The Dark World,” begins with narration by Odin telling of how his father Bor stood against the Dark Elves and their leader Malekith when he created the Aether in order to consume the Universe in darkness. After his father hid the Aether we are in the future with Thor and Sif and the Warriors bringing peace to the 9 Realms after Loki’s actions in “Thor.” After we see Jane investigating anomolies and getting possessed by the Aether. Thor brings her to Asgard…Malekith attacks Asgard and the story unfolds from there.

Spoilers ahead

Here is the assessment of the film:

Pros: The 9 Realms – We don’t get to see all of them, but we get to see the Dark Elf World of Svartalfheim, the Ice Giant World and glimpse the world of fire and the forest world that one of the warriors three makes his home. We even see a glimpse of the Fire Realm…these glimpses hint at just at how big the world is which make me excited to see what they do with Thor next.

The Dark Elves – I won’t put them in okay because they are actually a worthy foe. They kill Loki and Thor’s mother Frigga, destroy much of Asgard and manage to get the Aether back. Never do they feel like an unworthy foe.

Malekith – Not the best Marvel Antagonist (that still belongs to Loki), but he is a threat. His biggest problem is arrogance and shortsightedness. He is so set on getting the Aether he loses track of the threats beyond Asgard (the science team) around him. Congrats to the 9th Doctor Eccleston for pulling this role off.

Battle of Asgard – Is a battle of consequences and shows that the Dark Elves are a much greater threat than the Ice Giants ever were. They are the organization that is the biggest threat at this point in the films because of this battle and what goes down during it. Even Heimdall is blind before their threat.

Frigga – She gets killed during the Battle of Asgard but we see how her intelligence rubbed off on Loki and how she represents the good in Loki as he does care for her. She fights with the dagger well and it is only the arrival of Kurse, Malekith’s dragon that leads to her death. She is the one who counters Odin’s firmness with compassion and is a great co-leader with him. Her death also actually means something.

Odin – The father who wants his son to rule…Odin is disappointed dad for much of this film but pulls it off really well. We see how lost he is with Frigga’s death and how unforgiving he is of Loki. Anthony Hopkins does it again.

Loki’s Breakout – We see Thor recount the plan and it go down as planned. Also some great moments in it such as Loki taking the form of Captain America and satirizing the character.

Sif and the Warriors Three – They don’t do the Thor and Sif romance, which I’m happy about. There is enough in this film without a love triangle…and we see all the warriors present help Loki escape and bring Thor and Jane to the Dark Elf World. They fit the theme of the film of every character having a purpose and advancing the story. They later are in the reveal too setting up things in the universe for later.

Heimdall – Helps Jane escape and admits his inability to see the Dark Elves. Manages to take out one of the dark elf ships on his own too. Idris Elba is one of my favorite actors for a reason.

Science Team – Dr. Selvig discovers the Convergence and gets arrested (slightly mad after having Loki in his head during “The Avengers.”) Is happy when he hears from Thor that Loki is “dead.” Darcy discovers the anomaly where the Aether is and her and her intern and the whole team help place the Portal Devices to fight against the Dark Elves. There are some good comedy moments too, especially with Darcy per usual.

Jane – Jane is great in this. We see a character who is active and has agency and doesn’t put up with crap. She smacks Thor and Loki for what they did and is the reason Malekith is stopped since she finds out how to manipulate the scanning devices to create Portal Weapons.

Thor – Hemsworth owns this role. We see depth in his relationships with Jane, Loki, Odin and Heimdall. He has some create comedic moments too, like when he comments on the phone call Jane gets from the man she dated before the events started to unfold, and when he takes the train during the battle, and his banter with Loki.

Loki’s Gambit – I’m beginning to think he wanted to lose on Earth…or used his loss for gain. He got revenge for Frigga by killing Malekith’s “Dragon,” (strongest Dark Elf Warrior named Kurse), fakes his own death and takes Odin’s place on the throne as he pretends to be Odin and watches Thor abdicate. His intelligence is fantastic and we see his is a complicated character…we’re left wondering if he learned from events or is still an antagonist. Again, what happened to Odin?

The Legacy of the Throne of Asgard – Has Loki learned? What does Thor’s abdication mean for the 9 Realms? Where is Odin? Asgard has shown to no longer be impenetrable by the Dark Elf attack, what does this mean for the future? This movie has shown us just how important this legacy is…what this means for the future remains to be seen.

Okay: The Music – Isn’t super amazing, but it isn’t bad. Just not as great as the first film.

The Narrative – There is a lot going on and not everything is fully explored. For example, where is Odin? Did Loki actually change? Where did Malekith’s desire come from? These are things that keep it from being a perfect film. Answering any one of these would have made more than great.

The Reveals – The Collector is weird and I hope he gets good explanation in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” cause based off this film I have no reason to care about this character. The ending with Thor and Jane is cute though and the Ice Beast is scene at the end chasing birds too (he was portalled into our world during the battle).

This movie is superior to the first “Thor,” and better than a lot of Phase 1 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. On the Disney Marvel Franchise Adventure this was a film that was even better with the second viewing and sets things up in the Universe really well, as well as being a great stand alone story in it’s own right. Alan Taylor does a fantastic job directing and this is a film I highly recommend. It is worth it if only for Hemsworth and Hiddleson and the dynamic their characters have with each other.

My final score for this film is 9.2 / 10. Definitely a favorite.