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Thursday, May 30, 2013

(Review) Brit Marling Co-Writes And Stars In The Murky Yet Gripping Drama, THE EAST

Sarah (Brit Marling)
Brit Marling is one of the most authentic actresses of her generation. Remarkably so. She's not a method actor, not someone who is particularly possessed by a character. Rather, her performances are organic, like they're peeled from her own person, and not a distant portrayal. No matter how flawed her characters are, she plays them with the same amount of caress and kinship as if they were all varied parts of one whole.

And that's just the type of actress needed to serve as the ambiguous moral compass in the riveting new drama, THE EAST. In a film that right from its start questions its own intent, Marling (who co-wrote the script with the film's director, Zal Batmanglij, who also teamed with her for 2011's Sound of My Voice) quietly yet fiercely redefines the political drama genre in which it exists. Marling plays Sarah, a smart recent college grad who's just landed a job at an elite private intelligence firm. Her first task? To infiltrate a dissident group of individuals, a freegan collective, whose sole mission it is to punish and take down various pharmaceutical companies who they feel have indirectly poisoned consumers with their own products. In a sense, give them a taste of their own medicine. The East refers to their latest, largest, target company in which they have a more personal interest.

Despite their cause and their ultimate actions, this cartel, so to speak, isn't an aggressive batch. They live not too far away from the political heartland, Washington D.C., in a wall-less house torched several years ago by their leader, Benji (Alexander Skarsgård in a solemn yet passionate role), who once lived their as a young boy. They munch on earthly cuisine mostly found on the ground or in dumpsters, and avoid any processed or store-brought items to eat, wear or consume in any way. Needless to say, they appear as vagrants, even though they consist of once valued members of society who played their parts in the America machine. When one of them, Doc (Toby Kebbell), a physician, experiences first hand the effects of the industry's conspiracy, he completely changes his life focus to join the cause. Each of the players, including Izzy (Ellen Page), who's a little feisty firecracker, have had similar paths where the cause has affected them personally.

Izzy (Ellen Page) and Benji (Alexander Skarsgård)
It is Sarah's job to learn their tactics and plans, and report back to Sharon (Patricia Clarkson), her manager at Hiller Brood in D.C. But things change once she learns the truth behind their efforts.

What THE EAST does that makes it more interesting than many other films that have saturated the political genre is its distinct intangibility. It doesn't set out on a particular purpose. Rather, it embodies a general sentiment of frustration and complacency. The film paints a portrait of a young woman, already impressionable due to her age and unwavering drive to succeed. Sarah's not a martyr because she's not really sure she wants to be, despite an unspecified determination. She's not sure which position to play; she knows she wants to be in the one that lets her win. Which makes her a prime target for both Hiller Brood and the anarchist group because she's not on either side, really. She's extremely accessible, in part due to Marling's natural vulnerability, including the audience, which makes her point of view that much more relatable even if it doesn't specifically resonate with you.

Thankfully, Batmanglij and Marling's screenplay approaches the subject on a much broader level so that it never comes off as a public service announcement, despite the course of events. Sarah's strength, even when she becomes submerged with the group, is so magnetic to watch. The film also does a good job of clenching the viewer with a heart-thumping score that increases the intensity and pace of the events. If you're a fan of Tony or Ridley Scott's work, you can see their influence there. They are just two of the producers of the film.

When we first meet Sarah, we know her as a young woman who jogs to the sound of Christian music playing in her ears. With Marling's introductory narration in the beginning of the movie, you can tell right away that Sarah is a soft, empathetic young woman who could easily fall prey to a more pragmatic personality (like her boss, Sharon, for instance). She's just trying to do what's right, what she knows to be pragmatic. She has a steady live-in boyfriend with whom she is in love, though she does not confide in him about her professional escapades. She does everything her boss tells her to do, but her actions become less dependable when she becomes affected by the group's efforts, providing the film with its murky transition.

The beauty of THE EAST is that it doesn't take any side; it humanizes both sides of the coin and shows the weaknesses of strengths of both arguments. In that sense, it is a more honest movie. It doesn't tell you to think any one way, or change your opinion on the pharmaceutical industry. Though the movie takes you inside the lives of those involved in the protester movement, and one pro-industry magnet who's gone rogue, it doesn't beat you over the head with either story. Its the rather sensitive portrayals from each character that you will remember the most.

Rating: B+ (**** out of *****)

If you haven't seen the trailer yet, check it out here:

THE EAST opens in select theaters Friday.

The New Teaser Trailer For MACHETE KILLS Has Bosom Bullets, A Spy Kid and...Mel Gibson

I'm sure somebody out there is excited about this, but it's not me.

Director Robert Rodriguez revisits the land of the ridiculous in MACHETE KILLS, the sequel to the 2010 film, Machete. Although I wasn't a fan of the original film, which follows the title character (appropriately played by Danny Trejo) on a fool revenge mission, I did enjoy Michelle Rodriguez's small but vital role as the badass revolutionary princess.

Judging by the new teaser trailer, it looks like she will be the diamond in the rough in the new film as well, which has Sofía Vergara terrorizing the antihero with bosom bullets and Charlie Sheen reclaiming his Latin roots as U.S. President Carlos Estevez. Oh, and Mel Gibson and Lady Gaga.

Check out the full synopsis of the film here (from Screenrant):

In MACHETE KILLS, Danny Trejo returns as ex-Federale agent MACHETE, who is recruited by the President of the United States for a mission which would be impossible for any mortal man – he must take down a madman revolutionary and an eccentric billionaire arms dealer who has hatched a plan to spread war and anarchy across the planet.

I love Rodriguez's films, for the most part. But I really want to know how his lackluster films like Machete and Spy Kids got sequels while we still wait for the follow-up to Sin City (which is reportedly heading to theaters October 4th). Or Grindhouse: Planet Terror

The film also stars Alexa Vega (Spy Kids), Vanessa Hudgens, Jessica Alba, Cuba Gooding Jr, Demián Bichir and Amber Heard. 

Check out the clip below and share your thoughts in the comment box:

MACHETE KILLS heads to theaters September 13th. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Ethan Hawke Tries to Protect His Family From a Group of Murderous Thugs in the Psychological Thriller, THE PURGE (See 7 Images From The Film)

If you've been following Ethan Hawke's career in the last decade or so, then you know it goes something like this: have long compelling conversations with Julie Delpy in one of the Before movies, horror movie, horror movie, chat with Delpy some more, and do another horror movie (this time, in the same year as the third and final Before movie). This is, of course, with the exception of the gems, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead and Brooklyn's Finest. But I have to say, I kinda dig it.

It's because Ethan Hawke, who I still think is one of the most underrated working actors today, chooses smart horror movies, playing characters whose intelligence supersedes their predicament. He's usually in a position of wonder and analysis, rather than your typical male hero who is more concerned with saving the day than examining what led to the singular event.

This time, the two-time Oscar nominee re-teams with his Sinister producer Jason Blum on THE PURGE, an similarly small budget thriller that chronicles the lives of four family members throughout the course of one night when all hell breaks loose, and there's not a cop in sight. More on the film below (from Collider):

If on one night every year, you could commit any crime without facing consequences, what would you do? In The Purge, a speculative thriller that follows one family over the course of a single night, four people will be tested to see how far they will go to protect themselves when the vicious outside world breaks into their home. In an America wracked by crime and overcrowded prisons, the government has sanctioned an annual 12-hour period in which any and all criminal activity—including murder—becomes legal. The police can’t be called. Hospitals suspend help. It’s one night when the citizenry regulates itself without thought of punishment. On this night plagued by violence and an epidemic of crime, one family wrestles with the decision of who they will become when a stranger comes knocking. When an intruder breaks into James Sandin’s (Ethan Hawke) gated community during the yearly lockdown, he begins a sequence of events that threatens to tear a family apart. Now, it is up to James, his wife, Mary (Lena Headey), and their kids to make it through the night without turning into the monsters from whom they hide.

The film is written and directed by James DeMonaco, whose previous and only other directing credit is the little known 2009 film titled, Staten Island, New York (in which Hawke also starred). DeMonaco also wrote the 2005 remake of Assault on Precinct 13, starring Hawke. 

I'm a sucker for movies that take place in one night (and, apparently, so is Hawke, who also starred in the 24-hour films, Training Day and had that looooong talk with Delpy in Before Sunrise). And I'm even more drawn to interesting horror films that aren't just about blood and gore, but actually have something to say. 

According to the production notes, THE PURGE was inspired by a much larger picture of which DeMonaco reflects, “I wanted to get people talking about the violence in America. Our film has themes of class. In a way, the thought process comes from Hurricane Katrina and the government’s response, or lack of response, and how we treat the poor.”

Blum drives home the point in his recollection of DeMonaco's pitch: “James said he had written this script about how a corporation that is now running America is utilizing The Purge for criminals to get rid of each other, poor people to get rid of each other and the upper-class to get rid of the disenfranchised. I thought it was very provocative.”

This James Sandin character seems to be a fitting role for Hawke, who jumped at the chance to work with both DeMonaco and Blum again. "Jason [Blum] has a real old-school independent spirit, and that’s what I loved about working with him again," Hawke said. "The restrictions of independent film, in terms of budgeting, often breed real creativity. That was the case with The Purge.” I'll also add that smaller budget horror, done well, appears far more authentic. 

I'm not familiar with Headey as an actress, but as a fan of TV's "Parenthood," I can vouch for Max Burkholder's talent (he plays Headey and Hawke's son in the film). I'm really looking forward to this. 

If you haven't seen it, check out the trailer below:

And here are a few new images from the film:

James Sandin (Ethan Hawke)

Zoe Sandin (Adelaide Kane)

The stranger who winds up at the Sandin residence (Edwin Hodge)

James and Mary Sandin (Hawke and Lena Headey)

The group of "psychotic celebrants" that terrorize the Sandins

The group's leader (Rhys Wakefield)

Charlie Sandin (Max Burkholder) and Mary (Headey)

THE PURGE hits theaters June 7th. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Why Do So Many (Female) Critics Hate on Betty Francis So Much?

Betty Francis (January Jones)

Disclaimer: I really have no reason to be this irate over the persistent backlash aimed at a fictional character. But I am, so deal with it.

I'm talking about Betty Draper Francis (January Jones), the tortured ex-wife of lead character, Don Draper (Jon Hamm), a man whose story is so fascinating to explore, but whose existence is so frustrating to endure on TV's "Mad Men." Fans, many who are female, inexplicably like him. No, they admire, pine for and drool over him.

I get it, he's hot, smart, mysterious, and hard to get. He's the uncaring and pretentiously suffering soul with whom many want to coddle. But I'd like to slap him all the damn time sometimes. His trivial efforts to "find himself," his relentless pursuit to overshadow everyone (including himself), and his perfect hair--all of it just angers me.

Ladies, y'all continue to write love letters to him. But I will not stand for the persistent slander of his ex-wife and mother of all three of his kids. Do you not see how she is the victim here? A former model, Betty gave up her career to be the wife of a dapper businessman (who has more than a few skeletons in the closet of which even he can't seem to keep track). After sacrificing her dainty face and once promising career, she became nothing more than wallpaper in Don's life, a prop to take out and show off only when he felt benefited him in some way (usually professionally). During their marriage, she spawned three of his brats, kept up the house (with the help of, well, the help, of course), and even silently put up with his endless philandering for the better part of their marriage.

But anything Betty does, thinks, wears and says seems to piss off the viewers. And her biggest critics seem to be of the female variety, condemning her for her treatment toward her kids, her habitual depression, and her chilly reception toward her former love, the one who left her and found a younger babysitter woman. (But if you caught last night's episode, you already know that Betty and Don's relationship may be more complicated than first judged).

Okay, what? Have you seen these kids? First of all, her eldest kid, Sally Draper, is a blonde terror. She is literally a hyperbolic version of her mother--an unruly know-it-all, who never knows when to keep her mouth shut. If I had to stay home with her all day, I'd go insane. But Betty always manages to be the perfectly poised, impeccably A-lined, coiffed and supportive wife (with and without the extra pounds and emotional stress).

The middle child, Bobby, who I would almost think is mute if he didn't say the darnedest one-liners on every episode, is like the brooding yet innocent mini Don Draper. Which means you aren't sure whether you should pet him or fear him. (The youngest child, Eugene, doesn't count because he has yet to grow into a troll--I'm sure that will come soon though).

On top of all that, her kids never listen to her, ever. But they jump at the mere sound of Daddy's footsteps coming to the door. Probably because they know he's going to let them climb the walls and do anything they want with no repercussions. They know that he doesn't parent with a strong hand (or at all), so they can get away with anything. He's the cool parent, while Betty, the one who's there for them morning, noon and night, is the meanie. She's the one who punishes them, while Don always takes their side (though he is never there to hear out the full situation anyway). No matter where she turns, Betty gets poo pooed on.

As for her mood swings, yes they can be a bit radical. But this is probably a result of so many years spent in the shadow of a self-made man (who was always a bit out of reach), and hours on end as a homemaker. It's understandable that she holds some resentment toward the cards she's been dealt. Plus, her demeanor/personality, or lack thereof, is never worse than Don's perennially blank one. But if Don is like that, it's okay. If Betty is, she's an ice princess. *insert eye roll here*

Seriously, her critics are relentless. Now I'm hearing that they hate the fact that she she lost weight and dyed her hair back from the unforgivable tar black (another phase she went through) to her all-familiar blonde hue. These are the same folks that made fun of her when she gained the weight, calling her "Fat Betty," and now that she's back to her svelte shape, that's a problem too?! They say she only fixed up her appearances because her new husband, Henry, announced his run for office, prompting her makeover. Like, whatever, she wants to look good for the press pictures. So what? What woman wouldn't want to get her shine on and bask in her husband's celebrity? At least this husband actually includes her in his professional decisions, even though he may not be the best man to handle a woman like Betty.

I say this all to say, leave Betty alone. Your double standard criticisms are wildly misplaced. You don't have to be Team Betty, and know her to be the one person who can read your precious Don better than anyone else on the show (whose name isn't Peggy). But we should all be able to agree she deserves a break. After all, she's about to be the First Lady. You better recognize.

THE HANGOVER PART III Manages A Few LOL Moments, But Is Mostly Randomly Ridiculous

(Left to Right) Stu (Ed Helms), Alan (Zach Galifianakis), and Phil (Bradley Cooper)
You're probably wondering, how can three adult men (with clearly a drinking problem) get themselves into trouble not once, not twice, but three times? And how have they not died from blood poisoning already? Well, the short answer is, I don't know. But if director and co-writer Todd Phillips didn't run this once clever idea into the ground the first two times, he definitely did it the third time with THE HANGOVER PART III. 

Though I've always been an apologist for the franchise, having enjoyed and LOL'ed at the first film and even excused its duplicate (but not as cool) second film, the third film is like the infantile second cousin of the three. Obviously related, but you can tell all the really great jokes were used in the first two films and are now stale.

But, ironically, the new movie, like any good finale, starts out promising maturity and growth in its characters and the essential idea. Well, kinda. Alan (Zach Galifianakis), the inexplicably delinquent member of the three-man bromance better known as the Wolfpack, is cruising the freeway tagging a giant giraffe in a flimsy cart attached to is car. Being the idiot that he is, he ignores the height requirement and speeds right under a low bridge, decapitating his wildlife passenger.

And continuing with the death toll just a few minutes into the movie, Alan's dad, Sid (Jeffrey Tambor) meets his Maker after he reams out Alan for his freeway fiasco. He stomps right into the kitchen and doubles over with a heart attack. Of course, Alan doesn't even notice this because, just like any hard-headed juvenile, even the 42-year-old kind, he's pouting on the couch with his headphones turned up.

So this latest stunt prompts a serious and somewhat somber  intervention hosted by Doug (Justin Bartha) with Alan's "friends" (which apparently include an underage swimming buddy?), family and, reluctantly, The Wolfpack (consisting of Stu (Ed Helms), the geeky,uptight dentist, and Phil (Bradley Cooper), the charming douchebag of the crew). Apparently, after Alan drugged the guys in the first film and got them involved in more shenanigans in the second, his actions have now become a problem for the group. This is about two films too late, but, of course, the first step is admitting that.

So Doug begs invites the guys to drive Alan to a rehab facility (wait, these four have to go on the road together, again?! NOTHING GOOD CAN COME FROM THIS. And nothing does). If you've seen the first two movies, you know that the crazy usually ensues after they knock back a few drinks , with a little extra something else provided by Alan dumba$$. But this time, THEY ARE COMPLETELY SOBER! Yet somehow they still make dumb mistakes.

Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong)

Unbeknownst to all, Alan has been incommunicado with Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong), the flippant and flamboyant villain in all three movies and who I'd like to call an honorary member of The Wolfpack (because, really, they are no better than him). Chow pisses off the wrong group of bad guys this time, and he reels The Wolfpack in to the madness. Once again, the fellas find themselves in impossibly wild situations, with the random level turned up way high.

While of course it's ridiculous, and you often want to jump through the screen and slap one of the guys in the face (usually Alan), this franchise does have a likability factor. It is quite funny at times, though at this third juncture you're expecting the joke, so it doesn't really have the same effect.

At its core, the series isn't just about drunken debacles, but the unlikely brotherhood that forms as a result. Unfortunately, the third film just isn't smart enough to tackle the bromance element as cleanly as the first did, though it does try to insert  in it as an aside (and briefly in the rushed ending). That said, you don't connect with the film as as much because it doesn't have a clear objective. It has two tones, and neither is executed very well. In other words, it's all jokes and hijinx (which work at times), but has lost its footing along the way. And not even the usually reliable John Goodman and Melisssa McCarthy, who both make appearances in the movie, can't offer any additional laughs.

Just when you think you've reached the end of this saga, there's an after credits scene that ups the WTF ante. Depending on your sense of humor, you'll either laugh, roll your eyes, or your jaw will drop. I did all three, but then a shiver of fear ran through my spine at the mere thought of another installment. That just can't be.

Rating: C-

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Oh, 'FAST & FURIOUS', Never Change...

Dominic (Vin Diesel), in one of the film's many gravity-defying scenes

Not like after twelve years and six wildly successful films (the latest already a hit in the UK), the franchise has any intention of becoming something other than the nonsensical and over the top spectacle we're accustomed to anyway.

But this is not going to be a scathing or pretentious review of the newest installment, FAST & FURIOUS 6. I'm pretty sure you can find a number of those anywhere else. Rather, this is more like a review of concession, because these films are gloriously ridiculous. They don't try to be anything else, and you eventually kinda begin to love that.

At least, that's where I am at with the series. It also helped that I didn't bother to check out the middle films--2, 3 and 4--so I don't have that overwhelming sense of fatigue others might have after watching the same asinine plot repeated in five movies. After seeing the fifth film, and now the sixth, I feel quite content with the level of sweet trash that has encapsulated the series because I know what to expect and what not to expect. It's like devouring a juicy double whopper with cheese--you know it's not exactly good for you, but you just can't not eat it. Afterwards you're completely disgusted with yourself yet pleasantly satisfied at the same time.

If you go into FAST & FURIOUS 6 knowing and appreciating that, you should be just fine. The story is once again set in an exotic location where a tight group of criminals bond over their shared love of fast, shiny cars.The film opens at a very familiar point reintroducing the antiheroes from the last film--Dominic (Vin Diesel), his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), Gisele (Gal Gabot), Brian (Paul Walker), Han (Sung Kang), Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges).

(Left to Right) Hobbs (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), Dominic (Diesel) and Brian (Paul Walker)

Dominic and Detective Elena Neves (Elsa Pataky) are now pretty chummy (you may remember how their romance got started in Fast Five). Mia and Brian are basking in the glow of parenthood. Han and Gisele are also an item, and extremely adorable (it's not every day we get to see an Asian and Israeli matched on screen). And Tej and Roman continue to revel in their millions and trade quips, some of which are recycled but are still fondly welcomed.

Elena's partner, Hobbs (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), is now teamed with Riley (Gina Carano, Haywire). They're after Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), who's involved in some kind of high-tech, high-speed heist (it's not well explained, and not especially important. You just need to know he's the bad guy). Hobbs and Riley recruit Dominic's crew to take down Owen and his posse of maniacs, with a particularly alluring note for Dominic that his dead ex-girlfriend and love of his life, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), may be alive and somehow involved. With that, the gang abandons their plush, retired existence, and enter back into the world of mayhem and vehicular crime.

They learn that this Shaw fellow is way more technologically advanced than they all imagined, and therefore they need to amp up their game. Amid bloated action sequences (that culminate to the audience discovering that Diesel may actually be able to fly, like with wings and stuff), wooden line delivery and effective bromance, the film reads like any other in the franchise.

(Left to Right) Riley (Gina Carano) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) in a duel

But what sets this one apart from its predecessors is the return of Michelle Rodriguez, reminding audiences that she's freakin' awesome. We're not sure which team she's playing for (and the brief explanation of her immortality is more than a little ludicrous), but when Letty throws elbows with Riley in an underground subway, it is pure bliss to watch. On the one hand, you feel you should root for the obvious good guy, Riley, but then IT'S MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ. So you're understandably conflicted. In a film that's largely testosterone-fueled, save for a few notable ass-kicking scenes with Gabot, it's nice to see a female versus female combat that could rival the epic brawl between Diesel and Johnson in Fast Five.

If Johnson revived the franchise in the last film, Rodriguez took it to a whole new level. As usual, her ability to compel audiences goes far beyond knowing how to throw a punch or five. Since her character is shrouded in mystery, Rodriguez has the perfect opportunity to mold her into something new, creating a nuance that wasn't there before. And she does so effortlessly.

(Left to Right) Letty (Rodriguez) and Owen Shaw (Luke Evans)

Meanwhile, Diesel works through his more sentimental scenes with blood, sweat chases. If you've ever seen him any movie ever, you know that that's really all he's got.

If you're familiar with Carano, then you already know that she's a Women's Middleweight champ  and starred in Haywire in 2011, in which she wasn't particularly convincing as an actress. But in FAST & FURIOUS 6 she can rely more on her exquisite combat skills and less on her weak ability to portray a layered character. In other words, she's less talk and more action. This works exponentially better for her. And the fact that she's not playing the lead role, but rather part of an ensemble cast, is a good look.

Of course, none of the actors here are reciting Shakespeare, but the fact that they're all equally mediocre in their own special ways balances the movie and doesn't really make you second guess the talent because they're all on the same level. More importantly, they all look pretty/handsome, can handle weapons (including their fists), and can drive very, very fast. Plus, chemistry is a must. Without that, the whole film will fall apart.

That's what makes FAST & FURIOUS 6 work so well. The authentic brotherhood allows you to see the characters as friends of yours, friends with really exciting lives. And while director Justin Lin's eye for the flamboyant makes the film less credible, it's never not fun to watch even as you shake your head at the absolutely bogus action scenes.

Chris Morgan and Gary Scott Thompson's script isn't much to write home about, but there is a twist that you won't expect at the climax of the film. Clearly they have a winning formula with Lin, since all three helped resurrect the franchise with Fast Five. Morgan and Thompson are reportedly set to return for Fast & Furious 7 (yes, that is happening, so get your helmets ready).

This is apparently Lin's final film in the franchise, which makes me shed a single tear and question whether I too will have to jump ship again until another appropriate director boards. After all, every once in a while you crave that double whopper with cheese.

FAST & FURIOUS 6  is in theaters Friday.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Cinema in Noir: The Absence of Asian Romance in American Films and a Q&A with "Sleepy Hollow" Star Orlando Jones

Lucy Liu
There's been a lot of hot button topics swirling around cyberspace recently, and we discussed a few of them on toady's "Cinema in Noir.

But first, former film critic and self-proclaimed Trekkie, Brandon Fibbs, calls in to the show to rave about Star Trek Into Darkness, which is now the number one movie at the box office. So if you're a fan of the franchise or the new movie, you'll definitely want to tune in early in the show for that. 

After that, we move right into two ongoing debates--Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone and the possibility of Michael B. Jordan (whose newest film, Fruitvale, has received high praise) as The Human Torch in the upcoming Fantastic Four movie. 

You might remember that in a previous post and episode "Cinema in Noir," certain folks weren't taking too kindly to the idea of Jordan as the hot character. You can read his response to the speculation in a recent interview here

He basically tells his naysayers to STFU, and I'll have to second that. 

As for this nonstop backlash against Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone, it's definitely getting tired. I can only imagine the overwhelming fatigue and hurt Saldana must feel from having to defend her casting. But she has certainly not won over any of her naysayers with her newest comments in a recent interview posted on Clutch Magazine Online. Read it here. She should probably find a way to avoid these discussions in future interviews, if possible. 

Orlando Jones "Sleepy Hollow" promo
Midway through the show we talk to Orlando Jones, who you might know as the magazine salesman in Office Space, "MADtv," Drumline, etc. He's talks about his new TV show, "Sleepy Hollow" (an update on the classic story, about which I'm really excited) and web series "Tainted Love." He's hilarious to talk to, so you don't want to miss this interview. He even explains his now infamous Orlando Jones as Madea skit, which you can watch here

Lastly, we discuss "Elementary" star Lucy Liu's comments about the challenges she's faced as an Asian American actress in Hollywood. In a recent interview with Net-A-Porter Magazine, she says the following: “I wish people wouldn't just see me as the Asian girl who beats everyone up, or the Asian girl with no emotion. 'Well, she's too Asian', or, ‘She's too American’. I kind of got pushed out of both categories. It's a very strange place to be. You're not Asian enough and then you're not American enough, so it gets really frustrating.” She says she receives the following remarks in Hollywood: "'Well, she's too Asian', or, ‘She's too American’. I kind of got pushed out of both categories. It's a very strange place to be. You're not Asian enough and then you're not American enough, so it gets really frustrating.” 

You can read the full cover story here.

This is certainly not an obstacle we haven't heard before, but it frustrating that an actress of Liu's talent, and one who has been working in the industry for more than twenty years, still faces these challenges. On the show this led to a discussion on the absence of Asian romance and Asian dramas on screen (that don't involve martial arts or action of any kind). There are sadly few and far between. 

Catch a replay of today's entire episode here (click on the episode titled "Q&A with Orlando Jones and Asian Romance"). Share your comments below!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Who Is Khan? 8 Things You (Might) Not Know About Star Trek’s Villain

(Left) Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan in STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS,
(Right) Ricardo Montalbán as Khan in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Ever since news first broke that actor Benedict Cumberbatch (TV’s “Sherlock”) was cast as the notorious "Star Trek" villain, Khan, in the upcoming film STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (in theaters today), speculations have ran wild regarding where the filmmakers would take his story.

But many are still in the dark about who Khan really is. After all, it has been more than thirty years since we last saw him stirring up trouble in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Here are eight things you may not know about the man Trekkies love to hate:

8. He looks really good for his age: By my estimation, Khan should be about 300 years old by now. He was introduced in 1967 in the first season of the TV series, “Star Trek,” in an episode titled “Space Seed.” At the time, his body had been cryogenically frozen for more than 200 years. His second appearance in 1982’s “Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan” was set fifteen years after that.

7. He has unfinished business with Captain Kirk: Khan has had beef with Captain Kirk ever since he made his first appearance on the TV series. In “Space Seed,” the Enterprise discovers his frozen body and takes him in. When Khan awakens and finds himself on the starship in the 23rd century, he tries to infiltrate the crew and manipulate the ship, which leads to an epic battle between him and Captain Kirk. This ends with Khan being exiled to Ceti Alpha V. In his second appearance in the 1982 movie “Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan,” Khan tried to exact revenge on Kirk after the Ceti Alpha V exploded, virtually wiping out the planet and killing many of Khan’s followers and almost Khan himself. STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS will be his third attempt to destroy Captain Kirk and his crew.

6. He is extremely dangerous: Khan is one in a group of genetically enhanced superhumans, whose power is said to be five times that of regular humans. Khan was a successful conqueror and 20th century warlord who ruled more than a quarter of the Earth during the Eugenics Wars in the 1990s. After later being deposed, he narrowly escaped his death sentence on board the SS Botany.

And has since then been pissed off. 
5. He goes by the name John Harrison in STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS: Cumberbatch has remarkably kept mum about the true identity of his character (though much of the Internet is already convinced he’s Kahn). Instead, he has revealed his character to be John Harrison, a rogue Starfleet commander and terrorist who has it out for Kirk. Cumberbatch describes him as a “one man weapon of mass destruction,” which actually sounds very similar to Khan, so…..?

We're on to you, Cumberbatch. 
4. He has never been played by an Indian actor: Khan was first written as a superhuman from India (with the full name Khan Noonien Singh), yet he has only been portrayed by non-Indian actors on screen. The late Mexican actor Ricardo Montalbán originated the role in in the TV series in 1967 (and again in 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), and now Cumberbatch, who is English. Before Cumberbatch signed on, it was even rumored that Puerto Rican actor Benicio Del Toro was considered for the role. No shade to Cumberbatch or Montalbán, but this could have been a great role for an Indian actor like Irrfan Khan, who wouldn't have even had to change his name…

But we still love you, Cumberbatch. No need to cry about it. 

3. He was once written as a Nordic superman: Though the idea never saw the light of day, Khan was originally conceived as a Nordic superman by scriptwriter Carey Wilber before that was eventually changed in the final script. This character was said to be even more violent than Khan.

But maybe not as scary as this guy. 
2. He’s had a makeover: If you look back at the older clips of Montalbán as Khan in the series or Wrath of Khan, you may have noticed that he isn’t particularly fashion forward. To keep the authenticity of him living on a wasteland with few supplies, Khan’s original costume was supposed to look like a composite of several items (including electrical equipment and furniture upholstery from the ship) that he was able to scrounge together in his exiled surroundings. The filmmakers also wanted to show off his masculine physique with revealing attire. Most of the images from STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS showed Khan a little better groomed donning a sleeker wardrobe.

1.He is a widower: Khan was once married to the Enterprise ship’s historian, Marla McGivers (with whom he flirted in order to try to manipulate the ship in “Space Seed”). She died after the Ceti Alpha VI explosion in Wrath of Khan caused a disaster on Ceti Alpha V, turning it into a vast wasteland. She was killed by one of the few remaining animal species on the planet.

Montalbán and Madly Rhue as Marla McGivers in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS is in theaters today.

This post was originally published by The Urban Daily.

Monday, May 13, 2013

THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY Trailer Aims To Rekindle The Charm Of The First Film

(Left to Right) Harrold Perrineau, Taye Diggs and Terrence Howard in The Best Man Holiday (courtesy of Taye  Diggs Online)
I'm just going to put this all out there: I think the idea of sequel-izing (yes, that's a homemade word) romcoms is a pretty lazy idea, considering romcoms today at their most general are already pretty dull. So you can just imagine how derivative their sequels are.

Which brings us to the new trailer for THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY, the follow-up to the 1999 classic romcom that spawned countless others, The Best Man. For the few of you who aren't familiar with the original film, it followed a group of friends through love's trials and tribulations as they prepared for the nuptials of their good friend, Lance (Morris Chestnut).

Though the movie was typical of its genre, the alluring cast (which also includes Taye Diggs, Nia Long, Terrence Howard, Harold Perrineau and Sanaa Lathan) and overall charm of the film has made it endlessly rewatchable for many (but once was okay for me).

Anyway, the new movie reportedly revisits the relationships from the first movie amid the holidays. More on ti below (from

"When the college friends finally reunite over the Christmas holidays, they will discover just how easy it is for long-forgotten rivalries and romances to be ignited."

I think most of the fans are excited to see their favorite characters come together again after fading off into the sunset fourteen years ago. I'm most interested to see how the story will mature the characters, and not simply give us a redux of similar situations from the first film. You'll see from the trailer that they all still look like not a day has passed since we last saw them. Check it out:

THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY hits theaters November 15th, which should bring in the holiday/family audience. What do you think? Will you watch it?

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Michael B. Jordan Shines In The Stirring First Trailer for the Sundance Drama, 'FRUITVALE STATION'

You may have heard me mention on a recent "Cinema in Noir" podcast that although actor Michael B. Jordan has ample amount of potential to become the next It guy, I have yet to see him in a breakthrough role he deserves. (Yes, I am one of the very few who haven't seen an episode of "The Wire." I have, however, seen Jordan in Red Tails and TV's "Parenthood." It was his performance in the latter that made me take notice of him).

Flash forward to today, when the trailer of his newest film, FRUITVALE STATION, dropped and  eliminated any doubt I could have had about him. The drama, which has been much talked about since it wowed audiences back at Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, tells the true story of 22-year-old Oscar Grant (Jordan), unarmed and fatally shot in the back by a police officer after a disturbance on New Years Eve in 2009. Read more about the film in its synopsis below (from Ropes of Silicon):

Oscar Grant was a 22-year-old Bay Area resident who loved his friends, was generous to strangers, and had a hard time telling the truth to the mother of his beautiful daughter. He was scared and courageous and charming and raw, and as human as the community he was part of. That community paid attention to him, shouted on his behalf, and filmed him with their cell phones when BART officers, who were strong, intimidated, and acting in the way they thought they were supposed to behave around people like Oscar, shot him in cold blood at the Fruitvale subway stop on New Year’s Day in 2009.

First time feature director and writer, Ryan Coogler, helms what looks to be a remarkable debut effort that will hopefully resonate with an even wider audience in light of last year's Trayvon Martin case, which sparked a national outcry.

The movie also stars Chad Michael Murray and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (as Oscar's mother, Wanda). Check out the trailer:

This is definitely on my radar to watch. FRUITVALE STATION hits theaters July 26th.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The New Teaser Trailer For The Sci-Fi Drama, GRAVITY, Wins Today's Internet

There are some directors that I genuinely appreciate, but don't particularly care for their movies. Alfonso Cuarón is one of them. While his critically-acclaimed films Y Tu Mamá También and Children of Men prove him to be an undeniable visionary and a fascinating storyteller, they ultimately fail to resonate with me. His movies, including the critically-acclaimed films

However, I must hand the man props for today's spectacular trailer for his upcoming sci-fi drama co-written by his son Jonás Cuarón and starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, GRAVITY. Despite the fact that at its core it tells the familiar story of a routine space mission gone awry, the clip (which clocks it at just under a minute and a half) is filled with so much suspense and authenticity that you don't even want to blink while watching it.

Read more in the official film synopsis (from JoBlo):

Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a brilliant medical engineer on her first shuttle mission, with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (Clooney) in command of his last flight before retiring. But on a seemingly routine spacewalk, disaster strikes. The shuttle is destroyed, leaving Stone and Kowalsky completely alone--tethered to nothing but each other and spiraling out into the blackness.

The deafening silence tells them they have lost any link to Earth...and any chance for rescue. As fear turns to panic, every gulp of air eats away at what little oxygen is left.

But the only way home may be to go further out into the terrifying expanse of space.

Sounds great, but the only thing I worry about is whether Clooney or Bullock's general lack of intrigue in their dramatic performances will impede the story. But, then, you can't deny this trailer:

I know, right?! It kinda makes you feel like they released a one-hour clip, huh?

GRAVITY heads to theaters October 4th. 

Paula Patton Goes On A 30-Day Quest To Find The One in 'BAGGAGE CLAIM' (Trailer)

As much as I try to root for Paula Patton, she continues to move farther away from her underrated performance in the 2009 drama, Precious, and closer to the pits of romcom hell after consecutively starring in both Just Wright (2010) and Jumping the Broom (2011).

Other than her role in the Tom Cruise actioner, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol in 2011 which she is rumored to reprise in the 2015 sequel) and this year's tech drama, Disconnect, the actress hasn't veered too far away from her romcom calling card.

In BAGGAGE CLAIM, Patton plays flight attendant Montana Moore, a woman on a desperate quest to find a man to bring to her younger sister's wedding in 30 days. She begins serial dating every eligible (and ineligible) man within a 30,000-mile radius.

*Insert heavy sigh here*

Right out the gate, the movie sounds basic. But at least there will be plenty of pretty people to look at--Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond, Gladiator), Taye Diggs (Chicago), Tia Mowry Hardrict (TV's "The Game"), Derek Luke (Sparkle) and Jill Scott (in a wretched wig/weave) are all in it, as is R&B singer Trey Songz, Boris Kodjoe and Adam Brody.

It may be piggy-backing off the recent success of Think Like a Man, but I wonder how the box office receipts will line up (TLAM grossed more than $91 million worldwide).

Check out the trailer:

BAGGAGE CLAIM releases in theaters September 27th.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

3 Reasons Why I'm Not Excited About the New Trailer for THE BUTLER

Forest Whitaker as Eugene Allen/Cecil Gaines in The Butler

Today director Lee Daniels released the trailer for his upcoming film, THE BUTLER, which details the life of Eugene Allen, who served as butler of the White House throughout eight presidencies from 1952 to 1986.

Though the filmmaker has assembled an impressive cast of actors to portray several well-known political figures for the feature, I can't say I'm particularly interested to see it. But before I explain why, here's a little more about the film (courtesy of

Cast: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Mariah Carey, John Cusack, Jane Fonda, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Terrence Howard, Minka Kelly, Lenny Kravitz, Melissa Leo, James Marsden, David Oyelowo, Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Redgrave, Alan Rickman, Liev Schreiber, Robin Williams, Nelsan Ellis, Zac Efron, Woody Harrelson, Nicole Kidman, Jesse Williams

Synopsis: THE BUTLER, based on the screenplay by Danny Strong & Lee Daniels, is inspired by Wil Haygood’s Washington Post article “A Butler Well Served by This Election” about Eugene Allen (Whitaker), an African-American man, who served as a butler to eight Presidents in the White House for over thirty years. From this unique vantage point, THE BUTLER traces the dramatic changes that swept American society, from the civil rights movement to Vietnam and beyond, and how those changes affected this man’s life and family.

And here's why I'm not excited about it:
  • The Paperboy is still fresh in my mind, and I have the PTSD scars to prove it. Plus, Oyelowo, Efron, Cusack and Kidman are in this too! It's just too soon. 
  • Though I liked Django Unchained, I'm so over the butler/maid/slave narrative that the mere thought of seeing another one makes my eyes roll to the farthest point in the back of my head.
  • Because I can't seem to forget what Terrence Howard reportedly said about Oprah Winfrey's breasts, no matter how hard I try. And since I can't, you shouldn't be able to either. Watch this
Maybe I'll come around in time for the film's release on October 18th. Maybe...

In any case, check out the clip below and tell me, will you see THE BUTLER?

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Black Superheroes, Fitz and Olivia's Tired Love Affair and Hollywood's Double Ethnic Problem

Michael B. Jordan and Fantastic Four's The Human Torch

Happy Cinco de Mayo! If you were on Twitter at all last week, you may have noticed a few heated arguments going on (in par with the usually wild amount of impassioned opinions)--the notion of a Black actor playing the Human Torch in the next Fantastic Four 4 film, Hollywood's lack of showing same race couples on screen and pretty much anything having to do with the TV show "Scandal." We discussed them all on a special 70-minute episode of Cinema in Noir this evening.

Twitter really erupted with the news that Michael B. Jordan's (Chronicle, Red Tails) is in contention to play The Human Torch in the next Fantastic Four film. On the one side, there is the hope for a Black actor to star in a role previously played by white actors (most recently Chris Evans). And on the other side, some fanboys are rebelling hard against the idea claiming that The Human Torch, a fictional superhero, was never Black and should not be portrayed that way.

As you will hear on tonight's show, I think I am most disturbed by the fact that there's going to be another Fantastic Four film, since I found the first one HORRID enough for me to never want to go near it again. But many are upset by the narrow-minded of some of the fanboy reactions. What do you think about the possible casting?

We also talk about singer Robin Thicke's recent comments about Hollywood's so-called 'double ethnic' problem--the growing lack of same race couples on the both the big and small screens. He claims that his wife, actress Paula Patton, would not be considered in a romantic role opposite Will Smith because the Hollywood doesn't portray Black couples onscreen as much anymore--interracial couples are becoming more marketable. You can listen to his full interview here. Thoughts?

As for this whole Fitz (President Fitzgerald Grant played by Tony Goldwyn) and Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) controversy on TV's "Scandal," I don't really have a dog in the fight since I stopped watching the show months ago after it refused to move away from its soapy, melodramatic plotline. But it seems like folks are really not in love with Olivia's "relationship" with the married President, and that she is still a very undeveloped character despite the show being well into its second season.

Eh, sounds like the show hasn't changed much from the last time I watched it back in November. Listen to our full take on all these discussions and reviews of the latest new releases on the Cinema in Noir Blog Talk Radio channel (title of the show: "Hollywood's Double Ethnic Problem").

Feel free to share comments below!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Do You Feel The Need For Speed? New Images From FAST & FURIOUS 6

(Left to Right) Han (Sung Kang), Tej (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges), Gisele (Gal Gadot), Dom (Vin Diesel), Brian (Paul Walker) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) reunite for Fast & Furious 6
Beefcake alert! Universal Pictures has just released new images from FAST & FURIOUS 6, and they are exactly what you'd expect them to be--a bunch of hot guys (and women) driving very fast cars. Before you start drooling over them, here's more information on the film:

Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Sung Kang, Luke Evans, Gina Carano, John Ortiz, Gal Gadot, Elsa Pataky

Based on Characters Created by: Gary Scott Thompson

Written by: Chris Morgan

Directed by: Justin Lin

Produced by: Neal H. Moritz, Vin Diesel, Clayton Townsend

Executive Producers: Justin Lin, Amanda Lewis, Samantha Vincent, Chris Morgan

Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and Dwayne Johnson lead the returning cast of all-stars as the global blockbuster franchise built on speed races to its next continent in Fast & Furious 6. Reuniting for their most high-stakes adventure yet, fan favorites Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges and Elsa Pataky are joined by badass series newcomers Luke Evans and Gina Carano.

Since Dom (Diesel) and Brian's (Walker) Rio heist toppled a kingpin's empire and left their crew with $100 million, our heroes have scattered across the globe. But their inability to return home and living forever on the lam have left their lives incomplete.

Meanwhile, Hobbs (Johnson) has been tracking an organization of lethally skilled mercenary drivers across 12 countries, whose mastermind (Evans) is aided by a ruthless second-in-command revealed to be the love Dom thought was dead, Letty (Rodriguez). The only way to stop the criminal outfit is to outmatch them at street level, so Hobbs asks Dom to assemble his elite team in London. Payment? Full pardons for all of them so they can return home and make their families whole again.

Building on the worldwide blockbuster success of Fast Five and taking the action, stunts and narrative to even greater heights, Fast & Furious 6 sees director Justin Lin back behind the camera for the fourth time. He is supported by longtime producers Neal H. Moritz and Vin Diesel, who welcome producer Clayton Townsend back to the series.

And here are the images:

Dom (Vin Diesel)
Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Riley (Gina Carano)

Gisele (Gal Gadot) and Denlinger (Sammy Stewart)

Brian (Paul Walker)
(Left to Right) Tej (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges) and Han (Sun Kang)
Elena (Elsa Pataky)
Shaw (Luke Evans)

Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and Dom
(Left to Right) Han and Roman (Tyrese Gibson)
Mia (Jordana Brewster)
Dom and Hobbs

Needless to say the rock hard bodies and fast-paced action is the only main selling point here. And the fact that Michelle Rodriguez's character, Letty, has been somehow resurrected and has turned against the gang of antiheroes is another draw. Hopefully this latest installment is at least as good as the previous one (Johnson is back, so you know what that means --->box office bank. 

Will you be watching? FAST & FURIOUS 6 speeds to theaters May 24th. 

This Is Not The Jennifer Lawrence Admiration Post For Which You Are Looking

Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) in Silver Linings Playbook
But it's not a rant either. Well, not really. Listen, I like Jennifer Lawrence as much as the next overhyped fan of The Hunger Games. I love that she gets the chance to play roles that are completely outside what we usually see from her twentysomething-year-old counterparts. Oh, and I like that she's not a bubblegum cardboard cutout of the perfect young woman every starlet should aspire to be like. Most importantly, I'm glad that she isn't afraid to show you just how imperfect she is (see the still ah-mazing clip of her falling up the stairs of the Academy Award stage just before she accepted her shiny Best Actress trophy this year).

I get it. She's funny, charismatic and blonde. She's like a Hollywood poster child. But can we talk about Silver Linings Playbook for a minute? You know, that movie for which she won the trophy and took the fall? A few days ago marked the first time I watched the film, which is delightful and charming, as tragically romantic tales go. Though it took major liberties from the book (which I'd recommend reading, by the way), it got a brand new point across and convinced you that Bradley Cooper can be more than that guy from the Hangover movies (no shade).

But I'm not here to discuss how some of the changes from book to film were completely unnecessary (i.e. changing Pat's trigger song from a Michael Bolton tune to Stevie Wonder's precious "Ma cherie amour"). This is about Lawrence, or JLawr, as she's known in the streets. First of all, for all you who haven't read the novel, Tiffany (Lawrence) is slightly older than Pat (Cooper) in the book. Obviously, this wouldn't be a major deal had they changed certain elements of the film's character in order to accommodate Tiffany's new age. But they didn't really. Tiffany was still a widowed, raging nymphomaniac who met a similarly misunderstood soul in Pat (note: the whole romantic element was totally nonexistent in the book).

So now we have this young actress trying to take on the complexities of a multidimensional woman
Pat (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany
who is depressed, lonely and searching for her next phase in life, having already experienced insurmountable loss with the death of her husband. While Lawrence captured the desolation and aggressive nature of the character (down to her black fingernails), she came off more angsty than tortured. In other words, she came off flat and very accessible at times, much unlike the original character by whom hers was inspired. 

To her credit, Lawrence was impressive in the newly imagined role, but I can't stop wondering what kind of performance someone like Winona Ryder or Parker Posey could have brought to Tiffany. Posey particularly could have brought the right amount of nuance and depth to Tiffany, without sacrificing how she is portrayed in the book. She'd have made more tangible the inexplicable qualities Tiffany had that which Lawrence herself has stated she did not fully understand. Lawrence reportedly stated in reference to her first impression of Tiffany, "I was very confused by her. She was just kind of this mysterious enigma to me because she didn't really fit any basic kind of character profile."

While Lawrence tackled the character as best she could, there was a disconnect between her and the Tiffany. Lawrence likely channeled similar feelings within herself that weren't exactly in tune with what Tiffany was going through, but she failed to dig deep into Tiffany's inner core.

So that's where I'm at with both Lawrence and Silver Linings Playbook, which is yet another example of a older man scoring the younger woman, however in less than ideal circumstances. The new romantic angle the film took may have really excelled had Tiffany and Pat been closer in age and better united on the front of both having suffered a lifetime of heartbreak.

But, hey, Lawrence is now an Oscar winner.  So whatever, right? Per my calculations, she would have earned one sometime in her career anyway, so I'm not all the way mad at the Academy's decision to give it to her a little early (though it sucks that Quvenzhané Wallis and Jessica Chastain got the shaft). I hope she continues to take roles that challenge her as an actress and stays away from the shallow, teenybopper roles to which many actresses even double her age fall prey. But as far as her performance in Silver Linings Playbook goes, I'm not saying, but I'm just saying.

(REVIEW) IRON MAN 3 Is The Epic Summer Blockbuster We Needed This Spring

The Iron Man and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.)
Confession: I was one of the few people who watched the Iron Man trilogy out of order. Yes, despite my own rules, I just didn't think it was pressing that I commit to a assigned sequence for viewing a series about a man who puts on a metal body suit and sprays explosives out of his palms using said suit. So, I went ahead and watched the second movie first, which was entertaining. Then followed that with the first film, which was engrossing as all get out (and, admittedly, made me realize how inadequate the second one actually was).

Still, the series didn't really rock my world like it did for fanboys others. But it didn't leave me begging for my time back. So I was mildly hyped to see the third film, IRON MAN 3, which is actually--wait for it--wildly engaging.

Sure, it doesn't have the gravitas of which certain other superhero films can boast. But, what IRON MAN 3 does have is a ton of charisma. And not just from its lead actor, Robert Downey, Jr., (who craftily throws out one-liners left and right for the entire 130 minutes of the movie). The whole film literally bursts at the seams with excitement, charisma and lots and lots of explosions (of course).

At the start of the film, we're reunited with millionaire Tony Stark, the relentlessly arrogant playboy doing what he does best--partying. It's New Years Eve 1999 and Tony is charming the skirts off the ladies and flipping off everyone else, which includes nerdy scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), who's desperate to pitch him his latest idea. Tony won't realize until thirteen years later that his conceit will catch up to him when he is in danger of loving what he loves most--his beloved Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).

The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley)
Flash forward to the year 2013 and the only thing that has really changed in Tony's life is his relationship with Pepper, which has finally blossomed into the full grown mature relationship we all saw coming two movies ago. They live together in a huge mansion filled with all of Tony's toys and gadgets. Things are pretty posh until an image of terror suspect, The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), pollutes their airwaves and puts Tony on high alert for heroism. When his trusty security guard, Happy (Jon Favreau), is almost killed in a mysterious terrorist attack, Tony charges into full on Iron Man, save-the-world-by-causing-even-more-mayhem mode (complete with recklessly luring the enemy to his home address on live TV. SERIOUSLY).

Up until this point in the movie, Tony is entertaining to watch with his seemingly endless bag of zingers that reinforce his self-importance and everyone else's unimportance. But it's only when he is the tin soldier, Iron Man, that he develops compassion for others. Don't worry, his brand of empathy comes fully equipped with narcissism and punchy verbal strikes.

Colonel James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle)

Tony/Iron Man enlists the help of sidekick Colonel James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle, matching Downey, Jr.'s sarcasm blow for blow) and a young boy in Tennessee (Ty Simkins, who doesn't even try to don a southern accent) to concoct a plan to take down the terrorist plot.

And, you know, hilarity ensues. No really, it's basically Armageddon but somehow writer/director Shane Black and co-writer Drew Pearce manage to insert humor in the midst of having the characters dodge explosions and barely escape with their lives. Bullets are flying and buildings are collapsing but everyone seems like they're having such a good time experiencing it all. So we have the same fun watching it.

That's the thing about IRON MAN 3; it doesn't really try to provide commentary on global issues or be any more that what it is. And that works for the film. You don't always have to have a message. It captivates with its grandiose effects and exciting characters that you actually care about, despite their flaws. The movie does exactly what a blockbuster should--entertain.

While Downey, Jr. is obviously the MVP here, Cheadle holds up his own as well, creating a smidgen of space for a possible War Machine movie (he can certainly carry a franchise). Even Pearce, Rebecca Hall (playing an off-type brief but significant role), Favreau and Kingsley (whose performance is more than meets the eye) are thoroughly amusing to watch. But it is Paltrow who is given much more to work with as Pepper. Pepper's usual unaffected nature and perennial damsel in distress act morphs to become more in tune with this latest adventure than she ever has before, for her own survival.

Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow)

Dazzling special effects, a committed cast, and witty dialogue remind audiences of what it was like before a superhero movie became an allegory. It is simple, honest fun, a spectacular ending (?) of truly inspired trilogy. Stay after the credits for a memorable final scene.

Rating: B+ (**** out of *****)

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