Friday, May 31, 2013

Movie Review: "The Kings of Summer"

The Kings of Summer often feels like the filmmakers had a checklist of all the Indie film cliches that they were ticking off throughout the making-of process, even still The Kings of Summer is a film that manages to carve enough laughs out of its quirkiness to be worth watching.  The story tells the tale of three teenage boys, fed up with their parents, who decide to runaway and build a house in the middle of the woods, living like men.  It's a premise that sets up some truly funny moments, but they're not consistent, partly because, like many Independent films, the film never quite commits to being either a comedy or a drama.  It takes itself very seriously, while still having broadly drawn, immediately comedic characters.  Ultimately, it's a schizophrenic film that will entertain you if you don't shut yourself out, but this Indie aesthetic is starting to wear thin on me.  Had this movie come out ten years ago, it might seem like a revelation, but released now, it just seems like a been there done that scenario.  I'm eager to see something else.

I give The Kings of Summer a C!

Movie Review: "After Earth"

After Earth is simple enough to understand, primarily because we've seen many similar films before.  In the near future, humanity has to leave Earth because we destroyed it through global warming -- blah, blah, blah.  A thousand years later Will Smith and his son crash land on an evolved planet Earth and must survive the harshness of the environs to call for help.  It's a straightforward premise, that takes to overexplaining its ideas rather than letting them unfold naturally in the logical flow of the story.  Even still, there are a lot of cool ideas on play here, with some genuinely gripping action sequences sprinkled throughout.  As well, M. Night Shyamalan manages to put his directorial stamp onto the film, proving that he still has plenty to offer, however After Earth is not his comeback vehicle, because the story is just too half-baked to ever find a rhythm.  The overexplained ideas often feel tacked on, and not all ideas mesh together to form a whole, making the film feel incomplete.  However, the whole that we do have with this film, will satisfy for a lazy afternoon with nothing else to watch.

I give After Earth a C!

Movie Review: "Now You See Me"

Imagine Now You See Me as Ocean's Eleven meets The Prestige and you sort of get what director Louis Leterrier was going for with this film.  Is Now You See Me as successful as the aforementioned films?  Not necessarily, but it's a fun movie that deconstructs the acts of modern magicians.

The story follows four Vegas magicians, known as the Four Horsemen, who rob a bank in the middle of one of their shows.  What follows is a cat-and-mouse thriller where the FBI chases after these magicians, always one step behind, trying to figure out how they did it.

Where Now You See Me works best is when Leterrier creates cinematic sequences showing us how these magicians used real-life magic tricks to befuddle and dupe both their victims and the FBI.  As well, if you want a film with twists and turns, this one will not disappoint.  While most of the major twists can be found out before revealed, there is still a joy in watching those twists unfold, thanks to Leterrier's Sherlock Holmes' style of visual deduction.  However, the script often falters in one of the most crucial areas, that of character.

Leterrier and company are constantly trying to balance the breakneck pace with the large cast of characters, and it just leaves the characters hanging out to dry.  Character development is sorely lacking in Now You See Me, to where I never really cared about any of the characters.  Part of this is because the film is constantly shifting points of view.  The first thirty minutes follow our Robin Hood-like magicians, and then it switches to the FBI agents tracking them down, but then the film has the magicians constantly one step in front of the FBI to the point that it makes the FBI often come across as buffoons, and I find it hard to care for characters who are so easily fooled.  Ultimately, I feel that had the film focused entirely on one set of characters, like the magicians or the FBI, the film would have been stronger and been easier to find a focal point, but as it is the film's core is often muddled.

While Now You See Me may not be a grand slam, it's still entertaining, thanks to the thrills and visual style of the film.  Bottom line, if you're a fan of the heist genre, you'll like this movie.  For me though, it just lacks a further script rewrite to have become one of the best examples of the genre.

I give Now You See Me a B-!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Movie Review: "Star Trek Into Darkness"

I am going to do something different than I normally do when I review a movie.  I am not going to give any specifics as to the plot of the movie, for this is a movie best experienced as spoiler free as possible.

Director J.J. Abrams' follow-up to his 2009 Star Trek reboot, Star Trek Into Darkness, is Abrams and company's equivalent of The Empire Strikes Back, or The Wrath of Khan, as you will.  Like the two aforementioned films, Star Trek Into Darkness is not without wit, charm, and humor, but by the very nature of the life-and-death stakes of the story, it is far darker than its predecessor, but also more emotionally rewarding.

This film has Bad Robot's DNA all over it.  J.J. Abrams' production outfit, Bad Robot, has produced a film that is as full of twists and breakneck turns as their TV shows.  Suffice to say, if you are a fan of Bad Robot productions, in particular Lost, Fringe, and the first Star Trek from four years ago, then you will be right at home here and will love everything about this film.  This is a sequel that maintains the character relationships that made the first film work so well, and deepens them even further in this film, to where you are actively engaged in the fates of each and every character.

While I would say the first film had more energy and bigger Summer thrills, this film has more character and more emotion, making the two impossible to compare.  It's like trying to compare the original Star Wars to The Empire Strikes Back.  They're two completely separate types of films, both are adventure films, but one is more lighthearted and one is the most moving Star Trek film I have ever seen.

Actor Chris Pine delivers a hero's performance as Captain James T. Kirk that is every bit as charming and soulful as Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Then there's Zachary Quinto as Spock, who continues to make you ask, "Leonard Nimoy-who?"  I actually believe that I am liking this crew of the Enterprise more and more than any other incarnation of Star Trek.  I don't think there has ever been this good of chemistry between the actors as there is in this series of Star Trek films, and it shows in every single frame of this film.  From the laughs, to the thrills, to the...  Oh, come on.  Just see the movie already!

I give Star Trek Into Darkness an A!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Top 5: Michael Giacchino Scores

Michael Giacchino is easily one of the best film composers, not just currently working in the film and television industries, but of all-time.  At the age of 45, he has often been called the, "John Williams of His Generation," but I simply view him as Michael Giacchino.

Getting his start doing video game music for the storied Medal of Honor franchise, Giacchino went on to become J.J. Abrams' go-to guy, composing the music for all of Abrams' TV Shows, from Alias to Lost to Fringe.  This caught the attention of the folks over at Pixar, who enlisted Giacchino to provide the music for many of their greatest films, from The Incredibles, all the way to his Oscar-winning score for the film, Up.  Now, Giacchino is one of the most sought after film composers in the world, doing music for big budget motion pictures, but he still makes time for his buddy J.J. Abrams, having composed the scores for every movie Abrams has ever directed, including Star Trek Into Darkness, which opens in theaters this Thursday, May 16th.

What I love about Michael Giacchino's work is how he captures the emotion of a scene in a way that very few film composers in the history of film have ever been able to do.  Where most film composers rely entirely on the brass sections to create themes and motifs, Giacchino relies mostly on strings accented with brass and woodwinds to create moments.  Giacchino does his due diligence, getting inside the characters and their emotions, understanding what drives them and what will make the scene even more powerful.  Whether it's through creating suspense, or some of the most beautiful music you've ever heard that makes you almost want to cry, Giacchino has done it all to perfection.  Not to mention the fact that the names Giacchino comes up for the tracks on his albums are priceless, such as, "Does It Still McFly?" for the musical cue in Star Trek when Kirk and Spock enter the ship that traveled through time.

In honor of Michael Giacchino and his body of work, I've decided to take a look back at my five personal favorite Michael Giacchino film and television scores.  I only hope that someday he accepts my offer to score one of my films.

5.  Up
So far this has been the only score that's brought Giacchino an Oscar, but it was duly deserved.  The music not only captures the film's sense of light-hearted adventure, but it perfectly represents the aged nature of geriatric hero Carl Fredricksen, harking back to the musical stylings from the earlier half of the 20th Century.  However, what Giacchino brings most to the film is a theme that accentuates the sense of innocence, tragedy, and hope that just is Carl and Ellie's love and marriage.

4.  Super 8
Channeling the best of John Williams, Giacchino's score was the best part of J.J. Abrams' throwback to the Steven Spielberg films of the 1970s and 1980s.  Giacchino represents the monster with a simple five note motif that lets you know whenever it's close, much like Jaws, but he also creates two separate string based themes that are the soul of the movie.  One is a theme that just musically generates images of childhood in your mind's eye, and the other is the soulful main theme of the movie that accentuates loss and the need to let go.  All three of these themes can be heard in the, "Super 8 Suite," posted below.

3.  Star Trek
This is one of those film scores that I just find myself listening to all of the time.  What Giacchino did with J.J. Abrams' reboot, was that he created a theme that is repeated so much throughout the film, in many different variations, that it gets lodged in your subconscious and it becomes unforgettable.  I just find myself humming this theme at the most random of times.  When I'm driving, or when I'm taking a shower, and I long to hear the tracks from the film, it's just that powerful of a theme.  Capturing the thematic idea of hope that rests at the center of the Star Trek franchise, while also infusing a sense of militaristic adventure in the way Giacchino arranges the theme throughout the film, this is a score that I would say is equal to anything John Williams ever did with Star Wars.  It's that good.

2.  Lost
This was the first time I ever saw a TV Show where I actually wanted to own the soundtrack.  I think it's safe to say that Michael Giacchino's music is one of the things that separated Lost from other TV Shows.  He brought a cinematic quality to television, by using real instruments and not synthesizers, that gave Lost this larger than life cinematic quality that ultimately lent the show its identity.  Some of the most beautiful music I've ever heard came from Giacchino's work on Lost.  With a recognizable theme for every character, Lost is a score that gets easily stuck in your head and you just want to hear those themes over and over again.  Sometimes I find myself rewatching episodes just to hear certain moments of Giacchino's score again, blaring through my TV's speakers.

1.  The Incredibles
The funny thing about Michael Giacchino's score for The Incredbiles, is that it's unlike any of his other scores, in that it's heavily reliant on the brass section, and yet it works perfectly for the material.  Giacchino infuses the film with an equal dose of big band swing and smooth jazz to create tracks that are heroic, mysterious, and adventurous.  Harking back to the great John Barry James Bond scores, while also brining Giacchino's own personal love for jazz and swing music into the mix, it makes The Incredibles one of the most enjoyably original film scores in the history of cinema.  Give it a listen.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Movie Review: "Mud"

Set in Arkansas on the banks of the Mississippi River, Mud plays kind of like a Southern coming-of-age fable that tries to be like a modern Tom Sawyer, and for the most part director Jeff Nichols' film succeeds.

In the film, Matthew McConaughey portrays a convict on the run, who hides out on an island in the middle of the Mississippi River.  Here is found by two boys exploring one day.  The two boys take a liking to McConaughey's lovestruck charisma as the man simply known as Mud, who manages to recruit them to help him rebuild a broken down boat in order for him to make his escape.  Of course, Mud doesn't want to leave until he can retrieve the love of his life, Juniper, portrayed by Reese Witherspoon.

What I found the most enjoyable about this film was the relationship between Mud and the more prominent of the two boys, Ellis, who is played by Tye Sheridan.  Mud's devotion to Juniper and his philosophies on love inspire Ellis at a malleable moment in his life when his parents are separating and he is having his first brushes with girls.  While it is a story about a convict trying to escape police, it's really a story about this boy's coming-of-age and how this unlikely man transforms him into what I hope will become a good young man.

McConaughey steals every scene he is in through sheer charisma, and Sheridan's quiet performance is every bit the opposite, being one of those great acting jobs where most of everything is internalized and in the eyes.  While the film has some logic gaps that at times don't make much sense in a real world story such as this, not to mention the fact that I'm tired of movies representing the South as trailer parks and thick Southern drawls, at the end of the day, Mud is one fine movie.

I give Mud an A-!

Movie Review: "The Great Gatsby"

You know, I've never been the biggest fan of both F. Scott Fitzgerald and director Baz Luhrman, so when Luhrman announced he was adapting Fitzgerald's classic, The Great Gatsby for the bigscreen, I had very low expectations, and in those regards I was surprised by the film, but it still does not make me a fan of Luhrman or Fitzgerald.  The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as the titular Gatsby, and he's charming and does his usual Leonardo DiCaprio thing here, but it's a fairly safe performance by an actor who is capable of far more reaching material, however, part of the reasoning for that is that this film never really takes flight.  This is an emotionally cold story, and it's hard to relate to rich people lavishing in their own extravagance when very few people are actually that wealthy.  Not to mention the fact that all of the melodrama comes across as trite and soap opera-like in our more modern time where we've seen just about every genre cliche this films features hundreds of times before.  Even still, this is a visually sumptuous film that is vibrant and energetic in its style, with some solid performances from the cast.  It's just one of those films that if you aren't already a fan of the book or the director's previous works, you will find very little to latch onto here and enjoy.

I give The Great Gatsby a D!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Are Hollywood Actors Over-Paid?

Are Hollywood actors over-paid?  This is a question that has been on my mind ever since I read this article yesterday from Deadline Hollywood about the contract squabbles going on over at Marvel Studios right now involving The Avengers 2 and its cast.

It's been widely reported that Robert Downey, Jr., made over $50 million off The Avengers alone, and supposedly that didn't sit well with every cast member, with certain of the main cast members getting paid as low as $200,000, compared to Downey's astronomical sum (though the article never says who).  As per usual in Hollywood, everyone wants an equally-sized slice of the pie and as contract negotiations are just now beginning for The Avengers 2, the word is that these negotiations are getting fairly heated in many quarters, with many of the stars rallying behind Robert Downey, Jr., and asking for more and more money, or they walk.  Is it just me or are actors just big prima donnas nowadays?

Actor Chris Hemsworth, who portrays Thor, is quoted as saying, "Go ahead," when the idea of recasting was brought up by Marvel if the negotiations were to break down, with Deadline's article stating, "I hear Hemsworth especially wasn't anxious to go back into that arduous diet and training regimen and subsist primarily on egg whites."  Uh, you play Thor, suck it up.  And while I don't know if Hemsworth was the actor to receive only $200,000 or not, for the sake of the argument, let's say he was.  $200,000 is more money than most average Americans make in three or four years, so pardon me if I don't feel sympathy for your getting in excellent physical shape with Hollywood trainers when so many Average Joe's are struggling with their weight and health issues, while still getting a payday for five to six months worth of work that exceeds what many make in four years.

Personally, I do feel it's unfair that one actor gets payed $50 million, when an actor who has equal billing only gets $200,000, but where do you draw the line?  You can't pay all of the actors $50 million.  Common sense would just say pay all of the main cast members the same salary, especially in an ensemble film like this, but then when you have Robert Downey, Jr., in your movie, he automatically wants more money than everyone else because he's a "bigger" star.  The annoyance here is that these actors feel they're irreplaceable, as is evidenced by Hemsworth's statement of saying, "Go ahead," in regards to Thor being recast.  While it is true that there would probably be a backlash in the fan community if Iron Man or Thor were recast, if there is anything that the multiple incarnations of Batman, Superman, and now Spider-Man, have proven, is that audiences and fans alike will embrace new actors in these iconic roles as long as it's done well.

I think what frustrates me so much about this side of Hollywood, is that Hollywood actors are getting paid more money than I've ever seen in my life to do something that I would gladly do for $200,000.  I want to make movies not for the money (though I wouldn't complain if someone offered it to me), but because I love movies and it's my passion.  While film is a business, and it is how I plan to make a living in the future, I just wonder why these actors are sitting here whining and griping about how many millions of dollars they get paid to have fun and do what they're passionate about?  You know how many people out there hate their jobs and wish they could be doing what they love to do?  I'm assuming that if you became an actor, you became one because it's what you love doing, so why are you acting like such a diva, when everyday you get to drive home in one of your five Mercedes and sleep in one of your three mansions you own just for tax purposes?

The bottom line here is, first it was wrong for Marvel to pay the actors such differing salaries when they all received equal billing, but secondly, and probably most importantly, actor salaries for movies are just getting wildly out of control.  What Robert Downey, Jr., got paid for The Avengers was more money than most movies made in any given year cost to make.   That is just flat-out ridiculous.  I don't care who you are, how famous you are, or how important your participation is to the success of the film.  No one, not even a director like Steven Spielberg, deserves a $50 million payday for just one movie.  I mean, think about it, The Avengers had a budget of $220 million according to, and $50 million of that went to pay one actor?  From a business standpoint, that's ridiculous.  I don't know how much of that budget went to pay the actors, but it's safe to assume that it was at least $70 million or more, considering the star power the film had.  That means the actual production itself only cost around $100-150 million.  This is why I think actor salaries are out of control.

Say you have an ensemble movie with seven characters with equal billing and you do pay all seven the same salary of $50 million.  That's $350 million!  Your movie is already in the red before it even gets made, this is why actor salaries are ridiculous and need to be more reasonable, to where one star isn't getting payed astronomical amounts, while another is getting very little in comparison (though, that is debatable to your everyday person).  Personally, I feel $5 million for a leading role in a big blockbuster like The Avengers is reasonable.  That would first off cut the amount of money spent on the actors almost in half, and would allocate more money for the production to be of a higher quality and be that much better of a movie.  The challenge is getting actors who are accustomed to astronomically high paydays to agree to a lower pay.  Thing is, though, can anyone seriously tell me if someone like Robert Downey, Jr., will ever live long enough to spend all of the money he probably has made just from the past five years of acting alone?  It's just flat-out insane what actors are being paid, and I think Hollywood needs to stop catering to the whims of the actors and pay salaries that are reasonable and fair, and not clearly showing favoritism towards one actor over the other.

As for right now, we'll see where these negotiations go.  Currently the only cast member signed up for The Avengers 2 is Chris Evans, who plays Captain America.  With recent reports that Marvel will be introducing new heroes in the form of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver in The Avengers 2, it's entirely possible that Marvel and writer/director Joss Whedon are preparing for the possibility of certain characters not reappearing in The Avengers 2.  Even so, this type of stuff almost always happens with big budget sequels in Hollywood.  I am willing to bet every actor from the first film will be back, so if you're a fan of The Avengers, I see no need to worry.  The franchise is so big, I personally don't see Marvel severing ties with actors, even though they have done it before with Edward Norton as Bruce Banner, recasting him for The Avengers with Mark Ruffalo instead.  Even still, I think the actors will recognize that these films are once in a lifetime career opportunities and they wont let them go to waste.

Friday, May 3, 2013

To Twist, or Not to Twist?

Darth Vader revealing he's Luke' Dad in The Empire Strikes Back
(Beware, this post will include SPOILERS from recent movies.)

There is nothing more amazing than the well executed movie twist, where everything is going one way and then the entire game is changed through the actions and reveals of just one scene.  Everyone remembers the great movie twists:  Darth Vader revealing he's Luke's father, Kevin Spacey actually being Keyser Soze, Norman Bates is really his mother, etc.  However, nowadays it seems that the movie twist has become a prerequisite in almost every major blockbuster.

I recently saw Iron Man 3 and that movie featured a twist so big, that as a fan of the comics, I just couldn't bring myself to stomach it.  In the movie, Iron Man is hunting down this Bin Laden-like terrorist calling himself the Mandarin.  In the comics, the Mandarin is one of Iron Man's fiercest foes, wearing ten rings of power on his fingers that each grant him a different super power.   Iron Man 3 producer Kevin Feige and writer/director Shane Black have said in interviews that they were trying to ground this latest Iron Man installment in reality, and that was why the Mandarin would not have any super powers in this movie (a good argument if every other bad guy in the movie didn't seem to have super powers, or the fact that Tony Stark's suits are getting more and more outrageous, but back on topic). 

Sir Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin in Iron Man 3
In the movie, the film starts out building the Mandarin character as Bin Laden's evil twin, but when Tony Stark finally meets the Mandarin face-to-face in the movie -- SPOILER ALERT -- he learns that the Mandarin is just an actor hired by the real bad guy, Aldrich Killian, to create panic.  The Mandarin is actually an alcoholic buffoon, nothing like the comic book bad guy that Iron Man has tangled with so many times, and I'm sorry, but this movie twist just felt like a cheap shot to me, revealing that the villain is in fact not really bad and is just an idiot.  I would be more forgiving if this wasn't the first time in recent memory that such a cheap twist was employed in superhero moviemaking.

Last year's The Dark Knight Rises featured what I believe to be one of the most offensive superhero movie twists ever, by revealing that Joseph Gordon Levitt's character, John Blake, who had no basis in the comic books, had the middle name of Robin.  It was "their" version of the Robin character, and as a lifelong fan of every incarnation of the Robin character in the comic books, I was ticked.  I know they wanted to keep the idea that he was going to follow in Bruce Wayne's footsteps and become a vigilante a secret, but this was one of those times where playing it straight would have benefited the story much better.  By doing it the way they did it, it made fans like me furious.  It might have been jaw dropping to a nine-year-old, but to me it was offensive.  Had they simply made his character Dick Grayson, sure everyone would have seen the ending coming, but at least they wouldn't have tarnished the entire movie with their little reveal.  I just don't get why filmmakers can't just play it straight anymore.

Case and point, Iron Man 3 would have been a far better film had they simply made the Mandarin really be the Bin Laden-like terrorist that he was first represented as, rather than doing their twist.  By doing the twist, I felt the film traipsed into farcical territory, where nothing was serious anymore and all of the threat disappeared.  Why can't filmmakers realize how detrimental a movie twist can be to their films?  Have they not taken a look at M. Night Shyamalan lately?

A scene from The Sixth Sense
Shyamalan was known for always having a twist ending to every movie, this started back with the brilliant twist at the end of The Sixth Sense, revealing that Bruce Willis was actually a ghost the entire movie.  The problem was, after having such success with that one twist, he tried to be clever in every movie that followed with a twist in almost each movie, and the twists just became more and more preposterous, and it's hurt his career. 

Shyamalan's latest movie, After Earth, comes out at the end of this month, but if you've seen the trailers, you would not know it's an M. Night Shyamalan movie, cause none of the trailers are advertising his name.  There has not been a single trailer that says, "An M. Night Shyamalan film," or even, "From the Director of The Sixth Sense and Signs," reminding us that he once made good movies.  The thing is, he's no longer seen as a marketable director because he did one twist too many.  He's not a trustworthy deliverer of entertainment anymore.  No one would see the movie if they knew he directed it, and they're simply trying to sell it based on Will Smith and the story, and not by Shyamalan being involved.  The thing is, Shyamalan's a talented guy, he just tried to get too clever a few too many times, and he got burned for it, rather than just playing it straight, which is what After Earth is doing.  It's already been confirmed that there are not twists to the movie, what you see in the trailers is what you're gonna get.  Now, with all this said, I still believe a good movie twist can't be beat, but it has to be justified and hard won.

Movie Poster for The Sting
I recently saw the Robert Redford, Paul Newman film, The Sting, for the first time, and I absolutely loved it.  I was genuinely surprised by the twist ending.  I did not know how the film was going to end, because I had never heard anyone talk of its ending before, so when I finally saw it, I was blown away.  The thing is, what made this movie twist work, was that it felt organic to the nature of the story.  The whole movie is about con men.  The characters are intentionally acting to deceive, and so when the twist occurs, you realize it was all part of the con from the beginning, and you, the audience, feel conned as well, but in a way that is genuinely satisfying.  The same thing with the twist ending to The Usual Suspects.  The whole movie has been narrated by a con man, an unreliable narrator, so when the twist comes, it is just natural.  What makes a twist feel unnatural is when it comes out of left field simply to make a joke that destroys what the film was building towards, like Iron Man 3, or when filmmakers try to shoehorn something in as an Easter Egg thinking, "Fans will love this," as they did with The Dark Knight Rises.  News flash, fans hated it.

Ultimately, I hope I've argued my point well enough.  To twist, or not to twist is an all important question with any movie script, and while I understand wanting to surprise an audience and keep them on their toes, as writers, directors, or producers, sometimes you need to weigh out the benefits of such a twist versus simply playing it straight.  If the story would be more impactful and more successful without the twist, then don't do it just to be clever.  At least, that's how I feel.

Movie Review: "What Maisie Knew"

What Maisie Knew is in the same vein as a Kramer vs. Kramer.  It's the heartbreaking story of the end of a relationship told through the eyes of a little girl.  What makes this film different and highly emotional, is that the film is not about the separation necessarily, it's just the catalyst for what the story is really about.

Maisie's parents (played by Steve Coogan and Julainne Moore) are breaking up.  They're both self-centered people who are the sole reason as to why they have issues, and poor Maisie gets caught up in the middle of their self-centered battles.  However, there is a shimmer of light for Maisie when both parents get remarried and Maisie's new stepparents are thrust into having to care for this girl who has been neglected for so long by her biological parents.

I think what this film illuminates so well, is that just because someone is a child's biological parent, does not mean that they are actually a mother or a father, it takes someone who is genuinely special to fill that role.  While the film never gives us much closure, and often dips into melodrama, as a whole, this is a film made by the sweetness of the relationships between Maisie and her stepparents, and a large part of this is due to Onata Aprile's wonderfully innocent performance as Maisie.

I give What Maisie Knew an A-!

Movie Review: "Iron Man 3"

The thing with Iron Man 3 is not that it's bad, it's actually enjoyable and quite good as a whole, but after following up The Avengers, it feels as if it's a little bit of a let down.

Iron Man 3 picks up right after The Avengers, with Tony Stark experiencing post traumatic stress disorder from the events of that previous movie.  When a terrorist calling himself the Mandarin, who is like Bin Laden's evil twin, starts wreaking havoc, Tony Stark embarks on a manhunt to bring the Mandarin down.

The returning cast is all exceptional, with Robert Downey, Jr., once more anchoring the film with equal parts wit, charm, and heart.  The new cast members, from Rebecca Hall to Guy Pearce, are all good, but none of their characters are really quite as charismatic or as likable as the returning characters, or the supporting characters from the previous Iron Man movies for that matter (I personally miss Sam Rockwell's Justin Hammer).  As for Sir Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin, he turns in a really great performance, but I'll just say this, if you're a fan of the comic books, you will be flat out disappointed by this representation of the Mandarin.  Let's just say Marvel really let one of Iron Man's most iconic villains slip through the cracks here.  He could have been as awesome of a villain as Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, but Marvel just wasted the brilliant set-up for the character.

While the film often struggles to justify why this movie is the perfect follow-up to The Avengers, Iron Man 3 excels in asking the central question:  Is Iron Man the suit, or is he Tony Stark?  This is the most character centric of all of the Marvel movies made thus far, and in that arena it does not disappoint.  I would wager at least 90% of the movie, Tony Stark is without his Iron Man suit and is having to save the day using just his wits, this leads to the greatest moments of the film where Tony Stark crash lands in  small town Tennessee and recruits the help of a young boy to get back on his feet again.  These are the moments where Iron Man 3 feels the most true and authentic to what I think Marvel and director Shane Black were going for, unfortunately the script often feels the pressure to make this a Summer blockbuster and therefore flips back into relentless action mode without ever truly giving a definitive moment where Tony gets over his PTSD.  Plus, am I the only one that thinks the way Tony's suits fly around and attach to his body is getting a little ridiculous?  Sure it looks cool, but come on.

When it's all said and done, Iron Man 3 is a worthwhile Summer blockbuster, featuring inventive action sequences and some genuinely funny moments, but it doesn't quite measure up to the previous three movies featuring Iron Man.  As is evidenced by the brilliant post-credits scene, perhaps it's best just to only make more movies starring Iron Man when he's playing with the rest of the Avengers.

I give Iron Man 3 a C+!

(And I've just now realized I've given the last three movies I've seen this same rating.  Come on 2013, step up your game here.)