Saturday, May 03, 2008

Camera Obscura: 'Iron Man'; "Cloverfield'; Nashville Screenwriters


I took my first trip out to the 18-screen Turkey Creek Pinnacle Theater to see "Iron Man" in digital projection and it nearly became a huge folly.

All through the previews, the image and the sound stuttered and screeched as the digital process seemed to just collapse. Just as I was about to go and complain, a woman behind me called the theater on her cell phone and told them to fix it. So she gets the Best Use Of Cell Phone in a Theater Award.

Sadly, we all had to watch all the previews again when the problem was fixed. After seeing the review for Adam Sandler's new movie, where he plays an Israeli super commando who really just wants to cut hair, I'm positive it is a movie I will never watch.

And for all the hoopla for digital projection, I didn't see enough difference between a crisp film image and a digital one. Plus, that 7-dollar matinee and a 4-dollar small soda is insanely high. Thank goodness the movie made all the effort and cash more than worth it.

Tony Stark's character weaves in and out of much of the Marvel Universe. He is a mega-wealthy, irreverent playboy and brilliant engineer running Stark Industries, which manufactures and develops weapons for the military. For the movie, we discover Stark pitching a new weapon to U.S. officials in Afghanistan. When his convoy is attacked, he is kidnapped and held by Afghani militiamen because they want him to build them a super weapon. Instead, he creates an armed metal exo-skeleton which he uses to escape.

But his experience rattles his carefree worldview and he remakes the exo-skeleton not as a new cash cow for the company, but for a more humane purpose.

Stark has always been a rather complex creation - smug, indifferent and rakish - until he decides to take his Iron Man creation into the world as a force for fighting "injustice", a fight which almost casts him as an anti-war, anti-corporate kind of liberal hippie. But he isn't. He loves technology, but he is also seeking a balance of power. As with Spiderman and the X-Men, Marvel's heroes are touched with an anti-authoritarian streak which makes them far more interesting than most comic heroes.

The movie expertly navigates all the thorny issues of Stark, thanks to director Jon Favreau and star Robert Downey Jr. Downey is able to handle the odd shifts of Stark's personality and makes an essentially unlikable playboy into a compassionate character. Job very well done. Favreau also has a knack for allowing dialog to overlap and conflict, so it rolls out like an old Howard Hawks movie, plenty of natural style and quite a bit of humor.

And also as good in the movie is the presentation of the various stages of the Iron Man suit - from a clunky home-made metal monolith into a sleek, layered machine which seems both unstoppable and more important, fun to wear. Several scenes of Downey conversing with the robotic appliances in his workshop stand out - he feels more at ease with them than with the people around him.

Audiences get teased with one of the most fascinating (to me) creations of Marvel: S.H.I.E.L.D. And if you stay to the very end of the credits, you'll get to see the one and only Nick Fury, played by Samuel Jackson. I hope that they have Nick Fury on the fast track for a movie - and maybe they should go ahead and think of making Favreau the director.

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A near-perfect monster movie hit DVD this week, and as producer J.J. Abrams has said, it plays much better on the small screen than it did on the big screen. "Cloverfield" is presented as but one random video artifact made during an attack on New York City by some unknown creature. The video was being made at a farewell party for a young man about to head off to Japan. But before long the earth violently trembles as something happens outside.

The story never appears too staged as the party-goers and the video document-maker take to the streets. It's a nightmare of chaos and a city under attack, and despite efforts to leave the city, it gets worse and worse for all involved in this small scale version of a massive disaster.

On a TV screen, it looks and feels very authentic, full of panic and unknown dangers which are barely glimpsed. Writer Drew Goddard and director Matt Reeves have done an astonishingly good movie here. And I think the movie has the perfect ending too -- even if you've seen the movie on the big screen it is better at home.

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The end of May will bring the 10th Annual Nashville Screenwriters Conference. Congrats to the organizers for reaching the decade mark!

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