Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Susan and I each have our copy of "The List." This is a select group of people for whom, each spouse is forewarned, strict adherence to vows of marital fidelity might be expected to be compromised. I think chief on Susan's List is Brett Favre, and I've magnanimously conceded my claim to exclusivity in this case (especially if he paid me handsomely for my cuckoldry). (OK, not really.) (But I'd take the money if he offered.)
I mean, come on! He's Brett frickin' Favre! What am I gonna say? "That she-man could never hold a candle to me!" I may be short and fat and ill-equipped, but I'm not STUPID.
Somewhere near the top of my own List is Gwyneth Paltrow. It's not that she's the most beautiful or talented creature I've ever seen--though she surely sports both of those characteristics--or that she's married to a bohemian rocker or named her daughter Apple (though she gets points for all of these). No, it's just some X-factor. There has just always been something magnetic about her, like Jennifer Connelly (who is also on my List).
I say this because my always-tenuous judgment about movie matters just flies the hell out the window when Ms. Gwyneth is on the screen. I have trouble remembering plot details involving her, and I can't recall dialog for shit. I'm blinded by my crush. And I'm much more likely to generate a favorable opinion of any movie she's in, well, just because.
And so it is with Jon Favreau's Iron Man. I was decidedly tepid about another comic book-based action / blockbuster movie in concept, that is until I learned that Gwyneth would be on board, and especially when I learned that she'd be playing a character named "Pepper Potts." How does a fella not go see that? Give me four days in a hotel room in Los Angeles with nothing to do and 40 movie screens within half a mile of the hotel, and this is something that was bound to happen.
Nobody needs me to recap the storyline. Indeed, I'm not sure that having a storyline was strictly necessary to the target audience. Mechanical genius invents miracle suit for the purpose of fighting evil, blahblahblah. It's a plot your six-year-old can easily follow, and includes (a la James Bond in his heyday) the use of generic bad guys and the suite of prejudices and jingoistic expectations that go with them. In this case, it's... Middle-Eastern terrorists (I didn't see that one coming) who provide the spur for our weapons-magnate lead character to undergo a crisis of conviction and turn to the light (cue shiny music).
And there by his side as he struggles to get his mind right is trusty sidekick and do-all secretary, Pepper Potts. Man, I love this movie!
Wait! That's not exactly true (my brain got away from me for a second there). Director Favreau (Hey! That's kinda like Favre... Honey!...) has gathered a great cast for his project: Gwyneth, of course, and also Robert Downey Jr., Terrance Howard and the redoubtable Jeff Bridges as (the perfect comic book bad guy name) Obadiah Stane! They all play their roles with relish, and nobody gets in the way of what is really a special effects vehicle. The movie is all about the guy's suit, an absurdly complex assemblage of machined bits which behave as though they were an intelligent entity. This is where your pre-pubescent son really gets brought on board, as the suit seems like a barely-constrained ripoff of the Transformers (though I've not seen more than the trailers for that movie), designed to tap into the (to me) incomprehensible fetish for zillion-part living machines which rapidly reconfigure themselves to adapt to their circumstance. The whole movie is a setup for The Suit, and for watching the machine do its thing; and indeed it has been fantastically-rendered, a CGI miracle that's quite convincing.
Provided, that is, that a magic mechanical suit is what gets your ass to the theater. For my part, it's more Gwyneth's ass getting my ass to the theater than the Transformer suit, but I admit to being reasonably entertained once I was there. The story bubbles along with few lulls, and Robert Downey's character, who is in every scene, is intriguingly over-the-top and nicely played. Nothing surprises you as the story unfolds, but it's nicely paced and beautiful to look at.
I do have to wonder how much movie mileage can be got out of comic book material. There have been a bunch of them: several each of the Superman and Batman and Spiderman and The Incredible Hulk franchises, plus Daredevil, X-Men, Fantastic Four, and on and on and on. And now Iron Man. Who knew what a pillar of American civilization was the lowly comic book? But surely there's a finite generation with a past connection to this material (I can't imagine that comic book sales are more than a fraction of what they were 40 years ago). So while an interesting story is an interesting story wherever it comes from, there will reach a point where there's no past culture of this genre to tap back into.
Lastly, I did have one rant. The credit scroll at the end of movies has become ridiculous, absurd. I was told to sit through the credits until the end, as there was something there (which turned out to be nothing at all, since a sequel was always guaranteed if this one makes any money). There must have been 10,000 names on the credit list for this movie--maybe well more than that. What purpose can this possibly serve? It's like the stupid Appleton radio station where they announce "W-B-L-O, a Cumulus Media Station" in an ominous voice. Why? Who gives a fuck who owns the station? That is meaningless information to a listener. And likewise these credits. Does anyone watching the movie care about the 350 grips? Or the at least 500 drivers? Is it just so the grips themselves can see their names on the screen (if they pause the DVD at exactly the right moment in the scroll)? The job titles are meaningless to most of us, and nobody reads or retains more than a small handful of the names. So why bother? Why not post them on the web for the three people who wonder who the Second Unit Deputy Assistant Director was? I know that movie making has changed a lot in a hundred years, but surely there were more people involved in Casablanca than the 40 names shown. They could even show the credits before the picture started! What a concept.
(But hey, you don't HAVE to watch them.)