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5 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
Persuaded by the global narrative against Orwellian surveillance, 9 July 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

When political opinion and political right are challenged by the threat of political crime, how far (and to what extent) is one willing to deviate? Edward Snowden's tearing off the lid on classified intelligence, has ushered in a new era of whistle blowers fully capable of answering such difficult questions.

Add to the fact that when watching We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks — a new documentary by Alex Gibney — one cannot help but feel emboldened by the ideology of a free and transparent world; I too, must admit to being persuaded by the global narrative against Orwellian surveillance.

At first glance, Gibney's technique seems simple enough. Begin by laying out details of the inception, progression and subsequent regression of WikiLeaks — a website conceived by hacker-turned-activist, Julian Assange. Next, allow events to unfold against the central portrait of a psychologically intriguing man wanted by authorities for publishing Afghan war logs and videos of US soldiers killing civilians. Third, pit Assange against interviews with Michael Hayden, a former CIA and NSA director. And finally, allow the fictive dynamic of arguments from both sides to exchange blows. But further into the film, Gibney's formula evolves with a compelling turn when Pfc Bradley Manning occupies center stage. This is especially true for anyone hearkened to this documentary's depiction of circumstances leading to the soldier's arrest, and charges heaped upon his trial. It is here — when the histories of Assange and Manning collide — that unexpected synchronicity between two very different people take flight.

The scariest irony and moral decay, is the kind that overrides, perhaps even willing to exploit virtues being championed in the first place. Did Julian Assange, a clever and sophisticated symbol of freedom, betray anything in exchange for self-preservation? What about Manning, is he merely a pawn being sacrificed on the maxim of Greater Good? Is it even worth agonizing over yet another quibble, between deontologists and the utilitarians? The list of inquiry is endless, in particular the ramifications for anyone both driving, and consuming unbridled information floating across vast oceans of network.


| In the chats, Manning sent a link to Pale Blue Dot – a famous photo of Earth he saw while reading an essay by the astronomer Carl Sagan.

"That's home," said Sagan, "that's us – every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there; on a mote of dust, suspended on a sunbeam. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us." |


As the final chat log belonging to Manning appears over a landscape of mysterious star field, things conclude to aesthetic and philosophical arrest. Abney has unwittingly crafted, by far, the most relevant question bystanders must urge themselves to address.

Side Effects (2013/I)
1 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Contrived and heavy-handed, 28 June 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Capitalism, pharmaceutical lobbyists, addiction and stock market shenanigans are all evil and camera shots literally refuse to stop reminding you how serious this film wants to be in a drowsy noir- thriller by Steven Soderbergh. Side Effects has been billed as a "brilliant psychological mystery" and its appeal largely hinges on three factors: such serious and relevant themes about society have to be given special consideration, Soderbergh says this is his swan song before retiring from feature films, and mind-bending plot twists. As it turns out, these twists and turns are tip offs to what's contrived and heavy-handed about the film.

So what exactly is Side Effects? Story contains two narrative viewpoints. In the first half, we empathize with protagonist Emily (Rooney Mara) because her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum) has just been released after 4 years in prison for insider trading. For some reason, his re-appearance sets off Emily's depression and things culminate in a dramatic suicide attempt when she rams her car into the wall of a parking lot. Enter psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) who prescribes anti-depressants to no avail so he consults Victoria (Emily's former therapist) who then recommends a more powerful experimental drug Ablixia. The first twist is that sleepwalking is a side effect of Ablixia, and the climax manifests itself in the form of a bizarre murder occurring when Emily is (supposedly) still unconscious.

Banks then labors hard for Emily's acquittal and she pleads insanity, but victory comes at a price and he suffers for it — lucrative career as a yuppie shrink recruiting patients for the pre-market trial of Deletrex (another drug by the same manufacturer of Ablixia) begins a downward spiral when the manufacturer pulls out for fear of bad publicity. The second narrative and dark web of intrigue is thus spun from Banks' point of view when he aims to regain reputation by dredging up details about Emily's case, hoping to unravel Ablixia-related blame. It is here that Side Effects is suddenly yanked from the hypnotic pull of pathological dynamics, and tears itself apart by suddenly changing course into a procedural second-half.

As it turns out, everything the first half suggests — is not. Because implications of Emily's mental plight being the product of larger forces thriving on unethical medical economics are completely abandoned. Depression? A cover-up. Sleepwalking? A lie. Ablixia? A decoy. Banks' investigation unveils many red herrings planted during Emily's segment and paves the way for plot twists, criminal intrigue and lesbian lipstick so convoluted that in its entirety, works against Soderbergh's desired Hitchcockian mystique. As a consequence of this, Side Effects as a whole blunders into predictable Hollywood hokey. As revelations get progressively absurd, audience's investment and patience too, are severely being tested.

Motive and intent in films hasn't seen such implausibility since Seven Psychopaths but even Seven Psychopaths has immunity decreed by the Rule of Comedy. Beyond gratuitous displays of female characters and habitual bait-and-switch so often seen in soap thrillers on TV, there is no such excuse for Side Effects. The film? Disappointing and rather sleazy.

4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Meticulous, sincere, unapologetic, 27 June 2013

When reading internet reviews of Paradise: Love (Paradies: Liebe) — the first in a trilogy of films by Ulrich Seidl, never have I been greeted with such a narrow variety of perspectives. From adjectives limited to a spectrum anywhere between grotesque, obese and tubby, comparisons in style between Seidl and fellow Austrian Michael Haneke, to referencing the exact same quote by Werner Herzog (used in describing Seidl's 2011 documentary Animal Love), I could not help but wonder… what the heck is going on? And when did pundits unite in thinking that female sex tourism in cinema would die eight years ago, after Laurent Cantet's Heading South (Vers le sud); a French film based on three middle-aged women and their search of sex and intimacy with Haitian men?

Herzog's candid remark, conflated into a handy, overused critique isn't worth repeating here.

Loneliness, exploitation, the prison room of cultural and self- repression are themes in this Austrian drama. Cruelly soaked in the warm currents of colonial past; Ulrich Seidl meticulously, sincerely, unapologetically paints the portrait of Teresa (Margarete Tiesel) — a 50 year old woman living in Vienna, upper middle-class, divorced mother of a teenager. Most of the film depicts events that gradually unfold during her lone vacation on the shores of Kenya.

Sex tourism is probably only part of the canvas, though. For in the process, it scratches and destroys the heteronormative lenses with which we understand taboos. Written by Seidl and Veronika Franz; Paradise: Love is a film so explicitly honest to the point of being awkward; that most viewers, embarrassed for Teresa, will look away during moments of vulnerability and self-revelation. The camera of cinematographers Edward Lachman and Wolfgang Thaler looks on unflinchingly during a scabrous encounter with her first companion: does he find her attractive? Isn't she too old for him? Why would he want to make love to her — a beached whale with sagging upper glands, belly full of fat, soggy exterior flawed with celluloid? But most pressingly, having considered the social realist tradition of framing with minimum distortion, why would anyone wince and look away when confronted with mirrors reflecting the consequence of corporeality?

This seventeenth feature by the controversial auteur has been slammed, shamed and shunned for being brazen in its visual audacity. Suggestions that Seidl manipulates viewers with exploitative logic are also suspect in affecting the film's overall reception. Yet, it would be prudent to withhold from believing such. In Paradise: Love — seekers, movers, malcontent inhabitants are drenched in the rich, luxurious texture of a sunlit paradise. The narrative path however; doesn't build up to sex, love or Maslowian truth as its payoff; lesser films would.

I have no doubt this film is a difficult watch because Ulrich Seidl forces Teresa (and us) to acknowledge the naive illusions of paradisaical beauty. But in rhythmic throes that oscillate between anguish, ecstasy and depravity — the African rendition of La Paloma; perhaps a bit saddened by its contrast with the ugly, ordinary trading off between flesh and soul — Seidl derides the remarkable irony of what it means to be human. The dewy-eyed bourgeois privilege suffers. I suppose this is the real reason why Paradise: Love can seem so offensive and unglamorous.

17 out of 20 people found the following review useful:
Silence is a weapon, 23 June 2013

Unbearably tense and anti-aesthetic.

For his second directorial feature, Tobias Lindholm (co-writer of Jagten) delivers the kind of indifferent, matter-of-fact realism not experienced since the early days of Dogme 95. And because it cuts through all the fluff and artifice that has invaded commercial films without compromising momentum as a situationist thriller, one must concede that Kapringen has upped the ante on Danish rebellion against the Hollywood system.

The refusal to include actual scenes of the hijacking in a film specifically titled "A Hijacking" is no accident.

A cargo ship MV Rozen is hijacked by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. Among the eight men crew taken hostage is Mikkel (Pilou Asbæk), the ship's cook. A translator for the pirates issues demand for $15M in exchange for release. But back in Copenhagen, CEO of the shipping company Peter (Søren Malling) learns that gaining the upper hand demands patience. And so negotiations play out in silence like a sociopathic Fischer-Spassky game: cold, calculated, unyielding.

I can't think of any movie in which I have wanted so much to resist and cease watching, yet fail to do so because it has a quality so raw, unsympathetic and intuitive. In keeping with Lindholm's debut feature (a prison drama "R"); Kapringen is filmed on location, in chronological sequence and on board a sea freighter that was hijacked in the Indian ocean. Casting also features a real life hostage negotiator as the central figure and naturally, Somali pirates.

Arguably, mechanical reproduction of genuine conditions doesn't guarantee a convincing film but in this case, it does — Kapringen looks so suitably stained with normality that one instantly recognizes the absence of gimmicky aesthetics. Unmanipulated (or to be PC about words, "seemingly so"), you resonate with the film's fabric of reality while searching for something more, and in the process, gain access into psychological domains that underpin both Peter and Mikkel.

It's not for nothing that Lindholm went through great lengths to replicate an uncomfortable, pressing scenario because the film offers reflection on an overlooked form of terrorism. Corporations may be showing it to employees as a resource on how to respond during such crises, but Kapringen's master stroke — is the revelation of an impasse between the moral versus the practical. There is no payoff at the end of this film, it is one the most sophisticated vérités I have seen, the meta-argument leaves you deliberating, and the film takes off like a thinker on paradox.

94 out of 184 people found the following review useful:
The EOW genre is constantly evolving — there is no reason why this film should be limited in terms of narrative scope, 21 June 2013

tl;dr - Set aside expectations related to the zombie genre and enjoy World War Z as a disaster popcorn flick.


Max Brook's muscular, world weary "oral history of the zombie war", a thinly veiled geo-political mouthpiece on the world at large seen through the eyes of an agent working for the UN, has taken shape and form through a movie of the same name — World War Z. But make no mistake about both being made from the same mold.

Rather than pander to the novel's ambitious fictional output of global perspectives (survivors from virtually every continent on Earth were interviewed by the novel's narrator) — this summer flick directed by Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace, Finding Neverland, Stranger than Fiction) is sensibly scaled down on politicking and military machismo. With a tried and tested sci-fi disaster formula, the result works fairly well on its own terms.

Vastly different from Brook's scathing, testosterone driven bestseller and the archetypal zombie gore fest; this latest End-of-World extravaganza is less tired and less verbose. By virtue of that, translates to a much more engaging experience.


Brief Synopsis: After decades of living in risky, high-stakes existence as a UN investigator; Gerry Lane (Pitt) is now comfortably retired to a cozy, domestic life in Philadelphia with loving wife, Karen (Mireille Enos) and two young daughters. Problem is that a mysterious virus has spiraled out of control and gone global, resulting in a win-win proposition from former colleague Thierry -- the state guarantees refuge and protection for Gerry's family in exchange for his unrivaled field expertise.

Thus we are immediately whisked to the main exposition -- Gerry, accompanied by the Navy SEAL and a virologist (developing the vaccine) traverses international borders in search of patient zero -- the journey spans South Korea and Israel, to the WHO in Wales and eventually Canada.

Trivia: The novel places origin of the zombie outbreak in Dachang, Hebei. Incidentally, the film hypothesizes with narratives about the spread of SARS as a deadly epidemic. It can therefore be understood, that the virus in WWZ is implied to have begun in Northern China.


It is no controversy that World War Z is plagued with production troubles and the screenplay has undergone a few re-writes, but manifestations of this in film authorship isn't grave or jarring. To the contrary; Forster's version has softened Brook's high-minded hyperbole in exchange for a modest, grounded and back-to-basics approach — this makes for undeniable commercial appeal.

Visually, after a cumbersome and erratically edited zombie rampage sequence in the first act, DP Ben Seresin (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen) and special effects rebound with impressive large scale photography. The outbreak of zombie hordes in Jerusalem's disaster sequence deserve mention — it is here that the narrative's kinesthetic urgency receives a healthy dose of adrenaline. Action aficionados will be pleased.

Seresin's chaotic apocalypse overrun by waves of running undeads is also given counterweight by a quiet, noble dimension found in Gerry's measured and cool-in-crisis stoicity. Brad Pitt's iconic persona as a humanitarian in real life, may very well have influenced his portrayal of Gerry, infusing the kind of personality and screen image that transforms naturally in a Hollywood film.

But the cleverest stroke in characterization, is that of Israeli soldier Segen (Daniella Kertesz). A sound approach in keeping characters fresh and creative is that material be produced with caveats in mind. Flat, boilerplate stereotypes of women being one example of many. For this reason, I was surprised to discover that much of the film's feistier, more relevant survivalist moments originate from her flair for timing and intuition.

All being said, preconceived notions about what zombie films should and ought to be have divided zombie lovers into two main groups. Fans of Romero's classics may prefer depictions of slow-moving zombies (Night of the Living Dead, The Walking Dead), while others embrace the idea of super sprinters (28 Days Later, 2004 Dawn of the Dead). The good news is that this debate, when filtered through the lens of a global disaster flick, becomes irrelevant (or less so). I guess my point is the EOW genre is constantly evolving, there is no reason why this film should be limited in terms of narrative scope.

The only real complaint is an excessively dramatized, prolonged exchange between an infected doctor and Gerry in the film's final act. You get less awkward, more authentic moments between Rick Grimes and the bicycle zombie girl back in Atlanta. But that's another apocalypse.

Cosmopolis (2012)
7 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Humorous and anti-humor, logical and anti-logic all at once., 16 June 2013

Upon finishing this urban road movie starring Robert Pattinson as a genius multi-billionaire; I ran a Google search for its director, hoping to uncover a precious list of must-watch titles. As it turns out, I've seen virtually everything on David Cronenberg's resume. To name a few: The Fly, Spider, A History of Violence, Eastern Promises and A Dangerous Method…

The verdict for his twentieth feature, is bugger-all to accusations of pseudo intellectual posturing. I imagine watching this Canadian drama-thriller as akin to knocking back a few drinks, with the cinema politica and George Orwell for company.

Adapted from Don DeLillo's dystopian novella of the same name, Cosmopolis is a post-modern inquiry into the lifeblood and executioners of contemporary culture — technology, power, capitalism. Sex, rage and rapture. Solitude, overcrowd and alienation. Dreams, successes and ultimately failures.

The film follows currency analyst Eric Parker (Pattinson in a surprisingly sharp performance) throughout the course of a single day. Protected by a bodyguard, he cruises and works in the privacy of his tinted stretch limo, meeting employees, lovers and acquaintances while making his way to the barber for a haircut.

What Cosmopolis captures so well, is the systematic collapse of Eric's self-erected and self-imposed demarcation. As he weaves through the ebb and flow of Manhattan with progressive chaos and claustrophobia closing in, a furry of encounters with the characters boarding and alighting unfold with rigorous unpredictability. Throw in implausible chance meetings with a ravishing poet wife Elise (Sarah Gadon); and I often found myself wondering if Eric's final awakening, will inevitably persist beyond the reach of his mortal capacity.

This is easily one of the best among David Cronenberg's introspective repertoire of works. Without veering off from the main rhetoric; it is humorous and anti-humor, logical and anti-logic all at once.

"I'm looking for more. Even fire. Show me something I don't know."


7 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
Time to call it a day..., 16 June 2013

At the end of Zack Snyder's Man of Steel, we agreed that 2013′s Superman is a real sight for sore eyes. But I fell out of love with the caped crusader many years and caricatures ago... as handsome and smoldering hot as the leading man in Henry Cavill could be, I wasn't invested in the outcome of Clark Kent's fate as much as I'd wanted to originally.

Maybe these things are no different from passionate affairs that burn and fizzle out all in the thick of a night — one realizes what a massive waste of time it'd been only after waking up the next morning with gathering clarity.

The magic stardust that co-writers Christopher Nolan (also the film's producer) and David S. Goyer sprinkled around The Dark Knight has disappeared. At a running time of 144 minutes with less than 20 lines of dialog given to its key protagonist, this film might as well be titled "Friends of the Man of Steel". When supporting characters are constantly forcing the narrative with long, loud and generic speeches; perhaps there is a grave problem with the focus and design of this story.

Man of Steel is also an unimaginative reboot of the Superman franchise. The first act is devoted entirely to a lengthy do-over that begins with dad Jor El (Russell Crowe) and mom Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer), deliberating their newborn's fate on planet Krypton. Here, cinematographer Amir Mokri (Transformers: Dark of the Moon) is limited to the same weary CGI effects and steel-silver-black palettes seen in techy Hollywood films. Ditto for composer Hans Zimmer's deafening crash-bang cues each time something very bad is about to happen on screen.

Even the awestruck respect I had for Michael Shannon's acting chops as a corrupt officer of the LAPD in Premium Rush, gradually faded away as General Zod's gormless, permanent frown kept spacing off and staring into the depths of some grand, epic unknown — it must have been just as tiring for him.

Why did I fork out money to watch a run-of-the mill movie I'd seen several times before? Why would anyone make the same mistake repeatedly and still believe things would finally change the next time round? Perhaps wild idealizations that accompany the search for what was once perfection are responsible for my predicament the morning after.

There is little left to remind me of why the mention of Christopher Nolan's creative input sparked assurance in quality mainstream films. Flashes of grit and style so keenly felt in 2004′s Dawn of the Dead are missing as well. After the awful Sucker Punch, tiresome Dark Knight Rises and now, Man of Steel... the mature, sensible side of me hopes to never sit through another Nolan-Snyder collaboration again. You have to be 12 to enjoy watching this.

Trance (2013/I)
2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Do your hipster head bob., 11 May 2013

Psychology tropes in films first gained momentum around the same time Freud's psychoanalytic movement did. Specific to the subjects of repressed memory and dream psychology, Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound back in 1945. As time went by, these tropes have evolved steadily and provided theses in many popular films ranging from those aiming for up market sophistication in Inception, to those going for labyrinthic enigma in The Butterfly Effect.

They are now joined by another psycho-thriller — the trendsetting, highly modish Trance — a sexually-charged investigation into the whereabouts of Francisco Goya's romanticistic portrait of "Witches in the Air".

Based on a modest telemovie by Joe Ahearne (also screenwriter of this film); famed British director, Danny Boyle and his long-time cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later) add the glitz, narrative technique and manic energy necessary to crank it up a notch for the silver-screen.

Trance unfolds against the setting of cool, angular skyscrapers in modern day London with young auctioneer Simon (James McAvoy) weighing easy solutions against a difficult problem. He gambles way too much and in a bid to repay massive debts owed to suave criminal supremo Franck (Vincent Cassel), agrees to steal Goya's $25 million painting. But the heist goes unreasonably wrong when a violent escape traumatizes Simon into a state of amnesia, leaving Franck with no painting and no payoff. So it goes that Franck and his ruthless associates spare Simon's life on the condition that he cooperates with a beautiful hypnotherapist, Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) to regain that crucial fragment of lost memory.

As therapy sessions depart from professional encounters and take on the vibe of bold, smoldering eroticism; the depths of Simon's repressed thoughts begin to unravel complicated truths framed in glossy, visual allegories (that do not preclude pseudo-psychological importance).

I've seen Trance twice, and find it heavy on tired clichés on both times. Haven't we seen and heard it all by now? Sure, it is reasonably entertaining and culminates in a (standard) cataclysmic showdown between the three leads, but I could not help but wonder — why are many so eager to lavish the film with excessive praise? I suspect what makes Trance such a hot favorite is Attitude — as with Gaspar Noé's Enter the Void — a stylish, dangerous synergy of altered consciousness and hypnotic rapture with strands of blood and violence thrown in. Besides, when composer Rick Smith's defiant electroclash of modus machismo strikes the right chord, one must concede and nod along with a hipster head bob.

Snow White (2012)
3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
The creepy version of Snow White no one told me..., 5 May 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Last June, Rupert Sanders paid homage to the Brothers Grimm with stock fantasy, Snow White and the Huntsman. Three months later, writer- director Pablo Berger released Blancanieves, also a fantasy live-action based on the same German fairy tale.

But three crucial elements separate Berger's version: a tribute to the 1920s, this Spanish production is told in the style of a black-and-white silent film. As a whimsical, intelligent tale of horror, it is also the right blend of romantic and surrealist mystery. Lastly; inspired by documentary photos of bullfighting dwarfs in "Hidden Spain", this screenplay (unlike most adaptations) unfolds against the principal scenery of Spanish bullfights, and also contains references to Alice in Wonderland.

As a result of all three elements, Berger's improvised re-telling is an unpredictable and spell-binding concoction.

1920s in the bustling city of Andalusia — Antonio, a celebrated matador at the peak of his career suffers serious injuries during a match. His heavily pregnant wife goes into distress after witnessing the harrowing event, and dies after giving birth. Physically and emotionally crippled, Antonio rejects their newborn girl Carmenito (snow white) and leaves her under the care of family friend Doña. Father and child move on to separate lives with Antonio suffering in reclusive exile after marrying Encarna (Maribel Verdú) — matriarchal villain of the vain, viscous type. Carmen on the other hand, nurtured and loved by Doña blossoms into a talented and spirited child. But tragedy strikes and Doña dies. Young Carmen, along with pet rooster Pepe, is sent to live in a mansion with Antonio and Encarna.

Sadly, Antonio is wheelchair bound and having fallen into deep depression is clueless about Carmen's plight. Pending reunion is thus shrouded in melancholia and with Encarna's presence, a hint of wicked danger. In keeping with the Grimm's parable of love, envy and wrath — this film also amplifies the terrifying risks of falling for deception.

Bullfighting is a passionate, violent sport and both flavors work to engineer narrative shift from that of a heartwarming tale for kids, to one of chilling cautionary etched in surrealist tragedy. Years later, even after Carmen (Sofía Oria) escapes into a life of bullfighting with the carefree, circus troupe of dwarfs; pervasive dread of her looming death continues to linger. Most crucially, Berger is also capable of infusing lighter moments while sustaining the heavier, eerier older version of Little Snow White. For example, in the Grimm's original, Encarna is a cannibal and this is replaced by a scene at the dinner table with young Carmen. Here — Maribel Verdúm (instantly recognizable from Y Tu Mamá También & Pan's Labyrinth) turns in her role as a devlish stepmother with ferocious, sphinxlike power; all the while exuding wisps of opéra comique required of the twist.

Pretty glad I decided against giving this one a miss.

Everything about Blancanieves, from its vivid imagery to metaphorical theatrics, superb performances to haunting musical chords, is dramatically captured and thoroughly inventive. The film does an amazing job at transporting modern audiences back in time and deep inside a cryptic, disturbing universe. And seriously… the poor rooster.

Iron Man 3 (2013)
26 out of 52 people found the following review useful:
Red is the new Black, 3 May 2013

Oh man... this is so good in an unfamiliar way. It has rekindled the spark of a teenager trapped in the shell of a cynical adult movie goer.

In a race that began in 2008 to be crowned Hollywood's Coolest and Most Awesome Superhero Movie, the score is now 3-1 with Iron Man on a two- point lead.

The screenplay, co-written between Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout) and Drew Pearce is cleverly penned and packs the right punch for an action movie. By drumming up the significance of Tony Stark's development from previous films (The Avengers, Iron Man 1 & 2) without losing grip of dramatic unity as a whole; Shane Black (also the film's director) conceptualized a heroically simple, winning formula.

Another satisfying aspect of Iron Man 3 (and this converts to audience payoff at the end of 130 minutes), is the sweet simple fact that narrative does not detain viewers with unnecessary exposition and scenes. The big bad guys waste no time playing mind-games for the sake of delaying a final showdown, thus one-upping other blockbusters where it counts. Ergo, no shortchanging and an effortlessly fluid plot.

Things kick off with a flashback to 1999 during pre-Iron Man days, establishing Tony Stark's first meeting with future adversary — a then crippled scientist named Aldrich Killian. Desperate for resources from Stark Industries to develop experimental virus "Extremis" (yet turned away so unceremoniously), sets off rising malevolence from Killian (played by the unforgettable Guy Pearce, even more loathsome here than when he was hateful Charlie Rakes in Lawless). There's also brazen, immediate threat from a grim terrorist leader (Ben Kingsley's prowess and versatility in full glory here as both The Mandarin and Trevor Slattery) — bent on blowing up America at whatever cost necessary. And for what it's worth, I like the spin on Pepper Potts' (Gwyneth Paltrow) damsel-in-distress anticipated — compelling touch to an otherwise archetypal character.

To further inject urgency in the conflict, Tony Stark wrestles with the aftermath of New York (from The Avengers) and taunts The Mandarin on national TV, further exacerbating his wrath. A strike against Stark's mansion hatches a loosely comedic, coming-of-age with 10 year old Harley — it is here that leading man Robert Downey Jr. ingratiates himself as one of the best personality actors in Hollywood — incensed with moral rage at the right moments, oozing unsentimental smooth in others.

I had fun spotting flashes of nostalgia in favorite superhero moments (Spiderman, Superman, Batman and even Transformers) throughout the show as well, and still can't believe they destroyed a fine looking limited edition Dora the Explorer digital watch. Nor of the fact that a highly entertaining movie just ended. What a generous, high-octane hell of a ride.

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