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A little safe and sappy, but too competent to ignore...
Jeff Nichols's "Mud" is a very good film. At points, it even achieves something that could be called greatness. It's also nice to have a relatively fresh face on the scene as a writer/director coming up with films of this level of competence. The acting is uniformly solid, especially the child performances, which really steal the show. The story may not be the most clever thing, but boy is it cleverly written. And the film is shot beautifully. Nichols seems equally capable as a visual and literary thinker.
My only problem would be what I felt like was inside of the movie, waiting to be released: a punk rock spirit, revealed to us early on with the boy's Fugazi shirt. This movie felt like it was drenched in a pool of soap opera sappiness. It begs the question: how Oprah's book club can we make Cormac McCarthy? It just felt a little "safe," tonally, for a movie with an otherwise seedy premise and edgy set of characters.
Can't believe this was rated PG-13. It doesn't bother me at all, it's just noteworthy. I was sure I was watching an R-rated movie the entire time.
Iron Man Three (2013)
3 Iron Men
This movie walks the line between "almost good" and "almost bad." I think it falls pretty safely on the latter side, thankfully, but boy does it push it.
- The humor. There's about a dozen solid LOL moments in this flick. In particular, the back-and-forth between Stark and the kid really works. There's also some great bits of physical comedy and classic Starkisms.
- RDJr's performance. Maybe I'm in the minority, but I felt like Downey's performance in the Avengers left much to be desired. It alternated between a boring, plastic impostor of the first film's Stark and a shameless self-parody. To a lesser extent, I felt this to be the case in Iron Man 2, as well, although the character hadn't grown quite as tired yet. While it's still not on the same level as the first Iron Man, Iron Man 3 does provide the best representation of Tony Stark since. The charm is back. Job well done.
- The plot. What? On the one hand, this plot feels more at home in a 3-issue mini-arc in the comics, not something that should necessarily be carrying a feature film. It's pretty much just a bad mixture of different villainous clichés rolled into one hammy "plot." On the other hand, I found the plot to be rather poorly explained. Guy Pearce is secretly selling this new "technology" to the Mandarin because... well, the Mandarin and his cronies are willing to buy it, finding its nefarious "side effects" more desirable than the original, seemingly noble intent behind it. But then we find out that the Mandarin was simply a construction, a work of fiction designed by Pearce's character to serve his own ends. Well now I'm confused. Who's buying what? Where's the money coming from? I'm not saying these questions don't have answers, only that they weren't explained very well and at some point I felt like the film and I entered into a tacit agreement: just don't explain it anymore and I'll stop thinking about it. To its credit, the film lived up to its end of the bargain.
- Tonal inconsistencies. I felt like I was watching three different Iron Man movies. One was the typical mainstream superhero flick we've come to expect from Marvel movies. The other was a surprisingly absurd comedy - almost a spoof of the franchise rather than a further installment of it. For example, it's sort of hard to buy the Mandarin as a pathetically aloof actor, at least, the way it was sold to us in the movie. He doesn't seem to understand the very real violence going on. He seems like a worthless jester, which is fine... just not really the kind of person you want burdened with that kind of responsibility. He's so comically oblivious to the real happenings, that it suggests, again, a satirical tone rather than a straight one. Thirdly, I felt like part of this movie was an indie-actioner, sort of like Black's previous film, "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang." The quick- witted Stark firing out shots from his handgun while engaging in banter with Rhodes, also wielding a gun, didn't really work for me in this flick. I guess the movie felt like three ingredients thrown hastily together to create a last-minute meal. The results are what you'd expect, I suppose.
- The anxiety issue. It just didn't work for me. On the one hand, it felt like a less interesting version of Stark's alcohol problem, which is obviously a big issue in the comics and was dealt with in Iron Man 2. But whereas alcoholism seems totally fitting and understandable with the Tony Stark we've come to know, this anxiety issue felt like a contrivance and like something that would clearly be resolved by the end of the movie. I felt like giving the guy a hug and saying, "just hang in there, Tony, you'll be better in a couple hours." Whereas the alcoholism issue, even if done in a more nuanced way, seemed like a lasting, difficult challenge for the character. Yeah, they try to explain the anxiety attacks as something of a reaction to the wormhole in the Avengers, but whatever. It just seemed artificial.
- The ending. It reminded me of the kind of BS conclusion you might write during an in-class exam. You know, try to wrap things up, broaden your thesis statement a bit, tie it into some abstract ideas or themes. But I just felt like they were... BSing. Wrapping up themes that either weren't there or were too boring to have given much thought to in the first place. I guess the story was about "healing," which explains the ludicrous scene in which Tony Stark gets the shrapnel removed. Okay. A big part of the first two films was that he couldn't remove the shrapnel. I'm not saying that he never should be able to, but his story is so inextricably tied into the shrapnel, that it deserved more than a passing "Oh yeah, got rid of that" moment. Losing the shrapnel is a big deal, but it was done so easily that it came across as a comical distraction.
Those are my thoughts. Thanks for reading.