Thursday, October 23, 2008

Two Flicks: A Pick and a Pan

Watched Iron Man last night. Two day rental from Blockbuster. While researching other things online I attempted to enjoy this politically correct caricature of a special effects driven Hollywood cliche. Big names like Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges and the lovely Gwyneth Paltrow garnered some acclaim for the film last winter. Exceedingly high praise for what seemed to me a tired re-hash.

The skinny on this thin plot: Downey's father made a fortune as an arms manufacturer in World War II, and afterwards. Downey, the arrogant punk heir who has everything gets kidnapped and put in touch with his conscience when he learns that his weapons are also the same weapons used by terrorists in other parts of the world. Mix in a little Marvel Comix magic and you have a superhero, a.k.a. Iron Man.

Everything about this film seems borrowed. Downey's home is an echo of Bruce Wayne's digs. Downey's character development is an echo of Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky (a much more fascinating story). And the evil Iron Man knock off that clothes Jeff Bridges in the end (spoiler alert!) is an echo of The Mask.

The mystery here is why the critics raved over it so. It's the same old song.

A second film I watched this past week: Michael Clayton. I'd watched it sometime last winter and thought it griping then. It was even better this time around. Yes, this is also politically correct Hollywood fare, but it's an intelligent, character driven thriller.

In this instance, the bad guys are U/North, a multinational agri-chemical corporation. Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is a fixer for a major law firm that serves clients like U/North. It's a given that his life is filled with ethical compromises, but it comes with the turf. In this instance there are complications when the the lead attorney defending U/North in a class action lawsuit goes bonkers, tears off his clothes in a deposition and exhibits other bizarre behaviors. Also from the firm, Clayton has to "fix" this problem to keep it from interfering with a mega-merger that is simultaneously in the works. The real problem is that Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), this lawyer who had a meltdown, is Clayton's friend who, like Downey in Iron Man, got bit by his conscience. After years of devoting his life to this case he realizes he is on the wrong side.

With so much at stake, certain powers that be must resort to the "ultimate fix" and do the dirty on Edens. Clayton's life at this point is no picnic and in the midst of it all he discovers he is likewise no longer indispensable.

The screenplay is great, the dialogue fresh, the issues real, the characters complex. And in that true Hitchcockian style, you know who the bad guys are but you just don't know what will happen next.
It's pretty easy to see which is the pick and which the pan here. O.K., I admit my criticisms of the Iron Man are overly harsh. Sorry. I just needed to air out a little. And in the meantime, have a great day. See you at the movies.

No comments: