Legacy. There’s significantly richer/deeper/farther-back backstory in this second film in which the ever-enriching John Slattery plays Howard Stark, long-dead father of the morally-defective Tony (Iron Man) Stark. The Iron Man universe expands in several interesting waves, as the 1939 World’s Fair hyperlinks the 1974 fission of the temporary StarkVanko collaboration that eventually pits Downey against Rourke in a StarkVanko reunion that neatly illustrates the downside of unparalleled, generative genius; unparalelled, self-destructive, avenging narcisism.
I’d like to take a moment to recognize four of the most interesting material-interpreters (actors) presently working in mainstream media; Downey, Rourke, Cheadle and Rockwell — whose performances in this film do not disappoint. While both Gwyneth Paltrow and Scarlett Johanssen are featured more prominently than all of womankind was in the first film, their talents are still profoundly limited to sauntering about in extremely tall shoes and wearing stylish clothes while looking great and bantering in layered, simultaneous, comic conversations with RtD2 (Robert Downey, Jr.). Of course, somebody’s got to flesh-out the background scenery while Gary Shandling, Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg mix metaphors with other cast members in the foreground.
I’m saying this Iron Man movie has an extremely deep bench of fascinating franchise-carriers, which short-changed women players a bit less than the first film did, but that’s still several dozen testicles short a full-on SuperChickFlick…which is something to scrutinize exactingly, as The Marvel Universe expands, evolves, grows facial hair and its voice deepens; shallow, short-changed, minor roles for serious, powerful, accomplished women actors. The primary conflicts and resolutions in Iron Man 2 are rooted in decidedly male themes: father/son legacies, filial betrayal, pissing contests and blowed-up shit. Mrs. Stark and Mrs. Vanko probably had first names, but I don’t remember hearing them…which is just a simpleminded way of saying that Iron Man 2 isn’t Gone With the Wind, and it hasn’t much to say about successful romantic relationships, personal sacrifice, joyous resignation, intimacy, isolation, despair…and Daredevil did and The Brave One did…not do very well at the box office. So it’s something to watch. And something to build another universe upon.
I loved Iron Man 2 ! It didn’t have to be perfect. It only had to be as electrifying as its predecessor. That definitely happened, and then some.
This afternoon I also saw How to Train Your Dragon and Robin Hood.
But first, a few words about title design: http://www.bigspaceship.com/blog/labs/by-hand-tacticility-in-title-design/
We’re closing on 100 years of cinema, which is stories told to us with moving pictures. And yet title design has fallen so far behind the evolution of storytelling with pictures (and sound) that movies are still introduced with written WORDS. And the discussion of major innovation on this front is limited to comparison of machine-made or handlettered fonts?
Stanley Kubrick favored a very l.o.n.g. musical overture in the 1960 introduction of Spartacus. The theatrical advantage of a long musical overture (over the various other things most movies do) is that the theatrical audience is collectively conducted onto a single, coherent, cohesive page in the minutes before the movie begins. And whether they struggled to get to the theater on time, fought with traffic for a parking place, bickered all the way to the show on the subway, or just awoke from having slept through the preceding feature (because people in adjacent seats left and the music just got a whole lot louder)…the billion variations on walks-of-life that bring a billion people to sit before a screen for a couple-three hours are all of them converged into a singular state of anticipation in the minutes before the movie begins.
Now, a long musical overture is one of many fashionable ways to introduce a film like Spartacus or Cleopatra or West Side Story, but title design hasn’t changed much at all since 1910…for reasons that elude me. I mention this because I read titles fairly carefully in order to remember the names of the above-the-line contributors who made films I enjoyed. I brand myself by bonding with cinematographers like Roger Deakins, editors like Lisa Lassek, writers/directors/producers like Ben Hecht, Joss Whedon, David Milch, Neil Jordan…and I seek/buy other work they’ve done based on the covenant they create with me forged in the course of the film of which I’m presently reading the titles.
I’d like to see my brand names introduce the film. I’d like to see my brands speak their own names aloud and introduce one another, maybe even contextually. In a storytelling medium that’s composed of sound and moving pictures, it strikes me as profoundly odd that titles and credits are and always have been limited to written words that bear only the most abstract association with the people who made the product I’m watching — while the elaborate logos of distributors, studios and financial backers lead the procession of onscreen written words — as though those were the brands that mattered. And DVDs involve opening an anti-theft, anti-piracy-device-laden package of wrappings and tapes and magnetic strips that generally take as long to break through as the titles take to run, once the DVD is at long last inserted in the appropriate hardware and the leagalistic, multi-lingual terrorizing warning mumbojumo gives way to preview trailers and the inevitable disclaimer that commentaries (by anyone responsible for the actual creation of the content) are unrelated to the sentiments of the (not legally liable) people who irresponsibly own the content. THEN titles. Then content. Then credits that flash by like fine print in a deal with the devil you can’t refuse. Then the dicks who put the film on DVD (usually badly) get to wave their logos at us too. Something (almost everything) about the state of cinema business-as-usual stinks of bogus priorites, confidential agreements, and ulterior agendas that come very close to queering the fundamental storytelling covenant between the content creators and their audience.
I liked them. How to Train Your Dragon and Robin Hood entertained me. Also father/son legacy-stuff. I like the peculiar ways Chris Sanders tells stories, although there are recognizable eccentricities in continuity that want more careful editing. Hickup’s drawing of Toothless’ tail is and isn’t and is asymmetrical. Similar flaws in Bolt are clearly attributable to the violent intervention of other people hired to replace the director, but Toothless’ tail is a stupid oversight in an otherwise strangely-paced but riveting tale. I asked him to speak in his journal at DeviantArt about (what I figured would be) the release from creative captivity at Disney in the regime change that introduced Pixar to the top of the food chain. He never answered, and I soon realized the question was a major faux pas — so I feel like I owe him.
Robin Hood, Ridley Scott, Russel Crowe and Cate Blanchett is a combination I wouldn’t care to miss. Max and Bill get to flex a bit, as well, but the reel revelation is the longed-for continuity that links Henry II to Magna Carta via Becket, The Lion in Winter and this Robin Hood that lends backstory to all the previous cinematic Robin Hood iterations I’ve seen. It also goes a long way toward a gripping, heuristic demonstration of the evolution of gritty philosophizing about domion’s transition from the divine right of kings to representative democracy: A first class lesson in How to make political philosophy not-tedious, not-boring.
Interestingly, Chris Sanders has much more to say about the institution of xenophobia than Ridley’s treatment of Robin’s legend, which is odd to the extent that Ridley Scott always subverts the us/them paradigm. In this film, unlike Costner’s shot, Angles and Saxons are okay with Normans, but the goddamned French really NEEDED a 13th Century foretaste of Agincourt with John the First-runt-king of England bringing shavetail comic relief to a fascinating inversion of the landing at Omaha Beach presented in Saving Private Ryan.
I really get off on transnarrative media, especially stories that run meaningful threads of context across proprietary boundaries, so Firefly intimated that the institution of slavery and indentured servitude lay under the surface of a universe set 500 years in our interstellar future, which led me to Ken Burns’ The Civil War and Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels because that book (about the Battle of Gettysburg) self-reportedly inspired both Burns and Whedon, and I learned also from Jezebel that the South’s definition of liberty was far less complicated and contradictory that the North’s (but equally goofy). Likewise our bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki led me to Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen because I didn’t and still don’t understand how the Japanese forgave America’s final solution and bent to MacArthur’s post-war will. Also I don’t have to wait for storyarchitects to get their semantic shit together (with lawyers) prior to money changing hands that may eventually lead to the fashioning of transmedia narratives, when transnarrative media has been helping me stuggle toward the answers I seek reasonably, tolerably well. And nobody’s making any effort to dissolve the proprietary boundaries that provide nothing useful to storytelling other than short-portions of money. (That was just a dream some of us had.)
I greatly enjoyed the three feature films I saw today in a multiplex, although none of these three theatrical presentations layed a glove on the greater control I experience in viewing content in the DVD format. Pause and replay beat the pants off theatrical virtues like:
- the inability to smoke
- jughead administrators who don’t pay attention to auditorium thermostats (I got real cold during Dragon) and
- volume control;
although lots of movies seem to favor actors who frequently mumble and whisper while music and sound effects drone on too loud for dialogue intelligibility, which also leads me to appreciate the favor done me by DVDs in english that provide the option of subtitles. Old people like to understand words in new movies and in old ones. I’m old.
Now I’ll close with the mention of Longitude, a superb film about talent, persistence, and curiosity versus the invalid prestige of reputed scientists — and a second, long round of sincere applause for the emotional and performative excellence/maturity of The Brave One, both of which lean deeply into unique revelations of profoundly faulty institutions that destroy people to preserve utterly irrelevant reputations.
Tonight, it’s Rebecca, The Paradine Case and Bela Fleck: Live at the Quick, via NetFlix.