16 May 2008

Iron Man

(Note: from here on out, reviews will be a bit shorter now that I'm not first writing them for the newspaper. I've graduated, and I'm going to rely on my own personal motivation to keep this blog going. Let's hope it works.)

Marvel's newest, and first independent, effort is both highly conventional and fairly unique. It's probably no surprise, especially if you've read other reviews, that Robert Downey Jr.'s casting as Tony Stark the stroke of genius it was destined to be. That said, without his presence the film would be much more ordinary, and not the standout of its genre that it is. That's not to say there's not some great work being done elsewhere.

Jeff Bridges is probably one of the best comic book movie villains to come along in recent years. There's not a whole lot of depth to his role as it's written, but he makes it so interesting to watch. And Gwyneth Paltrow is just as good as you'd expect her to be in the role. With a name like Pepper Potts, you wouldn't expect much from the character, and while it doesn't quite rise beyond quirky sidekick, it's still great to see her having fun with the role.

As far as the story and script go, it's your average superhero origin story. Jon Favreau's direction is capable enough, but his real triumph is putting together such a solid package all-around. Perhaps it's the character himself that makes the movie work so well. While the sequel will most likely deal with Stark's more colorful flaws, like his alcoholism, this first outing wisely steers clear of such provocative material to allow us to grow to love Tony. His personal revelation is unique as well. Instead of just stepping up to take responsibility for himself, there's a lot more at stake.

Comic book films have entered a holding pattern. While a new renaissance began with X2 and Spider-man and peaked with Batman Begins, most of the films post-Superman Returns have been a bit lackluster. X-men: The Last Stand and Ghost Rider have shown us that the material is sophisticated enough to require an intelligent director to make it work, something that only the Nolans and Singers of the industry have been able to pull off. They've grown in respectability, to be sure, but they're going to need that last extra push to convince everyone that they're just as worthy as other film art. What would happen if Scorsese were to tackle The Flash, or David Lynch were to do Doctor Strange? Only time will tell.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

“I’m finding it hard to believe that things are going to get better.” If you’re familiar at all with the plot of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” you might assume that this line is spoken by the main character, Peter, who has just been dumped by his girlfriend, Sarah Marshall. But it’s not spoken at all. It’s sung. By a puppet.
It’s an appropriate gesture for a film that doesn’t necessarily wear all its feelings on its sleeve, though Peter does. After getting dumped we see him break down crying, probably more than any other male character ever seen on film. He’s not your traditional masculine protagonist.
He’s sensitive, and so is the film. Produced by Judd Apatow and written by actor Jason Segel, who also plays Peter, it’s the kind of comedy that has a lot more underneath than it wants to let on at first. It doesn’t indulge in stereotypes or easy laughs, though there are plenty of laughs to be had.
The plot is quite simple. Peter, tries to get away from his pain by going to a Hawaiian resort that he remembers Sarah (Kristen Bell) talking about once. Of course she’s there, with her crude English rock star boyfriend Aldous Snow (Russell Brand). Awkwardness ensues.
As Peter attempts to get over Sarah, he starts to fall for a customer service representative named Rachel (Mila Kunis), and quickly bonds with her and the other colorful characters who populate the hotel.
One of the strengths of the film is the supporting cast. Whether it’s an oblivious surfing instructor (Paul Rudd), a star struck waiter (Jonah Hill), a nervous conservative newlywed (Jack McBrayer), or Peter’s overly-sensible stepbrother Brian (Bill Hader), there’s always someone around the corner to console Peter and provide some laughs.
Unfortunately the laughs aren’t always very consistent. The blend of comedy and poignancy is not always balanced, and a few of the jokes now and then fall flat. It’s not as polished a film as it could be, or should be considering those involved.
But still, there’s a lot going on here, and if you pay attention it’s worth your while. For instance, watch the character of Sarah Marshall. You start the film wanting to hate her because of how she left poor Peter. But instead of letting her remain a villain, Segel’s script lets her have her own feelings and conflicts, and we gradually see why she initially made the instigating decision.
The same can be said for Peter, in a way. We pity him as sort of an underdog, but eventually realize it’s of his own doing. The film doesn’t answer all the questions of how he got to be who he is, and the story is better for it. Ambiguity isn’t a staple of modern comedies, so it’s nice to see it here.
Still, there’s plenty of crude and unusual humor, culminating with a hilarious climactic scene involving the aforementioned puppets. I won’t spoil it for you here. Good comedies rely on surprise, but also remind us why we should care. Though it’s not perfect, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” will most likely prove to be one of the better comedies of the year.