Saturday, May 29, 2010

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time - Aladdin Retold

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time: Poster | A Constantly Racing Mind
"T he Prince of Persia" is the second film that I have seen this week that has to do with the subject of time travel.  Not counting the final episodes of "Lost" and "Flash Forward," time travel seems to be on the mind of Hollywood writers a lot these days.  "Shrek Forever After" is a story about what if this didn't happen, and so is "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time."  The story is intricate, and the production is elaborate, and rated PG-13.  Prince of Persia is a film that the whole family can enjoy.  Starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton, "The Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" is a swashbuckling revival of the Errol Flynn era of filmmaking.  Based on the "Prince of Persia" video game series created by Jordan Mechner. He also serves as an executive producer and screen story contributor on the film.  Ultimately, this is a Jerry Bruckheimer ("Pirates of the Caribbean" films) production in collaboration with Disney and will receive the box office attention and respect that the two have earned.

The film starts appropriately enough with the lines, Long ago, in a land far away... We are told the story about the mighty Persian Empire in the time of King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup), who saves the life of Dastan (Gyllenhaal), a young street boy and adopts him into the royal family.  Like the fabled Aladdin, a diamond in the rough, the king sees how the boy stood up for his friend, and Sharaman realizing that this boy whose blood is not of his own, will not attempt to seize the throne from him by force or guile, raises his as his own.  Dastan grows up, as a prince along with Sharaman's two other sons Tus and Garsiv.  On the eve of laying siege of the holy city of Alamut, the king's eldest son, Tus (Richard Coyle), counseled by his uncle Nazim (Ben Kingsley), who recommends an attack on the city against Sharaman's order.  Nazim claims that the city is selling WMDs (swords, and steel-tipped arrows), to the enemies of the Persian Empire.  Tus, ordering the attack asks his younger brother, Garsiv (Toby Kebbell), to lead the assault on horseback.  As Dastan is younger than the two princes are, Tus tells Dastan that he is not ready yet. Dastan believes that a full on attack of the fortified walls is suicide and disobeys orders and instead scales the walls with the help of his bowmen.  Dastan opens the gates, sparing his brothers and their uncle extensive bloodshed, and the victory.  

Inside the city at the top of the castle is Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton), guardian of the sacred dagger, entrusts it to a messenger, while trying to escape with it, Dastan tackles him and retrieves the dagger.  Hailed as a hero and The Lion of Persia, Dastan is celebrated by his brothers, his uncle, and his father, King Sharaman.  During the celebration, Dastan gives a prayer robe to his father as a gift.  Sharaman plans for Dastan to succeed him some day as the king and instead chooses an heir other than his own son.  However, while Sharaman wore a prayer robe given to him by Dastan, but provided by his oldest son, Tus, the robe starts burning and kills the king.  During the confusion that follows the death of the king, Dastan is blamed, so he and Princess Tamina make a hasty escape by going out through the window.

The time and setting of this story is far enough from present day to give the audience a mental escape from today’s world.  The blending of historical times, places and cultures, is a signal that there is no true historical context for this film.  The race-bending casting of Gyllenhaal, Arterton, Kingsley, and Molina in these roles gives the western audience a sense of familiarity that they can identify with.  The film is meant to entertain and not a historical or cultural documentary.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time: Gemma Arterton - Jake Gyllenhaal| A Constantly Racing Mind

The plot is similar to Disney's "Aladdin" movie; however, the comic relief is provided, not by Geni, but by Alfred Molina ("Spider-Man 2"), as Sheik Amar the anti-government, ostrich-racing, entrepreneur.  Steve Toussaint, as part of Sheik Amar's men, plays Seso a warrior tribesman reminiscent of actor Djimon Hounsou's character in Gladiator, Juba.  Like the Aladdin stories of old, the magic lamp is the deus ex machina, the god from the machine, the plot device whereby a god or a magic object solves the plot's problem.  In The Prince of Persia, the magic object is The Dagger of Time, the dagger, allows the user to travel back in time for a minute or two and change the past.  Similar to Aladdin, Princes Jasmine rejects Aladdin, and so does Princes Tamina rejects Dastan.  Eventually she realizes that Dastan is more than just a parkour junkie is, and that Dastan has the heart of a prince or a king.  Also, like Aladdin, "The Prince of Persia" is a story of greed and jealousy, Nazim, like Afar, covets the throne, will use treachery to gain it.  With production values are on par with other Bruckheimer, Disney releases like the "Pirates of the Caribbean," and the "National Treasure" series, "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" is breath taking, to say the least.  Gyllenhaal plays Dastan in a lighthearted manner, and Arterton has a better opportunity to show off some acting skills in this film, than she did in the "Clash of the Titans."  

Disney sends a subtle message, reaffirming their anti-drug stance, by showing the Hassansins (hash-smoking assassins) as pasty-faced and lesion ridden.  See kids -- don't do drugs they are bad for you.  The visual effects are stunning; however, the character development and story are thin, but there is plenty of action to keep an audience from looking at their watch and peeking at the time.  Harry Gregson-Williams's compositions are moving, while setting the tone and the mood. The melodies are somewhat memorable.  The Alanis Morissette tune "I Remain," is haunting and like a James Bond theme song, gives the film a voice that is separate from the images.  Director Mike Newell's vision for this film is correct, don't worry about the little things like character and plot development, go with the story, make it big, have fun, and make a lot of money.

Movie Data
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Romance
Year:  2010
Staring:  Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, Steve Toussaint, Toby Kebbell,Richard Coyle, Ronald Pickup
Director: Mike Newell
Producer(s): Jerry Bruckheimer
Writer: Boaz Yakin, Doug Miro, Carlo Bernard
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 116 minutes
Release Date: 5/28/2010

Originally published on Associated Content by Robert Barbere on 5/29/2010

Monday, May 24, 2010

MacGruber: Not For the Faint Hearted

MacGruber: Poster | A Constantly Racing MindMacGruber appeals to true SNL diehards.

I f you are not a fan of Will Forte's SNL MacGruber sketches, you will find it hard to have a thoroughly enjoyable experience with this film.  Starring Will Forte, as he reprises his MacGruber sketches from SNL, Kristen Wiig ("SNL"), Ryan Phillippe ("Crash"), and Val Kilmer as MacGruber's arch nemesis Dieter Von Cunth.  Staying true to the sketch's format in many ways, creator and director Jorma Taccone, takes the viewer on a Borat-esque version of the SNL sketch that may leave the general audience less than thrilled.

Hijacked from the Russians in Afghanistan, a scene of desolation, bodies everywhere, black SUVs rushing to the scene, dressed in black, out steps Dieter Von Cunth (Kilmer), "Open it up," he says, the doors to a missile launcher open.  The opening scenes from MacGruber set the stage for a 90 minute fast-paced action comedy spoof.  There is only one man for the job, MacGruber, says Col. James Faith (Powers Boothe) to Lt. Dixon Piper (Phillippe), as they walk into a dimly lit room.  In the shadows, kneeling towards the wall, meditating, is MacGruber, thought dead for 10 years; is now selected by the Colonel for this mission to save the world from certain destruction from Von Cunth's mad, fiendish scheme.  True to the SNL sketch format, Lt. Piper rattles off a long list of MacGruber's medals of Honor, service in all the armed forces, and a ridiculous amount of tours in Iraq.  If you have never seen the "Saturday Night Live" sketches, you can now consider yourself up-to-date on who the heck is MacGruber.  At the Pentagon, the Colonel instructs MacGruber to take Piper as his second in command.  At this point, MacGruber and Piper start an argument that reminds one of two brats on the playground, head-butting Piper, and breaking his nose, MacGruber leaves to assemble his team of War Heroes.  Dressed in typical 80's clothes and hair, listening to Toto's "Rosanna," MacGruber is off to enlist Vicki St. Elmo (Wiig) his long dead, fiancĂ©e’s best friend.  In a flashback scene, we get the history of MacGruber and Dieter Von Cunth's history as once friends, then rivals.  MacGruber stole Casey (Maya Rudolph), from Von Cunth, while she was carrying his child.  At Casey's and MacGruber's wedding, during the vows, Von Cunth' detonates a bomb blowing Casey to pieces, most of which, covers Vickie.  Vickie refuses to join MacGruber's team and would rather continue pursuing her music and singing career.

MacGruber's team, played some of  WWE's top wrestlers,  are at the airport, out on the tarmac, as Col. Faith is appealing to MacGruber to reconsider taking Piper on as his second in command.  MacGruber tells Faith and Piper that his heroes are sitting in the van, ready to go. The van is packed with C-4 that he personally made, and stored in the van with his team, and that nothing is going to stop him from going after Von Cunth.  Boom!  The van explodes, body parts thrown everywhere, the team, blown to pieces.  After the funerals, Faith pulls MacGruber off the mission, sending MacGruber into a crying fit as the Colonel leaves his office.  After some pleading and humiliating himself shamelessly, begging Piper and Faith to let him try again, MacGruber pulls his pants back on (don't ask) as Vickie shows up at the Pentagon and tells the Colonel, Piper and MacGruber, that she will join the team.  Piper relents and joins the team and they are off to save the world.

MacGruber: Will Forte - Kristin Wiig | A Constantly Racing Mind

Dropping the F-bomb fairly consistently and alluding to his character's homosexuality along the way, MacGruber includes scenes of Will Forte in several scenes in the nude dancing around with a celery sticking out where the sun don't shine, plenty of swearing, and the inevitable control room scenes that are a hallmark of the SNL, sketches.  Val Kilmer gives a strong performance as Von Cunth, as MacGruber's rival.  During the scenes where MacGruber is confronting Von Cunth, Kilmer is convincing, Forte is annoying.  The Von Cunth role, seemingly written in the same vein as Dr. Evil is to Austin Powers, only Forte is not as funny.  Ryan Phillippe as Lt. Dixon Piper should be mad at Forte, not for using him as a human shield during one of the action scenes, but for what this film will do his career.  Kristen Wiig seems more comfortable in her Vickie St. Elmo part than did Phillippe as Piper.  As an authority figure trying to keep the juveniles from hurting themselves, Powers Boothe, gives MacGruber some acting credibility as he plays his Col. James Faith character, reminiscent of Rambo's Col. Sam Troutman.

Many references from the sketches and to the "MacGyver" TV series will keep some laughing, however, only true fans of the sketches who get it, will appreciate what Forte and Taccone are trying to accomplish.  As an action comedy, Forte delivers action on a consistent basis; the comedic pace is juvenile at best and should rather be compared to Borat or Bruno.  With one of the longest tenures on SNL as a "Not Ready for Prime Time Players," MacGruber is a reason that Will Forte is not ready for the big screen.

Movie Data

Genre: Action, Comedy
Year:  2010
Staring:  Will Forte, Kristen Wiig, Ryan Phillippe, Val Kilmer, Powers Boothe, Maya Rudolph
Director: Jorma Taccone
Producer(s): John Goldwyn, Lorne Michaels
Writer: Will Forte, John Solomon, Jorma Taccone
Rating: R
Running Time: 95 minutes
Release Date: 5/21/2010
Originally published on Associated Content by Robert Barbere on 5/24/2014

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Shrek Forever After: Review

Shrek Forever After -Poster - The Final Chapter | A Constantly Racing Mind R eported to be the last of the Shrek films, "Shrek Forever After" completes the franchise with this charming, but cautionary tale of being careful of what you ask for -- and read the fine print.  Starring the returning voices of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, and the multi-talented Walt Dohrn providing several voices and stars the film's bad guy, Rumpelstiltskin.  Paramount released "Shrek Forever After," in both a 3D version and a non 3-D version, although purely a personal choice, I would go with the 'non 3D' version.

"Shrek Forever After" provides a quick back-story of how Princess Fiona (Diaz) is cursed, and locked up in a tower by a fire-breathing dragon.  How her parents the King and Queen voice by John Cleese and July Andrews, respectively are about to allow Rumpelstiltskin to trick them into signing away the Kingdom of Far Far Away over to him.  At the last moment, a herald brings them news that Shrek lifted Fiona's curse.

Rumpelstiltskin, with the taste of power in his grasp is now out for revenge on Shrek.  Moving forward to nowadays, Shrek, Fiona, and their three baby ogres go through the day-to-day routines that make up life.  Activities like feeding babies, changing babies, fixing outhouses, and the daily tour bus of fans watching as Shrek takes a mud bath, all of which are driving him crazy.  Looking back at the days as a bachelor, when he could roam free, scare villagers, and have no responsibilities, Shrek longs for those days to return.  At the pivotal scene, after losing his temper at his kid’s birthday party, Shrek makes the mistake that we all sometimes make by saying something he will regret later.  Unbeknownst to Shrek, from behind a pile of garbage Rumpelstiltskin is lurking and hears Shrek's lament.  Shrek, telling Fiona that he wished he never saved her from the tower and lifted her curse; he starts a long and lonely walk home.  Taking advantage of the situation, Rumpelstiltskin lays in wait for Shrek to come down the road and as he fakes an accident with his carriage.  After his 'rescuing,' Rumpelstiltskin invites Shrek in for some food and an ‘eyeballtini,’ loosening him up while talking Shrek into signing over to him a day from his life.  As we all do in life, looking for that easy way out of problems, Shrek signs the contract, laden with many clauses and fine print. Rumpelstiltskin and the carriage disappear, and Shrek is left to figure out what life is like in The Kingdom Of Far Far Away as he was never born.

Shrek Forever After: Shrek with Fergus, Farkle and Felicia  | A Constantly Racing Mind

Not as funny as the first three films, "Shrek Forever After" is still an enjoyable movie to see with the kids during the matinee times.  The story is uncomplicated, and is a play on the It’s a Wonderful World theme, as Rumpelstiltskin says, "how’s that for metaphysical paradox?"  The jokes are mediocre, and missing the same power that the previous films had.  The character that kept the movie going was Rumpelstiltskin voiced by Walt Dohrn.  Dohrn also provided the voice of the Priest and the one of the Ogres.  At the end of the film while taking note of the credits I also noticed that he also contributed screenplay material, was a story artist, and wrote the "Birthday Bash" song that all the characters sang in the film.  Musically the film had plenty to offer in the way of hits; from The Carpenter’s "Top of the World" at the beginning to Maxine Nightingale’s "Right Back Where We Started From" at the end.  The film includes Donkey singing some of our favorite tunes, like Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," and James Taylor's "You've Got A Friend," while pulling the cart with the captured Shrek and doubling as a car radio.  The animation is excellent and need to watch this movie in 3D is unnecessary.

This is a family movie and everyone  will find something to enjoy "Shrek Forever After."  I found the film to be charming and story, although simple, easy to sit through for an hour and a half.  While watching this film, the notion came to mind of a baseball game, after eight innings of play, and you are scoring well ahead of the other team, as a coach, you decide to bring up from the bullpen one of your less experienced pitchers and let him have a go at it.  It seems that DreamWorks Animation decided to just that and selected director Mike Mitchell to have a go at it.  My advice, as I have stated before is to watch the non 3D version, as I don't think it is worth the extra three dollars for the pair of glasses.  I already wear prescription glasses and having placed another set over mine is a hassle.  Take the kids, go to the matinee times in your area, watch the regular version or, if you prefer, the IMAX version and enjoy Shrek for the last time.

Movie Data
Genre: Animation,  Adventure, Comedy, Family, Fantasy
Year:  2014
Staring:  Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Walt Dohrn, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews, John Cleese
Director: Mike Mitchell
Producer(s): Teresa Cheng, Gina Shay
Writer: Josh Klausner, Darren Lemke, William Steig (novel "Shrek!")
Rating: PG 
Running Time: 93 minutes
Release Date: 5/21/2010

Published on 5/23/2010 at Associated Content by Robert Barbere

Monday, May 17, 2010

Reviewing the Robin Hood Canon.

Written by winners or the survivors, history is at worst, dry and barren, and tenuous at best. However, on May 14, 2010, Ridley Scott presents his take on the legend of Robin Hood. Promised as the "story that has not been told before," Scott will add to the canon that is Robin Hood.  Unlike Latin, a dead language, storytelling is an art that evolves and changes, unbound by the truth, but limited to the imagination, the story of Robin Hood, evolves and changes to fit mans desire to seek a hero that only exists in our hearts and minds.

The Legend

Throughout the centuries, like King Arthur, a person whom may or may not exist, we struggle to find answers the question of who is Robin Hood, and did he exist.  Historically, no one can say for sure, however, from a storytelling point of view, Robin Hood is a character that flourishes each century in new tales with additions of new characters.  For some of us, Robin Hood is the man in green tights and looks a lot like Errol Flynn from the 1938 film, "The Adventures of Robin Hood”  Perhaps it is Sean Connery from 1976's "Robin and Marian," or Kevin Costner's "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," co-staring Morgan Freeman as Azim the Moor.  Maybe you prefer a parody, such as Mel Brooks's 1993 offering "Robin Hood: Men in Tights," starring Cary Elwes of "The Princess Bride" fame. In fact, IMDB lists 51 Robin Hood feature films, since 1912, starting with a silent version starring Robert Frazer and on television alone, there are 54 versions.[1

Medieval Tales

However, before the cinematic, or dramatic arts came into being, there was the spoken word, and as all oral traditions and histories that the bards tell by the light of a fire,  to amuse each other, these stories, when written down, take on a life of their own.  Here is a selection of the most prominent of them.

Probably the first reference to Robin Hood is by Andrew of Wyntoun circa, 1350.  In the Sevynde Buke (Rook 7), of The Cronykil of Scotland Andrew mentions, on page 263 references, "and Robyne Hude Wayth-men ware commendyd gud: In Ingel-wode and Barnysdale Thai oysyd all this tyme thare trawale.”[2]  This passage describes Robyne Hude as wayth-men or a man who lays in waits, and the author expressing that it is fitting that he does.  However, Andrew places Robyne in Barnysdale southeast of the traditional Nottingham region.[3]

William Langland's William's "Vision of Piers Ploughman," written between 1360 and 1387, describes the dreams or visions of a man seeking to attain the Christian life.  On page 56, line 5,396, Langland writes, "But I kan rymes of Robyn Hood and Randolf Erl of Chestre.”[4]  For many, this brief mention constitutes corroborating evidence, of Robin's existence beyond legend.

Renaissance Tales

In a series of 10 volumes of child ballads from England and Scotland, and collected between 1898, some of which date back to the 15th century, include 119A: "Robin Hood and the Monk," from 1450.  Also in the collection is, "A Gest of Robyn Hode," from circa 1491.  The tale tells us of, "I shall you tel of a gode yeman, His name was Robyn Hode." [5] In the ballad, the writers describe Robyn as a yeoman, or some one of middle-class heritage, less than a knight but not a peasant.

Elizabethan Tales

In "The Downfall of Robert Earl of Huntington," playwright Anthony Munday in 1601, written in thick Elizabethan English, sets Robin as The Earl of Huntington and places him sometime in the court or Richard I of England (Richard the Lionhearted).[6]  The play mentions Little John, Maid Marion, Friar Tuck and the antagonist, Prince John, Richard’s younger brother.  As for Richard, who spent about only six months of his life in England after his coronation on Sept 13 1189?  Richard spent the next six months preparing for his departure for the Third Crusade in the summer of 1190.  The play sets the stage for John's desire for Marion, who goes off with Robert, Earl of Huntington.

Shakespeare's "As You Like It," (1601) the part of Charles, in speaking to Oliver mentions, "...and there they live like the old Robin Hood of England: they say many young gentlemen flock[s] to him every day, and fleet the time carelessly, as they did in the golden world."[7]

Georgian Era Tales

Thomas Percy in 1764 published his "Reliques Of Ancient English Poetry," which includes the poem, "Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne."  Percy describes Robin, "In this time [about the year 1190, in the reign of Richard I.] were many robbers, and outlawes, among the which Robin Hood, and Little John, renowned theeves, continued in woods, despoyling and robbing the goods of the rich.  They killed none but such as would invade them, or by resistance for their own defence."[8]

In 1819 Scottish novelist, Sir Walter Scott, recounts in the romantic story, "Ivanhoe," the story of how King Richard I and Robin Hood, reclaim the throne from his younger brother John.[9]

Sir Ridley Scott’s Cinematic Form

From yeoman to knight, from outlaw to hero fighting the injustice of King John, the story of Robin Hood molds itself to fit the audience. A master of retelling history in an a way that is captivating, bending the truth as needed to tell his story dramatically, Sir Ridley Scott,  tells epic stories that entertain first, without apology.  In "Gladiator" (2000), Scott creates the character, Maximus Decimus Meridius and alters the facts about Emperors Marcus Aurelius and Commodus to create a memorable, but historically less than factual, action-adventure period piece.  In "Kingdom of Heaven" (2005), Ridley Scott alters the historical facts of Balian of Ibelin, combining rumors of his brother's possible affair with the Sibylla, Queen of Jerusalem, to create a romantic tale of chivalry and war.  Perhaps Scott learned a lesson from his film "1492: Conquest of Paradise," mostly accurate historically, the film received poor reviews grossing only $7,191,399 domestically.[10]

A Welcome to the Canon

Therefore, the question remains, which re-telling of Robin Hood is your favorite.  Is it a selection from the Middle Ages or the modern Robin Hood of 20th and 21st century?  Will it be the 2010 version, starring Russell Crowe? My take on remakes and re-imaginings of an art form is that as long as Sir Ridley Scott adds to the canon, develops the character, and entertains me.  If Scott’s story and character development deliver on the promise of a couple of hours of escape from the day-to-day worries of economic decline, of global warming, and of international politics. Then I cannot wait until May 14.

[1] IMDB Robin Hood Movie List
[2] The orygynale cronykil of Scotland.
[3] Map Barnsdale
[4] William's Vision of Piers Ploughman
[5] A Gest of Robyn Hode
[6] Anthony Munday - Earl of Huntington
[7] As You Like it
[8] Reliques
[9] Ivanhoe text & Ivanhoe- Sparknotes
[10] 1492: Conquest of Paradise - boxoffice

Monday, May 10, 2010

Iron Man 2: A Review of the Summer Season's Opener

Iron Man 2: Poster | A Constantly Racing Mind

A Better Clash of Titans

A re you ready for an action-adventure thrill ride? Good, well buckle up for "Iron Man 2" as Robert Downey, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, and Gwyneth Paltrow hit the big screens Friday. Once again Downey pulls an over the top performance as the man with the cool suit. This two-hour fast paced, rocket ride of a film, advances the Iron Man story, giving us an opportunity to re-enjoy the experience of the first film without rehashing too much of the first story. Fun for the whole family, actor, and director Jon Favreau maintains the directing the helm for "Iron Man 2" while continuing his part as Stark's sideman, Happy Hogan. Like the first film, "Iron Man," make sure you stay for the end credits for the sneak peek of "Iron Man 3."

Picking up where "Iron Man" left off, media images recount Stark's rise to fame as he announces his identity as Iron Man. The scene settles somewhere in a dingy apartment in a squalid Russia city, Anton Vanko and his son Ivan (Mickey Rourke) watch Stark making his announcement. As Anton lies dying, Ivan promises revenge. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) aka Iron Man has problems of his own. Apparently, the device Tony stuck in his chest in the last movie is causing his blood to toxify and he is slowly poisoning himself to death, unable to create a new source of power to keep him and the suit working, Tony figures his end is near. After 35 years, Tony throws another Stark Expo, a yearlong extravaganza of technology and advancement. A bread and circus for the 21st century man, showing a film clip of his father, Howard Stark, played by John Slattery ("Mad Men"), looking like Walt Disney, shows of his, World of Tomorrow where, Everything is achievable through technology. George Lucas once said, "A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing," and writer/actor Justin Theroux, strives to give "Iron Man 2" a story, failing that he gives it plenty of action. The story meanders a bit, but with all the explosions going on most folks won't notice. Like the James Bond films, auto placement is key in marketing "Iron Man," leaving Stark Expo, and heading for his Audi R8 Spyder V10, Tony and Happy meet with a court subpoena delivered by a U.S. Marshal played by Kate Mara (The Shooter) in a brief appearance. Look for Stan Lee ("Iron Man" creator) in the expo crowd.

Iron Man 2: Mickey Rourke - Ivan Vanko | A Constantly Racing Mind
The United States government, led by Senator Stern (Garry Shandling), along with Stark's principal competitor, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) of Hammer Industries, conspires in a plot to gain control of the Iron Man weapon. Stark, in a scene before a congressional hearing that is reminiscent of Howard Hughes in 1947, appeals to the audience with his charisma and his popularity. At the end of the scene, Tony declares that he, Tony Stark, is Iron Man and that he and the suit are one and the government can't have either. Sam Rockwell ("Moon"), playing corporate rival Justin Hammer, gives the film yet another main character to wander off into. In addition to Cheadle, enter Scarlett Johansson as Natalie Rushman, legal aid to Tony and Pepper Potts. Oh, yes Pepper Potts played once again by Gwyneth Paltrow, taking a backseat in the movie, while taking charge of Stark Industries. The trailer for "Iron Man 2" shows a developing relationship that never seemed to make it to the theaters. My only thought there would be; is something going to happen in "Iron Man 3?" Replacing Terrance Howard as Stark's military buddy and confidant, 'Rhodey' Rhodes, Air Force Colonel, is Don Cheadle. In my mind, either Cheadle or Howard could have pulled off this part. Both are brilliant actors; however, this part is only a fourth order part as the real credit goes to Mickey Rourke. Rourke has a plain and ugly, tattoo ridden, smelly, bad greasy-hair look that genuinely makes his villain of a character work. Ivan (Rourke) puts a suit together that rivals Tony's and he presents it at the Monte Carlo Grand Prix. Like a gladiator with electric whips, as part of Ivan's suit's weaponry, Ivan destroys formula one cars, until he crashes Tony's car, Tony barely escapes with the help of Happy, and Pepper and a nice big Roll Royce. With Ivan in prison, Stark must confront the fact that without a power supply that does not poison his blood, he is going to die. Convinced by Natalie/Natasha (Johansson) that he should do whatever he wants for his last birthday, Stark dons the Iron Man suit, gets drunk, and dances around foolishly embarrassing himself, and puts his guests in danger. Rhodes intervenes by donning one of Tony's spare suits, and the two battle it out in true clash of the Titans form. After the battle, Rhodes steals the suit and escapes to Edwards Air force Base, in the Mojave Desert, in the California desert. The military, in league with Justin Hammer, plan to militarize the stolen suit. Hammer has Ivan busted out of prison and recruits him to build working Iron Man suits for his company. Ivan, on the other hand, decides to make Iron Man drones for Hammer, instead of Iron Man suits. George Lucas's Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), the industry standard in special effects since 1977, is an expert on creating drone armies, and on behalf of Ivan Vanko create a set for the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines.

Iron Man 2: Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff   | A Constantly Racing Mind
As promised in the first movie, at the very end, after the credits Nick Fury, (Samuel L. Jackson), appears in "Iron Man 2" as behind the scenes guiding force for Tony Stark. As a friend of Tony's father, Howard, Jackson, and agent, Natasha/Natalie, the girl from legal that Pepper hired into Stark Industries, provide and direct Tony toward the key to solving the problem of a clean power supply for himself and insight to his father's intentions for Tony. Robert Downey is "Iron Man," and his charisma is what carries this character and the film. Downey spends more time out of the suit than in the suit, developing the narcissistic, unstable, flawed yet brilliant, Tony Stark. Scarlett Johansson and Gwyneth Paltrow, as Cheadle and even Jackson, are minor characters compared to Rourke and Rockwell. Both actors add to and compliment Downey's role. The special effects are fantastic, and help to tell the story and not overcome it. Favreau does an excellent job, putting an extremely action oriented story in a cohesive manner that gets the story across, develops the multitude of characters, keeps the pace moving and give himself just enough screen time to make his part more than a cameo. Favreau features AC/DC songs from their long career, ranging from "Highway to Hell," "Back in Black" and about twelve others, adding to the sheer thrill to the film.

As the summer movie season begins, "Iron Man 2" is a worthy successor to Iron Man. This film moves the story, and characters to another level. Iron Man2 lives up to the viewer's expectations of what an action-adventure film sequel should be. Heed my warning do not leave the theater until after the credits, to see for yourself what may be coming in "Iron Man 3."

Movie Data
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Year:  2010
Staring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke
Director: Jon Favreau
Producer(s): Kevin Feige
Writer: Justin Theroux, Stan Lee, Don Heck, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 124 minutes
Release Date: 5/10/2010

Originally published on Associated Content on 5/10/2010