Tag Archives: Terrence Howard

“IRON MAN” Review (✫✫✫✫)

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Reinventing the modern-day Superman.

Be honest with me, readers: who was expecting Iron Man to be good? I know I certainly wasn’t. I looked at the film’s poster and consecutively thought three things. 1) Iron Man… isn’t that the robot guy that helps Spider-Man every once in a while? 2) Wait, Robert Downey Jr. is starring? He’s still acting? 2) Directed by Jon Favreau… the actor? Wasn’t he in Daredevil? And he also directed Elf and Zathura… is this a kids movie?

Luckily, I was proven wrong on every single front and then some. Iron Man is an astonishing, spectacular movie, a superhero epic that understands and personifies every aspect of the character alongside the visual effects. It understands his origin story, his motivation, his relationship with other characters. Himself as he experiences guilt, regret, and ultimately redemption for his past sins. This is a movie that can not only stand toe-to-toe with some of the greatest action films of the past decade: in many ways, it exceeds the genre itself to create something much more unique and compelling.

Billionaire and CEO of Stark Industries Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has it all. Girls. Money. Martinis. All because he is a brilliant scientist and weapons manufacturer that constantly outsources to the U.S. military and anyone willing to pay his high-dollar price. But when Tony is captured by a terrorist organization known as “The Ten Rings” while on a business trip in Afghanistan, he realizes what his weapons are truly being used for: disaster, destruction, and death. Now, the Ten Rings want him to make his most destructive weapon yet for their nefarious purposes. Struck hard by this horrible turn of events, Tony creates a suit of armor capable of flight, strength, and laser-firing technology, and vows to fight the Ten Rings and anyone else who dares to use his weapons for destruction again.

He is no longer just Tony Stark. He has become Iron Man.

For that matter, so has Robert Downey Jr.

I need to talk about Downey Jr. before talking about anything else. Downey Jr. is the direct influence behind this film’s success: the definitive superhero performance that hasn’t been this fulfilled since Christopher Reeve put on the cape as Superman. Downey Jr. doesn’t just play Iron Man: he also plays Tony Stark, and that’s very important to understand. If he was just playing Iron Man, all he would need to do is say a few lines in between action sequences and let the visual effects do the rest of the acting for him. That doesn’t happen in this movie. Downey Jr. and director Jon Favreau smartly observe that the true appeal of the film does not come from its action and violence, but from its character, who is complex and characteristic enough to maintain interest all by himself without needing extra help from the visual effects.

Take the film’s anti-war message as a testament to its emotional weight. In the beginning, Stark is an egotistical, sarcastic, smirking, and wickedly intelligent businessman who could be considered the Donald Trump of modern warfare. He thinks he’s building all of these weapons to protect people, and then his world is flipped completely on his head as he sees all of the damage being done in Middle Eastern countries through his design. There was one great action sequence in the movie where Tony, suited up as Iron Man, fights members of the Ten Rings army in Afghanistan. These soldier’s are tearing through innocent civilian’s homes, shooting blind fire into crowds, and taking families hostage. One child is about to witness his papa’s murder before Tony flies in at the last second to save him. On the surface, this is an exciting and unique action scene, and a rare instance where the world of the superhero crosses over into our world of reality. Can you name another movie where a superhero is fighting terrorists in the Middle East? I wonder. Since the movie carries a very clear anti-war angle to it, could this scene possibly be considered commentary on our involvement in the war in Afghanistan?

Maybe I’m reading too much into it. Maybe I’m not. But the point is that the movie doesn’t see Iron Man as a superhero. It sees him as a person, ridden with guilt and trying to do good deeds to serve as penance for his ignorance. This deepness rivals the complexion of the recently released The Dark Knight, another superhero movie that looks at its hero through a real-world perspective instead of the fantastical, wild panels of a comic book.

And Downey Jr.’s delivery is spot-on. His quick-witted remarks and condescending quips make him every bit an entertaining character as it does an introspective one. Downey Jr. personifies and embodies the role so well that it seems like he’s no longer acting, but simply being. Downey Jr. is a complete natural as both Tony Stark and Iron Man in the film. Even if this weren’t a superhero movie, I think I would still be interested in the movie due to his emotional gravitas and his comedic sense of timing. He’s that great in the role, to the point where we have just as much fun watching Tony Stark as we do Iron Man.

And the action. Oh my word, the action. Normally I don’t like writing about action sequences, because writing about action is boring. You like to experience the action: not hear someone else talk about it. But here, I feel compelled to talk about it. Because again, we understand the character. We know where he’s coming from, and we relate to him. Because of this, a lot of the film’s action sequences carry a lot more weight to them, because we understand these people and why they’re fighting. So whenever we see Tony building a robust Iron Man armor to escape from an army camp, or see him suit up and experience excitement as he’s flying for the first time, or when we sense his determination as tensions rises both in the states and in the middle east, we know where Tony is at and why he is there. This is not mindless action, but action with a purpose: the best kind you can have in any movie.

I knock off one point, and one point alone for the film’s one weakness: Tony’s last line in the movie. No, I won’t spoil what he says, but I will say if I was a high-flying, armor-weilding superhero like Tony, I would not say what he said in a million, million, million years. The movie is flawless otherwise. I don’t know what I was expecting out of a B-grade superhero, but I ended up getting an A-grade product. Iron Man is to today as Superman was to 1980: it has defined the superhero genre of film, showing us what it can do and demonstrating what it can be. More films should aspire to be as impactful as Iron Man is.

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly referred to Afghanistan as Iraq. 

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“THE BUTLER” Review (✫✫✫✫)

A humble heart living through harsh times.  

When we watch movies like The Butler, we are reminded of our history and why we must never return to the horrible origins that we came from.  When I say that, I am saying that regardless of race.  The film is obviously centered around the issues of slavery, segregation, and racism, and asks us to feel sympathy towards the African population for all of the horrible things they’ve been through.  But the movie evokes a more powerful emotion from me personally, a deep sense of regret and shame that my own race, the Caucasians, were at one point responsible for all of the death and cruelty we inflicted upon our own African brothers.  And why?  Because they have a different pigment than us?  That’s the sort of hate and bias that lead us to World War II when Adolph Hitler led the Third Reich against the Jews.

Based on the career of real-life butler Eugene Allen, The Butler follows the story of Cecil Gaines, a black butler who grew up during the slave era, growed up learning how to be a white man’s servant, got a job at the White House, and continued to serve there for almost 35 years. Throughout his career he witnesses history unfold in itself, from President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s (Robin Williams) decision to enforce desegregation laws in Arkansas, to witnessing the assassination of John F. Kennedy (James Mardesen), to seeing the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and the Black Panthers, to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., to the eventual inauguration of Illinois Senator Barack Obama into office.

The Butler is an earnest, humble film, parts approachable and observant yet equally ambitious and honest. Like movies such as Ghandi, The Hurricane, and The Shawshank Redemption, this is a movie that looks into the reality of situations and shows them exactly how they were, no matter how tragic or heartbreaking those circumstances were.

Take, for example, the scene where the Ku Klux Klan is introduced.  During his college years, Cecil’s son Louis (wonderfully portrayed by David Oyelowo), was on a bus to protest against a racist Alabama.  While on their way, their bus stops suddenly as they stare at the white-robed, torch-bearing Klan staring at them with their hateful eyes.  Equal parts petrified and terrified, the protestors desperately tried to escape before the Klan started igniting the bus with fire and molotovs.

I sat there watching these scene, equally infuriated and enraged as I was emotional and mournful.  How could this be our country?  How could this have once been our land, our people who so hypocritically claimed to be the land of the brave and home of the free?

To watch these scenes and to incur such an emotion takes great skill and courage, and I think Lee Daniels does a great job orchestrating these scenes in ways that makes them so emotional and powerful.  Daniels, who was nominated for an Oscar in 2009 for Precious took quite a fall last year when he made Paperboy, a idyllic, preposterous, and morally reprehensible film that was anything except relevant, coherent, and well, good.  Here Daniels redeems himself, and leads a star-studded cast through such a gripping, overwhelming story that I think it surpasses his accomplishes even with 2009’s Precious.

Oh yes, the cast.  The cast is what makes this picture, but you already know that if you take the time to simply read the cast list.  Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan.  Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan.  John Cusack as Richard Nixon.  Liev Schriber as Lyndon B. Johnson.  Minka Kelly as Jackie Kennedy.  John Mardesen as JFK.  Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower.  Alex Pettyfr as a plantation owner.  Terrence Howard as Cecil’s neighbor.  Cuba Gooding Jr. as a head butler.  For Pete’s sake, Mariah Carrey is in the film as Cecil’s mother and she doesn’t even say a line of dialogue.

The best performances, however, are the lead ones by Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey.  Whitaker, who won the academy award for The Last King Of Scotland in 2006, steals the show in every single scene he’s in, showing the still portrait of a man who is tired, weary, and emotionally strained, a man who has seen endless ages of wrongful suffering but can do little to change it because he’s worrying about himself and his family.  Winfrey is equally as striking as his wife Gloria, a woman who is also hurting and in deep suffering because of her situation and because of a drinking problem she has long struggled with.  Both of these characters are central and integral to the plot and to the progression of the story, and at many times, they’re the only ones carrying the movie through as a whole.

The Butler is one of the best films of the year.  Period.  I know there’s a lot of movies about African-American history being released later on this year (Such as Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom and 12 Years A Slave), but there’s no denying the power, drama, or the history the movie so brilliantly provides us.  Yes, there are some inaccuracies to the butler’s real-life story (Starting with his name, with the real name being Eugene Allen), but the fact that it is loosely told is the best asset Daniels has towards his narrative. Since the figure is so little-known in today’s world, it allows Daniels to let loose and tell the story that he wants to tell, not the story that he’s committed to tell.  This is a movie that shows the history of a great man and a humble servant who was simply trying to support his family and to get through the days of wrongful judgement and discrimination.

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