Iron Man 3

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Ahh, the start of the summer movie season. This is when the Superheroes come out to play. Fans get in line early for these big-budget, star-studded, action-packed films to add to their collection of “have-seen” movies so they can go talk amongst themselves of what went right, what went wrong, and speculation on what the next installment will bring. Tony Stark and the rest of the “Iron Man 3” gang made their debut this weekend, and with great hope from moviegoers all over the globe. I got to the theater and came to a very crowded (to be expected) theater, even for the 10:20 showing. Families put aside bedtime, and date night seemed to center on this film. Squished between popcorn eating, Coca-Cola sipping fans, the lights dimmed, and the movie began.

Okay, now that we are through the opening description of the epic summer movie season, here is my brief synopsis of this film. Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) (Robert Downey, Jr.) is faced with his greatest threat to date, with the terrorist, the Mandarin, sorta kinda played by Ben Kingsley (I won’t go any further than that). There is a threat placed on America, and Iron Man is followed by the press, as usual. He has had enough of dealing with a “coward” as he calls him, so Tony calls out the Mandarin on live television. He goes as far as to give him his home address, inviting a fight. And the fight does come. Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), a previous associate of both Tony and Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) comes back into their lives and he does so having performed a great deal of research on cell regeneration, something he uses to his advantage, and something he tries to drag both of them into. Pepper comes into great danger, and Tony must do all he can to save the one thing he says “he can’t live without”.

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I never know quite how to comment on a third film in a series, because I like for a series to be done in three films, and comment on the third by placing a nice bow on my thoughts, but as the film states in the credits, “Tony Stark will be back”. So, I will refrain from my “this is the end of a great trilogy” comments. The fact is, this is a fun film, although I thought there were some weird plot choices, especially when it came to the Mandarin. Although trailers are often misleading, I was excited to see what this boss, played by the excellent Ben Kingsley would do. So, that was a letdown. We struggle with Tony Stark through a lot of his personal trials. He experiences a series of panic attacks resulting from the events in New York (from “The Avengers“) where he nearly died. His relationship with Pepper is a centerpiece to this film as well. We already know that they are in love, but this sheds a lot more light on how much Pepper truly means to him. That is a feature of some of these Superhero movies that I like. I enjoy the human aspect, which is one reason “The Dark Knight” series is my favorite of this genre.

Guy Pearce has a large role in this film, and really should have been featured more in the marketing for this film. But, having seen it now, it does make sense why they would make the choice to divert your attention away from his character. I struggled a little bit with his characters direction, and his motivation for doing what he does. But I do tend to have that issue with a lot of the villains that I come across in my movie-watching. Of course it is all about power, and a lot of times about money, and maybe a little bit of jealousy and revenge. I just hoped for some more depth in his character.

This is not a bad start to the summer movie season. There is a lot to like about this film, but I can’t say that this is my favorite even of this series. The first installment of the “Iron Man” series is without a doubt, the best. The second, I won’t even comment on, but to say that it is not a part of my personal film collection for a reason. If you’re up for a good time, then this film will do the job.

 

– David B. Harrington

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42

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Sports holds in its annals some of the most inspiring events in human history. The story of Jackie Robinson stands on its own as a story of immense courage, and illustrates how one person truly can make a change, and see that change through much tribulation.

Brian Helgeland (A Knights Tale) does not have a Directorial resume to stand up to any big-time Hollywood Director, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Taking on a project like this, and telling the story of such an important individual is, in my opinion, a gutsy move. But Helgeland handled it well. He created what may very well be the best picture of the year so far. The story follows, of course, Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) who plays baseball in the negro leagues. He is recruited by Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), an executive for the Brooklyn Dodgers, to try out for the Montreal Royals, a farm team to the Brooklyn Dodgers. He makes the team and is eventually picked up by the Dodgers after he proves himself. Along the way, Robinson proposes to his girlfriend, Rachel (Nicole Beharie) who accepts. Robinson faces immense opposition as he is the only colored player in a league of white men. Branch sticks with his guy, offering encouragement when needed. Eventually, Robinson comes to gain the respect of his teammates, and is key to their clinching the National League Pennant for the 1947 season.

I could name a few sports films that I like better than this, but rest assured that “42” deserves some respect. Harrison Ford is on top of his game (no pun intended) in his role as Branch Rickey. He has a few really key scenes in the film that are crucial to the growth of Robinson in becoming the player he was. Boseman, who has done a lot of work in television, and is a relatively unknown actor was wonderful in his role as Jackie Robinson. He really embraced what Robinson was all about. The emotion that he displays on screen, especially when he was being harassed by Manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk) of the Philadelphia Phillies was gripping. Robinson was not only superhuman in the way that he played the game, but he was superhuman in how he handled the opposition he faced in becoming a part of the game. Beharie is perfect in the role of Rachel Robinson. She didn’t take the role over the top, which I feel like she easily could have done, given the circumstances her character is put in. She is a solid support system for her husband, who looks to her regularly for support. Andre Holland who plays Wendell Smith, a reporter out of Detroit plays a crucial role as well. He asks Robinson at one point if he knows why he has to sit in the stands with his typewriter on his lap. He states that it is because he is not allowed in the press box because of the color of his skin, and reiterates to Robinson that he is fighting for a lot more than just himself.

I found it interesting that the number 42 is the only number ever to be retired in Major League Baseball. Robinson deserves the recognition that he has been given. He changed the game of baseball, and helped propel forward equality amongst human beings, a battle that is still being fought today. This was a wonderful film that should not be missed, whether you are a fan of baseball or not. Well done.

 

– David B. Harrington

Evil Dead (2013)

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The poster for this film very boldly states that this is “The most terrifying film you will ever experience”. I don’t know that my horror education has led me to believe that this is the most terrifying film I have ever experienced, but it may very well be the goriest. Fede Alvarez leaves very little to the imagination in his 2013 revamp of Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead”. The film follows five friends who join one another at a remote cabin where one of them is trying to kick a drug habit. Her brother, who hasn’t been around much over the years, comes out as a part of the group to help her out. She literally throws her stash down into a well and declares that she is going cold turkey. She quickly acts out, and her friends think that she is experiencing withdrawals from the drug addiction, but the soon find out that it is much more than that. An ancient book of evil has been unearthed, and the five at the cabin soon face that evil head on when one of the five summons the evil by reciting some of the book’s contents.

I grew up on classic horror. Aside from the older Bela Lugosi section of the genre, my education came from Kubrick, Craven, Carpenter, and Raimi just to name a few. I don’t know that there is a lot of originality left in storytelling and filmmaking, as much as there is re-inventing. That is what takes place here. This film does not have as much of the campy feel that its predecessor boasted, but rather displays more of a shock factor, and a somewhat more well thought out story. There are several scenes in this film that will leave even the most seasoned horror fan questioning if they should have eaten just before viewing it. Alvarez wanted to stay away from CGI and give the viewer a lot more intense, realistic experience. I shudder when I say that he achieved that at a very high level. I am going to stay away from spoilers in this review, and let you (if it’s your thing) go see this for yourself.

My cousin (whom I went and saw the film with) offered up a really interesting interpretation to the story. Mia (Jane Levy) who is kicking her drug habit, shows all the signs of addiction to her drug. She shows signs of hope, and definite signs of withdrawal, and throughout the film we see this progression through her desired change. As a part of the process (as with any drug user trying to kick the habit) she literally faces her demons, and has to conquer those before she can truly be free. It makes perfect sense if you watch the film from this perspective. The original film does not take this approach, and we don’t get a lot of backstory on this book of evil like we do this time around. If you are a fan of the original, there is a fun tidbit to wait for after the credits.

While I appreciate some of the elements of this film, including a new way to present this story, I don’t know that I can say I liked it. It’s akin to a really bad car accident in that what you are seeing is making you sick, but you can’t look away. This one belongs to the die hard horror film addicts. And that is just fine.

 

– David B. Harrington

Snitch

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Ric Roman Waugh is essentially nonexistent at this point as a Director in Hollywood, and has certainly not made a solid name for himself. “Snitch” is Waugh’s next chapter in his career, as he takes the reins on a story based on true events. The film features John Matthews (Dwayne Johnson), a father of a kid (Rafi Gavron) who is busted by the cops for intent to distribute when he accepts and opens a package from a courier filled with drugs. He received the package from a friend and swears he had no intent to do anything with the drugs and was in fact set up. Jason (Gavron) is sent to prison, and is facing a term of 10-30 years. His father does not want to see this happen to his son, as he has complete belief in him and his innocence.

John decides to take matters into his own hands. He speaks with Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon), the prosecuting attorney to strike a deal to get his son out of prison. She agrees that if Jason gives up some names in the drug business that she will reduce his sentence. Jason has no names to give, so John asks Joanne if she will agree to shorten his son’s sentence if he is able to help them make some arrests. She agrees, and John goes undercover to work with the drug dealers linked to the drug supply. John works with one of his employees at his trucking business who is an ex-con, to get an introduction to the drug dealers. What ensues is not only an introduction to the local drug dealers, but a direct path to the head of the drug cartel.

 

Dwayne Johnson’s performance leaves a lot to be desired, as usual. That being said, this was definitely his type of role. I would have bought more into his role as concerned parent if his dialogue wasn’t so horrible. He isn’t as much of a tough guy in this movie as in others, but it is what it is. There is some entertainment value here. I do like Barry Pepper as Agent Cooper who is in the shadows of John’s undercover job, calling the shots.

I would compare this movie to the overall pace and flavor of “Contraband” with Mark Wahlberg, who tries to help his Brother-in-Law who gets in deep as a drug runner. Again, there is some entertainment value there, but not much else. This movie might not be the worst action movie, but I would still wait for Red Box on this one if you want to check it out.

 

– David B. Harrington

The Twilight Zone

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Introduction

I grew up watching television and movies as a means to feed my imagination. I saw stories unfold on the screen that would be a part of me forever. I remember the first time I watched “The Breakfast Club” or “To Kill a Mockingbird“, or “The Dick Van Dyke Show“. I remember when I became addicted to “Seinfeld“, staying up late so that I could watch it after “The Simpsons” (another favorite) on Fox. It was films and TV shows like these that shaped the type of media consumer I am today. However, there was one show that impacted me like no other. “The Twilight Zone” was introduced to me by a close friend growing up. My first exposure to the show was “Mr. Dingle, the Strong” starring the wonderful Burgess Meredith. From the first episode, I was hooked on these strange stories of fantasy, horror, and even of the human experience on which it shed a very revealing light. It was revealing in the sense that these stories revealed a lot of truth about human nature, and the consequences that may ensue from acting in a less than admirable way. Other episodes were way out there, and were just pure entertainment rather than a morality tale.

At my time of introduction to this fascinating show, I was heavy into collecting VHS movies. I would record movies and TV shows off of the family TV, sometimes locking it up from anyone being able to use it for hours at a time, because I was recording the “Friday the 13th” marathon or taping featured films on TCM’s Oscar watch. The Scyfy Channel would air “Twilight Zone” Marathons a couple times a year, namely on the Fourth of July and New Years. I remember the first New Years after I saw the show, I purchased a stack of VHS tapes. I was intent on taping the whole marathon, and over time, collecting the whole series of episodes. I was up around the clock. I had printed off an episode guide online, and would highlight each episode I taped. I had heavy eyes as I tried to stay awake and record at 2 and 3 in the morning. But it was worth it. I was totally hooked.

Origins

Rod Serling presented a teleplay to CBS entitled “The Time Element”, which they purchased. This was Serling’s first mark on Science Fiction. This episode that Serling hoped would be the start to a weekly anthology series, really set the tone for the series that would follow. However, CBS shelved the teleplay they purchased, and it looked as if “The Twilight Zone” might not happen.

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It took a few years, but CBS eventually ran the show, to a very pleased audience. This was the springboard for what Serling really wanted to see unfold, and that it did. Upon reception of “The Time Element”, CBS engaged in talks with Serling about producing a full-out series. “Where is Everybody?” premiered on October 2, 1959 and would be the first episode of a 5-Season show that would have an impact to last the ages.  

Impact on Television and Pop Culture

“The Twilight Zone” has had a tremendous impact on the television medium and pop culture in general. Television, even according to Serling was seen as a very limited medium. Time constraints and advertising was seen as a hindrance to the overall experience. Rod Serling and his creation of “The Twilight Zone” proved that television could be a force to be reckoned with.

The Outer Limits“, a somewhat lackadaisical competitor to “The Twilight Zone”, and most definitely not a worthy opponent, ran from 1963-65. Although there were a few good episodes, the show stood no chance to its much superior predecessor in the Science Fiction television genre.

Many shows, even including later reincarnations of “The Twilight Zone” would follow this masterpiece only to be shadowed by the original. “The Outer Limits“, “Tales from the Dark Side“, “The X-Files“, Serling’s “Night Gallery“, and even the children’s series “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” aired by Nickelodeon in the early 90’s would all attempt to borrow some of the magic from Rod Serling’s original creation. Endless TV shows and films have also referenced the show.   

Twilight Zone: The Movie

1983 found Joe Dante, John Landis (Director of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller“), George Miller, and Steven Spielberg directing a movie version of “TheTwilight Zone“. The film starred Dan Aykroyd (“The Great Outdoors“, “Tommy Boy“) and John Lithgow (“Footloose“, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes“) to name only a couple. There are several segments throughout the film, meant to play like a compilation of the old television episodes. Critical acclaim was not received, and this film has really found a spot in the dark corners of the Sci-Fi genre, but nonetheless is worthy of a mention, especially for those die hard 80’s movies fans.

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The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Disney featured an attraction titled “The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror” in their Disney-MGM Studios portion of their Disney World theme park. A few years later in 1997, there would be a made-for-TV movie, by the same name, starring Steve Guttenberg and Kirsten Dunst which was really another fail for TZ movies. The same attraction found at Disney-MGM Studios would open in later years, most notably in Disney’s California Adventure in 2004. It is a definite highlight for any visit to a Disney theme park, and a great addition to the Rod Serling’s legacy. 

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Notable Twilight Zone Web Sites

There are a lot of fan-made TZ websites available. Among the saturation, there are a couple notable sites. First off, The Twilight Zone Museum is a fun one. Here, fans have access to episode information, TZ Convention information, Cast Bios, and an array of media (i.e. books, DVD’s, merchandise, etc.).

Another great TZ site, The Twilight Zone Archives offers much the same that The Twilight Zone Museum does, but features a more polished and interactive experience, although none of the two would be up for any web design awards. If you want Rod Serling information, access to TZ media, and even a petition for a Rod Serling stamp, this site is for you.

Twilight Zone in Publication

There are a lot of TZ books in publication. “The Twilight Zone Companion is easily the most recommended piece of published TZ history, and can be purchased at a very reasonable price. This paperback offers in-depth information on each and every TZ episode, including airing dates and cast information as well as a lengthy synopsis. Marc Scott Zicree really went to all lengths to give TZ fans what each of them should have. This book came packaged with the first run of “The Complete Series” of the show.

There are other publications such as original stories from the TZ and some novels and radio dramas (also contained in the DVD set) that can also be purchased.

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Availability

“The Twilight Zone” can be found in a wide range of media. Whether you are looking for VHS (obviously outdated, but maybe collectible), DVD, or Blu Ray, you can find a TZ to fit your needs. Also, the show is available for digital download on iTunes and Amazon.

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Favorite Episodes

There are many episodes I consider to be “favorite episodes”. It really is like picking a favorite child. That being said, here are a few episodes I find to be especially worthy of such mention (in no particular order).

The New Exhibit” 4/4/1963 – When a museum has to close down, the Curator takes home the wax dolls featured on the “Murderer’s Row” exhibit. What ensues is abnormal activity for wax dolls.

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” 10/11/1963 – William Shatner is featured in this episode of a man recovering from a panic attack. His wife and he are flying home, and although he feels he has recovered, he swears to his wife and the flight staff that he sees a creature on the wing of the plane.

Walking Distance” 10/30/1959 – A man on a business trip on his way home to New York City finds himself walking down an old dirt road back to his hometown, while his car is repaired. What he finds is that he has taken a step back in time, and sees himself as a boy. He tries to confront him, but soon finds that he must let the past be the past and move on.

A Game of Pool” 10/13/1961 – Featuring Jack Klugman and Jonathan Winters, we find a man who wants to be the best at a game that he loves. The only problem is, the man who is considered the best, is long dead. So, he is given a chance to beat him, when he comes back from the dead to take part in a sort of duel to see who is truly the best at the game of pool.

There are many other favorite episodes. I would strongly suggest if you have not seen the show, to take a sampling from every season, because there is something great to offer with each of the five seasons.

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Final Thoughts

It is easy for me to say that “The Twilight Zone” is my favorite television show of all-time simply because there is nothing that comes close to it in overall likability and range of stories. This show is absolutely brilliant in its writing and acting. This show features some of the greatest actors ever to live. I still find myself on regular occasion, watching episodes late into the night, simply because that is how I watched this show when I was introduced to it, and because the atmosphere of the night lends well to a lot of these stories.

 

Television and media in general will forever be in debt to Mr. Serling whose contribution to not only the medium of television, but the medium of writing and overall creativity, has been unmatched. I tip my hat to Mr. Serling, and look forward to many more visits to the Twilight Zone.

 

– David B. Harrington 

A Good Day to Die Hard

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The ever-popular “Die Hard” franchise adds another piece to its collection of explosions and gunfights with John Moore at the helm, in “A Good Day to Die Hard“. This film finds John McClane (Bruce Willis) travelling to Russia to find his son, Jack McClane (Jai Courtney) who is in Russia as a spy for the CIA, unbeknownst to his father, who is there simply to bring him home. Jack is in the middle of a battle to intercept a heist for nuclear weapons. John is viewed as an annoyance to his kid until they discover that they make a pretty good team, and start taking out bad guys one by one.

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What you see is what you get with this film, and maybe even a little less. Even for this action franchise, this one fell short of what I would have liked to have seen. The first film as well as the last (“Live Free or Die Hard“) both brought a lot of fun to the franchise, and are really the only two strong pieces. This film fell in love with itself and forgot what it actually is, a very mediocre action film. The dialogue was horrendous at times, and the action very much something we have seen time and again.

The relationship between John and his son is obviously bad, but we are constantly reminded of this through cliche phrases and actions. Jack is constantly cursing out his father for being there, and messing with his plans, while John is trying to mend his relationship with his son.  They go back and forth with sarcastic remarks about being in the situation they are in. John is constantly saying something to the effect of “I’m supposed to be on vacation”. It all gets really old really fast.

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There were some decent action sequences, but we were given nothing we haven’t seen before. But maybe that was the direction of this film to begin with, to give viewers more nonsense to chew on until the next film outdated and overused action move comes out.

**SPOILER ALERT**

There was an attempt at an intense side plot that just did not work. Komarov, a political prisoner has a partnership with his daughter to take nuclear weapons. We are led to believe at first reunion between him and his daughter, Irina (Yuliya Snigir), that she has betrayed him and sided with the bad guys to use her father to get access to the weapons. Then, come to find out, Komarov and his daughter were in it together the whole time, and try and take over in Chernobyl where the weapons are hidden. John and Jack have other plans, and blow the whole place to Kingdom Come.

I was fine with the 12 year gap between the third and fourth film, because a great film was added to this collection of action movies. At this point, it is really getting old, and needs to stop, unless they are going to bring something we have never seen before (unlikely at best). Do yourself a favor, and save two hours and go read a book and pray that this franchise dies here.

– David B. Harrington

Side Effects

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Steven Soderberg (Ocean’s Eleven, Contagion) takes the wheel in his latest Directorial effort in this Crime/Drama/Thriller featuring Rooney Mara (The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes, Gattaca), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Playing for Keeps, Rock of Ages), and Channing Tatum (Magic Mike, Fighting).

Side Effects” follows Emily Taylor (Mara) who is a heavily depressed individual. Her husband, Martin (Tatum) has just been released from prison for some shady business deals he took part in. They are trying to put their lives back together. In the meantime, Emily has an episode of dangerous behavior and begins seeing Dr. Banks (Law) who works through some of the behavior she has been experiencing. He learns that she has had a history with another Psychiatrist, Dr. Siebert (Zeta-Jones). As Emily and Dr. Banks work through some of her issues, he finds it necessary to prescribe some medications so that she can better handle her sleepwalking, and mood swings, which have become an issue big enough to require close attention. What ensues takes all involved by storm, and the side effects of Emily’s medication may cost her her freedom and maybe even her life.

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There are enough twists and turns in this plot to dizzy even the most frequent of movie-goer. Rooney Mara absolutely commands your attention as the secrets of her life unravel, and she deals with the impact of her decisions. She has an intoxicating impact on the viewer as she completely sells the inner workings of the mind of a highly troubled individual. This role reminded me, at moments, of her amazing performance as Lisbeth in “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo“. Not all actors can hold that kind of control over such a long period of time. There are moments when you don’t believe in what they are going through. That is not the case here.

Emily’s interaction with her Psychiatrists is complicated, to say the least. It makes the viewer question the motive of people who practice this kind of work. I am not suggesting that this film begs the viewer to question their own doctors, but it is nonetheless, an interesting question to pose as we live in a highly medicated society.

The rest of the cast offer something noteworthy, but are most definitely sidelined by Mara’s performance. The story worked well for me, and at times, I was taken by surprise with different twists in the plot. The end of the film is a kind of fireworks show, in that it just doesn’t quit. We get hit with revelation after revelation, which brought some important points forward. Soderbergh does a great job of getting the audience in the mind of the films characters. It brings on a a feeling of being under the influence of medication the way the viewer is never quite sure of what is happening, and what might happen next.

I always look forward to a good movie. This film is not for everybody, but it does offer some solid-enough performances (especially from Mara) and an interesting enough story to keep someone interested in this genre, scratching their head for a couple hours. For those people, this may be what the doctor prescribes.

 

– David B. Harrington