Film Review: The Hot Spot (dir by Dennis Hopper)


As befits the title, the 1990 film, The Hot Spot, is all about heat.

There’s the figurative heat that comes from a cast of characters who are obsessed with sex, lies, and murder.  There’s the literal heat that comes from a fire that the film’s “hero” sets in order to distract everyone long enough so that he can get away with robbing a bank.  And, of course, there’s the fact that the film is set in a small Texas town that appears to be the hottest place on Earth.  Every scene in the film appears to be drenched by the sun and, if the characters often seem to take their time from getting from one point to another, that’s because everyone knows better than to rush around when it’s over a hundred degrees in the shade.  As someone who has spent most of her life in Texas, I can tell you that, if nothing else, The Hot Spot captures the feel of what summer is usually like down here.   I’ve often felt that stepping outside during a Texas summer is like stepping into a wall of pure heat.  The Hot Spot takes place on the other side of that wall.

The Hot Spot is a heavily stylized film noir, one in which the the traditional fog and shadows have been replaced by clouds of dust and blinding sunlight.  Harry (Don Johnson) is a drifter who has just rolled into a small Texas town.  Harry’s not too bright but he’s handsome and cocky and who needs to be smart when you’ve got charm?  Harry gets a job selling used cars, though he actually aspires to be a bank robber.  Harry finds himself falling in love with Gloria (Jennifer Connelly), a seemingly innocent accountant who is being blackmailed by the brutish Frank Sutton (William Sadler).  Meanwhile, Harry is also being pursued by his boss’s wife, Dolly (Virginia Madsen), an over-the-top femme fatale who is just as amoral as Harry but who might be a little bit smarter.  Complicating matters is that, while Harry’s trying to rob a bank, he also ends up saving a man’s life.  Only Dolly knows that Harry isn’t the hero that the rest of the town thinks he is.  She tells him that she’ll keep his secret if he does her just one little favor….

The Hot Spot was directed by Dennis Hopper (yes, that Dennis Hopper) and, from the start, it quickly becomes apparent that he’s not really that interested in the film’s story.  Instead, he’s more interested in exploring the increasingly surreal world in which Harry has found himself.  The Hot Spot plays out at a languid pace, which allows Hopper to focus on his cast of small-town eccentrics.  (My particular favorite was Jack Nance as the alcoholic bank president who also doubles as the town’s volunteer fire marshal.)  The film is so hyper stylized that it’s hard not to suspect that every character — with the possible exception of Harry — understands that they’re only characters in a film noir.  For instance, is Dolly really the over-the-top femme fatale that she presents herself as being or is she just a frustrated housewife playing a role?  Is Gloria really an innocent caught up in a blackmail scheme or is she just smart enough to realize that the rules of noir requires her to appear to be Dolly’s opposite?  And is Harry being manipulated or is he allowing himself to be manipulated because, deep down, he understands that’s his destiny as a handsome but dumb drifter in a small town?  Do any of the characters really have any control over their choices and their actions or has everyone’s fate been predetermined by virtue of them being characters in a film noir?  In the end, The Hot Spot is more than just a traditional noir.  It’s also a study of why the genre has endured.

It’s a long and, at times, slow movie, one that plays out at its own peculiar pace.  As a result, some people will be bored out of their mind.  But if you can tap into the film surreal worldview and adjust to the languid style, The Hot Spot is a frequently entertaining and, at times, rather sardonic slice of Texas noir.

Back to School #61: The Battle of Shaker Heights (dir by Efram Potelle and Kyle Rankin)


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“When you’re 17, every day is war.” — Tagline of The Battle of Shaker Heights (2003)

Anyone here remember Project Greenlight?  It’s a show that used to be on HBO and Bravo, in which Matt Damon and Ben Affleck would arrange for a director and screenwriter to get a chance to make their low budget feature film debuts.  The catch, of course, is that a camera crew would then follow the director as he (and all of the Greenlight “winners” were male) struggled to get the film made.  Mistakes would be made.  Money would be wasted.  Producer Chris Moore would randomly show up on set and start yelling.  In short, it was typical reality show drama with the catch being that the film itself would then be released in a theater or two.

Well, after being consigned to footnote status for the past nine years. Project Greenlight is coming back for a fourth season and a lot of people are pretty excited about it.  And why not?  I own the first two seasons of Project Greenlight on DVD and I’ve watched the third season on YouTube.  It’s a lot of fun, mostly because all of the directors, with the exception of season 3 winner John Gulager, turned out to be so incredibly inept.  (Gulager is one of the few Project Greenlight success stories — not only did his movie, Feast, come across as being made by a professional but he’s actually had a career post-Greenlight.)  It all makes for good televised drama.

However, it doesn’t necessarily make for a good movie.

Case in point: 2003’s The Battle of Shaker Heights.

The Battle of Shaker Heights is about a creepy 17 year-old named Kelly (played by the reliably creepy Shia LaBeouf).  His mother (Kathleen Quinlan) is an artist.  His father (William Sadler) is a former drug addict who, despite having been clean for 6 years, still has to deal with his son’s constant resentment.  Kelly is a high school outcast who spends all of his spare time thinking and talking about war.  Every weekend, he takes part in war reenactments.  At night, he works in a 24-hour grocery store where he doesn’t realize that he’s the object of Sarah’s (Shiri Appleby) affection.

(Why Sarah has so much affection for Kelly is a good question.  Maybe it’s the scene where he throws cans of cat food at her…)

At a reenactment of the Battle of the Bulge, Kelly meets and befriends Bart (Elden Hansen), which leads to him meeting Bart’s older sister, Tabby (Amy Smart).  Tabby is an artist, because the film isn’t imaginative enough to make her anything else.  (We’re also told that she’s a talented artist and it’s a good thing that we’re told this because otherwise, we might notice that her paintings are the type of uninspired stuff that you can buy at any county art fair.)  Kelly decides that he’s in love with Tabby but — uh oh! — Tabby’s getting married.  Naturally, she’s marrying a guy named Minor (Anson Mount).  Imagine how the film would have been different if his name had been Major.

As a film, the Battle of Shaker Heights is a bit of a mess.  It never establishes a consistent tone, the dialogue and the direction are all way too heavy-handed and on the nose, and Shia LaBeouf … well, he remains Shia LaBeouf.  In some ways, Shia is actually pretty well cast in this film.  He’s an off-putting actor playing an off-putting characters but the end of result is an off-putting film.

Of course, if you’ve seen the second season of Project Greenlight, then you know that The Battle of Shaker Heights had an incredibly troubled production.  Neither one of the film’s two directors were particularly comfortable with dealing with the more low-key human aspects of the story.  Screenwriter Erica Beeney was not happy with who was selected to direct her script and basically spent the entire production whining about it to anyone who would listen.  (Sorry, Erica — your script was one of the film’s biggest problems.  When you actually give a character a name like Minor Webber, it means you’re not trying hard enough.)  Finally, Miramax took the completed film away from the directors and re-edited it, removing all of the dramatic scenes and basically leaving a 79-minute comedic cartoon.

So, in the end, Battle of Shaker Heights is not a very good film.  But season two of Project Greenlight is a lot of fun!

Review: Iron Man 3 (dir. by Shane Black)


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“You can take away my suits, you can take away my home, but there’s one thing you can never take away from me: I am Iron Man.” — Tony Stark

[WARNING: SPOILERS WITHIN]

Iron Man 3 review by Leonard Wilson

That line above would make such a great send-off for what could be the final Iron Man film. In a perfect world, having Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 as the final one in the franchise wouldn’t be such a bad thing. This doesn’t mean that Iron Man will not appear in any future Marvel Studios endeavors, but as a solo franchise a series couldn’t have found a better way to fly into the Malibu sunset. I say this because in over 5 years Marvel Studios has created a trilogy that took a character in Tony Stark and put him through a character journey encompassing four major film releases and one cameo. They did so in such a way that we saw the character grow from a rich genius dilletante, to a desperate asshole trying to find his identity as Iron Man to finally realizing that he’s the hero with or without the Mark suits he’s has created.

Iron Man 3 is the culmination of what Jon Favreau began with Iron Man in 2008 and Joss Whedon expanded on in 2012’s Marvel’s The Avengers. It took a writer of renown such as Shane Black (who also replaced Favreau as director) to get to the heart of what makes Iron Man ticks. It helped that the returning cast led by Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark and Iron Man once again did a great job in their roles with some characters even getting to do some surprising heroic stuff on the screen.

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Iron Man 3 starts off with a flashback scene just hours before the arrival of the new millennium. This is just Tony Stark before he becomes Iron Man so we see the character in full charming asshole mode. This sequence is important in that it sets up the whole plot of the film and, in my opinion, the overall story for the entire trilogy. We’re introduced to the geeky Aldritch Killian (played with equal amounts of geeky desperation and overconfident megalomania by Guy Pearce) who sees in Stark the mentor he needs to get his think tank going. With only sex with brilliant scientist Maya Hansen (played by Rebecca Hall) on his mind Killian is soon forgotten and humiliated by Stark.

The rest of the film sees Tony Stark having to pay a steep price for his behavior towards Killian in that flashback and, in conjunction, with his days and nights haunted by the events in New York with the invading Chitauri invasion having given him a case of the PTSD the film looks to bring Tony Stark at his most vulnerable and lowest. It’s a return to the proverbial “Cave” for Tony Stark as he must contend not just with the elusive terrorist mastermind The Mandarin, but also solve the mystery of who or what’s causing the inexplicable explosions and bombings occurring around the nation. All this he must do through most of the film without the use of his Iron Man suits and relying mostly on his own genius intellect and skill with making weapons and gadgets out of anything readily available.

Speaking of The Mandarin (in an excellent performance by Sir Ben Kingsley), Shane Black and co-writer Drew Pearce made a controversial decision (for comic book fanboys at least) to make the iconic Iron Man villain more than he appears to be. It’s a decision that won’t sit well with the more vocal and rabid comic book fans who sees any deviation from Iron Man lore as an affront worth of loud, vociferous rabble, rabble, rabbling that would make Randy Marsh and the people of South Park proud.

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To say that the twist in the story that explains who The Mandarin was such a surprise would be quite the understatement. The most important and iconic nemesis of Tony Stark comes out with both barrels of deliberate menace and sociopathic showmanship. We’re meant to see this character as the face of all the evils and troubles that has plagued Tony Stark since the first film. Kingsley plays this part of the character in the film to the hilt. Yet, it’s not until the second half of the film when we find out just who exactly The Mandarin really was and is that Black and Pearce finally put to rest whether the producers and writers would be able to handle a character that’s been seen as a racial caricature from a less than enlightened time.

Whatever howls and apoplectic ravings fanboys might be having about changing the traiditional character of The Mandarin into the pill-popping, drunk British wanna-be actor Trevor Slattery as a bait-and-switch was a brave move on the parts of Black and Pearce. To find out that The Mandarin was just a conjuration by Aldritch Killian to keep the eyes of the world’s governments and superheroes on someone else was very Bond-like. The fact that Killian himself is the true Mandarin and the Ten Rings terrorist organization his creation to have his revenge on Stark for humiliating him on the even of the new millennium closes the circle on what was begun all the way back in the first Iron Man.

This so-called “twist” was so unexpected (the internet scouring for any tidbits about the film’s plot having found nary a hint of this change) that it seemed like some sort of gimmick but as the film barreled on through the second half into it’s explosive conclusion one had to admire the massive stones by Black and Pearce to change such an iconic character knowing how it could easily alienate and anger fans of comic book. It’s this thinking outside the box by this franchise’s new director and screenwriter which makes me feel like Marvel Studios (especially studio head Kevin Feige) have their Phase 2 plan set to spring surprises on comic book and non-comic book fans alike as it marches on towards Avengers 2.

originalIron Man 3 was a definite improvement over the bloated second film in the series. It also manages to reach the high bar set by the first film, though as an origin story it still comes away as being the best of the trilogy, but not by much. There was much trepidation from fans of the film franchise when Favreau was replaced by Marvel Studios as director by one Shane Black. While Black was well-known for being a top-notch screenwriter who literally redefined the buddy cop genre his work as a filmmaker was just still only the suprise film Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang. While this third film still had some holes in it’s plot that was explained rather conveniently by some brief bits of dialogue it still managed to tell a compelling story of actions and consequences and the discovery that our hero finally makes about just who is the hero of the saga: the man or the machine.

If there’s to be another film bearing the title of Iron Man I would surely hope that Feige and the powers-that-be over at Marvel Studios and Walt Disney just speed-dial Shane Black’s name and to also bring back his co-conspirator Drew Pearce. The franchise is well and good in their keeping. As the final moments of the end credits tick by we’re promised that Tony Stark will return. I sure hope so.

Quick Review: Iron Man 3 (dir. by Shane Black)



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It’s kind of hard to write about Iron Man 3 without giving much away, so this will be kind of condensed. If there’s one thing to learn about Iron Man in Iron Man 3, it’s that the events of the Avengers are really weighing down on Tony Stark. While the movie is more of a stand alone feature than being one part of a larger tale (like the first two leading up to Marvel’s The Avengers), it still manages to be a piece of a puzzle in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It just happens to be one of those corner pieces. It’s not meant to be viewed the way the others are seen, but still manages to pack a punch.

Taking over the reigns of directing from Jon Favreau’s work on the first two films is Lethal Weapon and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’s Shane Black. Black brings the witty dialogue and buddy partnership from those film into Iron Man 3 with ease, though the story does take some liberties with the comic.

The movie finds Tony (Robert Downey Jr.) unable to sleep or relax much since the New York Incident, having spent a bit of time in a wormhole and a separate dimension for a few minutes. This has left him with panic attacks as well as doing a lot of research in his workshop. This includes a new improvement to the Iron Man suit that allows him to call it piece by piece when needed, which was a nice touch. As a result of the world finding out that we’re not the center of the universe, they upgraded the War Machine and Colonel James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) to the Iron Patriot. The Iron Patriot acts as the first line of defense, which is just in time, considering that a new threat looms on the horizon in the form of The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). Through televised declarations and using the same circular pattern from the terrorist group that captured Tony Stark in the first film, The Mandarin pledges to destroy all the President (William Sadler) holds dear.

So, the basis of Iron Man 3 is whether Tony Stark can get past what scared and changed him in The Avengers, stop the terrorism of the Mandarin while still finding a way to protect Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).

Let’s first start with any problems before we get to the good stuff – because there’s a lot of great things about Iron Man 3. First off, the movie hasn’t any kind of interaction either from any of the other Avengers or from S.H.I.E.L.D. In any form. This isn’t a bad thing, as the story isn’t about them, but at the same time, it could come off as being expected given everything we saw in The Avengers. For me, personally, I was hoping for more of a connection, but it’s not terrible that it doesn’t exist.

Secondly, the women in the movie aren’t flushed out very well. You won’t find anyone on the level of Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) in Captain America here. While Rebecca Hall’s Maya Hansen has an important role in the movie, her screen time is really minimal. Given she’s a scientist, I’m not sure there was a whole lot for her to do, but Elizabeth Shue was a scientist in The Saint and she was all over that movie. Paltrow also takes something of a back seat to Downey and even to Favreau, who returns as Happy Hogan. Instead of concentrating on the girls, they introduced a new individual in the form of a kid. It works to some degree, but kind of felt like filler in some ways until they could get to a point where some action was taken.

For me, outside of these two elements, those are the only real problems with Iron Man 3 for someone unfamiliar with the comic book canon (like myself). If you read Iron Man on a regular basis and know  all the characters, you may be really upset at where it goes, because the adaptation in some way really veers off from the comics. Veers off on the levels of Organic Web Shooters in Spider-Man, that kind of deep.

Now for the fun stuff.

What Iron Man 3 does really well is the way it handles the connections and interactions between the characters. Between Black’s and Pacific Rim writer Drew Pearce. The film basically has the same snap as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and the final confrontation takes place in a location similar to Lethal Weapon II. Between Downey’s narration, James Badge Dale’s (who should get a run at being a comic hero or villain sometime) attitude and the action sequences, the film moves pretty well. Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian was cool. While I liked his character a lot, there were a few elements that were over the top. Kingsley’s Mandarin definitely works for the film, but the direction the story goes is a little weird.

Overall, Iron Man 3 is a fun ride for anyone following the Iron Man movies, and is an overall stronger film than the first. The lack of a direct teaser taste for the next Avengers film and a story shift that could upset die-hard comic fans threaten to hurt the story, but it makes up for it (I feel) by at least giving the story a sense of escalation. If Iron Man 2 was about Tony’s efforts in keeping his technology out of the government’s hands, Iron Man 3 would show why it was important. I wouldn’t mind seeing where this all goes.

Trailer: Iron Man 3 (Super Bowl Exclusive)


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Iron Man 3 will be the film from Walt Disney and Marvel Studios that will kick-off those studios’ Phase Two of their Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was the Galactus-sized success of 2012’s The Avengers which this newest phase will have to live up to and with new director on-board (Shane Black taking over the director’s chair from Jon Favreau) and the original cast back with new faces on-board (Sir Ben Kingsley, Rebecca Hall, Guy Pearce and James Badge Dale to name a few of the new names).

It’s now 2013 and just a few more months before Iron Man 3 makes it’s worldwide premiere and what better place to start the hype and marketing ad machine that will lead up to that premiere by releasing the latest trailer for the film than during one of the biggest one-day event in the world: the Super Bowl.

Iron Man 3 is set for an international release date of April 25, 2013 with a UK premiere in April 26, 2013 after then a North American release in May 3, 2013.

Without further ado the Super Bowl exclusive Iron Man 3.

Source: Joblo Movie Network

Trailer: Iron Man 3 (Teaser)


Iron Man 3 teaser trailer is now out and let the hype and speculation move into it’s second phase as the film still has a little under 6 months left before it’s release date.

Marvel Studios, whether one likes them or not in regards to how they treat the original creators of their comic book properties, have been hitting on all cylinders under the focused direction of it’s leader in Kevin Feige. Te Phase One of their plan for an all-ecompassing Marvel Cinematic Universe using Marvel Comics characters still under their control when it comes to film and tv productions culminated with one of the biggest films in history with this year’s Marvel’s The Avengers. We now have Phase Two to look forward to and the first film to start this next phase in the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be none other than the next film in the series which began Phase One: Iron Man 3.

The third film returns the same cast as before with the addition of Sir Ben Kingsley in the role of the Mandarin and Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall and James Badge Dale to round out the rest of the cast. Shane Black now takes over as director of the series with Jon Favreau coming back as executive producer and in the role of Happy Hogan.

The trailer makes mention about how the events of The Avengers has changed the world, but also Tony Stark’s own personal life and he’s finally admitted that being Iron Man and Stark has increased the amount of people who are genuinely out to kill him. The teaser focuses on the dramatic aspect of the film but still manages to put in some “sizzle reel” worthy action sequences with the bulk of it being the destruction of Tony’s cliffside home in Southern California.

I am an unashamed fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and while I will admit every film in it has had flaws in the end they’ve all been entertaining. With Shane Black in the director’s chair I actually think this film may improve on the first film, fix the problems of the second and raise the bar for the rest of the films that will comprise Phase Two of Marvel’s plan.

Iron Man 3 is set for a release date of May 3, 2013.

Review: The Shawshank Redemption (dir. by Frank Darabont)


“Remember, Red. Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” — Andy Dufresne

1994 was the year that men finally got their version of Fried Green Tomatoes and Beaches. We men we’re always perplexed why so many women liked those two films. Even when it was explained to us that the film was about the bond of sisterhood between female friends and how the march of time could never break it we were still scratching out heads. In comes Frank Darabont’s film adaptation of the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.

Using a script written by Darabont himself, the film just takes the latter half of the novella’s title and focuses most of the film’s story on the relationship between the lead character of Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins) who gets sent to Shawshank Penitentiary for the crime of killing his wife and her lover and that of another inmate played by Morgan Freeman. The film doesn’t try to prove that Andy is innocent even though we hear him tell it to the convicts he ends up hanging around that he is. The relationship between Andy and Red becomes a great example of the very same bond of sisterhood, but this time a brotherhood who are stuck in a situation where their freedom has been taken away and hope itself becomes a rare and dangerous commodity.

Darabont has always been a filmmaker known for his love of Stephen King stories and has adapted several more since The Shawshank Redemption, but it would be this film which has become his signature work. It’s a film that’s almost elegiac in its pacing yet with hints of hope threaded in-between scenes of men clinging to sanity and normalcy in a place that looks to break them down and make them less human. It’s nothing new to see prison guards abusive towards inmates in films set in prisons, but in this film these scenes of abuse have a banality to them that shows how even the hardened criminal lives and breathes upon the mercy and generosity provided by the very people who were suppose to rehabilitate them.

While the film’s pacing could be called slow by some it does allow for the characters in the film, from the leads played by Robbins and Freeman to the large supporting cast to become fully formed characters. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Clancy Brown playing the sadistic Capt. Byron Hadley to James Whitmore as Brooks Hatlen the inmate who has spent most of his life in Shawshank and whose sudden parole begins one of the most heartbreaking sequences in the film. The whole cast did a great job in whatever role they had been chosen to play. Freeman and Robbins as Red and Andy have a chemistry together on-screen that makes their fraternal love for each other very believable that the final scenes in the film doesn’t feel too melodramatic or overly sentimental.

The Shawshank Redemption was a film that lost out to Forrest Gump for Best Picture, but was a film that would’ve been very deserving if it had won the top prize at the Academy Awards. It was a film that spoke of hope even at the most degrading setting and how it’s the very concept of hope and brotherhood that allows for those not free to have a sense of freedom and camaraderie. Darabont’s first feature-length film remains his best work to date and one of the best Stephen King adaptations which is a rarity considering how many of his stories have been adapted. So, while the fairer sex may have their Fried Green Tomatoes, Beaches and the like, we men will have ours in the fine film we call The Shawshank Redemption.