Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Company You Keep and Iron Man 3

     You Can't Always Get What You Want

          Review by Ken Burke        The Company You Keep

Robert Redford directs and stars, along with other top-notch actors, in a story about 1970s radicals long undercover forced back into the news when 1 of them is arrested.

                                                            Iron Man 3

Robert Downey Jr. is back in the metal super-powered suit to save the world (again) from a seemingly unstoppable menace in this expected but fun action-fantasy.

[Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ brilliantly insightful reviews.  This is how we write, so as to explore what must be said as art transcends commerce (although if anyone wants to pay us for doing this ...); therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when ready to be transported to—well, wherever we end up.]

It’s not that frequently anymore that you get a film with Robert Redford directing or acting, let alone one where he’s doing both, so if you’re a longtime fan of his work (even as he’s become the Sundance You’re-Not-A-Kid-Anymore) you might want to see The Company You Keep if for no other reason than as he (and some of his cast) continue into their twilight years this may be one of your last chances to see new work from him, especially in his dual role.  However, I’ll begin this review with a shot of Susan Sarandon’s character, Sharon Solarz, because not only is she the first of a large and famous cast that we see on screen but also because she's in the first action of the film—getting arrested as she pulls into a filling station for gas—which sets the main plot into motion, as a crew of ex-Weather Underground radicals have their cover-up identities and locations threatened by her incarceration and the crisis that erupts for one of them, attorney Jim Grant (Redford), when the simple act of not helping with her defense when asked by Solarz friend Billy Cusimano (Stephen Root) leads eager famous-reporter-wannabe Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf) onto the trail of suddenly-disappeared Grant when Shepard’s investigations revel that he’s actually Nick Sloan, another one of the long-hidden Weathermen (who took their name from Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” [on the 1965 Bringing It All Back Home album but presented here at as a clip from D.A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back Dylan documentary—you can also see famed poet Allen Ginsberg wandering around in the background] which contains the line, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”), wanted for decades for the death of a bank guard in a holdup-gone-wrong from back in the days of homegrown terrorists taking action against a government that refused to respond to peaceful protests to disengage from the war in Vietnam.  Solarz plays a critical role in this film as a catalyst, but she’s not on camera very long nor are we given reason to be fully convinced that she was planning on giving herself up soon simply to ease her conscience (although the FBI apparently wasn’t taking any chances about that decision as they monitored her connections with Cusimano—another fugitive from the old days—then moved in on both of them while they had the chance).  For me, the most interesting aspect of The Company You Keep is the moral/immoral (depending on how your ethics define you, assuming you can understand this as a personal challenge/decision rather than an absolute situation of right or wrong) question of the strategy of the Weather Underground radicals to go violent against Establishment institutions (banks, universities, etc.) as a means of encouraging further action against a government they felt was entrenched in an unjust war, wasting countless American lives and resources.  I’m not advocating their decision nor the general concept of violence against social institutions in protest against federal and state policies, just as the whole idea of overthrow of our Constitutional government is not something I’d ever support lightly, but rebellion against an unacceptable political structure was what founded this country so it’s not a frivolous or escapist-action-movie plot device, as shown by Solarz in this clip at where she conducts a challenging jailhouse interview with vigilant anti-terrorist reporter Shepard.

This is the real meat of the film—the essential question of when does the end justify the means—that set it up to have the same sort of probing potential that another journalistically-based Redford film had so many decades ago, All the President’s Men (Alan J. Pakula, 1976), but this time the moral/ethical questions are subordinate to a plan by Grant/Sloan to clear his name of the long-ago alleged crime so it becomes more of a mind-game thriller as Sloan tries to stay incognito (with the help of a ready-for-action set of false-name IDs and credit cards) and LaBeouf increasingly closes in on him, bringing the FBI along for the ride even though they interfere with the reporter's revelation quest just as he is compromising the long-time escapee’s redemption quest.

OK, enough background on the narrative structure; it’s time to focus more on Grant/Sloan and whether we can sympathize with his situation of being a man falsely accused of participating in a death that he had nothing to do with (because while he was in this Weather cell in Michigan he was not at the bank-robbery-gone-wrong-with-the-unintended-death-of–a-guard crisis) or whether he’s still circumstantially accountable for being active with a group of leftist radicals who found violence to be an acceptable strategy for calling attention to what they saw as the heartless actions of an overly militarized government (which doesn’t try to beg the question of whether there is crime and punishment involved with this group of violence-accepting nonconformists; whatever value there may be in setting off bombs in government/university buildings [which presumably were empty at the time—although a few people did inadvertently die in such attacks in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s] and robbing banks to finance this form of revolution [where other innocent people also died during the duress of such anti-capitalist acts, a circumstance that in The Company You Keep is marginally explained by the perpetrators as being a botched job because level-headed Sloan wasn’t there to keep order so that a more “explosive” member of the group killed the guard in an unintended spur-of-the-moment-homicidal situation]). These conflicts between purpose and procedure are called into question in the film in the clash between the ongoing conviction of some surviving members of this Weather Underground cell that such actions were justified then and continue to be today in a society where the elite determine economic and political policies that use the vast majority as implementers of their self-serving plans or whether such rhetoric is just intellectual crap used to justify counter-violence that accomplishes nothing but the illusion of resistance in the minds of the outlaws who cast themselves as liberating revolutionaries.  Those substantial, difficult, demanding questions are at the heart of The Company You Keep, surfacing periodically in the responses of those characters from the old days in Ann Arbor who are trying desperately to stay under the radar, especially Sharon Solarz, Nick Sloan, and the elusive, long-sought co-conspirator in the robbery/murder, Mimi Lurie (Julie Christie).  But, with all of this heady possibility for trying to sort out who has the right to take such drastic action in the name of improving society and what sorts of actions are acceptable even in such a calculated challenge to the existing structure, this film doesn’t pursue those noble conundrums nearly enough, opting instead for a focus on Sloan’s attempt to go undiscovered again while he desperately seeks out Lurie in an attempt to clear his name so that his now-stable existence in Albany, NY (as long as he doesn’t wander into the craziness that inhabits somewhat-nearby Schenectady in The Place Beyond the Pines [Derek Cinanfrance; reviewed in this blog in the April 18, 2013 posting]) can be restored and he can live a normal life with his young daughter, 11-year-old Isabel (Jackie Evancho), even as he continues to mourn the death of his wife of many years and the older losses from back in the days of his unconventional youth.

His escape attempts that introduce us to others from his traumatic past provide for a fine mistaken-identity/situation thriller such as we know from classics like North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959), but unlike that plot where it was all about complex misinterpretations that ultimately had no real political underpinnings (the usual misleading Hitchcockian “McGuffin”), what we get in The Company You Keep wants to be about political stances, choices, and involved responsibilities, but it keeps veering away from that into well-crafted tension-inducing situations that ultimately leave us with much more conventional emphases and resolutions.  Redford keeps our attention as repentant radical Sloan, even as he makes his former buddies very uncomfortable trying to help him in his quest to find Mimi lest whatever stability they now have in their lives might be ruined, but—as my ever-vigilant wife, Nina, points out—if all of these former social-upheavers are supposed to be roughly in their 50s (as the chronology of the story dictates, given that the crime in question happened in 1980 and these former college-age radicals have been on the lam for about 30 years) this contradicts the actual late 60s-varying 70s ages of Redford, Christie, Sarandon, Nick Nolte (lumber yard impresario Donal Fitzgerald), Richard Jenkins (now respected university professor Jed Lewis), Sam Elliott (stock market investor/pot smuggler Mac McLeod), and Brendan Gleeson (ex-Police Chief Henry Osborne, the youngest of the bunch of these actors at 58 although he easily passes for being as old as the rest—it’s a hard life being an Irishman, ya know?).  If this group is supposed to only be in their mid-50s then I have to agree with Nina that these actors inadvertently  push their characters’ appearances further than the script intends, especially Redford with a daughter who seems more likely as a granddaughter unless Grant/Sloan was really into proving that way-past-their-prime sperm can still result in a marvelous child, which Isabel seems to be (despite her trauma when Dad suddenly leaves her with Uncle Dan [Chris Cooper] when he heads back into the underground in an attempt to clear himself from the decades-old murder charges, if only he can locate even-better-hidden Mimi).  In truth, the more active days of the Weather Underground would have been in the 1970s (although a robbery-gone-wrong in 1980 isn’t historically inaccurate), but even though setting the heyday of our present group back 10 years would have jived better with the ages of the actors involved here, the goal is to show them as in advanced middle-age, not their golden years, so the 1980 robbery date is a pragmatic necessity, although it just obfuscates the supposed ages of the cast on screen. I know that this has been a cinematic convention for a long time (most noticeable to me in instances such as when 41-year-old Laurence Olivier played the young adult Prince of the Danes in his own direction of Hamlet [1948], although it wasn’t much of a distraction for Oscar voters as the film took both Best Picture and Best Actor) but now that we’ve gotten to a point where Redford is beginning to look more like grizzled Clint Eastwood it gets a bit harder to maintain the chronological premise of the story.  But enough on disturbing realities; onward to what’s going on within the plot.

            The sheer amount of performance talent in The Company You Keep is amazing, with a reasonable allotment of screen time for most of them, even though the eventual focus is on Grant/Sloan and Shepard, both ever-determined and almost-successful in their various quests.  Along the way, though, we have very effective appearances from Sarandon (as noted above); Nolte as the embodiment of the guy you seek out when all hope is lost (as long as you don’t have to decode what he’s saying most of the time, but all that really matters is that he puts Sloan into a functional car so that he can keep traveling west to Michigan where Solarz is to be arraigned in hopes that he can somehow find Lurie in all of this clandestine networking); Cooper as a respectable doctor trying to help his brother by taking custody of Isabel while trying to keep the Feds off Nick’s trail (despite some determined sleuthing by Shepard); Stanley Tucci as Shepard’s exasperated editor, Ray Fuller, who recognizes the kid’s talent but isn’t ready to grant him the long leash requested in going partway across the country to follow a story that may yield nothing tangible about a bunch of anti-Establishment ghosts; Sam Elliot as a wily radical-turned-drug-dealer/stock market investor who provides shelter for Mimi in his enticing Big Sur, CA beach house until she’s compelled to put aside her lucrative pot-running trade (for medicinal purposes, of course) and head east to link up again with Nick; and (shown in this photo above) Anna Kendrick as Diana, an emerging FBI agent who helps out Shepard in return for their college “hook-up” (there you go, 2013 grads; never underestimate the future value of a casual sex encounter while you’re supposed to be studying for finals but just be sure you get the name of your part-time partner right because that gets awfully embarrassing later on when you mix up Denise with Danielle [not that I ever had that problem; I always tried to seek out distinct-sounding differences so that I had half a chance at recall a week or so later]), along with the intense Terrence Howard as more superior FBI agent Cornelius, who’s determined to bring both Nick and Mimi to justice, despite their crime probably occurring while he was in kindergarten.  The rest of the cast list goes on into next week, but the above are the most recognizable, all of whom contribute usefully to the presentation of this story.  The only one that really gets to a place of purpose, though—at least until Mimi and Nick finally meet up again at her family cabin in extreme northern Michigan within spitting distance of Canada (which you assume will have some significance but never does)—is LaBeouf, who manages to transform his Nicholas-Cage’s-younger-brother persona from being Indiana Jones’ son (... and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull [Steven Spielberg, 2008]) and the pal of human-protecting mega-machines (Transformers [Michael Bay, 2007], Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen [Bay, 2009], Transformers: Dark of the Moon [Bay, 2011]) to something with more substance here as a reporter admittedly looking for a story to propel him into the ranks of the more-respected-and-better-paid but also determined to bring what he sees as outlaws to justice, yet he begins to open his heart to Nick as both the actual innocence of the individual and the arguable value of at least some aspects of the Weathermen strategy begin to open his consciousness to other alternatives than simply “guilty as previously reported.”

However, the real final act powerhouse here belongs to Christie, who shows up on screen all too infrequently in her advancing years but always leaves an impression when she does (with for me her most impactful presences of recent years being as Alzheimer’s-ridden Fiona Anderson in the heartbreaking Away from Her [Sarah Polley, 2006] and the overcome-by-events-somewhat-of-her-responsibility Queen Gertrude in Hamlet [Kenneth Branagh, 1996]).  As Mimi, she holds the key to Nick’s proclamation of innocence at the botched bank job but refuses to turn herself in to save him both because she’s not interested in spending her final years in prison and because, like Sharon Solarz from way back in the beginning of this film, she still believes in the rightness of their anti-government cause and doesn’t care to admit defeat to a ruling entity that she neither endorses nor respects.  She ultimately relents, though, because her heart is won over, even as she’s about to escape by boat from her family wilderness properly as the law closes in on Nick thanks to Shepard’s doggedly-successful pursuit, so she doesn’t want to see him sent to jail, breaking the heart of little Isabel.  She also has concerns for the child conceived then abandoned by her and Nick from all those years ago, as they knew that neither of them could successfully go into hiding trying to care for a baby, so they gave her to ex-Police Chief Osborne, a long-time family friend of the Luries even as Mimi turned to a life of politically-motivated crime.  This situation ultimately becomes the reason why Nick’s been in hiding all these years (along with the reality that he’d need Mimi’s confession that he wasn’t present at the fatal robbery, a concession he could never get when they were both on the lam in separate directions), trying not only to establish a new life for himself but also to protect Chief Osborne from prosecution for his role in protecting the baby of FBI-level wanted criminals as well the child herself—now grown into a young woman in law school, Rebecca Osborne (Brit Marling)—from the notoriety of her true lineage.  All of this makes for some surface nobility—especially in the decidedly melodramatic ending when Mimi finally decides to turn her boat around to surrender on Nick’s behalf, Shepard finally begins to see the arguable nobility in the Weather cell’s actions so he kills his own story (thereby protecting all involved, especially the Osbornes, and likely slowing the arc of his own career given that, with a small window of opportunity by Editor Fuller, his research seemingly showed no results as to why Sloan had been on the run for so long), and Nick (maybe now Jim Grant again) returns to Isabel for a lingering finale with no dialogue where she begrudgingly accepts him back in her life despite the hurt she’s recently felt from all of his deception.

The Company You Keep isn’t a bad film at all, and I was initially very taken with its effectively-structured tension as Nick finds ever-evolving strategies to elude his pursuers, but in considering it further in retrospect I have to admit that—while the contestable premise of the acceptance of the Weather Underground tactics set up the possibility of a really thought-provoking film early in the presentation once we encounter captured fugitive Sharon Solarz’s penetrating questions to staunch anti-terrorist reporter Ben Shepard—after those initially-intriguing scenes about ideological determination possibly trumping established social propriety (concepts which are noted again in a forceful manner when Mimi Lurie finally catches up with Nick Sloan in her isolated family cabin) we are left mostly with a “great escape” scenario as Nick continues to elude his determined pursuers in order to establish proof of his innocence.  That worked well when it was the focus of a story, as in The Fugitive (Andrew Davis, 1993), but here it becomes a distraction from the headier concepts introduced by the Sarandon and Christie characters, even echoed a bit by Gleeson’s ex-cop who had good reason not to pursue the initial robbery/murder case any more actively than he did at its original occurrence.  In sum,  it's not a fully failed attempt (although Nina, my steadfastly feminist wife, had to ask herself why she was so bothered that Redford’s character in escaping his pursuers at times, “runs like a girl” [even though Mick Jagger skipping along a runway in front of a stage in a packed arena doesn’t seem to annoy her—more on that below], so there may be aspects of it that especially seem offsetting—including the reality that a lot of fine thespians are having to bow to social conditioning and play roles that appear to be noticeably younger than the actors’ ages [except for Nolte—who looks as old here as Tom Waits sounds when he sings (he also showed up at the Rolling Stones concert noted below, doing an effective gravelly-voiced dual lead with Jagger on “Little Red Rooster”)]—so maybe he was an older hanger-on even back in the prime-time days of these Weathermen) but it just doesn’t live up to its own potential because the sociopolitical concerns that it evokes are given nothing more than a quick reversal of position by crusading reporter Shepard at the end of the film while the rest is too focused on how to stay on the move when the FBI is closing in (may be useful for some audience members, but I have to hope that’s not what the appeal of this film comes down to).  This is a functional entertainment experience which raises some questions normally not broached in mainstream movies, but with all of the talent involved it just doesn’t connect as well as it might.   Possibly the fault lies with too close an adaptation of the original 2003 novel of the same name by Lem Dobbs (which I acknowledge that I haven’t read), but the final impact here could have been more thought-provoking and not just man-on-the-run tension-producing.

Now if you just want to see a man on the run, an Iron Man to be specific, then you’ll get plenty of that in Shane Black’s direction of Iron Man 3 (taking over the helmsman’s role from Jon Favreau from the first 2 in this series [2008, 2010]; Favreau’s still around, though, in his recurring role as Happy Hogan, now the head of security for Stark Industries, but we don’t see much of him except at the beginning and end as he’s injured in a bomb detonation and only recovers as things are finally coming together for the heroes).  This time around Tony Stark faces a formidable foe who proves to be brilliant, dangerous, and well-armed so that we have plenty of reason to doubt that our armored warrior will prevail (although decades of superhero comics and movies convince us otherwise, with even death not necessarily being the end of one of these guys as we saw with the physical demise of Superman in a celebrated DC Comics 1992 series, when he confronts a Kryptonian creature called Doomsday–although, of course, he came back from the dead [no time to explain how now, but I’ll bet that you can look it up]).  We pick up the action in Iron Man 3 at an unspecified time after the events shown in last summer’s enormous global blockbuster Marvel’s The Avengers (Joss Whedon, 2012; #3 on the All-Time Domestic Box Office list at about $623,358,000, #3 on the Worldwide list as well at about $1,512,000,000).  The intrusion of seemingly mystical beings from the Thor segment of Marvel’s (now another neighborhood of Disney’s) universe—presented as a powerful race of aliens in these movies rather than the actual Norse gods, Frost Giants, etc. that we’d find in the comics—with such destructive power that it took additional help from Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, and others to hold back the intergalactic invasion has left our knight in high-tech armor in an emotionally unstable state, so that the mere mention of that monumental battle leaves him disturbed and disoriented.  He’ll soon get his mojo back when confronted with his latest personal enemy, The Mandarin, but, as with any of these Marvel movies to come, now that we understand the possibility of these other costumed champions (except for The Hulk, who can barely keep his clothes on when his big, mean, green transformation takes over) co-existing with Iron Man it becomes an almost unspoken obligation to explain why they’re not around to help, especially when someone as terrorizing as The Mandarin is randomly bombing sites around the country in a direct challenge to national security with implications of retaliation for our Mideast wars (although nothing explicit portrays the villain as Arab or Muslim so as not to be too directly political or offensive; in fact, with the Chinese-related name Mandarin and a speech pattern that many have compared to a U.S. Southern evangelist preacher it’s clear that this powerful anarchist played with great zeal by Ben Kingsley is a composite character not intended to be identified with any specific race or nationality—although I’m sure that someone could somehow try to link him with North Korea if they needed to raise national security concerns in order to pump up the defense budget to even greater heights than it already is).

The Mandarin is truly a monster of grotesque proportions in his ability to highjack broadcast signals to deliver his various ultimatums, his ability to lay waste to unprotected areas without any hint of evidence of his explosives methodology (the bombings are a horribly ironic parallel to the recent Boston Marathon tragedy, with this movie opening within the shadow of that terrorist act), his determination to make America suffer for its international crimes, and his focus on Stark as a target for elimination (which, of course, makes sense that if this is a movie about a specific superhero then he will be the one under attack, but again you have to wonder—just as those comic book editors had to rationalize for decades, once they made it clear that all of their extraordinary protagonists co-existed, either on the same planet or at least in the same universe—how these heroes and the threats that they must face to maintain order and social stability against internationally-operating maniacs manage to go unnoticed by Spider-Man or Captain America [or, until the movies ever have to decide if these Marvel superheroes also co-exist with Superman and the rest of WB’s Justice League of America—which may someday be economically resolved if Disney’s next acquisition is a merger with Time Warner]).  But, for now, given that we’re making the dramatic narrative concessions necessary to enter into the worldview of comic-book-inspired superheroes, we’ll just go with the flow of Tony Stark being both the special target of The Mandarin’s ire and the last hope for our country’s protection against this uncanny beast because neither Homeland Security nor the armed forces seem to be able to do a thing to prevent him from acting at will with some strategy to change our lives as we know them but that won’t be revealed to us until after the transformation has occurred.  As Stark gets out of his what-have-I-gotten-myself-into-with-this-superhero-business funk to take up The Mandarin’s challenge he feels secure with his array of various iron suits and the new technological control that lets him command his favorite yellow and red costume, seemingly by willpower, so that the individual pieces come flying toward him for instant “clothing,” thereby allowing a much more rapid transformation from cagey but unprotected human to metal-encased warrior armed with an array of built-in weapons, guidance controls, and flight capability that allows him to become a formidable warrior without the need for nuclear contamination nor alien birthright.  However, the Mandarin counters with an excess of conventional weaponry that soon destroys Stark’s lavish Malibu coast-side home, barely allows his live-in-lover/business partner, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), to escape, and ends up propelling Stark to Tennessee where his protective covering loses power, leaving him alone (until he finds a kindred spirit in Harley Keener [Ty Simpkins] a 10-year-old boy, who provides a lot of help as this story goes forward) and in no condition to retaliate against the Mandarin’s firepower.

The easy exposure of Tony and Pepper to such a blatant attack illustrates the interesting angle of Iron Man as a public protector in that his identity is known to everyone so that while he only operates as Iron Man when the armor is in place he’s still always recognized as Tony Stark taking on his Iron Man persona rather than Stark being the secret identity of a well-received vigilante (he may not be completely unique in this as there are so many superheroes in the well-populated Marvel and DC universes that I can’t even try to keep up with them, but based on what I know his situation is different, in that he exposes himself, his loved ones, his associates, and anyone else that he has a personal interest in to violent threats because the only thing preventing intrusion into his public buildings and his private dwelling is a security system which may be state-of-the-art but obviously is no match for the sheer assault force of The Mandarin).  After things finally settle down for him by the end of this story you’d think he’s want to reconsider that no-line-between-personal-and-heroic-personas strategy (where, unlike, say, Batman there’s nothing different about Stark when he’s got the iron suit on except that he now has technological command over a lot of his environment, whereas Bruce Wayne acts, speaks, and projects an entirely different personality than Batman and, of course, there’s the classic scenario of the confident, triumphant Superman completely hidden behind the façade of mild-mannered Clark Kent), but, having already come out as Iron Man, Stark is essentially stuck with his dual public manifestations unless he can throw people off-track with a new hero disguise that he doesn’t admit to—although Aluminum Man or Mylar Man may be a hard sell as a mysterious alternative crime fighter.  Pepper’s problems aren’t over, though, because she’s soon a captive of The Mandarin, to be used as a bargaining chip to force the assistance of Stark in the real plot, which has been kept from us until well into the 130 min. running time of this movie so as to make everything a bit more surprising and sinister than what we first understood the conflict was all about.

As it turns out, the guy we’ve been seeing on those hijacked video monitors as The Mandarin is just a British actor, Trevor Slattery, a false front for the real Mandarin, a crazed rich-guy scientist/entrepreneur named Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) who had a frustrating run-in with Stark back on New Year’s Eve in Switzerland, 1999, before Tony ever conceived of Iron Man or doing works of public good.  We see all of this at the beginning of the movie but we don’t know where this opening scene fits until we get fill-in details from Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), who was more enticing to Stark lo those many years ago that was wild-haired investor-seeking Killian.  However, while Tony chose to spend his evening hours prior to the turn of the millennium (by some calendars, anyway) with Maya (who was also trying to get his support for a similar project to Killian’s about re-growing lost or unformed limbs but got only another type of limb support from Tony [if you get my meaning]) instead of Aldrich, these two Stark-suitors did connect, mostly over her science and his later-acquired financing to push forward on the limb-regeneration project, only to find that together they could make it work somewhat successfully at times but there was this distracting side-effect where the receiver of whatever serum Rebecca and Aldrich were dispensing was causing a traumatic side effect, as in the patient—usually an American Mideast war veteran with a missing limb—would go into convulsions and explode.  Killian decided to exploit this situation by setting up the fake Mandarin terrorist scenario to explain away the bodily explosions (hence, no forensic evidence for the medical examiners) while goading Stark into a confrontation so that he could find some strategy for getting Tony’s input on how to control the bodily-explosion overreaction that was preventing his (and Maya’s, although she’s now a controlled “silent partner” in this venture) discovery from being a lucrative worldwide human-regenerative process.  Ultimately, Tony is captured (without his Iron Man armor he’s not all that intimidating) and put in the position of helping Aldrich or knowing that also-captured Pepper is being injected with the dangerous Extremis genetic material that will either enhance her ordinary body to superhuman levels (especially where generating fierce discomforts are concerned, as is the case with ferocious fire-breathing Killian and a couple of his enforcers before Iron Man is ultimately able to take out these deadly enhanced executioners) or, more likely, infect her as the war veterans were compromised so that she’ll self-destruct.  The wrap-up revelations here let us know that all Killian really wants is to force Stark to help him finalize a stabilizing process for those injected with the Extremis limb-regeneration mixture so that he can market it successfully for huge profits and that he plans to dispose of USA President Ellis (William Sadler) so that he can manipulate Vice President Rodriguez (Miguel Ferrer) to do his bidding in running the country for Killian’s benefit because he’ll use the Extremis magic to restore the leg of Rodriguez’s disabled daughter.  At this point it’s beginning to look like Killian has the upper-hand and is poised to wreck ridiculously-motivated revenge upon anyone unfortunately in his way (not all that removed from the existentially-motivated decisions of the Weathermen in The Company You Keep) so it’s incumbent upon the “iron-willed” Mr. Stark to kick some butt here and insure an ending free of the trauma that’s been swirling around the entire movie for far too long.

Just as things are looking too bleak to contemplate, Tony and his main-man confidant, Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle here, originally Terrence Howard in the first film who’s now focused on wrapping up a long-unsolved case in The Company You Keep), decide to thwart Killian’s sinister plot by proceeding without the Iron Man armor that they have previously been secure within, as Rhodes developed his own character as The Iron Patriot but whose body suit has been confiscated by Killian to encase President Ellis on Air Force One so they can send him off for execution in order to put puppet VP Rodriquez in charge.  During this portion of the movie we get to see Stark and Rhodes function as well as they can within the confines of ordinary human beings before Tony evens the odds against Killian’s army by calling in the just-excavated Iron Man alternative suits from the wreckage of his Malibu former dwelling, which provides them with a hollow-interior army of Iron Man armor which still has firepower and a central command from Stark even as Killian sets out to execute President Ellis.  There’s a good bit of well-thought-out strategy in these final scenes of Iron Man 3 before Tony manages to make long-distance contact with his many iron Man suits and call them into battle in a successful effort to contradict Killian’s forces.  As you would expect, Stark’s "army" wins out but not before Pepper seems to have been dropped to a fiery death by Killian.  The irony here is that she has fully absorbed the Extremis procedure without self-destructing from bodily overload so that she rejuvenates from what we assumed was sudden demish (just as Killian has done at several junctures when Stark thought he had finally eliminated his arch-nemesis [at least for this movie]) and swiftly terminates Killian just as effortlessly as he had dispatched Maya earlier in this narrative when she began to show some sympathy toward Stark’s embattled position.  It was fun to see how Stark and Rhodes tried to hold off the forces of evil without their technological enhancements for awhile, but ultimately we know that an Iron Man story relies on the armor being effectively in play so we cheer when Stark is finally able to summon his metallic army of semi-independent body coverings from the ruins of his mansion in time to ward off Killian’s forces and bring balance to the conflict before a rejuvenated Potts comes out of nowhere to kill Killian, allowing the madness to stop before the nefarious plan becomes reality (as if you expected any conclusion short of this result; this is a franchise, after all).

Certainly the action in Iron Man 3 is effectively non-stop, just as the expected resolution is welcomed, although we rush through some solutions at the end that are typically cryptic-comic-book explanations as somehow Tony knows what to do to balance the forces within Pepper’s now-energized body so that she doesn’t either explode, as so many of Killian’s minions unfortunately were primed to do, or become hostile while turning into a literal fiery dragon as Killian does in his final battle with Stark.  However, after the exceptional level set for this type of fantasy superhero triumphing over intense adversity, as we’ve seen in recent years in The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan, 2012) and The Avengers—along with, I can only hope for now, the soon-to-be released The Man of Steel (Zack Snyder)—what we have here in Iron Man 3 is just too rote a rescue of mankind’s hopes from the clutches of evil after what we’ve seen in the ongoing Spider-Man films (Sam Raimi, 2002, 2004, 2007; Marc Webb, 2012) and others of this type stretching back to the original modern-era Superman (Richard Donner, 1978; Richard Lester, 1980, 1983; Sidney J. Furie, 1987; Bryan Singer, 2006) movies.  We’ve seen plenty of this before and likely will again, so what’s here in Iron Man 3 is well-produced but easily expected, a fine diversion in either 2- or 3-D, and just a nice coda after the “marvel”ously successful triumph over intergalactic evil in The Avengers (with more return visits from the superior set soon to grace us from Thor: The Dark World [Alan Taylor, 2013] and Captain America: The Winter Soldier [Anthony and Joe Russo, 2014])Iron Man 3 is quite entertaining, but beyond the expected satisfaction from superb special effects this comes off as a reasonably-effective edition of an extended-storyline-comic-book plot where the hero faces some tough challenges but pulls it off in the end because of a rigid determination to not let horrible circumstances spiral completely out of control.  Plus, not only do we get Stark’s seemingly-unchallengeable-bodily-chemistry knowledge which allows some sort of an unexplained medical procedure to stabilize Pepper so that her over-energized body will never flame out of control but suddenly, inexplicably we have Tony directing an operation that removes the shrapnel from his damaged heart, allowing him to discard the electro-magnetic thingamajig that had been keeping him alive as similar devices powered his Iron Man suits in the previous episodes (Where was either the technology or the medical expertise to handle this delicate, life-affirming situation in the earlier movies despite its easy application just before the final credits here?).

It’s not clear what will come of the Iron Man movies now that the 3-episode contractual obligation has been met by Downey Jr. and Paltrow (yes, I know that Andrew Garfield rebooted another superhero franchise in The Amazing Spider-Man [Marc Webb (How more appropriate a name could you have for this series?), 2012 (with another installment due in 2014)] after Tobey Maguire seemed irreplaceable in his three Spider-Man outings [Sam Raimi; 2002, 2004, 2007], but the current Iron Man actor may prove more iconic than his character; we'll just have to see how this plays out); however, even if we get nothing further beyond an almost-certain Avengers sequel of the guy in the flying metal suit, it’s been a good ride and has produced some very effective special-effects exercises so we’ll always be in Downey’s debt for having brought a complexity of character development to this confused public savior that links him easily to the inner traumas that we’ve seen so successfully developed in the Batman and Spider-Man series.  What will become of this flying metal savior if Downey chooses to abandon the role remains to be seen, but for now at least he’s given us something to appreciate, even if this latest episode seems to be nothing more than a well-crafted extension of what we already know.  Maybe Henry Cavell’s performance in the upcoming version of Superman in The Man of Steel will transport us to the heights that we hoped for with Iron Man 3 but that weren’t available in a rather expected version of the ongoing life of Tony Stark and company.  Now that they no longer has a fantastic house on the beach and an arsenal of metal costumes we don’t know what we’ll encounter next with Tony and Pepper, but if Iron Man is to return in the next Avengers movie or on his own he’ll be starting over to some degree so we’ll see what impact these new demands might make on him.  As Stark says at the beginning and end of this movie, “We create our own demons” (however inadvertently, as with Aldrich Killian/The Mandarin here) so I’m sure there’ll be more obstacles to Iron Man's serenity because what good is having a superhero if there are no massive obstacles to overcome, even if the challenge is simply the inevitable aging of the aforementioned public figure, which I’ll now elaborate on for just a bit in another context.

While I’m still pumped up from finally seeing the Rolling Stones live after missing other opportunities over the last 50 years and would easily find any excuse to make mention of their marvelous concert in the Oakland Oracle Arena on May 5, 2013 (for any of you who live in the Oakland area, Nina and I further celebrated Cinco de Mayo last Sunday with a great lunch at Celia’s Mexican Restaurant [as always, no kickbacks to Two Guys, just delicious food that I can’t help but promote] on Hesperian Blvd. in Hayward [very near Chabot College if that helps the directionally-challenged among you]), I do think that this week’s movie reviews have a natural linkup with my chosen unnecessary-but-hopefully-enjoyable weekly music links by offering you a couple of renditions of “Gimme Shelter” (from the 1969 album Let It Bleed), a theme very appropriate for much of the cast of The Company You Keep regarding their disguised identities interwoven with long-time clandestine lives and reasonably linked as well to Tony Stark’s (and anyone close to him, especially Pepper Potts) situation in Iron Man 3 where a respite from the attacks of the Mandarin/Aldrich Killian is also essential as Stark has to regroup after the vicious assault on his Malibu home.  So, because we’re just “a shot away” from finishing the review I’ll leave you with this shot of energy from the Stones at (I don’t know when or where it was performed, nor for sure who takes co-lead with Mick on vocals but I think it’s Lisa Fischer who’s been touring with the Stones as a backup singer since 1989).

One last notation on “Gimme Shelter” is that if you (along with me) can't fully verify the identity of Mick’s singing partner in the version linked above then you’re bound to know this one, Lady Gaga, at the version from the New Jersey concert in Dec. 2012 at /watch?v=dWvVzxvkioQ, which is not only another powerful rendition of this week’s thematic tune but also very much resembles the staging of the “50 & Counting …” concert tour show that I saw because the couple of performances that they did at the end of last year acknowledge their formation 50 years ago in 1962 but flow into this more official 50th year tour based on their first single coming out in 1963.  In the photo with the above paragraph you get (in very small size, I admit, because even with a zoom lens to bridge the distance our seats were very far from the stage despite equally steep prices) the standard band lineup (from left) of Charlie Watts on drums, Chuck Leavell on keyboards, Darryl Jones on bass, Keith Richards on guitar, Ronnie Wood on guitar, and Mick Jagger in front, but you also get one-time (1969-1974) Stones second guitarist Mick Taylor who joined in for an extended version of “Midnight Rambler” (saxophonist Bobby Keys, backup vocalists Bernard Fowler and Lisa Fischer [she did the “Gimme Shelter” duet, powerfully, with Mick at my concern] were there too but not in this shot).  In the photo that goes with this paragraph you not only see the tongue-shaped runway that juts out from the stage (with the privileged in the pit being the ones who paid upwards of $1,200 per ticket for the pleasure of getting that close) but also the video screen to the left which is how we saw Keith most of the night because he was so often blocked by that speaker hanging down over the stage that intrudes upon the upper photo’s (and our) view of the stage.  Even with those financial and logistical difficulties, though, it was an amazing 2 ½ continuous hours of music from guys even older than I am.  If you’ve never seen them live I encourage you to do so because with the level of stamina required for these concerts I’m not so sure they’ll continue to be “counting” for much longer, although age doesn’t seem to be holding them back at present (at least in my opinion, although local reviewer Jim Harrington begs to differ at—please note, this link and the next one may take forever to download—but he didn’t like the Eagles 2010 tour stop at San Jose in the recent past either [see—you may, or may not, have to scroll down a bit to get to the review after the download] so maybe I need to get some of my Social Security buddies together and come to Mr. Jimmy’s “emotional rescue”).  After I'm done with that “attitude adjustment” project I’ll return next week with another review, but just of films rather than high-priced concerts.

If you want to know more about The Company You Keep here are some suggested links: (15:00 interview with director/actor Robert Redford about the film done at the Venice International Film Festival 2012; actor Shia LaBeouf just sits next to him silently for the entire time in a strange 2-shot, but I’m sure this is just a portion of the full interview that just uses statement from Redford)

If you want to know more about Iron Man 3 here are some suggested links: (30 min. press conference from London, April 2013) with writer Drew Pearce, actors Don Cheadle, Ben Kingsley, Gwyneth Paltrow, Robert Downey Jr., Rebecca Hall, and director Shane Black)

We encourage you to look over our home page (ABOUT THE BLOG), found as the first one in our December 2011 postings, to get more information on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.  You’ll also see our general Spoiler Alert warning that reminds you we’ll be discussing whatever plot details are needed for our comments so please be aware of this when reading any of our reviews and be aware of our formatting forewarning about inconsistencies among web browser software which we do our best to correct but may still cause some visual problems beyond our control, as well as problems we’ve encountered with the Google RSS Feed Alert when used in conjunction with iGoogle and Google Reader.

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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.


  1. Two thumbs down on Iron Man 3. While the production values and special effects were good, the story and pacing were really poor. Too bad, I thought the original Iron Man was one of the best in the genre.

  2. Hi rj, Your response—reasonable as it is because I agree that the first Iron Man was considerably better than either of its sequels—got me thinking about the hard choices one has to make with the binary thumbs up or down system (I know it worked for the Roman emperors and Siskel and Ebert—in their own way, emperors of film reviewing—but it's hard for me to be that specific [as my rambling reviews clearly prove]).

    In my 3 of 5 stars case I guess I'd be giving thumbs up to anything with a 3 or higher, which may seem more positive than I'd want to intend (although even S & E sometimes indicated some variation with a "thumb way up" decision to help differentiate the really good ones) so I wish that this system could accommodate at least a horizontal thumb, a sort of neutral position (for my 3 stars stuff) that doesn't quite commit to either good or bad.

    In your review stance, though, two thumbs down from just one guy doesn't leave any room for doubt so there's no need for negotiation with Iron Man 3, message heard loud and clear. Come back soon and tell us what you think of Star Trek Into Darkness, which I haven't seen yet but will have a review posted for by about May 30. As always, thanks for reading and responding. Ken