Drive In Double Feature: Monsters University (2013) & Iron Man 3 (2013)

monsters university We’re pretty lucky to live in an area with not one, but three drive-in movie theaters that are less than an hour away. We usually go to the Warwick, but they’ve had some pretty strange pairings this year. I’m still not sure why they didn’t go with an Iron Man 3/Star Trek Into Darkness combo, but that’s neither here not there. As the parents of a 2-year-old without a regular babysitter, we’re pretty limited in our movie-going options, so we like to have at least one film that Lu will kinda-sorta like. So, when we saw that Hyde Park had Monsters University paired up with Iron Man 3, we figured it’d make for a pretty good outing.

Lu and I actually have never seen Monsters Inc., but we did both see the show at Disney World based on the film. Even so, I’d say we both enjoyed the experience. Lu loves pretty much anything that’s big and bright and I thought the movie was a fun, kid friendly version of the kinds of college flicks I’ve loved since I was a kid myself.

The film follows Mike (Billy Crystal), a young monster who wants to be a scarer who winds up getting in to the number one school for such things, Monsters University. There, the overachieving bookworm meets Sulley (the glorious John Goodman), another scaring student who’s the latest in a long line of scarers. The problem? Mike isn’t actually scary and Sulley relies too much on his family name. The two wind up in the same geeky fraternity which allows them to compete in the Scare Games. Thanks to a deal made with the dean (Helen Mirren!), if they win the Games, she will let them  back into the scare program. From there they have to join forces, become friends and learn to work together.

I like everything from Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds to PCU and Pitch Perfect, all of which either influenced or are somewhat similar to this movie, so it’s right there in my wheelhouse. Even though I haven’t seen the original, I didn’t feel lost when it came to this movie which was nice. I didn’t realize that one of the villains from the original was also in this one, but my wife told me about it on the way home, so I was in on the joke after the fact. I’d say this works extremely well as a stand alone film and a prequel because it does actually make me want to see how these characters act as adults. Time to move that flick to the top of the ol’ Netflix Queue!

iron man 3 Much as I wound up liking Monsters University, Iron Man 3 was the movie I was more excited about. Movies like this which are big on the geek radar can get a little tiresome to folks like myself who cover them on the interwebs. Even though I probably wrote a dozen or two stories about this film for Spinoff, I still enjoyed it and — more surprisingly — was still in the dark on a lot of the major plot points. It helped that I avoided every tweet and conversation about the film after it came out.

So, the story this time around is that Tony Stark’s going down a fairly dark path. He’s pretty disturbed after the events of The Avengers which saw him possibly destroy an entire world/army/dimension. He’s building all kinds of armors, but there’s a more physical threat gunning for him: The Mandarin. An international terrorist played by Ben Kingsley, the Mandarin has plenty of shady people working for him like Guy Pearce, but more importantly, his people have been imbued with Extremis, a techno-organic program that can rewrite a person’s DNA, making them a fire-breathing, superpowered menaces. They blow up Tony’s house which sends him out on his own without a suit to figure out what’s up with the Mandarin and spoilerific things ensue.

I’m not going to get into specific spoilers just yet, but I do want to talk about the ending of the film. Like I said, I went in relatively spoiler free, but I did figure that the extra armors Tony built would come into play during the film and boy do they. It’s so rad seeing Tony running around a giant structure, hopping in and out of different suits and fighting off bad guys. It’s the kind of thing that Joss Whedon did really well with the final battle scene in Avengers and something director Shane Black followed up on pretty well in this film.

Okay now it’s time to get into SPOILERS. Consider yourself WARNED. Man, I really liked what they did with the Mandarin in this movie even though the reveal feels a bit like the one used in Batman Begins with Ra’s al Ghul. In this case it helped that they got such a weighty actor and had him turn in first, a scary performance and second, a hilarious one. Going for the complete personality switch is what sets this apart and makes for a great moment. This was the element of the film I was most surprised hadn’t been spoiled for me yet. Then you’ve got the ending which certainly leaves Tony Stark in an interesting place in the Marvel Studios Universe. He’s still got that big brain of his, but he doesn’t have the ARC reactor which powers his suit. It’s the kind of move that would last for maybe a few years in the comics before something else would pop up and he’d have to, I don’t know, have his heart get blown up again or something. But, since we’re dealing with a film universe — even a shared  one — they get to play with the elements and the players a bit more. The real world side of things is that RDJ might not want to play Iron Man much longer — Tony Stark seems less taxing — and it might make sense within this new world to go a different route and have someone else fill in inside the suit. Of course, since the Extremis now exists in the movie-verse, it’s within reason that Tony will find himself in a situation where he needs to inject himself, this becoming Iron Man Version 2.0. There’s a lot of possibilities and it will be interesting to see where things go with the character from here.

As you can probably tell, I enjoyed the movie. It wasn’t perfect, but it was definitely a fun viewing experience. I also really liked the kid who played Harley and think he needs to be in a kids-dealing-with-craziness movie like The Goonies. At this point, I’m a general fan of the Marvel Studios films. Avengers is rad, I dig the Iron Man flicks and Captain America, Thor was okay and I haven’t seen Incredible Hulk in a long time, but didn’t like it at the time. I’m curious about the Thor and Cap sequels, but am far more interested in Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man and the other flicks starring new characters. Let’s see what they can do with some new old characters.

Revisiting Scream 3 (2000) & Iron Man 2 (2010)

Sequels are funny things. Like a lot of people who think about movies way too much, I tend to judge them pretty harshly. Do they hold up to the original? Are they better? Does this story make sense? Is it necessary? The real question should simply be, is it any good? Was it entertaining? Did I like it? Upon re-watching a pair of sequels recently, I feel like I’m either becoming a nicer viewer or (hopefully) less judgmental. I think there’s also something to be said for experience with a story making it easier to digest even if there are elements that you find bothersome. You know they’re they, you see them coming and you adjust your viewing as necessary.

That actually wasn’t the case with Scream 3, which I watched towards the end of last week. The first and only other time I saw this movie was in the theaters when it came out in 2000. I’ve never been a huge fan of the Scream series (you can read my review of the first one here), but they were gigantic to the horror community that I was just getting into as they came out. I remember liking the third installment, thinking that the filmmakers were really playing with the genre and having fun with it. I mean, it’s not a flat out comedy by any means, but I remember feeling a sense of winking towards the audience, especially in the scene where the killer throws a knife at Dewey and the handle smacks him in the head. That bit still made me laugh.

But, I wasn’t seeing or noticing the humor as much this time around. Yes, I was working and it was kind of on in the background while I was doing other things, but it just wasn’t as prevalent. I still liked the movie and think it’s pretty good, but there were two aspects that got on my nerves. First off, and I know I liked this at the time, but the Jay and Silent Bob cameos are just super weird and kind of pointless. I’m saying this as someone who loves those characters, those movies and Smith in general, but they really took me out of the movie. But, they weren’t nearly as bad as that ridiculous voice modulator thing that so much of the movie depends on. Does that kind of thing even exist? I feel like if it did, there would be an app. Anyway, I get the idea that it makes everyone you’re not seeing directly in front of you suspect, but it gets to the point where you as a viewer can’t trust anyone and just become more and more disconnected. It also made me far more aware of off-screen dialog which took me out of the store even more. Without that aspect, the movie would actually be pretty damn solid. I don’t even mind the retconning stuff because I think it fits in pretty well and all makes sense. Plus, it’s another not to old horror movies, though this one far more unsettling. With that, I’ve watched the first and third movies in the past few years and just need to rewatch 2 and see 4 for the first time. I’ve heard good things.

After writing up a piece about Iron Man 3 for Spinoff, I remembered that 2 was on Netflix Instant and gave it another watch. I honestly didn’t remember many of my opinions about the movie from the first time I saw it other than a deep desire to punch Justin Hammer in the face. After going back and re-reading my original review of the film, it turns out that that same elements spoke to me both times. I liked it, it’s a big fun action movie. The performances are great. I didn’t like Sam Jackson that time around, but none of that stuff bothered me this time. And, while I still despise Justin Hammer as a character and think he came off kind of cartoony, I don’t think Sam Rockwell’s portrayal of him is all that far from people like him in the real world.

It’s actually kind of funny that I remembered most of the scenes of the movie, but couldn’t remember how I felt about them. There were bits I forgot, like Tony Stark’s dad as a kind of Walt Disney character. I’m actually listening to a book about Pixar right now that got into some of the “I’ve got these ideas, but haven’t developed the technology just yet, maybe they will n the future” ideas that were directly stated in this film. It’s interesting how the things you’re reading/watching/listening to can inadvertently segue into one another.

Anyway, I’ve found that repeated viewings of the first Iron Man tend to leave me a little flat. I still like all the character stuff they did and Robert Downey Jr. makes an awesome Tony Stark, but the ending definitely has diminishing returns. I understand that they wanted to show that Tony Stark could perservere over a larger, more powerful oponent, but that battle is just boring the third or fourth time around. Similarly, the one between Iron Man, War Machine and Mickey Rourke at the end of this one’s a bit lame. You get that awesome sequence with them taking on the drones and then you finish up with Tony and Rhodey aiming blasters at the Ruskie and he explodes? Eh. These things are great the first time around, but don’t always make for the best repeated viewings which is what I want from my movies. Still, it’s a movie packed with fun and shows just one small aspect of how cool an Avengers movie can and hopefully will be.

Iron Mongering: Iron Man 2 (2010)

I hadn’t heard a lot of great things about Iron Man 2. Between friends and the Totally Rad Show guys, the reviews weren’t the greatest. I think those people are crazy. Sure Iron Man 2 had some problems, but overall, it gave me the things I found the original wanting: a really good final battle (the Iron Man vs. the drones was probably cooler than the final battle with Whiplash), a better actor portraying Rhodey and more action in general.

Some people complained that the movie was too long and maybe felt like there were too many characters which took away from the Tony Stark/Robert Downey Jr. goodness, but I disagree. It felt like a very well paced and balanced movie to me.

I’m not going to get too much into the plot because I’m sure some people haven’t seen it yet, but I will talk about a few things that I really, really liked. First off, Don Cheadle annihilates Terrence Howard’s performance. He should have been in the role from the beginning. Second, even though Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow wasn’t the kind of role I expected it to be, I like they worked her in and her fighting style was awesome to watch. I could definitely go for a movie with just her. Third, the comparison between Howard Stark (Tony’s dad, played perfectly by Mad Men’s John Slattery) and Walt Disney is perfect. It obviously wasn’t directly stated, but between Slattery sporting a Walt-like suit and telling the people at home about his idea for the future and Stark Expo aping the World’s Fair (a showcase for many of Disney’s creations that are still in the parks today), it’s on the screen. Plus, the way Howard helped Tony later in life was awesome.

The movie’s not perfect, though. There was one plot hole early on that I actually forgot in all the awesomeness towards the end, but I did think it was odd that Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash would allow Tony and Rhodey to communicate towards the end of the movie. Rourke was fantastic by the way. I however did not like two of the performances in particular that of the Sams Jackson and Rockwell. Jackson seemed to be playing his role as a buddy of Stark’s which just doesn’t wash for me. And for Rockwell, I’m kind of shocked at how much everyone liked his character, or liked to hate him. Yeah, he was annoying and douchey, but it came off as a bad Dana Carvey impression of that character to me. Hopefully if he shows back up in Iron Man 3, he’ll be a little less over-the-top.

All in all, I had a fantastic time watching Iron Man 2 (I love that they called it Iron Man 2, by the way, and not something with a colon). It had everything I wanted and actually topped my medium-sized expectations. Plus, for me at least, the first Iron Man movie seemed amazing at the time, but on repeated viewings I found it wanting. Maybe that will be the case with IM2, or maybe knowing that the sequel picks up on the potential of the first one and continues on will actually make me enjoy the original more.