Reviews by Jason Pirodsky
After Spider-Man, X-Men, the Fantastic Four and others, a less-popular Marvel superhero gives birth to a superior film in Jon Favreau´s Iron Man, which is greatly aided by a stellar Robert Downey Jr. performance in the title role. A few faults aside – which include an unfortunate air, plotwise, of been-there, done-that – Favreau hits all marks in a film that should be greatly appreciated by (but not limited to) fans of the comics. After affectionate but cartoonish missteps (Daredevil, Hulk, Ghost Rider) and outright failures (The Punisher), Iron Man is second only to Spider-Man 2 as the best translation of a Marvel character to the big screen yet.
Downey Jr. stars as billionaire inventor and businessman Tony Stark, who begins the film by giving the US military a demonstration of his latest product, a weapon of mass destruction “that you only need to fire once”. If you´ve read the comics or seen the trailers, you know what happens next: the military transport carrying Stark is ambushed, and he wakes up in a cave with a car battery attached to his heart keeping shrapnel from penetrating it. He´s ordered by his captors to build weapons for them, but with the help of fellow prisoner Yinsen (Shaun Toub), he designs something else: a suit made of metal that he´ll use to escape. And thus, we have Iron Man. Of course, the suit isn´t perfect, and barely allows Stark to get out; but with the aid of military friend Jim Rhoades (Terrence Howard), he makes it back to his Malibu estate and faithful assistant/secretary Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Here he begins work on a more advanced suit, while publicly announcing that Stark Industries will discontinue weapons manufacturing, much to the chagrin of corporate honcho Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges). Origin story, which takes up much of the film, is perfect; climatic matchup against supervillain Iron Monger, despite some impressive CGI, is rather redundant. Downey Jr. embodies Tony Stark in what is one of the best lead performances ever in a comic book adaptation; it´s smart casting (even the actor´s personal life mimics that of Stark in the comics) but also note-perfect acting as Downey reels off sarcastic, deadpan one-liners as few others can. Supporting cast helps as well, featuring a higher caliber of actors than one might expect in a superhero movie; Bridges, in particular, is an inspired choice, albeit one that I´m not quite sure pays off. Director Favreau shows up as Happy Hogan, a core character in the comics. One true disappointment: the original score, which is workable but leaves our hero without much of a distinguishable theme (one that should have been generated by the classic riff in Black Sabbath´s Iron Man, heavily featured in the trailers but mostly absent in the film).
Note: stick around after the credits for extra scene and a nice little cameo, especially relevant for fans of the Marvel universe.
A love letter to the city of Paris featuring an impressive lineup of 21 internationally acclaimed directors tackling stories titled after each of the city´s 18 districts, Paris je t´aime (Paris, I Love You) is about as good as this kind of thing can get. Which isn´t quite perfect; the quality of the individual parts is, of course, varied, and your enjoyment of overall film will be determined by an appreciation of those individual parts rather than the sum of them. But there´s a high level of success here, which can be (mostly) attributed to the talent involved; rarely does a segment miss, and even those misses prove interesting. My favorites: Alfonso Cuarón´s Parc Monceau, a single tracking shot starring Nick Nolte and Ludivine Sagnier that featuring a delicious little twist; Joel & Ethan Coen´s nicely off-kilter Tuileries, with Steve Buscemi as a tourist in the Paris metro; Sylvain Chomet’s sweet mime romance Tour Eiffel; Walter Salles & Daniela Thomas´ touching Loin du 16čme, with Catalina Sandino Moreno as a nanny who leaves her own infant to care for another; and Oliver Schmitz´ Place des Fêtes, with Seydou Boro and Aďssa Maďga and a story I won´t spoil. Other segments prove talkative but worthwhile, affecting: Gus Van Sant´s Le Marais; Gurinder Chadha´s Quais de Seine; Richard LaGravenese´s Pigalle, starring Bob Hoskins and Fanny Ardant; Olivier Assayas´ Quartier des Enfants Rouges, with Maggie Gyllenhaal; Wes Craven´s unexpectedly light Pčre-Lachaise, with Rufus Sewell and Emily Mortimer; and Gérard Depardieu & Frédéric Auburtin´s Quartier Latin, with Cassavetes vets Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands. Bruno Podalydčs´ Montmartre, which opens the film, is, perhaps, the weakest segment on display, akin to a local favorite given the opening night nod at a film festival.
I only take umbrage with two of the tales, Tom Tykwer´s Faubourg Saint-Denis (starring a lovely but sometimes grating Natalie Portman) and Isabel Coixet´s Bastille, both of which take potentially affecting stories and choose to tell them with nonstop, overbearing narration. But nonstop narration fits perfectly in Alexander Payne´s 14th arrondissement, a sly travelogue narrated in grammar-school French with Margo Martindale as a middle-aged tourist. And I see only one outright failure here, though it´s an interesting one at that: Nobuhiro Suwa´s Place des Victoires, a dour and pretentious tale of parental loss with Juliette Binoche and Willem Dafoe as a mysterious cowboy. Vincenzo Natali´s Quartier de la Madeleine, starring Elijah Wood and Olga Kurylenko as a vampire, doesn´t quite fit in with the rest of the tales, but I appreciated its B-movie affection. Similarly, acclaimed cinematographer Christopher Doyle´s Porte de Choisy, starring Barbet Schroeder as a hair product salesman, is pretentious to a fault but a pleasant enough diversion.
Note: despite the varied lineup of acclaimed international directors, majority of the film (around 75%) is in French, subtitled in Czech on Prague screens.
Also opening: Dennis Gansel’s Die Welle (The Wave, showtimes | IMDb), based on Todd Strausser’s novel about a high school teacher’s experiment with dictatorship. Film is in German, subtitled in Czech on Prague screens. Also see Alexander Grasshoff’s 1981 excellent The Wave, an After School Special version of the same story.
And: Olga Dabrowská’s Czech comedy Kuličky (showtimes), starring Vladimír Škultéty, Marika Procházková, Jiří Vyorálek, and Petr Jeništa. Screening in Czech, without subtitles.