DVD reviews
October 2008



All reviews by Loey Lockerby

Iron Man

Iron Man is a popular hero among comic book aficionados, but he has never had the pop culture cache of characters like Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk. For most of the rest of us, Iron Man is just that guy from the Black Sabbath song.

Jon Favreau’s spectacular summer blockbuster changed all that. By casting Robert Downey, Jr. in the title role, Favreau guaranteed a terrific central performance, if nothing else. He put just as much effort into every other aspect of the film, as well, and that is what really sets Iron Man apart.

For the uninitiated, Iron Man is Tony Stark, a billionaire weapons manufacturer who has a crisis of conscience after experiencing first-hand what his business is doing to the world. He uses his technical expertise to create a suit of armor that turns him into a virtually indestructible defender of humanity. Naturally, this does not sit well with Tony’s greedy associate, Stane (Jeff Bridges), who is not easily persuaded, to say the least.

For someone who has never helmed a film of this magnitude before, Favreau has a remarkably confident touch. He provides the backstory in a way that is comprehensive without being tedious, and he keeps the pace up without resorting to hyperactive MTV-style gimmickry. It’s as entertaining — and intelligent — as a movie with lots of explosions can be.

Extras: Extended & deleted scenes (including an alternate ending); lengthy features on the film’s production and Iron Man’s history; a special effects doc; Downey’s screen test and some rehearsal footage; an Onion News Network parody. (PG-13). Rating: 4.5.

Made of Honor

Can we declare a moratorium on forced, unfunny “romantic comedies”? If someone proposes a script that makes no narrative sense and features stupid, unlikable characters that don’t belong together, can we please just tell them to go flip burgers somewhere? They’re clearly not cut out for creative work.

Since such a ban does not exist, we’re still getting movies like Made of Honor, in which Patrick Dempsey wastes his Grey’s Anatomy hiatus on a gender-reversal version of My Best Friend’s Wedding. Dempsey plays the womanizing Tom, who doesn’t realize he’s in love with his best friend, Hannah (Michelle Monaghan), until she gets engaged to a charming Scotsman (Kevin McKidd). When Hannah asks him to be her “maid” of honor, he decides to prevent the wedding and win Hannah’s heart himself.

So, Tom is too stupid to realize he’s in love with a woman until he’s known her for 10 years and seen her get engaged to someone else. Meanwhile, Hannah is willing to marry a man she barely knows (her courtship with her new fiancé has lasted about the length of a business trip). And the audience is supposed to love these people and root for them to get together.

The Scottish scenery is pretty, the supporting characters are amusing, and there are a couple of actual laughs to be had. That’s all a movie like Made of Honor will ever have to offer, at least until we send those lousy writers back to the drive-thru.

Extras: Commentary by director Paul Weiland (who also directed Leonard Part 6 – really). (PG-13). Rating: 2.

Speed Racer

This adaptation of the cult-animated series is a visual feast, full of eye-popping special effects and exciting race sequences. Too bad about the rest of it.

The Wachowski Brothers caused quite a stir when they decided to write and direct Speed Racer, and their affection for the original is obvious throughout. Emile Hirsch plays the car-loving title character who gets caught up in race fixing and the age-old battle between corrupt corporate backers and mom-and-pop operations. In this case, it’s Speed’s mom (Susan Sarandon) and pop (John Goodman) being threatened, and the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox) who appears on the track.

Anything else resembling a plot is too convoluted to explain, and doesn’t matter. This movie is all about gorging on eye candy. Frequent homage is paid to the cartoon, usually by copying the odd poses and trippy segues that set it apart back in the ‘60s. The annoying little brother with the monkey is even included, much to the chagrin of anyone over five.

Dialogue and characterization are well beyond the scope of Speed Racer, which means a lot of money was spent turning a weird old cartoon into a weird, loud, utterly pointless feature film. With its great action scenes, it’s like the best video game ever that only nobody gets to play.

Extras: A making-of feature (hosted by the annoying kid) and another focusing on the cars and racing mechanics. (PG). Rating: 3.

Bigger, Stronger, Faster

Chris Bell used to use anabolic steroids. His two brothers still do. This fact is the jumping-off point for Bigger, Stronger, Faster, Bell’s documentary about performance enhancement in American culture.

It’s a huge subject to cover in less than two hours, but Bell does a remarkably thorough job. His basic premise is that the United States is a “win at all costs” country that tacitly encourages cheating and shortcuts to success, even as everyone bemoans their use. Bell interviews everyone from doctors to fighter pilots to porn stars in an effort to figure out why our citizens behave this way, and why steroids are singled out by lawmakers.

Bell makes the case that steroids aren’t nearly as harmful as they’re made out to be, and certainly no worse than the myriad substances and medical techniques routinely used by virtually everybody. If Tiger Woods can get LASIK surgery that improves his golf game, then why can’t a bodybuilder get a little chemical help to bulk himself up?

Bell and his brothers aren’t the best poster boys for steroid use, coming across as insecure losers whose self-worth depends entirely on their muscle mass. It’s sad to see them struggling with this, knowing they’ll never think they’re good enough unless they’re Schwarzenegger, which will never happen. Chris at least has his burgeoning filmmaking career and despite a few missteps (he tries way too hard to be Michael Moore), he is well on his way to genuine success.

Extras: A making-of documentary and several deleted scenes. (PG-13). Rating: 4.

Loey Lockerby can be contacted at lrl94@aol.com.


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