Archive for Iron Man

The Sunday Intertitle: A Cave Worthy of Plato or anyway Pluto

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on August 5, 2012 by dcairns

THE MASTER MYSTERY, part the second.

Extremely fortunately, part two of Houdini’s movie serial opens with a recap which makes clear some of the confusing business in part 1. It also renders some of the more lucid stuff hopelessly obscure, but in this case I just hang onto my memory of understanding it at the time and dismiss the fog of befuddlement descending upon me.

One thing I belatedly realize is that the robot down in the rock-hewn cavern beneath the house where most of the action takes place is actually one and the same as “Q” the mysterious master criminal. (But subsequently I realized that “Q” is a different character after all.)

Also, Harry H dismisses the idea that the robot has a human brain (like Robotman Cliff Steele in The Doom Patrol), claiming that there is a human being inside that costume. If Harry is right, then “Q” is not, after all, the screen’s first true robot, but merely some dude in an exoskeleton, like IRON MAN.

This episode gets off to a flying start with HH writhing free of a straitjacket and engaging in vigorous fisticuffs with some fake asylum attendants, men in white coats who have come to abduct Mr Brent, head of the Patents Company, who has been stricken by the Madagascar (or laughing) Madness — a result of being doped by scented poisoned candles furtively planted by the robot (who can apparently tiptoe).

Outnumbered three to one, Harry manages to pummel the bad guys into submission and rushes to the leading lady’s boudoir, where he plugs Q the robot with his revolver (wait, he had a revolver this whole time?). Bullets have no effect! Still, the lady is rescued, with the help of the butler, the gardener and the real asylum attendants.

Harry contacts an eccentric bit-player brilliant chemist to concoct a cure for the Madagascar (or laughing) Madness, and watches as the man feeds the mania-inducing candlewax to a guinea pig. Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell if a small rodent is or is not demented, and the scene kind of fizzles out.

Flint, the robot’s supposed inventor (or at least somebody who talks about the robot a lot), recently back from Madagascar, is another victim of the Madness, but the bad guys kidnap him, drag him to robot cave, and then cure him of the Madagascar (or laughing) Madness, in order that he may do their bidding. Also, that maniacal laughter was probably getting tiresome. It’s times like this we can be thankful the movie is silent.

A perfectly valid lifestyle if you like that kind of thing.

The chemist comes up with a cure in about five minutes, so Harry hurries back to collect it, but the henchmen strike. The wacky chemist is walloped and dragged offscreen, and Harry ends the episode tied to the coat rack by his wrists. Surely escape is impossible? Oh, wait…

Houdini: The Movie Star (Three-Disc Collection)

Advertisements

Punchy

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on March 4, 2011 by dcairns

Being a big Tod Browning fan, when I was invited to jump in on the Jean Harlow Blogathon hosted by The Kitty Packard Pictorial, my thoughts turned to IRON MAN, a pretty much despised MGM boxing melodrama which pairs La Harlow with Lew Ayres. He’s a boxer, she’s his no-good gal. Robert Armstrong is the kid’s manager.

People, this film is kind of a zombie. I’m generally iffy about MGM flicks unless they’re properly splashy, which this ain’t, apart from Jean’s spectacular furs and gowns, proof of her shameless leaching of Ayres’ winnings. Browning had just come off DRACULA, and was about to make FREAKS (unless IMDb chronology is off — it’d make sense if this were his punishment for the latter film), but while this movie has some of the stilted awkwardness of both — dead pauses, flat delivery, static, airless shots — it doesn’t have the bizarre elements that alchemise that lead into weirdo gold. (Correction — it seems that, as the saying goes, “It’s a Universal Picture.”) Browning could have worked wonders with a boxing story, since it relates to his love of cheap, grotesque showbiz, sadism and exploitation, but this one isn’t it. It plays pretty much like the Wallace Beery wrestling picture Barton Fink is expected to write: generic and soulless. Even Robert Armstrong, who at least was a dynamic (read: shouty) performer, is slowed down to moderately loud drone. Browning did like his talk pretty ssslllooowwww (but his last movie, MIRACLES FOR SALE, is unexpectedly zippy), but here the sheer lack of interest in the situations seems to seep through everything and everyone.

But those furs are pretty impressive.

After grooving to THE WHITE TIGER, which restored my faith in Browning’s abilities with both dramatic tension and performances, I swiftly gathered up another obscure Harlow ~

Remarkable how Oliver Hardy can express frustration/desperation by raising and lowering his hat with both hands — a bizarre gesture, but completely transparent to the viewer.

BACON GRABBERS is one of two Laurel & Hardy shorts Jean breezed through on her rise to fame. Later, in BEAU HUNKS, there would be an excellent gag about everybody in the foreign legion being there to forget a woman, and they all carry a photograph of her: it’s Jean, of course.

Despite buying the mighty L&H box set when it was on sale, and being pleased as punch about it, I’d never watched BACON GRABBERS, a 1929 silent where Harlow appears very briefly as heavy Edgar Kennedy’s wife. The short sees the boys on the right side of the law for once, as repo men trying to reclaim a radio from Kennedy. Said radio gets smashed by a steamroller, needless to say. Kennedy, having already given it up, is amused, until his wife appears to tell him she’s just paid for the thing.

Fiona: “I was always fascinated by those blasted sub-urban landscapes in Laurel & Hardy. When I saw them as a kid, I thought, ‘That looks like a terrible place!'”

Although L&H are maybe unique for actually getting funnier when sound came in — wait, no, W.C. Fields virtually becomes funny with sound — their later silents are pretty close in quality to the better-known talkies. This one has a classic “failing to leave the room” sequence where Stan keeps forgetting his hat, or the list of instructions, or both, and a fairly early example of tit-for-tat violence and destruction. Plus a very funny, ridiculous bit with Stan up a ladder which is caught in Ollie’s trousers and wagging violently about, while Kennedy throws things at Stan from an upper window.

A guy like Kennedy, married to a gal like Harlow, ought to look happier than THAT.

In her tiny appearance, Jean doesn’t have to act much beyond looking happy, and the weather seems to have buffeted her about so her hair is in her face and the sun is in her eyes. She’s swaddled in huge furs again, so we can barely see her. How’s a girl going to get her talent spotted in these circumstances?

Dramatic Ironmongery

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 4, 2008 by dcairns

Get your self a snack from the fridge or I’ll punch your chin out!

There, I’ve done it. Since movies always begin with threats these days, and nobody seems to mind, I thought I’d begin a blog post the same way and see if it works. But I’m a good-hearted fellow, so I threaten you into doing something enjoyable. Which means it’s not a crime, right?

Metalhead

The kind of threats I mean are the ones that warn you against video-recording a movie at the cinema, promising terrible legal repercussions if you should walk out of the theatre with some lasting evidence of your experience. IRON MAN is the latest attempt to scupper the movie pirates, as it’s a movie that literally erases itself from your brain as you watch it. I want to write something about it but I have to be quick or there’ll be nothing left — it was pneumatically blasted into my skull through my eye and ear sockets, but now it’s just leaking out my back-brain like a lactulose O.D. My spine is wet with bits of Terrence Howard.

Not that it’s a bad film, it is actually very entertaining, and has a far better set-up than most summer blockbusters/buckblowers. And main dude Jon Favreau did a beautiful thing by casting Robert Downey Jnr., who’s “riddled with charisma” as Fiona puts it. All that chemistry Downey has poured into his bloodstream over the years is still evaporating from his skin and appearing onscreen — he has great chemistry with everybody: Gwyneth Paltry, who CAN be something of a no-joy zone but here is rather fun: a large mammal called Jeff Bridges, who brings the world’s largest private collection of affability to bear on the bad guy role; Shaun Toub, who’s a very nice actor indeed — I ducked out of seeing the Haggis CRASH and THE KITE RUNNER so this was my first exposure. Downey even has great chemistry with a robot arm carrying a fire extinguisher which, through deft writing and the personality lent it by Downey, acquires the best character arc of anyone in the film. 

Robert the robot

(Downey can’t do as much with Terrence Howard, who’s stuck in a thankless, sexless, meaningless best friend role. As a thought experiment, try cutting him out of the film in your mind, and watch in awe as NOTHING HAPPENS.)

Enjoyable as the film is, it crucially lacks resonance, which is why I’m struggling to recall most of it, one hour after the screening. I do remember enjoying it. There are good lines (RD Jnr: “Give me a whiskey, I’m starving”) and a very nice initial flying sequence, but the film’s reluctance to carry through the themes it set up (loud and clear, with big tags on them saying “THEME”) in the first section robs it of any mental staying-power. It comes down to a conflict between all-out capitalism — Stark Industries sell arms to the highest bidder, because that’s what they’re in business for — and, what? Enlightened capitalism? Or just fantasy super-heroics? Downey’s hero tries to stop his company making weapons, but never explains how he’s going to keep his business afloat and his staff employed.

Contrast this with ROBOCOP, which this movie evokes frequently (Verhoeven’s festival of irony and guts pre-empted so many comic book adaptations, from Batman to Judge Dredd, it’s unbelievable). While the Verhoeven was a rock ‘n’ roll speedball of dark wit and graphic bodily mayhem, it also set up numerous dialectics. Paul Weller’s cyborg policeman is a real public servant (the words on the side of his car, “To protect and serve” are given strong emphasis) in conflict both with social chaos and rampant capitalism, which are shown to be hand in glove.

Bridges, as “Obadiah Stane”, at one point rides on of those wheelie things that George W Bush fell off — you know, the things you’re not supposed to be able to fall off? — but isn’t set up to embody neo-con evil or hawkish militarism or anything but basic greed, and by the end of the movie he doesn’t even have a masterplan. Corporate bad guys don’t smush secret agents and punch superheroes through walls with their big metal fists, even metaphorically. Where’s the profit in that? He’s not an evocative bad guy because he’s mutated from a character into a bare plot function. As soon as he suits up and starts walloping, he’s a fugitive from justice who isn’t going to be selling arms to anyone, so it doesn’t much matter if he’s defeated by Gwyneth pulling levers to make Something Happen That Will Work.

BUT, the film, as I say, is entertaining, and does have one good stick-in-the-mind moment, when Paltrow inserts her hand into her leading man’s body. The scene is queasily funny, frightening, and perversely romantic, and I award extra points because it isn’t the kind of scene you’d automatically think necessary in a comic book action adventure. I hope she does it again in the sequel. Use both hands next time, Gwyneth!

Isn't it Iron-ic?