A PERFECT MURDER (1998)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 47 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence, Sexuality and Language

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Directed by: Andrew Davis

Written by: Patrick Smith Kelly

(based on the play DIAL M FOR MURDER by Frederick Knott)

Starring: Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow, Viggo Mortensen, David Suchet & Sarita Choudhury

Anybody who dares to remake an Alfred Hitchcock film is bound to face scrutiny right out of the gate. I’m sure there are more, but I can only think of four instances of a filmmaker attempting to redo a Hitchcock masterpiece: a made-for-TV version of REAR WINDOW, Gus Van Sant’s useless shot-for-shot remake of PSYCHO, Platinum Dunes’s upcoming reboot of THE BIRDS, and this update of DIAL M FOR MURDER. While I still consider DIAL M FOR MURDER to be a flawless classic with one of the most ingeniously simple twist endings of all-time, I would go on a limb saying that A PERFECT MURDER is the way a remake should be done. It never comes close to topping the 1954 original, but the plot has been reworked and reshaped with new construction. The outline is similar, but changes have been made that complicate things and open up new directions for the plot to go.

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Steven and Emily Taylor are a wealthy couple living in an extravagant lifestyle in New York. Appearances can be deceiving as Steven is losing money hand over fist and Emily is having an affair behind his back with David Shaw, a starving artist. Faster than you can say murderous motivation, Steven has figured out who David is and hires him to kill Emily, thus solving his financial problems and the burden of an unfaithful wife. He’s killing two birds with one stone, but the killing here is to be taken literally. Unfortunately for Steven, the plot doesn’t go the way he thought it would and a whole new can of worms is opened with double-crossing, incriminating evidence, and a few dead bodies.

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The biggest positive I can give A PERFECT MURDER is how creative the reworking of this well-known plot went. Frederick Knott’s play is still performed to this day and gives the illusion that everything is extremely complicated, but is actually quite diabolically simple. A PERFECT MURDER adds a handful of new directions to the story that I didn’t expect and I was actually wondering where things were headed for a good portion of the film. It wasn’t because the screenplay was brilliant (the writer only moved on to pen DON’T SAY A WORD and that was the conclusion of his career in movies), but I did appreciate that my attention was kept on the screen if only for curiosity of how things would eventually close. Turns out that the climax is ham-fisted and clichéd. The alternate ending is actually a more satisfying wrap-up though it didn’t necessarily end on a brilliant note either.

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On the other side of the coin, the characters are very bland and the cast members don’t necessarily inject charisma or emotions needed to make watching these people enjoyable. I didn’t have any strong feelings for Michael Douglas to possibly get away with murder or Gwyneth Paltrow to do some investigating into the incident. They have no chemistry together, which might have been the point, but there characters weren’t given any real screen time to develop in a convincing manner. Viggo Mortensen as David, a character with skeletons in his own closet, is just as wooden as Douglas and Paltrow. An additional character of a detective serves as merely means to an end, popping up in a total of four scenes that collectively fill under 10 minutes of screen time. It really seemed as if none of the actors or actresses were trying at all.

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Nobody really cared to make this a solid update of a suspenseful classic with the exception of a screenwriter who botches it in the end and a director who does give a bit of atmosphere. There was an appropriately dark tone to the whole film that suited the content of the story. It almost seemed like the visual scheme of David Fincher’s SE7EN was employed for this fairly standard thriller. I did appreciate grim humor in the dialogue exchanges between Douglas and Mortensen. The plot changes made expand the story of play from a mere apartment setting to around the city. The R rating allows for some F-bombs, brief moments of bloody violence (one scene is gruesomely cool with a cooking utensil turned unconventional weapon), and a sex scene or two. I appreciated that the updated plot kept me on my toes, but didn’t care about the characters or the disappointing final moments.

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A PERFECT MURDER is far better than a certain other Hitchcock remake (which starred a woefully miscast Vince Vaughn as the iconic Norman Bates). I appreciated that the director tried to make this a glossy, well-crafted film and that the screenwriter reworked many of the twists for a remake that would surprise those familiar with the source material. Pitch-black humor and a good atmosphere also keep this from being a bad flick, but the wooden acting of a cast consisting of performers who don’t appear to give a single shit about the movie they’re making bring this film down a lot. The ending is cheesy beyond belief and almost feels like they gave up on a creative climax. The movie just sort of shrugs and cuts to credits. In the end, plans were set in motion for a good thriller and upended by certain factors that no one took into consideration…kind of like how Michael Douglas’s murder plot falls apart in this film.

Grade: C

IRON MAN 3 (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Intense Sci-Fi Action and Violence throughout, and brief Suggestive Content

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Directed by: Shane Black

Written by: Drew Pearce & Shane Black

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Stephanie Szostak, James Badge Dale, Jon Favreau & Ben Kingsley

IRON MAN 3 is the first major release from Marvel since THE AVENGERS reigned in May 2012. It also marks a few daring moves for the studio that seemed content to play it safe with their superheroes in the past. It’s Marvel’s darkest movie and consequently the best IRON MAN film yet! This almost doesn’t feel like a superhero film and I mean that in the best possible way. IRON MAN 3 feels like a James Bond film crossed paths with a Marvel production and this is the result.

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Following fresh off the events of THE AVENGERS, Tony Stark is suffering from PTSD. After al, he did witness other worlds, demigods and aliens (let alone fought against them with other superheroes to save the world). In order to cope with these new revelations, Stark has taken to long sleepless periods (up to three full days worth of time) creating new Iron Man suits and inventions. This puts extra stress on Pepper, his significant other, who was already putting up with his erratic narcissistic lifestyle. A new foe emerges in the Mandarin, a formidable terrorist issuing random attacks in different parts of the USA and Pakistan. After one of his friends in injured in an attack, Tony Stark finds himself being targeted by the Mandarin and it appears that there is far more at work than what appears at first.

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IRON MAN was a good origin story for this superhero. IRON MAN 2 was an okay sequel, but seemed like too much set up for THE AVENGERS and not enough Iron Man. However, IRON MAN 3 delivers the sequel that the second installment should have been. There are references to what happened in New York in THE AVENGERS, but this movie seemed almost like a self-contained story that focused on the battle between Iron Man and a cunning villain. The plot is smart and has a few twists, but also knows when and where to place the action scenes and humor. There are a good amount of laughs to be had in parts of IRON MAN 3 and the fight scenes are just plain cool.

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Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, and Don Cheadle are back in the roles they played so well before. Rebecca Hall (THE PRESTIGE, DORIAN GRAY) shows up as one of Stark’s former lovers and Guy Pearce plays a rival scientist who may be hiding more than a few skeletons in his closet very well. Meanwhile, Ben Kingsley shows up as the Mandarin. If there’s any performance to be ridiculed in this film, it belongs to Ben Kingsley. You’ll know why when you see it, but it’s not bad per se, just wasn’t what I was expecting at all from the character.

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IRON MAN 3 takes some unexpected turns along the way (one of which is clearly owed to BATMAN BEGINS). This is the most obvious twist of the bunch too and the film spent a little too much time spelling out (in case some of the audience members didn’t get it from the first two times it’s shown). Some of the logic used in this world seems a bit silly when one tries to analyze it, but the viewer should also consider that we are watching a story in a world filled with frozen patriots, demigods, and aliens. So you kind of have to erase a bit of logic from your mind when entering this film.

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With these criticisms in mind, the film is still a “superhero vs. villain” story and it marks the first time Iron Man has faced off alone against someone with actual powers. The movie never loses its speed and even though it’s the longest running IRON MAN film thus far (a bit over two hours), it felt like it went by at a perfect pace. It seems that since Marvel has gotten all of the origin stories over with for each of its main heroes, they are now willing to shake things up in their universe and take some risks. This benefits both the film and the cast greatly. The ending of IRON MAN 3 makes some bold moves and I can’t wait to see where the character of Tony Stark goes from here on. Color me officially excited for the upcoming THOR sequel, CAPTAIN AMERICA sequel and the second AVENGERS movie. It’s looking to be a brave new direction of Marvel Studios and I like what I’m seeing a lot.

Grade: B+

IRON MAN 2 (2010)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 5 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Intense Sci-Fi Action and Violence, and Some Language

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Directed by: John Favreau

Written by: Justin Theroux

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke & Samuel L. Jackson

The first IRON MAN was a competent and enjoyable superhero origin story, even though it fell into some pitfalls of the superhero film. It set up the characters well and got a ton of development out of the way. Of course, since it banked and it was the first in a series of films that set up THE AVENGERS, it was certain that we had not seen the last of Tony Stark or his special suit. Of course, a sequel was in production to further along the blueprint for The Avengers Initiative and this one would be more packed to the gills with action, right? You’d actually be wrong on that second guess. IRON MAN 2, though far from terrible, is just an okay sequel to a good predecessor.

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Since Tony Stark announced that he was Iron Man to the world, he’s become even more of a celebrity figure. The US military wants him to turn over the Iron Man suit to the government because they see it as a possible weapon (both against them and one they could utilize against others). Tony Stark flat-out refuses and incurs the anger of a fellow weapons designer, Justin Hammer. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to everyone, the dangerous Ivan Vanko is plotting a calculated revenge against Stark. Tony Stark’s problems don’t end there though, because the very device that is keeping him alive is also killing him with a toxic presence in his body. Can Tony Stark save himself and the day? Will Justin Hammer and Ivan Vanko succeed in their separate plots to humiliate/kill Iron Man? Will plenty of set up be thrown in for THE AVENGERS? Seeing as this is a superhero movie, you should know the answers to all of the above.

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Robert Downey Jr. hops back into the role of Tony Stark, which fits him like a glove. Gwyneth Paltrow is likable enough, reprising her role as Stark’s significant other. Don Cheadle has come in to play James Rhodes, a role that belonged to Terrence Howard in the previous film, and is fantastic as somewhat of a sidekick to Stark’s superego. Mickey Rourke is great as the insane creepy Russian Ivan Vanko. Sam Rockwell, as good an actor as he is, doesn’t really come off as the intimidating type and I never really saw him as anything other than a whiny loser. This may have been exactly what they were aiming for in his character, but there was potential in this role that never seemed to be fully realized.

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The production values are spectacular, as they should be when one considers the massive budget this film had. I personally enjoyed many of the little nods thrown in that reference THE AVENGERS film and there are winks for fans of the Marvel universe (a Captain America shield here and a Thor hammer there). Samuel L. Jackson goes from brief cameo to full-on supporting character as Nick Fury. These nudges and winks for the fans are fun enough. However, it seems like there’s far too much exposition here and not enough action.

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The story begins with promise and a showdown between Stark and Ivan at a Grand Prix is appropriately exciting. The final 40 minutes are also a rollicking good time. However, it’s the middle section that drags. The final showdown between Tony and Ivan also feels a bit like a boss fight in a video game and ends far too quickly. This should have been the most intense and riveting sequence in the entire film, but it resolves itself in a bit of an anti-climactic way.

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IRON MAN 2 is a fun time. It winds up being on the lower end of the Marvel cinematic universe so far. The predecessor is far better and so is the crossover film between all of the heroes, but this winds up being just an okay sequel to a superior origin story.

Grade: B-

IRON MAN (2008)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 5 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some Intense Sequences of Sci-Fi Action and Violence, and brief Suggestive Content

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Directed by: Jon Favreau

Written by: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum & Matt Holloway

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges & Gwyneth Paltrow

IRON MAN was the second turning point in modern superhero cinema (the first was Chistopher Nolan’s reboot of Batman). IRON MAN came to show that the Marvel Universe had entered the world of The Avengers. I can’t recall another time in movie history that a series of somewhat unrelated films were formed to lead up to one mega-blockbuster. It certainly doesn’t hurt that this was a good start for the series of superhero films that included many remarkable individuals and spanned across two different worlds. Taken on its own, the first IRON MAN entry is a pretty good flick.

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Tony Stark is a billionaire genius who makes his fortune off selling weapons. During a trip to Afghanistan, Tony is abducted by a group of terrorists demanding that he duplicate a weapon of mass destruction for them. What Stark actually works on is an armor-clad suit complete with attached weapons. After an explosive escape, Tony comes back home to rethink his personal responsibility in peddling tools of war. This leads to the dismay of his stock holders and faithful partner, Obadiah Stane. Using his ingenuity, Tony Stark becomes Iron Man!

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First of all, Robert Downey Jr. owns his role as Tony Stark. He makes it so it’s pretty much impossible to imagine anybody else in the role, though there might be an eventual reboot coming in a few decades. This is the kind of character that it’s difficult to separate the actor from. Robert Downey Jr. just knocks it out of the park here and winds up being the most charismatic superhero to grace the genre. Although Downey Jr. is amazing, it seems that nearly everyone else here is used as means to an end. Jeff Bridges is tragically underused. Terrence Howard is the only other one with anything resembling a real personality. Finally, Gwyneth Paltrow feels forced as the love-interest.

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Despite what Christopher Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT trilogy might have you believe, most superhero movies wind up being about the spectacle and IRON MAN nails this down perfectly! The special effects still hold five years later as stellar. The action scenes, though not as frequent as one might expect, are adrenaline-pumping too. It also makes the film even more entertaining to spot all the references to the (at-the-time upcoming) AVENGERS movie. I chuckled more than once at seeing something that would make a big comeback later on in the Marvel universe.

Robert Downey Jr. in "Iron Man"

The main problem that IRON MAN suffers from is a script that totally feels like a bit of a been-there, done-that origin story. We pretty much know how things will play out from the get-go. There is also a half-assed twist that can be guessed about 30 minutes into the film. However, even with a barely serviceable script, IRON MAN manages to stand tall as a very fun, entertaining and downright cool superhero film. It’s not fine art and there are certainly better movies in the Marvel cannon, but IRON MAN is still a solid superhero story! If you haven’t seen it yet (I can’t imagine why you haven’t), then give it a look!

Grade: B

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