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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
May 4, 2008

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.


Iron Man, Women's Socks, TinyURL

Before I review the movie Iron Man, a little full disclosure: For the past couple of years I've been writing Marvel's Ultimate Iron Man series.

However, the "Ultimate" comics are not tied to the traditions of long-running characters. My assignment was to reinvent Iron Man -- to start over with the Tony Stark story as if there had been no other Iron Man comics.

So my Iron Man comics stand apart from the ones the movie was based on. The movie was not based in any way on the scripts I wrote -- and I'm glad. The story I've been telling is way too complicated for a film. And the script of the movie (by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, and Matt Holloway) is a wonderful reinvention of the story.

The film's writers faced the same problem I had to deal with in Ultimate Iron Man: Why would Tony Stark -- billionaire arms manufacturer, hard-drinking playboy, and brilliant scientist/inventor -- ever take the time to put on the Iron Man suit and go do battle with bad guys himself?

My solution was to make him need to encase his body in some kind of protection from the moment he was born.

They didn't have time to take Tony Stark from birth to adulthood. So they give him a compelling motive: He is captured by terrorists after a firefight in which he is so badly injured that he has to have a sort of hyper-pacemaker installed in his chest. So he has been made to feel his personal vulnerability.

He is also made to feel a great debt to the people who are hurt by the weapons he has made. This could have been a cheap bit of political correctness ("weapons are bad"); but these are good writers, so instead the transformation of the character is handled with such reality that we understand that he is a man who has been immature and careless, and who now is determined to take responsibility for how the things he creates are used.

Casting was essential to this movie. Not because Robert Downey, Jr., has been down the irresponsible-drunk road in his real life, but because this extraordinarily talented actor offers a combination of irresistibly charming joie de vivre and brooding sensitivity.

We never get a sense that the actor is playing his part with tongue in cheek; instead, Downey is playing a character who lives his life with tongue in cheek. This is a very subtle difference, but he never strikes a false note.

Add to Downey's powerful performance the sly wit of Gwyneth Paltrow as his Girl Friday, "Pepper" Potts; Jeff Bridges in a perfectly understated performance as Obadiah Stane; and Shaun Toub, a character actor given what could well be the role of a career as the doctor who saves Downey's life; and you have the best cast I've seen in a superhero film.

But casts like this can be thrown away, and have been many times, if the director and writers don't give them anything to work with. Fortunately, director Jon Favreau (who also cameos as "Hogan") brings us the kind of honesty and sense of balance he showed in the extravagant Zathura: A Space Adventure three years ago.

Instead of camping it up -- especially the villains -- he recognized the great strength of the Iron Man story: Tony Stark may be an extraordinary man, but he is also a real one. He's not an alien, he's not a mutant, he's a guy who might actually live in the real world.

Admittedly, some of the things the suit does are flat-out impossible. If you fall like a ton of bricks out of the sky, even if you land in sand the suit can't protect you from the damage done to your internal organs when they slam into your own rib cage.

But this is no more unrealistic than the stunts we see in other "realistic" (as opposed to superhero) adventure films. By and large, Iron Man is maintained as a sci-fi-free, fantasy-free story. The villains are villainous in the way real people in the real world are villainous. It's a superhero you can believe in.

That's why some of the people I respect most chose Iron Man as their icon -- the comic book they revered as they were growing up. You could never be Superman, if you weren't born on Krypton; you gotta find the right spider to bite you if you're going to be Spider Man. But a kid could aspire to be Iron Man -- the character doesn't feel quite so out of reach.

In short, Iron Man is not just a good ride, well worth its hundred-million-dollar opening weekend. It's also a movie with unusual depth, in the writing, the directing, and the acting. You don't have to be dumb and shallow to make money -- you just have to care about the same things the audience cares about.

Let me call your attention to some of the actors who play the less spectacular roles. Terrence Howard plays Jim Rhodes, a fairly thankless role as Stark's liaison from the military. They did their best to write him a decent part, but he's clearly more actor than the role required. That's because in the comic books, "Rhodey" also wears a suit and is called War Machine. So when you see Howard look with interest at Stark's suit and say, "Later," that's a promise of a sequel -- they cast Howard with a much bigger part in mind.

Clark Gregg plays the part of Agent Phil Coulson, who is trying doggedly to get an interview with Tony Stark in order to debrief him about his hostage experience. He has about five lines in the movie -- but it is very important that we remember who he is, and that we believe in him as a figure with real authority and, yes, decency.

Gregg has a history of playing parts like that, in movie after movie (Hoot, In Good Company, We Were Soldiers, to name just a few of his 32 movies and dozens of tv guest appearances) -- you'll know his face. He's never been a full-fledged star and, by now, probably never expects to be. But he plays his characters with flair and wit and depth, and casting directors go to him because they know he'll deliver.

Meanwhile, actors who look like Faran Tahir (the bald terrorist guy) and Sayed Badreya (the hirsute terrorist guy) have few choices but to play menacing bad guys. Still, it's a job that can be done badly, shallowly, meaninglessly; when an actor brings real fire to a role, as Tahir does, or has a theatrical flair like Badreya, it adds immeasurably to the film -- even if we never learn the actor's name.

And the soldiers in the opening scenes -- these actors had only moments to make us recognize them as real American kids serving their country in combat. They did it splendidly. The casting director gets part of the credit -- but every one of these actors is probably someone who has been struggling for years to win a part like this. Their jobs were done in a day or two; but we saw them and, for a few moments on that screen, we knew them and loved them.

There'll be no Oscar chatter about these actors -- not for these roles, anyway. But let's remember that when we see a movie that really holds us and, yes, thrills us for a couple of hours in the dark, many people have given us their very best in order to accomplish it.

Spend the money. Take the time. See this in the theater, where it will be at its best. You don't have to be a comics fan, you don't have to know or care anything about Iron Man, you just have to be alive and human.

But if you are a Marvel Comics fan, you also owe it to yourself to hang out through the closing credits, because there's a scene at the end that will be a real hoot (the comics-fan kid in front of us almost leapt out of his chair, he was that happy).

But if you aren't a fan of the comics, the scene isn't really a scene -- it's more like a promise. I promise you, if you're outside the comics universe, it's not worth waiting for.

*

My wife has odd feet.

No, she has an even number of feet. But she has a hard time finding shoes that fit properly. And when she does, then she has problems with the way stockings work inside the shoe.

To wit: the seam across the top of the toe invariably rubs the skin and causes blisters.

The more she walked and ran as part of her exercise program, the less she appreciated the constant irritation of bad socks. So she went online and started doing stocking research.

She bought and tried several different brands and models of athletic socks, and what she settled on was X-Socks. She bought them from FootSmart.com, which sells many brands of footwear and therapy products. (You can also buy these socks from Amazon.com -- Amazon is getting so full-service that it won't be long before you can use them to deliver babies.)

X-Socks, quite simply, do the job. They're padded everywhere that they should be, and not where not; there are no seams or other irregular spots to chafe; nothing bunches up; they don't ride down as she walks and runs. They are, in a word, perfect.

You can learn more about X-Socks by going to About.com, which explains why these socks are so exquisitely right for your feet -- better than I can here.

So you don't have to type in quite so much, I went to a site called TinyURL.com and made this shorter address: http://tinyurl.com/4dm47u. This will take you straight to the page that talks about X-Socks on About.com.

A Rhino reader told me about this site -- because I so often provide you with links to sites with URLs so long your chances of typing it without making an error and getting sent nowhere are slim. If you have to provide other people with an internet site address that would take forever to type, then first go to www.tinyURL.com, and without any need to register, you can paste in the long URL and it will give you a short one that you can copy and paste onto posters or letters or other places where people can use a short address to jot down or type.

Meanwhile, back to the socks: They're expensive. Twenty-three bucks a pair. But if you're spending a hundred bucks or more on athletic shoes, it makes sense to get socks that are going to work with your feet instead of against them. My wife now has happy feet. That's a good thing.


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