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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
May 9, 2010

Every Day Is Special

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


Iron Man 2, Cinnamon Chips, Lost Finale

Let me make one thing clear from the start: I enjoyed Iron Man 2. It was fun to watch.

I will never see it again, will never buy the DVD, but I'm glad I saw it the once.

This is in contrast with the first Iron Man, which I bought on DVD and which I will watch again.

What's the difference? The second one had all the stuff that Hollywood executives think made the first movie so good:

1. Robert Downey Jr.

2. Cool suits.

3. Fast pace.

4. Exciting fights.

5. Great casting.

6. Good-looking women.

7. A wealthy lifestyle, presented with irony.

But they're missing two huge elements from the first movie:

1. Characters.

2. Coherent story.

What? No characters? What about Tony Stark (Downey)? What about Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke)? What about Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson)?

In the first movie, Tony Stark was given a life. In this movie, he's given toxic-looking lines moving up his body -- but not following any existing blood veins, so it looks like somebody's erector-set project being built under his skin. He's dying. Got that.

Also, he had a father. He felt neglected by his father. Later he finds out that his father had high hopes for him. But we find all that out long after it would have been interesting. By the time we get the information, it feels like formula, plugged in to justify Stark's finding the solution to his toxic power source.

Each time we're given information about Stark, it comes right after it was needed. If any actor but Downey were playing the part, we would detest Tony Stark before finding out why he behaves in such repulsive ways. The character is coasting on Downey's talent. That's careless, lazy writing.

As for the others -- the only one that comes close to being a character (instead of a face, a menace, a body, or a fight scene) is Mickey Rourke's Vanko. Again, writer Justin Theroux, instead of leading with the information about Vanko that would have made him interesting and sympathetic all along, chose to withhold it all until later.

So if Mickey Rourke had not been so charismatic, Vanko would have been a zero to us until way too late in the movie. The time to give us a character's motivations is before he does the things that the motivation would explain. This is elementary storytelling, and the exceptions are rare and hard-earned.

Be warned: The rest of this review is full of spoilers. But I cannot imagine that it will make the slightest difference to anyone who has not seen the movie. Because you won't actually care about any of the plot points I discuss. It's just ... stuff that happens.

So let's look at "coherent story." Nobody involved with this movie seems to have cared at all. For instance: Stark is told by Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) that he is essentially under house arrest. He is not allowed to leave the compound or he will be tazed.

A few moments later, we see Stark tooling along in his sports car, clearly disobeying that instruction. How did he get away? Nobody seems to notice that he's out of custody. Then he goes back. Nothing happens. Finally Agent Coulson comes back and they mention that Stark violated the perimeter -- but again, it's no big deal, because Coulson has been reassigned.

Only after the end credits do we get the snippet of scene that shows us why Coulson even exists in this movie: to set up another Marvel-Comics-based movie.

I know that comics fans love to fit together the whole "Marvel Universe." But this is a movie. Whatever they take screen time to show us is supposed to amount to something in this movie. Instead, the whole Coulson storyline is nonsense.

Likewise: What does Scarlett Johansson's character actually do? She ends up having no relationship with anybody. She's merely intriguing and enigmatic while showing no emotion whatsoever (Johansson's specialty as an actor) and she has one long, long, long fight scene, whose entire point is to get her into Vanko's headquarters in time to reboot Don Cheadle's Iron-Man suit.

She does nothing else in the entire movie, after consuming enormous amounts of screen time. Nobody's personal life changes because she's there. She has no relationship with anybody.

And Don Cheadle as James Rhodes -- he's there because the Iron Man comics mythos requires his presence. But instead of giving him a real relationship with Stark -- a friendship -- he exists only in a quasi-parental role, trying to make Stark behave.

Until the climax of the film, where his suit is taken over by Vanko, Rhodes does only one thing: He has a big fight with Stark in which each of them wears an Iron Man suit. Supposedly Stark is so drunk he can hardly stand up -- but there isn't the slightest hint of drunkenness in his movements in the fight. Supposedly both Stark and Rhodes are good guys -- but they carry on their fight surrounded by party guests, putting them all in serious danger.

And at the end of the fight, when Rhodes gets away with the suit, we are almost immediately told that Stark could have stopped him with a simple override of the suit's commands. In other words, Stark could have prevented the fight in the first place, and could have let him take the suit without a fight.

What was the fight for? Perhaps one might make the case that Stark wanted the government to think he didn't want them to have the suit when he really did. Except that this possible explanation amounts to nothing in the story.

The reason Rhodes and Stark fight is so that there can be a cool fight between two Iron Man suits. Period. There is nothing at stake. It's like a car chase where, at the end, the winner and loser drive off and later get together for beers. You have to wonder: What was that all about?

So ... yes, Iron Man is a fun popcorn movie, I'm glad I saw it, and I don't mind that they got some money from me.

But it's completely empty. It's about nothing at all. If there's never another Iron Man movie, I won't care, because there was nothing at stake and nobody to care about.

Iron Man could have been a brilliant franchise. But these filmmakers decided to settle for "good enough" -- good enough to make a huge splash for the opening weekend. But not good enough to live on in your memory as a great film.

*

If you cook, and you care about having the finest ingredients, you probably already know about King Arthur Flour. We're talking about a wide variety of seriously high-quality flavorings, seasonings, flours, sugars, chocolates, yeasts -- and mixes so you can make practically anything without having to acquire the ingredients separately.

They also have serious advice and instructions on making really hard-to-bake stuff.

But you don't have to be a chef-in-the-making to use this website, because they have one thing I haven't seen anywhere else: cinnamon chips.

And here's why they matter to me: I have a person in my family who hates chocolate. Hates the sight of it, the smell of it, the knowledge that it exists. She doesn't hate the taste of it, because she's never tasted it in her life. From earliest childhood on, she simply rejected it.

But my wife and I are chocolate addicts. (My wife proudly wears a t-shirt that sees "Will sell husband for chocolate" and people laugh as if she were joking.)

I used to bake chocolate chip cookies all the time. It was almost a religious ritual -- caramelizing the sugars first; using mini-chips, and fewer of them by far than the recipe calls for.

But how can I spend hours making chocolate chip cookies when by their very nature they exclude one-third of the people who live in our house?

That's where cinnamon chips kick in. We make chocolate chip cookies, using the normal Nestle's Toll House cooky recipe, only we substitute cinnamon chips for the chocolate.

Here's the surprise: Cinnamon chip cookies are better.

It's like blending snickerdoodles and chocolate chip cookies into one perfect cooky. I didn't miss the chocolate, not a bit. I also didn't miss the work of rolling the snickerdoodle dough balls in the cinnamon-sugar mix.

That may not be how you feel about it, of course -- it's just a matter of preference -- but hey, for $6.95 plus shipping, a 16-ounce package of cinnamon mini baking chips might introduce you to a whole new world of cooky flavor!

*

During these last weeks of new episodes of Lost, as we come close to winding up the whole series, a few hundred true fans are gathering at the Carousel Theater to watch them all on the big screen.

The Carousel isn't charging any money (though if you bought refreshments from them it would be a nice gesture, like a collection plate with calories). With the cooperation of the TV station ABC-45, it's like having a party every week.

Well, the Lost party to end all Lost parties -- literally -- will take place at the Carousel on Sunday, May 23rd. They've been using a medium-size theater for the earlier showings, but that night they're using their biggest auditorium and brightest projector, so there'll be room for 300 fans, seeing the final episode of Lost on an epic scale.

ABC-45 is contributing Lost door prizes. Not only that, but soda and popcorn will be only $1.50 each. High-priced concessions are the lifeblood of movie theaters -- and the Carousel is forgoing that profit! This smacks of generosity. This suggests that the management of the Carousel loves Lost and just wants to have a great party.

They'll be showing the two-hour recap that starts at 7:00 p.m., for those who lost track of the series somewhere along the way, or who can't hold all the plot threads in their memory at the same time. So my personal prediction is that if you don't show up until 9:00 p.m., when the actual final episode starts, you'll probably find the very best seats gone. But hey, with a screen that size, there are no bad seats.


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