Iron Man 3 & Hangover 3
Owls Head — Iron Man 3 (Disney, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 130 min.). This film succeeds because it takes Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark into the real world without his Iron Man suit and he has to use his intelligence, as well as his wit, to survive. Overall, the film is better than the second installment of the series.
Stark narrates, starting with a 1999 party in Bern, Switzerland, where he meets, and ultimately ignores, an intruder named Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). Stark also beds researcher Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), who also pops up in the today version of the story. While Stark is testing the Mark 42 suit, which still has some major kinks to work out (but it basically is pulled onto him in parts by implants under his skin), a terrorist called the Mandarin (a sly performance by Ben Kingsley, who sometimes is in Ringo Starr mode) is attacking throughout the world and repeatedly threatening the U.S. President (William Sadler). Hansen and Killian have developed a viral drug called Extremis that makes improvements to humans that sometimes go awry, as in the people explode, and that is the Mandarin’s weapon of choice.
There are several mentions of the alien attack on New York City that occurred in the previous “The Avengers” movie. For example, Stark says he cannot sleep since the New York City attack. In a bit of hubris, Stark issues a challenge to the Mandarin that results in his seaside house in Malibu being destroyed by three attack helicopters (he does manage to use a piano to bring down one of the helicopters in this big action scene). His assistant/now lover Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is saved by wearing an Iron Man suit, a foreshadowing of how she will help save the day in the climatic final battle. Alkso suiting up in the film is Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), whose government suit, formerly War Machine, is now called The Iron Patriot. There is a whole Middle America segment, where, aided by a young boy (Ty Simpkins as Harley Keener) who has been bullied at school, Stark manages to build a home improvement store version of his suit.
The action sequences are top notch and there is a really cool virtual crime scene. There also is a lot of humor, including Stark’s snarky version. The disc has a solid collection of extras, including audio commentary by director/co-writer Shane Black and co-writer Drew Pearce, which is filled with humor and covers broader themes than just what is on the screen at that given time. There are 10 deleted scenes and outtakes (16:20, including a Bill Maher bit, and extended Joan Rivers bit and some solid scenes with the kid bully EJ. There is a too brief, but worthy 11-minute look at the film; a deconstruction of the aerial rescue after the attack on Air Force One (8:43: amazingly, most of it was done in camera by skydivers; a gag reel (5:07); and a 2-minute look at “Thor: The Dark World,” the next Marvel film in the pipeline. The best extra is a one-shot film on Agent Carter (15:29), the gal left behind when Steve Rogers’ plane goes down. He will become Captain America and she overcomes sex bias at the job (especially by Bradley Whitford as her boss) when she goes after the Zodiac on her own. She proves to be quite the fighter. The short even has a mid-credit extra scene, similar to the ones that always end the Marvel superhero films. Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 3 stars
Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it
This is the End (Sony, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 100 min.). This apocalyptical comedy from the makers of “The Pineapple Express” is one of the funniest films I have seen this year. Even though much might be considered in bad taste, the laughs are frequent, as Hollywood movie stars James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogan, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson play exaggerated versions of themselves. There also is Michael Cera playing himself as a profane cokehead and Emma Watson as the girl who does not need saving. And, oh yeah, Channing Tatum must be the most secure actor in Hollywood, considering his very brief, but outrageously funny cameo.
The film starts with Rogan (who co-directed with Evan Goldberg) meeting his pal Baruchel at the Los Angeles Airport. While Baruchel, who does not like Rogan’s new friends, would rather just stay in and play videogames and do drugs, Rogan drags him to a party at Franco’s house. (“I designed it myself,” says Franco, including with his own artwork.) Chief among the partygoers are Hill, who Baruchel says he hates, and the obnoxious Cera. Baruchel wants to go to a convenience store and Rogan joins him. Just as they arrive, there is a huge earthquake and then shafts of blue lifts life people into the sky. My first thought of alien invasion proves incorrect, as this is the Biblical End Times, complete with fire and brimstone, eventually demons, and The Rapture. Back at Franco’s, the earth opens up, with most of the partygoers falling in. Left to lock themselves inside the house are Franco, Hill, Rogan, Baruchel and Robinson, although we learn the next morning that McBride had fallen asleep in the bathtub. Ultimately, McBride turns out to be a major irritant.
The film is obscene, weird, funny and often over-the-top, but it revels in each of those aspects. It won’t be for everyone and, even for me, it got a bit too raunchy and tasteless in spots. Towards the end, it turns into more of an action movie and the soundtrack has three excellent song choices at the end, including the final one that is worked into the plot. Extras include audio commentary by the directors; eight deleted scenes (15:08, including discussions of getting rid of McBride and what being green means; more of Cera talking dirty; and Naruchel calling out Hill over his nice guy act); a look at directing one’s friends (6:30); the actors talking about playing exaggerated versions of themselves (7:43); a look at the film’s look and effects (10:44); a closer look at the party sequence (12:54); a look at Tatum and McBride’s scene (4:25); a look at the making of “Pineapple Express 2,” which shows up as a short in the main film (6:20); the original short film, “Jay & Seth vs. The Apocalypse” (9:58); the usual line-o-rama with various line takes (13 min.); a gag reel (6:16); and seven marketing shorts. Grade: film and extras 3.25 stars
The Hangover Part III (Warner, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 100 min.). This is somewhat of a yawner, sparked only by Alan (Zach Galifianakis) being goofy Alan and Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong) being wacky/almost deadly Leslie Chow. The film manages to bring the four guys back to Las Vegas, where it all started with the first, and best, film of the trilogy, but first we see Chow escape from a Thai prison by pulling a Shawshank. Meanwhile, Alan, now 42, as the film takes place two years after their Bangkok misadventure, has a bit of bad luck with a giraffe (spoiled by the adverts for the film) and his father (Jeffrey Tambor) does not survive much longer.
So, the guys are talked into doing an intervention for Alan, who has not taken his meds in six months. Phil (Bradley Cooper) is the reluctant participant, while Stu (Ed Helms) and Doug (Justin Bartha, again given very little to do) are all for it. However, en route to the New Horizons facility -- two states away! -- they are forced off the road by Black Doug’s (Mike Epps) men and then meet Marshall (John Goodman), who tells them he stole $42 million in gold bars from a sheik, and Chow then stole $21 million of it. Marshall holds Doug and threatens to kill him if they do not find Chow and return the gold. Suddenly, the plot is very pedestrian, and after a hefty bit of exposition. However, they do meet up with Chow in Mexico and there is a humorous break-in to a mansion where the gold is hidden (humorous because Chow acts like a dog, and then turns stupid in the same scene because Chow is suddenly color blind).
The extras are only so-so too. There are the secret auditions that director Todd Phillips had to replace Galifianakis (6 min.); two minutes of extended scenes; 8 minutes of outtakes; 4 minutes on shooting with children and animals; 5 minutes on stunts; and brief looks at Galifianakis and Chow. Grade: film 2.5 stars; extras 1 star
Foyle’s War: Set 7 (Acorn, 3 DVDs, NR, 274 min.). Writer/creator Anthony Horowitz deserves kudos for finding a way to bring back DCS Christopher Foyle (the wonderful Michael Kitchen). The first six seasons (summarized in a 6-minute recap) had Foyle deal with at-home murders and cases in World War II era England. At the end of set 6, Foyle had retired and gone off to visit America. It is now 1946 and Foyle has just got off the boat from America. He is intercepted and brought to meet MI5 agent Hilda Pierce (Ellie Haddington). She wants him to investigate Professor Fraser (Stephen Boxer), who is a physicist who worked on development of the atomic bomb. She is concerned he may be passing secrets to The Eternity Ring, a Soviet spy ring in this dawn of the Cold War. Why Foyle? Because his former police driver (Honeysuckle Weeks as Sam Wainwright), is Fraser’s secretary, due to his wife’s illness. Weeks is recently married to Adam Wainwright (Daniel Weyman), who is a possible Labour candidate for MP.
The other two episodes deal with Foyle’s inquiry into the deaths of several Russian defectors, and his investigation of assassination attempts against an ex-Nazi defector who is under MI5’s protection. In addition to the well-written, well-acted and steeped-in-the-period episodes, there are four behind-the-scenes featurettes (86 min.), introductions by Horowitz (15 min.) and a photo gallery. Grade: season 3.5 stars
Frank Riva (2003-04, France, Mhz Networks, 3 DVDs, NR, 552 min.). French superstar Alain Delon (“Purple Noon,” “Rocco and His Brothers”) stars as the mysterious title character, a former policeman who has disappeared in exile for some 25 years, after the Loggias, a mob family involved with the famous French Connection, puts a $2 million price on his head. It takes a while, but we eventually learn that Riva went undercover for three years with the Loggias, until 1972, and Louis Loggia treated him like a son. Coincidentally, Riva arrives back in Paris the same day as Louis Loggia’s funeral.
Chief Commissioner Xavier Unger (Jacques Perrin) calls Riva and asks him to return, after a drug bust turns into a shootout in the dark and Chief Toni Rizzoni, head of a detective squad, is shot in the head and now in a coma. Riva takes over the squad, much to the dismay of the combative Herve Sebastian (Cedric Chevalme; it is a cliché that he becomes Riva’s right-hand man eventually). Also on the squad are the very good-looking Guy “Guido” Buscema (Francois Vincentelli) and rookie computer whiz Juliette Janssen (Elsa Kikoine). Riva ostensibly works for Commissaire Lydie Herzog (Sophie Von Kessel), whom he often keeps in the dark. Herzog also has a romantic interest in the mysterious Riva -- there is no record of him in any of their databases -- and she turns resentful when Riva meets up with his old girlfriend Catherine Sinclair (Mireille Darc) at another funeral. Philippe Leroy plays mob boss Norbert Loggia, who is inclined to let bygones be bygones with Riva, although his son, Maxime (Luis Marquez) might have other ideas, even as Maxime heads the family’s legitimate businesses.
The value of the series is watching Delon work. There are six telefilm, three each from both seasons of the show. In the second episode, “Star Crossed,” old men with ties to the Loggias are being killed by an assassin on a motorcycle, who turns out to be female and acting out a vendetta going back to their neighboring villages. Riva finds out he has a daughter, Nina -- who is a stripper no less -- and tries to protect her by having Sebastian baby-sit her. Nonetheless, she is kidnapped. Sinclair is not the mother. In the following episodes Maxime Loggia works a deal with the Colombians, Nina contemplates marriage and Riva’s gun is found near the scene of two murders. Also of note is the jazzy noir score. Grade: series 3 stars
China Beach: The Complete Series (1988-1992, StarVista/Time Life, 21 DVDs, NR, 59 hours 13 min.). “China Beach,” created by award-winning journalist and Vietnam vet William Broyles Jr. and John Sacret Young, delivered the Vietnam War from a unique perspective: that of the women, military personnel and civilians who were present during the conflict. The show, which ran four seasons, is set in the Vietnam locale of China Beach, at the "Five and Dime," also known as the 510th Evacuation Hospital and R&R center,. The cast was made up of U.S. Army doctors and nurses, officers, soldiers, Red Cross volunteers and civilian personnel, either on leave or at the end of their tour of duty. Many episodes and story lines are based on real-life stories of those who served, stories brought to rich life by the talented ensemble cast (many of whom were beginning to make their marks on the industry). They include, Dana Delany (First Lieutenant/Captain Nurse Colleen McMurphy), Marg Helgenberger (K.C. Kolowski) Michael Boatman (SP4 Sam Beckett), Robert Picardo (Captain Dr. Dick Richard) and Ricki Lake (Holly Pelegrino). The co-executive producer was John Wells, who would go on to executive produce "ER" and "The West Wing." The show was a critically-acclaimed fan favorite during and the recipient of numerous industry accolades and awards including one Golden Globe for Best Drama (1990), two Best Actress Emmy Awards for Dana Delany (1989, 1992), a Best Supporting Actress award for Marg Helgenberger (1990), a People's Choice Award for Favorite New Dramatic TV Program (1989), a prestigious Peabody Award, a Humanitas prize, a Writers Guild award, and 29 Emmy Award nominations in total.
The set includes all 62 episodes and more than 10 hours of bonus material, including episode commentaries, exclusive interviews, roundtable discussions, deleted scenes, a gag reel and highlights from the 25th anniversary cast reunion. There also is an exclusive 32-page collector’s book and two dog tags. The first season, which is available separately, is different from the others as the characters are not quite settled, and there is focus is on several characters who are only important in year one, such as Chloe Webb's USO singer who disappears thereafter. The very good news is that nearly all of the original music is including, over 300 classic songs, among them the memorable title sequence song, "Reflections," by Diana Ross & The Supremes. Grade: box set A+