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“Iron Man 3” review: Shane Black gives Marvel’s armored Avenger an upgrade

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Historically, the third chapter of superhero movie franchises tends to be a disappointment. “Superman III” was too goofy, “Spider-Man 3” was too crowded, and “Batman Forever” was too, well… Bat-nipply. Heck, even “The Dark Knight Rises” had a fair share of detractors.

And now “Iron Man 3” comes along and destroys our expectations with a high-powered repulsor blast.

Co-written and directed by franchise newcomer Shane Black (“Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”), “Iron Man 3” picks up an unspecified time after the events of “The Avengers,” with billionaire industrialist Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) burying himself in his work in order to cope with everything that’s happened since the first “Iron Man.” It doesn’t take long for a new threat to emerge – this time in the form of The Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley), an international terrorist with a vendetta against the U.S. government. Drawn into The Mandarin’s world after a series of attacks that take a personal toll, Tony soon finds himself facing an enemy that may be more than his armor can handle.

As a writer and director, Black has always shown a knack for blending intense action with clever comedy in films like “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” (his directorial debut) and his scripts for “The Last Boy Scout” and “Lethal Weapon.” Still, there was some uncertainty whether he was the right choice for a big-budget blockbuster like “Iron Man 3” when it was first announced that he’d be taking over the franchise from previous director Jon Favreau.

Fortunately, Black seems right at home in this corner of the Marvel movie-verse, and his involvement likely has a lot to do with “Iron Man 3” offering the most entertaining version of Tony Stark that we’ve seen so far.

Where Downey seemed to have something to prove in the first “Iron Man,” then go darker than he was comfortable with in “Iron Man 2,” the third film gives us a significantly more clever, genuine Tony Stark who makes it clear why he’s more than just a man in a suit of high-tech armor. Whether it’s his level of comfort with the script or the person behind the camera, Downey packs a lot into each scene without any of it feeling too rushed, too ad-libbed, or too tonally incongruent with the rest of the franchise or the Marvel movie-verse.

Possibly the greatest evidence of this new-and-improved Tony Stark is how much time Downey spends out of the Iron Man armor over the course of the film – and how these scenes not only make perfect sense for the story, but are just as entertaining (if not more so) than the armored action sequences.

Without giving anything away, Marvel deserves a lot of praise for its handling of The Mandarin in “Iron Man 3,” with Sir Ben Kingsley delivering what’s likely to be remembered as one of the most memorable characters in the Iron Man franchise up to this point. Gwyneth Paltrow also does a great job with an expanded role in “Iron Man 3,” handling Virginia “Pepper” Potts’ action sequences like a natural and continuing to be the perfect complement to Downey’s eccentric hero.

As far as villains go, it’s refreshing to see the “Iron Man” franchise finally get away from armored bad guys challenging Tony to heavy-metal slugfests, and the super-powered soldiers Iron Man faces this time around mix things up nicely.

“Iron Man 3” does suffer from a few relatively minor plot holes that could leave you wondering what was left out of the final cut, but it still manages be one of the most entertaining, enjoyable films in Marvel’s growing movie-verse. Not quite as complete a package as “The Avengers,” but better than “Thor” and “Captain America: The First Avenger” (which both rank higher than “Iron Man 2” and “The Incredible Hulk” in the Marvel movie hierarchy), “Iron Man 3” defies typical third-chapter drop-off and makes it clear that the franchise is in good hands with its new director.

“Iron Man 3” hits theaters May 3 and stars Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce, and Sir Ben Kingsley. The film is directed by Shane Black.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.