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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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Forget Oscar

Find Your Spirit Animal

The Spirit Awards are LIVE this Saturday at 2p PT/5p ET.

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In just a few precious days, the greatest, most epic, most star-studded awards ceremony of the year comes to IFC.

And please, we’re definitely not talking about the Oscars. We’re talking about the Spirit Awards. Hosted by iconic comedy duo Nick Kroll and John Mulaney, it’s a relatively under-the-radar awards show with serious cred. And if the past is any indicator, we’re in for a wild night.

If you feel like doing your homework, you can find a full list of nominees and performance excerpts here. It reads like a who’s who of everyone that matters – those larger-than-life personalities with status that borders on mythological. Our celebrity spirit animals, if you will.

This isn’t hyperbole. Literally everyone who takes the stage at the awards show is spirit animal material. Let’s see if we can help you find yours…

Do you

Live in someone else’s shadow despite shining like the sun? Do you inexplicably vandalize your pretty-boy good looks with a sloppy-joe man bun and a repellent pubic-hair beard? Do you think sounding stoned and sounding thoughtful are kinda the same thing?

Congratulations, your spirit animal is Casey Affleck.

He’s the self-canonized patron saint of anyone who’s got the goods but doesn’t give a damn.

Do you

Have mid-length hair and exude a certain feminine masculinity that is universally appealing? Are you drawn to situations that promise little to nothing in the way of grooming or hygiene as a transparently self-conscious attempt to conceal your radiant inner glow? Does that fail miserably?

Way to go, your spirit animal is Viggo Mortensen.

He’s the yoga teacher of actors, in that what should make him super nasty only increases his curb appeal.

Do you

Get zero recognition for work that everyone knows is unrivaled? Do you inspire greatness in others yet get shortchanged when it comes to your own acclaim? Are you a goddam B-52 bomber in an industry of biplanes?

Bingo, your spirit animal is Annette Bening.

What does it take for this artist to win an Oscar? Honestly now, if her performance in 20th Century Women doesn’t earn her every award on the planet, consider it proof that the Universe truly is a cold dark void absent of reason or compassion.

Do you

Walk into a room full of strangers and walk out with a room full of friends? Have you been hiding under the radar just waiting for the right moment to leap out into the spotlight and stay there FOREVER? Do you possess the almost messianic ability to elevate Shia LaBeouf’s on-screen charisma?

You guessed it (or not), your spirit animal is 100% Sasha Lane.

If you haven’t seen American Honey, then you haven’t heard of her. She came out of the blue with a performance both subtle and powerful, and now she’s going to be in all the movies from this moment on. Or she should be, at any rate.

Don’t see your spirit animal there? Worry not. There are many more nominees to choose from, and you can see them all (yes, including Shia LaBeouf) during the Independent Spirit Awards, this Saturday at 2pm PT/5pm ET only on IFC.

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Car Notes

Portlandia Keeps Road Rage In Park

Get a lesson in parking etiquette on a new Portlandia.

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It’s the most American form of cause and effect: Park like a monster, receive a passive-aggressive note.

car notes note

This unofficial rule of the road is critical to keeping the great big wheel of car-related Karma in balance. And naturally, Portlandia’s Kath and Dave have elevated it to an awkward, awkward art form in Car Notes, the Portlandia web series presented by Subaru.

If you’ve somehow missed the memo about Car Notes until now, you can catch up on every installment online, on the IFC app, and on demand. You can even have a little taste right here:

If your interest is piqued – great news for you! A special Car Notes sketch makes an appearance in the latest episode of Portlandia, and you can catch up on it now right here.

Watch all-new Portlandia Thursdays at 10P on IFC.

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Naked and Hungry

Two New Ways to Threeway

IFC's Comedy Crib gets sensual in time for Valentine's Day.

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This week, two scandalous new digital series debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib.
Ménage à Trois invites people to participate in a real-life couple’s fantasy boudoir. And The Filling is Mutual follows two saucy chefs who invite comedians to make food inspired by their routines. Each show crosses some major boundaries in sexy and/or delicious ways, and each are impossible to describe in detail without arousing some awkward physical cravings. Which is why it’s best to hear it directly from the minds behind the madness…

Ménage à Trois

According to Diana Kolsky and Murf Meyer, the two extremely versatile constants in the ever-shifting à trois, “MàT is a sensually psychedelic late night variety show exploring matters of hearts, parts and every goddamn thing in between…PS, any nudes will be 100% tasteful.”

This sexy brainchild includes sketches, music, and props that would put Pee-wee’s Playhouse to shame. But how could this fantastical new twist on the vanilla-sex variety show format have come to be?

“We met in a UCB improv class taught by Chris Gethard. It was clear that we both humped to the beat of our own drum; our souls and tongues intermingled at the bar after class, so we dove in head first.”

Sign me up, but promise to go slow. This tricycle is going to need training wheels.

The Filling is Mutual

Comedians Jen Saunderson and Jenny Zigrino became best friends after meeting in the restroom at the Gotham Comedy Club, which explains their super-comfortable dynamic when cooking with their favorite comedians. “We talk about comedy, sex, menses, the obnoxiousness of Christina Aguilera all while eating food that most would push off their New Year’s resolution.”

The hook of cooking food based off of comedy routines is so perfect and so personal. It made us wonder about what dishes Jen & Jenny would pair with some big name comedy staples, like…

Bill Murray?
“Oh, that’s easy Meatballs with Lingonberry Space Jam it’d be great, but then we’d have to Oh, that’s easy Meatballs with Lingonberry Space Jam it’d be great, but then we’d have to… Oh, that’s easy Meatballs with Lingonberry Space Jam it’d be great, but then we’d have to avoid doing any kind of silly Groundhog Day reference.” 

Bridget Everett?
“Cream Balls… Sea Salt encrusted Chocolate Ganache Covered Ice Cream Ball that melt cream when you bite into them.” 

Nick Kroll & John Mulaney? 
“I’d make George and Gil black and white cookies from scratch and just as we open the oven to put the cookie in we’d prank ’em with an obnoxious amount of tuna!!!”

Carrie Brownstein & Fred Armisen? 
“Definitely a raw cacao “safe word” brownie. Cacao!”

Just perfect.

See both new series in their entirety on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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