Ad Hoc Review #4

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Iron Man {movie} – The world of comics books is dominated by two publishing houses–DC and Marvel–each with its own unique universe of superheroes. But while they rarely converge, the DC and Marvel universes often mirror one another. Take, for example, two of the most intriguing characters.

In the DC universe there is Bruce Wayne, a brilliant, emotionally damaged billionaire industrialist and playboy who uses his resources and genius to transform into the crime-fighting hero Batman. In the Marvel universe there is Tony Stark, a brilliant, emotionally damaged billionaire industrialist and playboy who uses his resources and genius to transform into the terrorism-fighting hero Iron Man. While they share many key similarities, they also have traits that make them polar opposites. For example, Wayne is a brooding introvert, while Stark is a gregarious extrovert. But in both cases it is the man under the mask (or titanium helmet) that fascinates us.

Unfortunately, movies based on comics often forget this point. Because they focus on the costume they often fail in the critical component of casting. A prime example is the Batman film series which suffered through three disastrous casting choices (Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, and George Clooney) before director Christopher Nolan found Christian Bale. Luckily, Iron Man director Jon Favreau found the perfect lead in Robert Downey Jr. (At first Downey seems to be a strange choice for a superhero. Then when you consider that the character of Stark is a charming, womanizing, alcoholic it seems almost as if the actor was typecast.)

The casting of the other characters is also unexpectedly spot-on. As an actress, Gwyneth Paltrow is usually a bit twee, a bit precious. But in Iron Man she transforms the role of Pepper Potts from a pre-feminist Girl Friday into an admirable servant-leader sidekick. Likewise, Jeff Bridges–bald and bearded–adds layers of nuance to the two-dimensional character of Obadiah Stane.

While the characters and performances are memorable, the plot is standard fare. Indeed, the story is so basic that to describe it would give too much away. Suffice to say that like in most superhero movies the “origins” section is the most interesting (Iron Man has two origins sections, the second being the best part of the film).

Many critics and moviegoers have also tried to discern the politics of the movie. For those so inclined here is all you need to know: Tony Stark loves the American military and acts accordingly in every situation. Whether this makes the movie liberal or conservative is debatable; the fact that such speculation is tedious and boring, however, is beyond dispute.

Just as The Dark Knight claimed the title of Greatest Superhero Movie Ever (DC universe), Iron Man can claim the title of Greatest Superhero Movie Ever (Marvel universe). If there is any justice in the (Marvel) universe we will be seeing Iron Man sequels for several summers to come. Rating: A

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Darius Rucker, “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” {music} — Hootie’s gone country? Yep. Darius Rucker, former lead singer of the iconic 90’s band Hootie and the Blowfish, will soon be releasing his debut country solo album on Capitol Records Nashville. His first single, “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It”, debuted at #51 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs.

The inevitable question that comes to mind when hearing the single is, “Does it sound country?” After hearing the song most people will conclude, “No, not really.” But this isn’t surprising. Rucker also made a decent solo R&B album that didn’t particularly sound like R&B. And he didn’t sound much like a frat rock singer either, even while heading up the greatest frat rock band of his era. Rucker has a distinctive voice that can handle almost every style of popular music without quite fitting into any specific genre. “Don’t Think” may not be a great country song, but it’s a good Darius Rucker song. And for Hootie fans, that’s quite enough. Rating: B-

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Sara Bareilles, “Love Song” {music} – “Love Song” debuted in June 2007 on the Billboard charts at #100, rose to #4, and since dropped back down to the #8 slot. After hearing the song in commercials (Rhapsody), trailers for chick-flicks (Made to Honor), and on the radio for the past 26 weeks, it’s understandable if you’ve grown tired of the song. But there’s a reason why people can’t stop playing it: Bareilles has created a perfectly crafted pop song.

With McCartneyite skill, Bareilles mixes a bouncy piano line, an incessantly catchy melody, and subtle, superb phrasing to create an aural masterpiece. Close your eyes, listen again, and try to hear with fresh ears the technical mastery of one of the best pop songs of the decade. Rating: A+