Friday, May 21, 2010

A Self-Fulfilled Prophecy?

Since I read Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, I was on a Lincoln kick for a little while. I finally started reading another Lincoln book, a biography this time, by David Herbert Donald. Written in 1995, Lincoln, the book, is described on the Amazon site as, “Winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, most recently for Homeward: A Life of Thomas Wolfe, Donald proves himself the superb biographer of Lincoln, though two recent biographies, Michael Burlingame's The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln and Merrill Peterson's Lincoln in American Memory, are both important studies. Donald's profile of the 16th president focuses entirely on Lincoln, seldom straying from the subject. It looks primarily at what Lincoln knew, when he knew it, and why he made his decisions. Donald's Lincoln emerges as ambitious, often defeated, tormented by his married life, but with a remarkable capacity for growth and the nation's greatest president. What really stands out in a lively narrative are Lincoln's abilities to hold together a nation of vastly diverse regional interests during the turmoil and tragedy of the Civil War. Donald's biography will appeal to all readers and will undoubtedly corral its share of book awards.”

I’m on page 85 of 599, not including the index and footnotes that follow the text. It’s a little slow going. I feel like its describing Lincoln’s political and work lives in exhausting detail. I wanted to know a little more about Lincoln as a man, not as a politician. I think Seth Grahame-Smith spoiled me with this book, which was 352 pages and a great mix of fictional and non-fictional aspects of Lincoln’s life. It had a good pace, was interesting and a real page turner. But this biography….phew…I’m doing a lot of skimming, it seems.

However, on page 85, Donald describes the meeting and early courtship of Abraham and Mary Todd. They had met at a party held by Ninian and Elizabeth Edwards in their Springfield, IL home. Mary Todd was Elizabeth’s sister. A former Kentuckian, like Abraham, Mary was staying with Ninian and Elizabeth after not being able to get along with her stepmother.

There at the dance, Abraham said he wanted to dance with her, “in the worst way” (page 85). It’s cute and endearing. But slide down the page to this passage and tell me if it doesn’t make you take notice.

“Like him [Abraham], she was a Whig. At a time when women were not supposed to profess an interest in politics (this meeting takes place in 1837 or 1839), she openly supported Harrison for president in 1840, though, like Lincoln, she would have preferred Henry Clay, a friend of her family and a neighbor in Lexington. She was pleased by Lincoln’s ambition: in Kentucky she had often said jokingly that she intended to marry a man who could some day become president of the United States.”

Wow. Girlie had a thing for power! It makes me wonder now, as I continue to read: was Lincoln responsible for his own political and professional gains, or could Mary Todd claim part of the glory?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Two Geek Thumbs Up For Iron Man 2

I got the chance to go see Iron Man 2 last night. My immediate thoughts on it: a few little plot holes, a lot of laughs and a lot of good action. If you haven’t seen it and you might want to, then you should stop reading now.

The Good
  1. Sometimes you don’t know if you’re watching Robert Downey Jr. talk about his problems for real or if he’s reciting lines as Tony Stark. He’s inspired casting as Tony. Seeing him in the sequel just pounds that home, and Robert hasn’t lost any zeal for the role. He comes across as a sarcastic, wise-ass millionaire that, for the most part, lives in a world of his own making.
  2.  The sequel has great continuity in how it starts, compared to the ending of the first movie. “I am Iron Man.” You get to see this played out again in the international media. 
  3. Mickey Rourke…love him! He is kind of the classic Hollywood underdog that has become en vogue again. He’s a good actor and I really enjoyed him in this movie. There’s a few times when his Ivan mutters in Russian and you don’t get subtitles to know what he’s saying, but that just makes him feel a little more realistic in the role. 
  4. CGI for movies like this have come a LOOOOOOOOOOOONG way since Spider-Man came out in 2002. It’s beautifully done and there were places I was hard pressed to tell if it was real or CGI. The portable Iron Man suit as a briefcase is just awesome! 
  5. Don Cheadle rocked the role of Rhodey. Don't get me wrong...I was all about Terrance Howard in the first movie and I hate it when a role is recast for any reason for a sequel. But Don Cheadle did very well, and he didn't feel like he was trying to fill Howard's combat boots. He was more believable than Howard was in the first movie. I don't know how to describe it really, but Don Cheadle did a better job at making me believe he's an Air Force Colonel than Howard did. Cheadle was kind of bad ass, having the balls to take on Iron Man and give his friend absolute hell.
The Bad 
  1. It seemed a little too long, amazingly enough. Its 124 minutes long. Thankfully, it just seemed long but not dragging along, the way The Dark Knight felt to me at 154 minutes long. (Okay, so I just didn’t get into The Dark Knight at all.) But I don’t know what I would have cut out of it to make it shorter…maybe the part of Mickey Rourke’s character of Ivan Danko meeting a Russian man in a grimy alley, getting a fake passport and airline tickets to Monaco. But that would have been all of 30-45 seconds long.
  2. Natalia Romanoff (or Natasha, as she's known in the movie) is never referred to as the Black Widow. WTF???At least her costume was kept true to form and Scarlett Johansson gave a kick-ass performance. However, I would have LOVED to see her Natalia in some kind of verbal throw down with Ivan in Russian. That would have been nice, although it might have just added unnecessary length to the movie.

The Ugly 
  1. The make-up department dropped the ball with Sam Rockwell. He had self-tanner stains all over his hands! Do you know how distracting that was to watch? I know, it’s probably just a minor OCD thing or something, but the rest of him didn’t look streaky or orange, just his palms. I just couldn't believe that no one noticed it, or that the make-up department didn't have anything to remove it.
  2. Gwyneth Paltrow is tall. We know this. Supposedly, she is 5’ 9 ½”. (Compare her to Robert Downey Jr. at about 5’ 9”.) But the wardrobe department decided to put Gwyneth in stiletto-looking heels that made her wobble rather than walk. It was distracting to watch because she was walking around like she was legitimately physically uncomfortable in those heels. She could have been given shorter heels and still would have had that executive look about her.
  3. How did Rhodey know how to fly the War Machine suit as well as he did? Don’t tell me it’s because he’s in the Air Force. He puts the suit on and controls it better than Tony did during his first flight? I don’t think so. Even in watching Iron Man’s movements in other flights shouldn’t have been enough to teach him how to fly. If Tony has the helmet closed, Rhodey wouldn’t know if Tony was talking to Jarvis about the suit or telling it to do something.

The Fun
Another quick Stan Lee cameo, Captain America's shield, Tony sitting in a giant doughnut and slightly hungover, any appearance of Samuel L. Jackson, a birthday party thrown by Tony for himself while in the Iron Man armor, and a look-a-like to the Legacy Virus.

Nick Fury: [from trailer]
[seeing Tony Stark, in partial Iron Man armor, sitting in a giant rooftop donut display]
Nick Fury: Sir, I'm gonna have to ask you to exit the donut. 

There is a lot of great action in this movie and lots of funny lines.

Tony Stark: [to Nick Fury] I don't want to get off on the wrong foot here, do I look at you or the eye patch?

I was never a Iron Man comics or cartoon fan. Anyone who knows me knows about my love for all things Spidey. But I thought Iron Man 2 was just about as good as the three Spider-Man movies, on all the same levels. Shoot, my husband isn't a comics fan and he didn't really care much for the Spidey movies, but he likes Iron Man. It's all about what you can relate to.

All in all, I thought this was a kick ass movie. Make sure you stick around after the credits to see the final scene.