Notes from the back row 

Get lost in a summer flick

Salvation at last.

Our poor neighbours to the south, the Americans, are having a rough go of things lately. Something about a recession — all kinds of people losing their homes and jobs. I’m pretty sure I read snippets about an unpopular war in the desert and rampant disaster capitalism (look it up) occurring all over the place. Add in rising food and fuel prices, and an environment on brink, and the bigger picture for us all looks kind of bleak.

What a perfect time for Summer Blockbuster Season to fire up and provide everyone, Yanks or otherwise, with some good old-fashioned exploding bad guys and escapism.

Marvel Comics, sick of big film companies making all the money off their franchises (e.g. Spider-Man,) has decided to start bankrolling their own productions this year and Marvel Studios’ first film under their own flag is now playing at the Village 8.

Iron Man stars Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, a billionaire weapons manufacturer who has all the chicks, wit and infamy that someone living the American Dream deserves. Then he’s kidnapped by Middle Eastern insurgents and forced to build them one of his newest weapons   — a guided missile that shoots out dozens of little guided missiles.

Instead, Stark builds a kick-ass, ramshackle iron costume and escapes back to the States, where he has an epiphany and builds hid Iron Man costume to fight evil (some of it right under his nose) while seeking redemption for past wrongs.

Director Jon Favreau ( Elf, Made) taps into the American psyche a bit and delivers an adult superhero who used to be a bit of an obnoxious prick, someone who made some mistakes, but totally makes up for it with good ol’fashioned ass kicking, and even helps some Afghans along the way. The military-industrial complex saves the day again, just in time.

That isn’t to say Iron Man is bad, it’s actually pretty awesome. The effects are top notch and the supporting cast (Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Terrance Howard) are all solid. It’s Downey, though, who really carries the picture, using his acting to create a Tony Stark that’s less okay-comic-book and more pretty-good-movie. There are a few special effects integrations and story elements that jar the flow but Iron Man is worth seeing even if it’s just to kickstart another summer of big budget escapist movies –   The Wachowski Bros’ Speed Racer drops next week and Indiana Jones is back for the May long weekend.

Yes, we Canadians still get all the summer blockbusters but our gas prices are also ridiculous (Petro Canada made record profits last quarter), our politicians are crooked (Bill C-51 — look it up, it’s really bad), and it’s getting harder to find a good bargain on rice (dammit!). Perhaps it is time, like DJ Ball suggests, to skip one DVD a week and spend that time on the internet – learning, writing to our government, and trying to make a difference.

I would agree, except Teeth — a horror movie that takes the intellectual myth of ‘Vagina Dentata’ and ushers it into a horror film about a sweet young girl with a killer, fanged vagina that bites people — drops on DVD Tuesday, and there’s no way I’m missing that. As well, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, critically regarded as one of last year’s best, is already on shelves. Dark times ahead, but good flicks too.

Big summer movies are awesome and fun, but getting political (like Stan in the South Park Movie) can be rewarding too. It’s always a good time to stick it to the man.

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