Notes from the back row 

Heavy Metal

And so it begins. Summer Blockbuster Season, the best time of the year to be either a highschool kid, an unemployed college kid, or a part-time government worker/full-time pot dealer with her priorities figured out.

In any case, summer starts at midnight-o-one Friday morning when billionaire playboy Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr., hits the silver screen in Iron Man 2.

The world knows Stark is Iron Man and he's running with it, shamelessly (but kinda awesomely) self-promoting himself as the man who's "successfully privatized world peace." When you're that big you've got enemies on general principle and this time around Tony's got two - Ivan Vanko, a pissed-off, impoverished Russian Physicist with a grudge and Justin Hammer, a wanna-be tough-guy weapons dealer played wildly by Sam Rockwell. Of course the bad guys team up but predictability is part of summer.

Downey Jr. is better than ever (hey, drunk Iron Man!) but otherwise Iron Man 2 is a bit overstuffed. It's busy, lots of character-building daddy issues, lots of tech-science montages, lots of gun closeups, lots of hot girls and bad guys, Avengers commercials and even some nice sexual innuendo contributed by Scarlett Johansson, who also claims the best action scene of the film.

And therein lies the problem. Iron Man is light on action. Tony Stark is more interesting outside the Iron Man suit but the real guts of any "action blockbuster" is action. Certainly the final 30 minutes of the flick is all action but the best bits were in the teaser. It feels like the characters are online gaming together and Mickey Rourke goes down pretty easy for a dude with a live-wire whip in each hand. Weak.

Ultimately, other than the blatant awesomeness of Scarlett Johansson kicking ass in black leather, the true value of Iron Man 2 might not be realized until Iron Man 3 comes out, when filmmakers can hopefully build on the characterization delivered here and give us some shit we haven't seen before.

Iron Man 2 is still entertaining enough and the race car stuff is killer. And film geeks like me love Tony Stark's clever nod to the unfathomably-shitty "omelette cooking" scene in Marvel's very own disaster Spider-Man 3. I like to know that the people pulling strings realize when they shit the bed on something 'cause this time they just squeaked through with clean sheets. For starting up summer, it'll do. Next week is Robin Hood by Ridley Scott (Alien, Thelma and Louise.)

There's nothing else opening up here so the DVD of the week is Big River Man. My buddy "The Moral Compass" turned me on to this one and out off all my buddies he's the one who's usually most right. This time he was bang on.

Big River Man is a raw, weird, but totally engaging documentary about Martin Strel, an overweight, liquor guzzling 52-year-old Slovenian who attempts to swim down the Amazon river, all 5,268 kilometres of it. Sounds like lunacy? Sure, but Strel has already swam the Mississippi, the Danube, the Mediterranean, and the Yangtze - 4,003 km of some of the most polluted river on the planet (way to go China!). Strel got all kinds of nasty infections on that one and even had to swim past floating dead bodies.

This time around, Strel faces 66 days of piranhas, crocodiles, bull sharks, those parasite-fish that swim up your urine stream and a little insanity for good measure. The nut-hugger-wearing Slovenian and his "team" take on the Amazon to "Achieve the Impossible" while also protesting the destruction of Rainforest. This movie is as wacky as it sounds, but it's entirely awesome.



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