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Survival of the Fittest

Iron Man Soars, Expelled Suffers Unintelligent Design




REDBELT. Jiu-jitsu master breaks his avoidance of prize fighting and steps into the ring when he must overcome a financial crisis. Rated R. 99 m. At the Broadway.

SPEED RACER. Full-length live action film adaptation of classic Japanese anime series. Rated PG. 135 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS. Rated PG-13. 99 m. Two strangers wake up married after a night of debauchery in Sin City; comic chaos ensues. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and Fortuna.


IRON MAN. The recent track record of adaptations of Marvel superhero comics into feature films is a very mixed bag, from the good (the first Spidermanmovie) to the atrocious (the last Fantastic Fourfilm). Despite the obvious visual parallels of comics and movies, on film, the superhero genre risks seeming like an overwrought adolescent power fantasy — and the worst of them are just that. Superhero films also skirt the danger of being unintentionally absurd and silly (all that bright skintight spandex doesn't help).

Iron Man proves that the term "comic book movie" needn't be an epithet though. In fact, it's probably the best such film to come along in a while, mainly because it's so light on it's feet.

Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark, playboy arms designer who lives the high life (a Malibu mansion, a private jet equipped with a stripper pole). On a trip to try out a new weapon in Afghanistan, he's captured by a group of warlords who are using his weapons against innocent civilians. With the help of a fellow captive scientist, he cobbles together an armored suit and escapes. Chastened by the knowledge that his weapons have fallen in the wrong hands, on his return to America he announces that he's suspending weapons production, a decision that doesn't sit well with his mentor Obadiah Stone (Jeff Bridges), who is more sinister than he seems. Stark begins to construct an even more complex metal suit, which he uses to fight against evil.

For a genre that usually leans on special effects, this one features uncommonly good acting. Robert Downey, Jr. is great at portraying Stark as a jokey playboy (and its here we recall that director Jon Favreau's first feature was Swingers). More importantly, he's convincing as the wiser, changed Stark of the latter part of the movie. Jeff Bridges uses his affability and underplays the part in a sinister way that makes the villain of the piece all the more creepy.

Of course the film concludes with a great fight scene that my inner 12-year-old really enjoyed. Any former or present comic book geek will enjoy the little in-jokes as well — Stark's initial suit is the dull grey model that the original Iron Man sported in the early '60s, and Marvel honcho Stan Lee makes an obligatory cameo.

At the same time, there's a little food for thought, especially in the way the movie subverts the mindless patriotism of its first half only to question those assumptions in the latter part of the film. It's a little subversive for a popcorn movie.

The film somehow balances the breezy comedy and more serious undertones without ever becoming preachy or silly. Quite a feat, and an unexpected pleasure. If only all summer action movies were this good.

Make sure you stay through the credits too, because there's a scene with another Marvel character that hints at sequels to come. Let's hope they're as good as this one. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and Fortuna.

EXPELLED: NO INTELLIGENCE ALLOWED. When I heard Ben Stein, phlegmatic bit actor, game show host, and former Nixon speechwriter, had created a new documentary about a supposed scandalous crackdown on those that would dare question the tenets of Darwinism, I was skeptical. But I figured that right wing creationists deserve their very own Michael Moore to argue their case. But Moore, for all his faults, has never been as consciously dishonest as this film is.

The movie is a brief for the theory of Intelligent Design, an idea that its critics claim is a Trojan horse to introduce creationist religion into the realm of science. Its defenders argue that it is a valid idea that's being suppressed by the Darwinist scientific establishment. That's the case Expelledtries to make, with sledgehammer subtlety.

Stein focuses on the case of Richard Sternberg, who while a researcher at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, approved the publication of a pro-Intelligent Design paper and was supposedly dismissed for it. What the film doesn't mention is that he approved the paper by himself, which went outside the normal peer review method, and that he purposely didn't show it to others. Stein tries to make him a martyr to free speech, but the facts suggest that he's the one who surreptitiously tried to validate his Intelligent Design beliefs.

Intelligent Design detractors like Richard Dawkins are interviewed and mocked, and in a montage of skeptics of intelligent design, we briefly see Christopher Hitchens, but oddly never see an interview with him (perhaps his sharp rhetorical skills were too much for Stein).

Throughout the film Stein edits in stock footage of the Berlin Wall being erected, and clips of Communist indoctrination, suggesting that Darwinists are similarly stamping out free inquiry and thought. It's piled on so thick that it becomes unintentionally funny in the way that over-the-top propaganda can sometimes be.

More appalling is the link Stein tries to make between Darwinism and the Nazi death camps, purposely misquoting and distorting Darwin's writings to fit his thesis that the evolution theorist supported euthanasia and mass murder. It's a conscious lie.

The entire film seems to be a case of sublimation. It claims that the Darwinist establishment suppresses Intelligent Design because of it's predisposition to atheism, when it's obvious that it's their own religious beliefs that drive their alternate theory, despite disingenuous claims to the contrary.

By the way, those folks you see applauding Stein in a theater as he defends free speech in Expelled's introductory and closing scenes are almost all paid extras. For someone who's claiming to bring the truth to light it's particularly egregious, but it's symptomatic of the level of honesty in this film. But I guess that's to be expected since Stein began his career putting a public face on the lies of Tricky Dick. Just as Intelligent Design is pseudo-science for the credulous, this film is propaganda for the clueless. It might convince someone predisposed to believe, but this film full of half-truths, out of context quotations and dishonestly edited interviews makes a mockery of its own claim to defend free speech. No intelligence allowed indeed. At the Broadway.


21. Group of brilliant students and unorthodox math prof take on big casinos and win their way into racy Vegas lifestyles. Rated PG-13. At The Movies.

10,000 B.C. Cavemen on epic battle quest. Rated PG-13. 109 m. At The Movies.

BABY MAMA. Infertile business woman hires working-class woman as unlikely surrogate. Rated PG-13. 99 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

FORBIDDEN KINGDOM. American teen is transported back in kung fu time when he finds weapon of ancient warrior in pawn shop. Rated PG-13. 113 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL. Loser musician goes on vacation to escape his TV star ex only to find her and her new rocker beau staying in the same hotel. Rated R. 111 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

HAROLD AND KUMAR ESCAPE FROM GUANTANAMO BAY. Harold and Kumar are mistaken for terrorists and have to run from the law. Rated R. 102 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and the Minor.

HORTON HEARS A WHO. Mocked do-gooding elephant attempts to rescue a microscopic civilization. Rated G. 87 m. At The Movies.

LEATHERHEADS. A ragtag team in early (1920s) professional football league is saved by golden-boy war hero. Rated PG-13. 114 m. At The Movies.

MADE OF HONOR. Man realizes his love for his best friend when she becomes engaged to another. Rated PG-13. 101 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY. Pettigrew, a former London governess, is swept into American high society when she pursues a career in entertainment. Rated PG-13. 92 m. At The Movies.

NIM'S ISLAND. Author's literary creation inspires young girl's fantasy island; author and girl unite to conquer Nim's Island. Rated PG. 94 m. At the Broadway.

PROM NIGHT. Tragedy revisits Donna when prom night turns deadly, and she knows the one man to blame. Rated PG-13. At The Movies.

SHINE A LIGHT. Martin Scorsese's documentary on The Rolling Stones. Rated PG-13. 122 m. At The Movies.

SMART PEOPLE. College prof's run-of-the-mill midlife crisis gets turned upside down when unforeseen circumstances arise. Rated R. 94 m. At The Movies.


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