Exclusive Video Interview: Maria Elena Laas and Ser Anzoategui Talk ‘Vida’

Among the talented actors to be found in the new Starz series “Vida” are Puerto Rican actress Maria Elena Laas and Latinx actor and playwright Ser Anzoategui. The two portray characters caught up in the vibrant and changing area of East Los Angeles, and their lives are suddenly disrupted by the appearance of two estranged sisters who have come back home for their mother’s funeral. Anzoategui plays Eddy, a sensitive and trustworthy person who was married to the sisters’ mother and who proves to be the heart of the community as well as an intimidating presence upon first glance. Laas stars as Cruz, and enigmatic lesbian who was a mentor to one of the sisters, Emma (Mishel Prada), before she left Los Angeles for Chicago. Now that Emma is back in town, she and Cruz will come to terms with the things left unspoken between them for far too long.

Laas has appeared in the movies “The Hot Chick,” “Suffering Man’s Charity” and “Airplane Disasters,” and she has appeared on the television shows “Chicago PD,” “How to Get Away with Murder” and TNT’s “Dallas.”

Anzoategui has had a gained a strong recognition due to her success in the theatre, and this led to Anzoategui being cast as a recurring character on the Hulu show “East Lost High.” In addition, Anzoategui has appeared on “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “The Fosters” and “Shameless.”

While talking with Laas and Anzoategui at the “Vida” press day in Los Angeles, they spoke enthusiastically of how lucky they are to be a part of a show which blows away the stereotypes Hollywood has typically had of Latinos.

Please be sure to check out the interview below. “Vida” is now available to watch and stream on Starz, and the show proves to be an excellent case study in authenticity.

Vida cast photo

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Exclusive Video Interview: Chelsea Rendon and Carlos Miranda Talk ‘Vida’

While at the press day for the new Starz show “Vida,” I got to talk with two of its stars, Chelsea Rendon and Carlos Miranda. Rendon plays Marisol, a young woman who is passionate about her politics and determined to fight against any and every injustice thrown into her path. Miranda stars as Johnny, a well-meaning guy who is busy running his dad’s auto shop and is on the verge of getting married to his pregnant girlfriend. However, when Johnny’s ex-girlfriend, Lyn (Melissa Barrera), arrives back in town, his plans for being a good husband and dad are challenged to a large degree. Both characters reside in East Los Angeles and in a community filled with pride and passion, and while they are certain of the paths in life they are meant to take, everything gets turned upside down for them.

Rendon began acting at the tender age of six years old, and she has won numerous awards for her role as Cristina on “No Turning Back.” She was featured on the shows “The Bridge,” “Major Crimes” and “Code Black,” and she also has a recurring role on “The Fosters.”

Miranda was born in raised in San Francisco, California, and he has appeared in such movies as “Warrior,” Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring” and “Grandma” which starred Lily Tomlin. On television, his credits include “Chicago PD,” “How to Get Away with Murder” and on the TNT revival series “Dallas.”

Please check out the interview below and be sure to watch “Vida” when it debuts on the Starz network on May 6th.

 

Exclusive Video Interview: Tanya Saracho Talks About ‘Vida’

Vida cast photo

She has served as a writer on “How to Get Away with Murder” and on the HBO TV series “Girls” and “Looking.” And now, playwright Tanya Saracho presents us with her very own television series, “Vida.” Set in East Los Angeles, it follows a pair of estranged sisters who reunite for their mother’s funeral. Their hometown is a vibrant area and features a strong Latinx community with residents who find an empowerment in this place they cannot easily find anywhere else. As “Vida” goes on, we discover just how much history this part of Los Angeles contains and of the changes others threaten to make which can erase a past which needs to be preserved.

In addition to her work on television, Saracho has had her plays produced at New York City’s Primary Stages and 2nd Stage, Steppenwolf Theater, The Denver Theatre Center, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. She was named one of nine national Latino Luminarios by Café Magazine and was given the first Revolucionario Award in Theater by the National Museum of Mexican Art. In addition, she is the founder of the Alliance of Latino Theatre Artists (ALTA).

I got to speak with Saracho while she was in Los Angeles to promote “Vida.” She talked of how she went about creating such complex characters, how she likes to give her cast only so much information before they receive the next episode’s script, and of how excited she is about filming the show in East Los Angeles. I often say there is always something new to discover about Los Angeles no matter how long you have lived there, and Saracho agreed as she is still learning of how far back the history of this particular community extends.

Please check out the interview below and be sure to watch “Vida” when it premieres on Starz May 6th.

Former ‘Dr. Who’ Actor David Tennant on Portraying a Psychopath in ‘Bad Samaritan’

Bad Samaritan David Tennant

We know him best for playing the Tenth Doctor on the never-ending BBC television series “Dr. Who,” and for playing the sociopathic Kilgrave on Netflix’s “Jessica Jones.” Now in “Bad Samaritan,” David Tennant plays Cale Erendreich, a far more psychotic character than any he has played in recent years. When we first lay eyes on Cale, he is incredibly rude to a pair of valets at a local Italian restaurant. When he hands the keys to his Maserati over to them, he makes it clear his car is not be messed with or smoked in, and this leads the valets to invade his house and rob him, but they soon discover Cale has a woman chained up in his office. From there, we learn just how screwed up on an individual Cale is as this particular victim clearly is not his first, and he even tells her at one point, “You have earned the next stage in your evolution.”

Watching Tennant in “Bad Samaritan” reminded me of Ben Kingsley’s performance as Don Logan in “Sexy Beast.” As Don Logan, Kingsley gave us a character who truly was the anti-Gandhi and, in the process, he gave us one of the greatest and most fearsome villains the world of cinema has ever seen. In an interview, Kingsley talked about how he played the wound of the character as this was the thing which gave Don Logan the most ferocity. Hearing him say this remains fascinating to me to this very day as it gave me a stronger idea of how to play a villain in a movie or a play.

When Tennant appeared at the “Bad Samaritan” press day at the London Hotel in West Hollywood, I got to ask him what he felt Cale’s deepest wound was. His answer showed just how much research he did on this character and of how complex Cale is.

David Tennant: Well Cale certainly doesn’t know. A lack of self-awareness is probably right up there. Obviously, there is a lot of damage in his background and a lot of it, I’m sure, goes back to his parents and upbringing. Doesn’t it always? I think he’s a broken human being who doesn’t realize he is. He’s fatally damaged and believes he’s the only one who isn’t, so I suppose it’s that. It’s the gap between where he really sits in society and where he believes he sits in society I guess.

It is never enough to play a villainous character who revels in being so evil as it does nothing but make such an antagonist so one-dimensional and infinitely boring. Thank goodness we have actors like Tennant who are eager to explore the dark side of humanity to where they can give audiences a villain who is never easily forgotten.

Be sure to check out “Bad Samaritan” which is now playing in theaters everywhere.
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Click here to check out my interview with Dean Devlin, the director of “Bad Samaritan.”

 

Exclusive Video Interview: Dean Devlin Talks About the Making of ‘Bad Samaritan’

Bad Samaritan

With Roland Emmerich, he helped bring “Independence Day,” “Godzilla” and “The Patriot” to the silver screen. In 2017, he struck out on his own and made his directorial debut with the disaster film “Geostorm.” Now filmmaker Dean Devlin follows that up with his sophomore directorial effort, a horror thriller named “Bad Samaritan” which was written by Brandon Boyce (“Apt Pupil”) and stars former “Dr. Who” actor David Tennant, Robert Sheehan and Carlito Olivero. Whereas “Geostorm” was a big budget Hollywood blockbuster, “Bad Samaritan” sees Devlin taking the independent film route to create his most intimate motion picture yet.

We get introduced to Sean Falco (Sheehan), an aspiring photographer who works as a valet with longtime friend Derek Sandoval (Olivero) at a local Italian restaurant. What his employers do not know, however, is Sean and Derek have more on their minds than parking cars. Once customers give them their keys, they drive out to their homes to burglarize them, and among the items they abscond with is a diamond ring which Sean gives to his girlfriend, Riley (Jacqueline Byers). But one night, when Sean breaks into the home of an especially rude customer, Cale Erendreich (Tennant), he discovers a woman chained to a chair. From there, it becomes a cat and mouse game as Sean tries to find a way to save her without getting arrested as a thief in the process.

I was lucky enough to speak with Devlin at the London Hotel in Los Angeles, California where he was doing press for “Bad Samaritan.” Devlin talked about how making this movie reminded him of why he got into filmmaking in the first place, the twisted psychology of Tennant’s character, what made him especially interested in working with Boyce, and of the advantages he had in shooting the film in Portland, Oregon.

Please check out the interview below and be sure to catch “Bad Samaritan” which arrives in theaters on May 4th.

Exclusive Video Interview: Melissa Barrera and Mishel Prada Talk About ‘Vida’

Vida Emma and Lyn photo

Melissa Barrera and Mishel Prada play long-estranged sisters, Lyn and Emma, who reunite for their mother’s funeral on the new Starz television series, “Vida.” These two could not be more different than the other, and both are forced to deal with the building their mother, Vidalia, owned and the bar she ran. What they thought would be a short trip turns into a homecoming where they reassess where their lives are at and come to terms with their mother’s sexuality after meeting her wife and now widow, Eddy (Ser Anzoátegui). From there, we come to learn more about Lyn and Emma with each successive episode as both Barrera and Prada create complex characters who are not all they appear to be on the surface.

Barrera plays Lyn, a care-free party girl who has taken her good lucks and used them to her advantage to get a wealthy boyfriend and live a fabulous life in San Francisco. Barrera previously appeared in the third season of Netflix’s “Club de Cuervos,” and she has acted on popular telenovelas back in Mexico including “Siempre Tuya Acapulco” and “Tanto Amor.” Having trained in musical theater at New York University, she has starred in the musicals “Spring Awakening” and “Young Frankenstein.”

Prada portrays Emma, a smart and very driven woman who has created a strong career for herself in Chicago. She starred as Gabi in the AMC short form series “Fear the Walking Dead: Passage” and is one of the founding members of Damarosa, a female art collective which celebrates the significant role of women have played in art, literature, and politics.

It was a real treat to speak with Barrera and Prada while they were in Los Angeles for the “Vida” press day held at the Four Seasons Hotel. Both described how wonderfully flawed and complex their characters are on the show, how rare it is to find roles like these, and of the joy they had in filming these episodes on the streets of East LA.

Please check out the interview below and be sure to watch “Vida” when it debuts on the Starz network on May 6.

‘Avengers: Infinity War’

Avengers Infinity War poster

You know how many advertisements for movies say how “everything has led to this” from time to time? Well, for once, this statement makes perfect sense with “Avengers: Infinity War” which is, thus far, the biggest Marvel Cinematic Universe movie yet as it gives us their most threatening foe yet in Thanos. This particular Marvel character, an intergalactic despot from the planet Titan, has been hinted at in post-credit sequences from Marvel movies past, and now he is here to take center stage in a never-ending franchise which typically sees its greatest heroes get the majority of attention.

Thanos longs to get his hands on the Infinity Stones, six incredibly powerful, not to mention beautiful, gems which will allow him to impose his will on all of reality. Clearly, this is a character determined to gain unlimited power at any cost, and he is determined to re-balance the universe in the process. Thanos is looking to create his own version of Year Zero, and this means many characters will die whether we want them to or not.

Not only does “Avengers: Infinity War” arrive with a wealth of anticipation and expectations, but we also come into it with a sense of dread as we know some of our favorite characters may not survive this particular adventure. Then again, these Marvel movies do exist within the science fiction genre, and you can never be sure if anyone can ever truly stay dead. Spock died in “Star Trek II,” but he did come back to life in “Star Trek III.” Knowing “Avengers: Infinity War” will get a sequel, I can’t help but believe we will see some of these superheroes again. Besides, many of them have sequels in pre-production, so their fate is not exactly sealed. Who will live and die for certain? Well, we will find this out in the summer of 2019.

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo, both responsible for the “Captain America” sequels which rank among the best of the MCU, have a near impossible task with this “Avengers” movie as it features dozens upon dozens of main characters we have been introduced to in the past. The fact these characters are not all equally represented here is not a surprise, but what surprised me was how well the Russos were able to balance things out to where it felt like everyone had a good dose of representation throughout. Perhaps certain characters get more screen time than others, but I was too wrapped up with what was going on to really analyze this movie all too closely.

It is also worth noting how while these characters all inhabit the same cinematic universe, they do exist on different tonal levels. Some Marvel movies like “Iron Man” and “Thor” have their moments of levity, but they are generally serious adventures as their heroes are faced with obstacles both physical and psychological. Then again, there is “Guardians of the Galaxy” which came out at a time where Marvel movies in general were threatening to become as deadly serious as anything coming out of the DC Comics Extended Universe. James Gunn’s film of Peter Quill and his merry band of Han Solo-like bandits proved to be a comedic blast from start to finish, and it proved to be much lighter than the average superhero/comic book movie.

I bring this up because “Avengers: Infinity War” could have ended up being a very uneven motion picture in terms of tone as John Krasinski’s “The Hollars” was (granted, Krasinski did score a rebound with “A Quiet Place,” but still). The Russos, however, make everything blend together in a satisfying way to where nothing felt completely off-balance, and this is very commendable.

The way I see it “Avengers: Infinity War” gets off to a good start, but things feel just a little bit off to where this movie threatens to be more episodic than its filmmakers intended. But as it goes on, things improve to where the Avengers are given a real depth which reminds us they are as vulnerable as anyone else. Sure, they may be endowed with tremendous powers, but when faced with their greatest foe, they become as mortal as anyone else, and this makes their latest adventure all the more perilous.

There are many performances worth noting here, and this Marvel movie is overflowing with strong ones which would take forever to point out. Robert Downey Jr. continues to revel in the evolution Tony Stark/Iron Man as he gives his most soulful performance yet as this iconic comic character which got the MCU off to such a strong start. Zoe Saldana gets to take Gamora to an even more epic level as her character has a much closer relationship to Thanos than she would like to admit. The same goes for Chris Pratt who, as Peter Quill/Star Lord, finds even more depth than in the previous “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies to where it makes me look forward to the third movie in that franchise more than ever before.

But the one performance worth singling out above all others is Josh Brolin’s as Thanos. This could have been the typical one-dimensional antagonist bent on obtaining the most power any individual could ever obtain, but the “No Country for Old Men” actor makes him into an almost tragic figure who has yet to discover what price he has to pay for his quest for power, and it is a heavier one than he could ever expected. As a result, Brolin forces this character into the center stage in a way audiences could not have easily expected, and the final scene he has is a frightening reminder of the prominence Thanos has in the realm of Marvel Comics. Seeing this makes me believe no other actor could have portrayed Thanos as effectively as Brolin does here.

“Avengers: Infinity War” ends on a cliffhanger, and it feels like a bold move on the part of the Russo brothers and Marvel Studios to do so as it concludes on a note which truly left me breathless. We do get the typical post-credits sequence and the message of how so-and-so will return, but both these things take on a different meaning to where you almost wish this Marvel movie ended without them. In a year from now we will see the follow up to “Infinity War,” but until then we will be reminded of how our heroes will not always be there for us. Can they return for another round? We have yet to find out.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Klute’ Features One of Jane Fonda’s Best Performances on Film

Klute movie poster

Many keep wondering what draws people, and not just women, to prostitution. It seems such a sordid profession which offers nothing but degradation and humiliation to those involved in it. Other than money, what does draw people into a lifestyle like this one which has been around for so long? From a physical point of view, it’s got to get tiresome after a while. Maybe it is appealing from a psychological point of view; people profiting off the needs and weaknesses of others may very well be its selling point. To have control over another person is always an appealing prospect.

This is made clear in “Klute” which was directed by Alan J. Pakula who had a talent for taking familiar stories and populating them with characters you can recognize from real life. The movie revolves around the case of a missing man and a private detective named John Klute (Donald Sutherland) who has been assigned to find him. The only lead he has is a prostitute named Bree Daniels, and she is played by Jane Fonda in one of her best roles.

Fonda won one of her two Oscars for her performance in this classic 1970’s thriller. It is a wonderfully complex role for an actress to play as Bree is a struggling actress and model who finds a power and control as a call girl she doesn’t have elsewhere in life. In one of several meetings with her psychiatrist, Bree admits she doesn’t enjoy the physical part, but she does enjoy the act she plays for all her clients. When she is with them, she considers herself to be the greatest actress in the world and brilliantly exploits their weaknesses to gain a higher price for her services.

Bree, however, ends up finding a different view on life with John, a man as straitlaced and upstanding as they come. Donald Sutherland has one of his best roles here, and while his character ends up succumbing to Bree’s charms, he never completely loses himself in his desires. Throughout the movie, he remains the source of hope and strength Bree needs when she finds out someone wants to kill her.

When Bree does ends up sleeping with John, she thinks she has him right where she wants him. She quickly intuits her strength over him as a result of him not making her orgasm as a weakness on his part, but later finds herself losing this power she has over men while she is with him. Bree finds she likes being with him, and this scares her because love is not something anyone can have any control over. There is a beautiful moment when she is shopping with John at a local farmer’s market, and you can see the insecurity on her face. She feels strongly for John, and it frightens her as the addiction she has for being a call girl may overwhelm her true love for him.

Pakula does a great job of increasing tension throughout “Klute,” and this is heightened by the characters being very relatable and down to earth. This has been the case with the majority of his movies like “All the President’s Men,” “The Parallax View” and even “Presumed Innocent.” Even if the plots of some of his movies seem far-fetched, it is the reality of the characters and the world they inhabit which sucks us in.

“Klute” also features another great performance by the late Roy Scheider as Frank Ligourin, a pimp disguised as a record producer. Scheider makes him unlike other pimps we have seen in “Taxi Driver” or “Street Smart” as he makes his character much more casual in his cruelty and control over those who work for him. He doesn’t deal too much in force because it doesn’t suit him well, and it would affect the relationships he has with his employees.

We do find out who’s threatening Bree early on, so the whodunit element of “Klute” disappears rather quickly. This could have really sunk the movie, but Pakula gets away with it because we find it is integral to the themes the movie explores: perversity, sexuality and the mentality behind them. Many think they are above perversity, but there is a darkness inside of us which often goes unchecked. The more we repress it, the more explosive it becomes when finally released. There are no good or bad guys in this movie, just people trying to measure out what they feel is right and wrong, and some do a better job of figuring this out than others.

“Klute” does have an anticlimactic ending, but that’s probably because the one we expect a movie like this to have would have just taken away from the reality of the story. Either way, it proves to be one of the most memorable movies of the 1970’s.

* * * * out of * * * *

‘The Incredible Hulk’ Proves to Be a Decent Marvel Reboot

The Incredible Hulk poster

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written back in 2008.

Well, it’s not incredible, but it’s still pretty good. “The Incredible Hulk” is not so much a sequel as it is a reboot. Ang Lee’s “Hulk” was not the movie Marvel Comics fans were waiting for, and the backlash against it was pretty severe. This was a shame because Lee’s movie was not at all bad, but I came of it knowing it would get a lukewarm response from audiences because it was more of a character driven piece which the summer movie season typically relegates to arthouse cinemas. But with this action-packed blockbuster, fans will likely get more of what they were looking for the first time around.

“The Incredible Hulk” thankfully sprints past this particular superhero’s origins by doing a quick recap of Dr. Bruce Banner’s accident which turned him into the ferociously mad and enormous beast who tears through all of his clothing with the exception of his underwear (very convenient for a PG-13 rating). We catch up with Dr. Banner, now played by Edward Norton, in Brazil where he has successfully managed to control his anger for over 130 days. While working a menial job at a bottling plant, he continues to look for a cure which will keep him from turning green and becoming super pissed. As a result, Banner is one of the few people on this planet determined not to go green in order to save the environment. But despite all the breathing exercises he does to control his anger, we all know he will soon find it’s not easy to keep from being green.

This Hulk movie is a lot more action packed than the previous one as it starts up quickly and never lets the pace go slack. Directing this superhero reboot is Louis Leterrier who directed “The Transporter 2” and “Unleashed.” He clearly likes the hyperkinetic style of filmmaking and it shows throughout. The direction is not necessarily outstanding and Leterrier doesn’t seem to quite have a style of his own yet, but he gets the job done and he keeps the film entertaining from start to finish.

The cast is different as well, with nobody but Stan Lee and Lou Ferrigno, doing their mandatory cameos, returning from Lee’s film. Norton is in some ways a better fit for Bruce Banner than Eric Bana was, and a lot more animated too. He may not physically look like someone who could become the Hulk, but that’s the point. Norton also did an uncredited rewrite of the script, but the Writer’s Guild of America denied him credit (Zak Penn gets story and screenplay credit). As always, Norton reminds us why he is one of the best actors of his generation, and he comes across as an ordinary joe thrust into circumstances beyond his control.

Liv Tyler takes over the role of Dr. Betty Ross from Jennifer Connelly, and while she doesn’t have much of an acting range, she is always a nice presence to have in any film (not just as eye candy mind you). She holds up well next to Norton as they both work to find a way to stop him from becoming the Hulk again. William Hurt plays her father, Gen. Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross, and he is always an interesting actor to watch. All the same, I have to admit that I liked Sam Elliott better in this role when he played it in Lee’s version. Elliott comes across better as an army general than Hurt does, and he was one of the best things about the previous film.

But the best addition to “The Incredible Hulk” is Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky, chief nemesis to Dr. Banner and his angry alter-ego. After playing a wuss of a man in the highly disturbing remake of “Funny Games,” Roth is in bad ass mode as a soldier who wants to take the Hulk down, but soon finds himself wanting his power. In the film, Emil ends up getting injected, by choice mind you, with the same stuff Banner got injected with. It’s enough to give him the power to overcome the most serious of injuries, but he soon finds that he wants more of that power which leads him to become the Abomination. Roth’s character is actually one of the more complex and most realized characters in the movie.

Roth’s performance here is a reminder of what a strong presence he is and watching him here should help ease the memories of the torture he endured in “Funny Games.” How refreshing it would have been to see he Abomination take out those two young cads who tortured that family. Of course, Michael Haneke would just rewind back from Abomination’s victory to intentionally frustrate the audience.

If there is anything lacking in “The Incredible Hulk,” it is not as strong on character development. One of the strengths of “Hulk” was the attention it paid to its characters and how they really drove the movie. I know Marvel Studios didn’t want to get too caught up with this in this reboot, but it would have been nice to see more character work here to keep this from being just an average action movie. In the end, this was a movie made to please the fans who felt let down by what they saw in 2003.

I wish I could say that I loved this incarnation of the Hulk, but it didn’t quite reach the heights I wanted it to. But it still was a lot of fun and kept me entertained from start to finish. It is a flawed film, but we do get to see Hulk smash in a way we didn’t get to see as much of previously. That was probably the best thing about this film, seeing Hulk smash stuff up. Using two halves of a police car to take out stupid humans makes for great action. All the same, it could have been better.

* * * out of * * * *

‘Iron Man 3’ Fares Better Than the Average Threequel

Iron Man 3 poster

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written in 2013.

Robert Downey, Jr. is back as Tony Stark/Iron Man in “Iron Man 3” which finally made its way to movie theatres after an endless advertising blitz. Then again, it hasn’t been long since we last saw him as he was in “The Avengers” which came out last summer. It makes you wonder if Downey, Jr. might be getting a little sick of playing Tony Stark and his alter ego as this role has monopolized his time over the past few years. But in “Iron Man 3,” the actor finds a fresh way to portray this iconic comic book character as he becomes afflicted by something I know more about than I would ever care to: panic attacks.

That’s right, ever since his near-death experience in “The Avengers,” Stark has been having serious anxiety problems and is constantly worried he won’t be able to protect the love of his life, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). But there’s an even bigger problem on the horizon for him and it comes in the form of The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), an unrepentant terrorist who leads an international terrorist organization known as The Ten Rings. The Mandarin is out to punish America and its President, Ellis (William Sadler), for their crimes against humanity, and also for trying to adopt Chinese culture in such a ridiculously fake way.

In addition, Stark has to deal with his ex-flame Dr. Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) and Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), a scientist he arrogantly rebuffed back in 1999. In the present, Killian has become a brilliant scientist who has developed the Extremis virus which cured him of his own physical disabilities, and we soon find it also gives those exposed to it superhuman strength and the power to generate extreme heat. Will it be used as a weapon for bad against good? Is this a superhero movie?

The big news about “Iron Man 3” is Jon Favreau who directed the last two installments has stepped out of the director’s chair, and in his place is Shane Black, the same man who wrote the screenplays for “Lethal Weapon,” “The Last Boy Scout,” “The Long Kiss Goodnight” and who eventually directed one of his screenplays with “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” Black seems like an unusual choice to helm a summer blockbuster, but the change in directors proves to be a good thing as Black focuses on character as much as he does on the spectacle. It’s a darker entry than the last two films, but Black still injects a lot of humor into the proceedings.

Now where “The Dark Knight Rises” was more about Bruce Wayne than it was about Batman, “Iron Man 3” is more about Tony Stark than his alter ego. In fact, we don’t see Iron Man in action as much as we did previously or in “The Avengers” for that matter. Some might see this as a serious flaw, but I think it benefits the story greatly. Being Iron Man has become a serious addiction for Stark to where he can’t sleep and function normally unless he’s working on one of his darn suits, and he’s never been the easiest guy to be around. Clark Kent and Peter Parker struggled greatly with their alter egos, but Stark’s position proves to be far more precarious.

Downey, Jr. could almost walk his way through this iconic role of his, but he still captures the different sides of Tony Stark beautifully. Even when he is a bit too dismissive to 10-year old Harley (Ty Simpkins), we still love the actor to death. Come to think of it, is there another actor in Hollywood who can make arrogance look sexier than Downey, Jr.? I think not.

Kingsley is the kind of actor who can play any role, and this has been the case for a long time. As The Mandarin, he creates an ominous presence in “Iron Man 3” which makes you believe he can be a nasty threat anywhere and everywhere. My only frustration with him was, even before I saw this sequel, I knew he wouldn’t be able to top the most malevolent prick he has ever brought to life in the movies: Don Logan from “Sexy Beast.” Then again, when “Iron Man 3” reaches a certain point, it becomes very clear why this is the case.

Pearce can go from playing a good guy to a bad guy with relative ease, but his last few movies have had him portraying the slimiest of villains (check out his performance in “Lawless”). He succeeds in making Aldrich Killian both an unfortunate victim and a selfish bastard all in one, and you have to give Black and his co-screenwriter Drew Pearce credit for giving us more than your one-dimensional baddie. Pearce always knows how to create a nemesis we just love to despise.

Paltrow gets her biggest role yet in the “Iron Man” franchise this time around, and I could tell you why but this would be giving away far too much. The important thing is she looks to be having a blast playing Pepper Potts this time around, and her fun is contagious.

Hall is, as always, a very appealing presence, and she is terrific as Dr. Maya Hansen. James Dale Badge makes Eric Savin, one of The Mandarin’s henchman, a ruthless bastard you want to see taken down ASAP. William Sadler seems like an unlikely choice to play the President of the United States after seeing him play the bad guy in “Die Hard 2” and the Grim Reaper in “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey,” but he sells himself in the role with no problems. And while I still miss Terence Howard as Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes, Don Cheadle still gives an excellent performance as that character.

Everyone who reads my reviews knows I usually expect the third movie in a trilogy to be the one which destroys a franchise, but “Iron Man 3” doesn’t do that. I liked it more than “Iron Man 2” which had far too much going on in it, and the change in directors serves this franchise well. Black has made an entertaining and compelling film which brings closure to this particular Marvel Studios trilogy. But then again, it’s highly unlikely this will be the last time we’ll see Downey, Jr. as Iron Man.

As always, be sure to stay through the end credits for the return of another Marvel Comics character.

* * * ½ out of * * * *