Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Secret of Kells

The Secret of Kells.

Me: First of all, I am kind of biased towards Irish stories and tales relating to Ireland, so The Secret of Kells obviously plays towards that. But it was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature, so I think that shows that it is probably at least a quality flick beyond just my biases.

The story tells about the creation of the Book of Kells, which is a real thing even though the story is obviously steeped in fantasy. The Book of Kells is probably considered to be one of Ireland's greatest national treasures. The Book of Kells is a collection of four Gospels that was created by Celtic monks in the 8th or 9th century. What is particularly remarkable about the book, however, is the Insular art that makes it up. Take almost any art history course and you'll find out about Insular art. However, most art history courses are also so fucking dull that there is a fair chance that you will not recall it anyway. But it truly is a remarkable style of script and artwork that is just absolutely amazing to see, especially when you consider the pains it took to make in the 8th century.

For a story about the Book of Kells, which is a collection of Gospels, there is not a direct or overt mention of Christianity. In fact, other than the few visual references to Celtic Crosses in the village, there is not a real mention at all. Really, you probably need to know about the Book of Kells to realize the connection to religion. In the movie, they talk about the power of books and knowledge, but don't reference what the book they are working on is about. Personally, I like this take. It makes the movie accessible for non-Christians without being preachy, but the message takes on a deeper meaning for those who are Christian and realize that they are working on an Insular copy of the Gospels.

Anyhow, the story revolves around Brendon, a young boy in the abbey of Kells. He is orphaned, but raised by his uncle, the Abbot of Kells. The Abbot fears that Kells will be attacked by the Norsemen (who historically raided Ireland during this time, and really did violate and almost destroy the real Book of Kells) and he has become obsessed with building a wall around the city to protect it from the outside world. This, of course, is a metaphor for the rigid beliefs and the wall the Abbot has built around himself and other ideas.

The wall is a real boundary between the Abbot's village of Kells and the forest outside that is still filled with lush Celtic mythological creatures, including at least one faerie. The wall also serves as a metaphoric boundary between the Abbot's strict beliefs and the pagan culture that surrounds them, keeping a hard line between them with no overlapping.

Brother Aidan arrives at Kells and carried with him the uncompleted manual that will eventually become the Book of Kells. Brendon, who against his uncles desires has always been fascinated with books and the scriptorium, quickly takes to Brother Aidan and the wonder and beauty that the book shows. He wants to help Brother Aidan complete the book, though his uncle only wants him to focus on the practical of building the wall.

Anyhow, Brendon ventures out into the forest twice to help Brother Aidan and along the way he meets a faerie wolf-spirit named Aisling who introduces him to a world outside of the abbey's walls and the wonder that is in it. With Aisling's help, Brendon first collects berries to make ink and then later gets a scrying glass to help make the Insular art from a terrible mythological beast.

Brother Aidan serves as a medium for Brendon, showing a way to embrace both worlds. He still ultimately shares the same goals as the Abbot's beliefs, but he shows that there is a way beyond the rigid walls of Kells.

Kells is attacked by Norsemen and Brendon and Aidan escape, ultimately completing the book on their own before Brendon returns to Kells years later to be reunited with his uncle on his deathbed, who has come to see the power in Aidan and Brendon's way.

The story is a little simplistic in the telling, but the broad brushes that it is painted with do not matter. For those who know what the Book of Kells really is, it is about spreading the Gospels. However, for those who do not know it's real-life history, the movie never says anything further than spreading knowledge through books. I liked this approach.

But really what makes the movie a gem is the fact that it is beautiful. The movie is absolutely gorgeous. The artwork is stylistic and beautiful. The soundtrack is not overbearing, but it is beautiful. I especially like Aisling's song that she used to turn Aidan's cat into a spirit to steal a key (and this serves as a mental note to myself to try to find that song to download onto my iPod later).

The visuals are fantastic and there is a stark contrast in some of them. The lush flowing curved lines and bright colors of the forest and people of Kells are contrasted by the rigid lines of the dark Norsemen who attack. Their voices are modulated as well, making them seem more the vicious invader in sight and sound in the movie. And when Brendon fights to Celtic monster, the visuals once again change to represent the alien nature of the beast.

One of the most fascinating things to me is that such a simple, beautiful style of artwork in the movie is used to tell the story of the deep, detail and full style of Insular art in the Book of Kells.

It truly is a beautiful thing to watch. Animation like this is hard to find these days in a world of Disney, Dreamworks and Pixar, but when you see it, you really realize what we are missing today in animated movies: art.

Molly: (As usual, I will be transcribing as much as I can from what she says. We're at a computer and I'm typing up what we are saying as we speak, then going back afterwards to format it. Her review will be in a Q&A form, due to her age. She's sitting next to me at my computer as we do this.)

Chuckie: What did you think of the movie, The Secret of Kells?
Molly: Um, the wolf. No, Daddy, the girl wolf.
Chuckie: What about her?
Molly: She turns into a wolf.

Chuckie: Did you like the movie, Pixie?
Molly: Yeah.

Chuckie: What was your favorite part of the movie?
Molly: My best favorite part?
Chuckie: Yeah.
Molly: Um, um, um... the one that showed him her forest.

Chuckie: What did you like about that part?
Molly: That the picking berries was stinky. P.U.! (Looking at a couple of Heroscape figures that I have on my desk and haven't gotten around to putting away yet.) Hey, Daddy, are these bad guys?
Chuckie: Um, yeah.
Molly: (Picking up the spiders and aligning them against the orc rider on a wolf figure.) I'm pretending that these are good guys and this one is bad. (Holding up one of the spiders to threaten the wolf-rider.) I'm going to fight you, bad guy! (A small skirmish takes place on my desk as the spiders attack and knock over the wolf-rider.)

Chuckie: Okay, Pixie, let's finish the review first. So, what was the movie about?
Molly: They were trying to fight the monster so they could get his eye and the monster could eat himself up.

Chuckie: Why were they trying to get the eye from the monster, Sweetie?
Molly: For the man.

Chuckie: What did the man want with it?
Molly: The book. He wanted to write in it. And the cat liked him. He liked the other boy frist, then he liked the dad. What's wrong with that funny kitty cat? They wanted to write in the book so everyone could read it because that way people learn things from books.

Chuckie: Was there anything that you didn't like about the movie?
Molly: The wolves. (Drawing out the first part of "wolves" to make it sound like a howl.) The wooooooooo-lves. The bad ones. Not the good one. Awoooooooo! I'm calling the mommy wolves so the baby wolves can come. Hey, can they hear me? Awooooooooo! Hey, why aren't they coming? I can't hear their feet. I'm going to check outside. (Molly stands up and lifts the blinds to the window next to my desk and our cat, Untini, is there. This startles Molly who lets out a loud surprised noise.) Ah! Utini sacred me! (She starts to laugh at herself being startled.) Utini, I didn't say "meow", I said "Awoooooo"!

Chuckie: What did you think about Brendon?
Molly: I want to talk about the other boy. The one that was his brother.

Chuckie: Which one?
Molly: He had a lot of brothers. (I think Molly is a little confused here since Brendon was an only child, but since they were all at an abbey, they referred to everyone as "Brother".) I mean, the one that had the crystal. (holds her hand up to her eye, as if looking through a crystal in her hand, like Brother Aidan did when writing.)

Chuckie: What about him?
Molly: Daddy, what I liked about it... I liked the whole story of it.

Chuckie: What about the faerie girl?
Molly: I liked her. At the ending, I liked about her that all that she did. She helped him climb trees. And she turned the cat into... (takes on a quiet stage-whispered tone, sounding a little like the character did in the movie at times as she waves her hand in rising circles.) ...flies... flies... flies...

Chuckie: Why did she do that to the cat?
Molly: So her can get the key. She used... (takes on that whispered tone again.) ...faerie magic.

Chuckie: Why are you whispering it, Pixie?
Molly: Because... it's a secret from the wolves. Awooooooooo! Let me check outside. (She moves to the window again and looks outside.)

Chuckie: Anything yet?
Molly: Nope. Not yet. No wolves. Oh, man! Darn.

Chuckie: Was the movie too scary?
Molly: Yeah, at parts.

Chuckie: What parts, Sweetie?
Molly: Um, the northmen were scary.

Chuckie: What was scary about the Norsemen?
Molly: That they fight the daddy and him and him died. Then him waked up because he wasn't really dead.

Chuckie: So, how would you rate the movie?
Molly: Um I want to give the things out now. I want to give it twenty stars.
Chuckie: Out of how many?
Molly: Out of six.

Chuckie: You know you gave it more starts than you said it was out of, right?
Molly: I know. I have to say it like that so that the wolves will come. Daddy, did you know that wolves don't die unless you kill them?
Chuckie: I was unaware of that.
Molly: (Matter-of-factly) Yeah. It's true. Awoooooooo! Oh, and a big number, Daddy. Twenty-sixty moons.

Chuckie: Twenty-sixty moons?
Molly: Out of sixty. And twenty-sixty-twenty suns. Out of six.

Chuckie: Do you think people will like this movie?
Molly: Yes, everyone will like it, Daddy.

Chuckie: Who do you think would like this movie?
Molly: The best?
Chuckie: Yes, Sweetie.
Molly: Um, Edison and Mason. And all of the brothers. Um, but not my wolves. Only people. Only kids and babies and mommies and daddies. But me and my wolves are going to watch another movie. Awoooooooo!

Chuckie: What movies are you and your wolves going to watch?
Molly: Um. "Glee". The one where Lady Gaga. Edison likes that.

Chuckie: Is there anything else that you want to tell people about the movie, Sweetie?
Molly: Um, I don't know. They might like it. Who knows?
Chuckie: (Laughs because that is probably the most honest line I've ever heard in a movie review.)

So, that's our review. I thought the movie was good. The story is simple, but the story telling is absolutely incredible. What makes the movie, however, is the visuals. It is an artistic masterpiece. While the story is good, the movie could still be appreciated with the sound off. The visuals are that compelling. The religious tones of the Book of Kells are minimalized in the movie, making it fully accessible to all, though the rigid walls built between pagan myths and rigid spirituality are still there in physical and metaphoric form. I highly recommend this movie.

I give it four and a half out of five stars, and I highly suggest it for anyone who likes the beauty of true animation, which is unfortunately a lost art form these days.
Molly gives it twenty out of six stars, twenty-sixty out of sixty moons and twenty-sixty-twenty out of six suns. She also suggests that Edison and Mason see it as well as any Brothers in abbots. However, if you are a wolf, you'd be better off watching a repeat of the Lady Gaga episode of "Glee" instead.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Board Game Review: Pretty Pretty Princess

Originally posted on BoardGameGeek at:

My biases first: I am a big fan of theme in games and do not mind reaching through piles of chits if the theme and game play is good enough. While I do favor confrontation, chits, bits and polished pieces of AT games, there are still a large number of Euros that I'll build my farm on or attend auctions at and be quite content at the end of my experience. And while I get season passes to the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire every year and get dressed up for it, none of my costumes have ever been princess costumes.

Molly likes playing just about any game and is much more open to "house rule" games than her Daddy is. She also enjoys dress up, jewelry and pretending that she is a princess. So, yes, she is a three-year old girl.

The Overview:

The box cover for the non-Disney version (the one we own). Photo by Luminous.

Box contents. Photo by nastycleavage (which incidentally changed my unspoken assumption that in writing a review of "Pretty, Pretty Princess" that I would not be writing the word 'cleavage' in the review).

Pretty Pretty Princess is a children's game aimed at young girls and teaches just the very basics of waiting for your turn, counting spaces, matching, set completion and sharing while indulging in a game of dress-up.

The game is for 2-4 players and plays in about 15-20 minutes. The game is suggested for ages 5 and up, but at three and a half, my daughter has picked up the game and can play and explain it all by herself. Well, her explanations are a bit better in the course of a game, where she can tell you what the effect of the space you've moved onto is. The game would probably even work with kids a bit younger as well, though they would probably need help with number recognition, moving their pawns and not eating the rings. But I'm sure the "dress up" aspect of the game would still be entertaining at earlier ages.

Each player chooses a pawn of one of four colors and places it on one of the spaces on the board at its "home color". Each player takes their turn and spins the spinner, which has spaces numbered one through four. They move forward on the circular board that number of spaces and perform whatever action is on the location they end on.

There are 16 spaces in the circular board path and most of them let you take a piece of jewelry of your color to then wear. There are 2 earrings, 1 ring, 1 necklace and 1 bracelet for each color in the supply. There is also a crown, but there is only one and it is shared by all players. Some of the spaces prompt you to remove a piece of jewelry and put it in the supply again, and some let you choose any piece of jewelry and some make you take the black ring. The black ring is another article of jewelry that is shared by all players, however, if you currently are in possession of the black ring, you cannot win until you get rid of it.

If you land on a crown space (or choose the crown on the take any piece of jewelry space) and another player currently has it on, you take it from them and put it on. The same holds true for the black ring space. So you can get rid of the black ring by either having another player take it from you or landing on the "put any piece of jewelry back" space and dropping the black ring.

The winner of the game is the first person who gets all of the jewelry of their color (2 earrings, necklace, bracelet and ring) and the crown on at the same time while not in possession of the black ring. The winner is declared the Pretty Pretty Princess and can now admire themself in the mirror that adorns the back of the movement spinner.

Molly's House Rules:

The game is very basic and simple and Molly has grasped all of the rules and concepts very quickly during our first game. However, the rules state that you are only supposed to take one earring whenever you land on the earring space and not two. When Molly landed on the earring space on her first game, I told her to take one earring and she countered with, "But I have two ears, Daddy" and gave me an incredulous look. I couldn't really argue with her logic, so we house ruled it and now you get two earrings on that space.

Learning the Game:

The game is listed for 5 and up, but really my 3 year old daughter fully understands the game and plays it by herself. The spaces are illustrated with the jewelry and what you are supposed to do, so reading is not really required with a familiarity with the game. She also can count and recognize numbers from 1 through 4, so she really doesn't have an issue with that.

My assumption is that 5 and up is really more for a fear of those too young putting pieces in their mouth (though even at three, most kids are pretty much past that) and for those that are more unfamiliar with games. My daughter has been gaming since her second birthday, so she's a bit quicker to pick up on games than some.

But anyhow, the game is very easy and simple and quite easy to learn. Five year olds would have no problem at all with it. Judge your child's experience with games and such to determine if they will be able to grasp it at a younger age than that.

The Components:

The board is set up to run a circle of 16 spaces around the central jewelry supply bin. Photo by sisteray.

The movement spinner. On the back of it is the mirror for the winner to admire themselves in. Photo by odinsfirecracker.

The black ring hinders whoever wears it from becoming the Pretty Pretty Princess. Photo by odinsfirecracker.

My daughter adorned as the Pretty Pretty Princess wearing all of the jewelry. Photo by me (thinwhiteduke).

The components of the game are sturdy and gaudy oversized pieces of plastic jewelry. In other words, perfect for dress up. The earrings are clip-on earrings. And while this is expected, as I didn't think the pretty princesses playing would have to pierce their ears, it is nice because the clips seem to secure firm enough without being too tight to pinch and make the children hesitant or afraid to wear them. To date, these are the only clip on fake toy earrings that we've found that my daughter doesn't say hurts her ears.

Each set of jewelry matches the color of the pawn, so there is no real confusion on whose piece belongs to whom. Granted, there is no real consideration taken for a color blind player, but color-blindness is sex-linked and males are more prone to it, so ultimately the game took a gamble on the percentages since the game will appeal predominantly to girls. Plus, other than the black ring and the crown (the unique pieces), you cannot take other player's necklaces or whatever, so as long as you have the right number of pieces, you'll be fine even if they don't match.

The nice thing about the game though, is that my three year old can set up everything by herself. The other nice thing about the game is that a blue (well, more of a cyan) color is included as one of the player options. This gives Daddies who have been suckered into playing this game with their daughters a more manly choice of jewelry colors.

Playing the Game:

Gameplay is all roll and move and is primarily luck driven. The only real strategy choices come from landing on the "take any piece" spaces and taking the crown from another player to block their chances of winning. My three year old figured out that strategy on her own. She plays cutthroat Pretty Pretty Princess.

There is one issue that I have found with the game, however. Players who choose the blue pawn or the green pawn (the more masculine colors in the game) have a distinct, albeit slight, advantage. Each of those colors begin with the "Black Ring" space in their home color. At start, players place their pawns on any space in their "home color field". By placing a pawn on one of these spaces, you eliminate any possibility of drawing a black ring on your first turn. In fact, the only negative space in range from the player's first move from there is the "Put One Piece Back" space. However, if rolled on their first move, it has no effect since you do not have any pieces to lose. The pink and purple players (the more feminine colors) can similarly start on their "negative" spaces (Put One Piece Back), but are in risk of drawing the Black Ring on their first turn. Ultimately, these odds even a bit through the game, but not to a static, completely even level. The slight advantage to the Blue and Green players is present in the game and I think since these are also the "more masculine" colors, it explains why the Daddies and the Pop Pops usually end up covered in more jewels than the kids or the Mommies or Grandmoms playing and why a disproportionate number of our games have ended up with my being the Pretty Pretty Princess.

The effect of "Pop Pop" choosing the "masculine" color blue. He's the Pretty Pretty Princess. Photo by a terrible cell phone camera.


The game is for 2-4 players and there are no rules changes for the differing number of players. It scales perfectly fine and my daughter even entertains herself with a non-competitive solo game from time to time. It's all about the dress up, not the mechanics.

Does the Wife Little Girl Like It?:

The most important category, since this is a kid's game. She'll play anything, but it depends on her level of comprehension of the actual game on how closely we will play by the real rules instead of her taking the pawns or figures and making them have a tea party or something. That being said, she fully comprehends the rules of the game (well enough to play by herself) and absolutely loves it. She does not mind losing, as she has fun throughout. And this is good since Daddy wins this game far too often for his ego to really take.

This is a game of dress up with gaudy plastic jewelry. And there is a plastic princess crown in the game that you can wear. It is hard for a three year old girl not to love this game.

The Pros:

*A simple game of dress up that knows how to win over its target audience.
*The game is easy enough for kids to learn and play unsupervised.
*Blue is included as a color to help the fragile egos of the males playing the game.
*Components are perfect for what they are.
*Good theme for holding interest to teach basic counting and turn taking.
*Quick gameplay means it holds the attention of younger players and limits the length of time that Daddies need to be wearing gaudy earrings.

The Cons:

*The "masculine" colors (blue and green) have a slight edge in the game, resulting in a disproportionate number of Daddies being named the Pretty Pretty Princess.
*No real strategy or choices, just roll and move.
*Plays into young girl stereotypes, reinforcing them somewhat.

In Molly's Words:

Since Molly is too young to read, let alone type, the rest of the review will be written in question and answer form. Molly is next to my computer and I'll be transcribing what she says and will format and add it after.

Chuckie: What do you think of the game "Pretty Pretty Princess"?
Molly: Well, I think everyone is going to like it.

Chuckie: So, you like the game?
Molly: Yeah, everyone likes it.

Chuckie: What do you like most about the game, Pixie?
Molly:Um, well... well... That it makes me proud.
Chuckie: What makes you proud?
Molly: The game.
Chuckie: Why does the game make you proud, Sweetie?
Molly: Because lots of times I win. I didn't know that I could win that game and when I do I get proud.

Chuckie: So, how do you play the game?
Molly: You have to set all of the board pieces out. Then... then... then what? Um, then you have to get all your people out to pick which kind. Then you have to spin to walk the people to get the jewelry.

Chuckie: How do you win the game?
Molly: If you get all the pieces.

Chuckie: What pieces are in the game?
Molly: Um, mean the pieces? All of them? There's pink people, purple people, green people and blue people and you have the crown in it and the necklace in it and the bracelet and the ring and the necklace and the black ring. The black ring is bad, Daddy.

Chuckie: How old do you think you have to be to play the game, Pixie?
Molly: Um, I don't know. Maybe like 3. Or 7 or 8. Or 2 or 1. Or 50 years old. Daddy, I wish I could be 17.

Chuckie: Why do you want to be 17?
Molly: Because I can play lots of games so I get some high scores to beat the monsters.

Chuckie: You need high scores to fight the monsters?
Molly: No, Daddy. So I can just have some high scores. And when I'm 17, I can have big monster feet. Hey, Daddy, look how big my muscles are. (She bends her arms back to show off her muscles and I give a small "wow" at the size of her muscles.) I'm going to show Mommy how big my muscles are. (She then runs off to go show my wife how big her muscles are. Molly returns a few moments later.

Chuckie: So, do you think this game is for boys or for girls or for both?
Molly: Um, boys and girls. Boys would like it. Girls would like it too.

Chuckie: So, how would you rate this game, Pixie?
Molly: I want to do my stars and moons and suns now.

Chuckie: Okay, how many stars would you give it?
Molly: Um, five.
Chuckie: Out of how many?
Molly: Out of six. Oh and Daddy, the moons!

Chuckie: Okay, how many moons would you give the game?
Molly: Um, six. Out of seven. And six suns. Out of twenty. Oh, and Daddy, when one of my friends talked to me and said something to me, I said "Hello?!?" and that cracked me up.

Chuckie: Um, okay. Uh, so who do you think would like to play "Pretty Pretty Princess"?
Molly: I think Ellen Wilkenson.

Chuckie: No, no, Sweetie. I mean what kinds of people.
Molly: I want to do what kind of kids. And I think Grandmom and Pop pop too.

Chuckie: Do you think the game is too hard?
Molly: Yeah, but not for me.

Chuckie: Do you think the game is too easy?
Molly: Yeah, but not for me. It's a little too easy and a little too hard.

Chuckie: Is there anything else that you'd like to tell people about the game?
Molly: Um, well, I love it.


Pretty Pretty Princess is a great game for young girls. Gameplay is really simplistic and it is completely random for play and winning (though with that slight edge for the "masculine colors"). My daughter is capable of more complex games, but she loves the dress up aspect of this game. It plays a little into and somewhat reinforces the little girl stereotype and I would like to see a game designed for girls with a little more depth and strategy. But if you have other games for your daughter to play besides this one, it isn't bad to pull out and just have some fun with without thinking too hard about it.

Once again, the risk of playing blue. Photo by my wife.


Five out of six stars.
Six out of seven moons.
Six out of twenty suns.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2

Me: I'm an old school comic book geek. Actually, I'm kind of just a geek in general, but when you qualify your geekiness with something it seems to make it a little more palatable. I haven't really been in comics for a number of years, but I used to read, collect and bag and board my comics. I obsessed about my collection, then sold it one day. I sold it to a comic book shop (these were pre-eBay days), which was probably the worst selling mistake one could make. I took a huge hit on the value of the comics and got burned on any "monetary value" that comics held from that point on. However, I still kept reading them for a while afterwards, but no longer cared about what they were worth. After I read a book, I gave it away. I started to enjoy comics for the story and art and it really made them a lot more fun than obsessing about what was going to be worth anything.

One more quick side-note story before I get into the movie, and really it is not really related to Iron Man, but I think it is an amusing story. Anyhow, I read and collected comics in high school. This was shortly before Tim Burton's Batman made it to the theaters, so this was before the quasi-surge of comics being "cool". Anyhow, I was in my local comic shop and ran into Mr. Leverit, one of my high school science teachers at the comic shop. It is always weird seeing a teacher out of school and seeing one in a comic book shop was even weirder. We grunted out greeting to one another and that was it. Then, the next day at school during a lab, he called me up to his desk while everyone was working. Now, when a student is called up before a class like that, you assume they are getting in trouble (I assumed I was in trouble for something) and everyone in class looked to see what was happened as they didn't want to miss me getting yelled at for something. So I went up and stood before his desk, with everyone in class's eyes on me, and looked at Mr. Leverit and in the fearful and hesitant voice of one ready to be yelled at for unknown reasons, I said, "Yes?" He looked at me and said, "What do you think about the new Batman Year Three storyline? Do you think that it's any good and do you think that it will be worth anything?" I shrunk before his desk. Every eye in the class was on me. I would have rather been yelled at for something I didn't do and tried to pull off a rebel student rep from it. Instead, I was the geeky class member whose science teacher was asking for his advice on the value and reading worth of Batman comic books.

Needless to say, I was not the cool guy in my high school.

Anyhow, even when reading comics, I never really read Iron Man. I was familiar with the storylines and knew a few things, like that Tony Stark was an alcoholic and that he had health issues. The thing about most Marvel universe characters as opposed to DC universe characters is that there are human elements and human failings in their heroes. The DC universe is more mythological, with most heroes (except Batman) to be almost like Greek Gods and above human failings. To me, this has always made the Marvel titles more interesting.

I didn't see the first Iron Man movie in the theater, but caught it on video. It surprised me at how good it was. It is silly and over-the-top, but it is probably my favorite of the comic book movies to date. Robert Downey Jr. really is an amazing actor and has the charisma to make Tony Stark interesting and fun to watch. However, it turns out that usually the scenes with Tony Stark end up being much more interesting than the scenes with Iron Man in them. But the first movie was surprisingly fun. I probably like it more than I should because it caught me by surprise. My expectations were low, especially since I don't have any childhood nostalgia pertaining to Iron Man. But it hurdled that bar by so much that I probably inflated my opinion on it because of that.

That being said, this is a sequel, so my expectations were once again lowered. So, the bar was pretty low on the high jump, and the movie cleared it, but barely. There are no surprise record jumps on this one. The movie is passable, but barely. Once again, Robert Downey Jr. is much more interesting out of the suit than in it. But one thing of note for this movie (and probably why it was passable) is that there is much more story and build up than actual action. The vast majority of the movie is Downey out of the suit. Unfortunately, though, the storylines are a little dull and nothing spectacular.

One of the things that I liked about the movie is the plotline that Stark is called before a Congressional Committee to give testimony about the fact that a weapon capable of taking out a modern army has been developed and is controlled by a single corporation. I like looking at comic books with this eye of "realism". However, the downside of this is that the "realism" is not consistent for when the "Stark Expo" is attacked, all I could think about was the fact that every single attendee at the Expo has such a huge lawsuit on their hands that would effectively drain all of Stark's money and fold his company in a moment, if the stock dropping of Stark's company didn't already plummet from the attack didn't already collapse the corporation.

The action is so-so, but it is definitely cartoon violence (fighting robots) rather than the dark, grim violence that the modern Batman movies present. There is also a build up towards the eventual Avengers movie, which I have to say impresses me with Marvel's foresight and planning. In fact, if you hang around through the really long credits, you'll see a scene that sets up the next Marvel comic book movie: Thor. Thor, by the way, will probably tank. Personally, I love Norse Myths, but the Marvel universe Thor is just a nerd. I don't see a lot of interest in it.*

One of the things that I noticed in the movie, however, was product placement. Dr. Pepper cans were strewn about the set. But what most confused me was Kodak's tie-in. When they showed the exterior shot establishing the "Stark Expo" which is supposed to be the pinnacle of technology and advancement, they had a digital billboard outside in the background that had the Kodak logo on it advertising and selling a roll of camera film. This struck me as odd because: A) Kodak no longer produces Kodacrome camera film. B) The movie came out after Kodak stopped producing film. And C) the Stark Expo is supposed to be the pinnacle of technology and they are advertising film for camera instead of digital camera technology there?

Molly: (As usual, I will be transcribing as much as I can from what she says. We're at a computer and I'm typing up what we are saying as we speak, then going back afterwards to format it. Her review will be in a Q&A form, due to her age. She's sitting next to me at my computer as we do this.)

Chuckie: What did you think of the movie, "Iron Man 2"?
Molly: It was good.

Chuckie: What was good about it?
Molly: When they got friends again.

Chuckie: Do you mean when the two men in the Iron Man suits stopped fighting each other?
Molly: Yeah, and they got friends again.

Chuckie: What was your favorite part of the movie?
Molly: Um, the airplane one.
Chuckie: What airplane one?
Molly: I mean that part of the movie.
Chuckie: Okay. I'm not sure what you are talking about though, Pixie.
Molly: Airplanes! Do I need to tell you in your ear? (She leans in, grabs my head to pull it to her and puts her mouth up to my ear as if to whisper. However, she does not whisper.) The airplanes in the movie!
Chuckie: Okay, okay! Don't yell in Daddy's ear.
Molly: Sorry, Daddy.
Chuckie: That's okay. So what did you like about the airplanes in the movie?
Molly: One of them was flying in the air.

Chuckie: Was there anything you didn't like about the movie?
Molly: Yeah. The bad guy.

Chuckie: What about him didn't you like.
Molly: The one bad guy was trying to hurt Iron Man. And that wasn't nice. And I was like "Huh? Don't fight him. He's the good guy!" And that's why I said boo for him.

Chuckie: Yeah, you booed him in the movie.
Molly: Yeah, and I said "Yay!" for Iron Man.

Chuckie: So, what happened in the movie?
Molly: Hey Dad, I know what those number are. (She points to a box of sandwich baggies that I have on the upper shelf of my desk (it's there for bagging game components). There is a 50 crossed out and in big red letters is reads "62" over it.) It says: Two. Six. Daddy, what does two-six mean?
Chuckie: You're reading it backwards, Sweetie. It says six-two. That means sixty two.
Molly: Whoa! That's a lot.

Chuckie: So, what happened in the movie, Pixie.
Molly: Um, Iron Man had a beard like you do, Daddy. (She reaches up and traces my goatee.) But his went like this. (She traces a zig-zag edge along my goatee then traces her finger up around where Tony Stark had a mustache, but I do not.)
Chuckie: Yeah. Should I grow my beard like Iron Man?
Molly: No. Because I want you to be my Daddy.

Chuckie: So, what was your favorite part of the movie?
Molly: Um. My favorite part was the girl.
Chuckie: Which girl?
Molly: The one in the movie, you silly goof! When Iron Man brought her strawberries. That one. She got strawberries as a present.
Chuckie: Did she like the strawberries? (They were a minor plot point in the movie used to illustrate how Tony Stark didn't know anything about those supposedly closest to him.)
Molly: Um, yes and no. I forget.

Chuckie: So, how would you rate the movie?
Molly: I want to do stars now, Daddy.

Chuckie: Okay, Pixie. I just say that so that you can rate it however you want.
Molly: (Narrowing her eyes and crossing her arms across her chest and blurting out determinedly.) Stars!

Chuckie: Okay, how many stars would you give the movie?
Molly: Five.
Chuckie: Out of how many?
Molly: Out of... Um... You say it, Daddy.

Chuckie: No, Pixie, you have to tell me how many.
Molly: Um, thirteen. Daddy, now the moons.

Chuckie: Okay, how many moons would you give the movie?
Molly: Six moons.
Chuckie: Out of how many?
Molly: Out of twenty. Hey! We forgot the suns! (She starts to sing a song she made up. I tried to keep up my typing with her singing, but I missed at least one verse.)
Sun, sun, sun days.
Sun, sun, sun days.
There will always be sun days.
Sun, sun, sun, please come back tomorrow.
Sun, sun, sun, sunny days.
Now that you can come back today!

Chuckie: (Laughing a bit at her song, especially at the futility of trying to keep up with it while typing and also at the fact that "today" ends on a very long, drawn out high note that is apparently very much out of my daughter's range.)
Molly: Hey! That's not a funny song. It's a very serious song, Daddy.

Chuckie: Okay. Sorry, Pixie. So, many suns does it get?
Molly: This is going to be a lot, Daddy.
Chuckie: Okay.
Molly: Twelve-Sixty two.

Chuckie: Out of how many?
Molly: Thirteen.

Chuckie: Do you think people would like this movie?
Molly: Mm-hm.

Chuckie: Would do you think would like this movie?
Molly: Um. Ellen Wilkinson. Her at my school.
Chuckie: Why would she like it?
Molly: Because her four.

Chuckie: So, four year olds would like the movie?
Molly: Mm-hm. And Jacob. Because he's four too. And Brice because he's four too. Those are how many kids are four. And Edison and Mason. But Edison is five, but five year olds would like it too.

Chuckie: Is there anything else that you want to tell people about the movie?
Molly: Yeah. It was too loud. All of it was loud, so you had to hold my ears, Daddy.

So, that's our review. I think the movie is passable, but barely. It lacks the charm and fun of the first Iron Man movie. The storylines are rather dull in the movie, but Downey at least is charming enough to hold your attention on the screen. The action scenes are not dominant in the movie, but that is fine, since they are all rather hum-drum anyhow. And while they added War Machine and a couple of SHIELD operatives as allies in the movie, it did not quite fall into the comic book sequel trap and have too many new characters and villains in the movie just to sell toys, even if it destroys any chance of a story or plot. And I'm still not exactly thrilled with Samuel Jackson (who I love) as Nick Fury. It just doesn't work for me. Oh, and perhaps it was just our theater, but it was one very loud movie. It wasn't just Molly's sensitive ears that were annoyed by that. The violence in the movie was comic book and fantastic for the most part and was primarily against robots and things rather than threatening people. As the movie ended and we sat through the credits, Molly wanted us to pretend that we were Iron Man and War Machine (I was Iron Man, probably because of my beard, and she was "that other one"). So she seemed to like it and was definitely involved in the plot of the movie, asking a lot of good questions along the way.

I give it two and a half out of five stars, and commend the movie for going with more plot than action, but just wish that the plot was actually a bit more interesting.
Molly gives is five out of thirteen stars, six out of twenty moons and twelve-sixty two out of thirteen moons. Apparently four year olds will love this movie, especially her friends at pre-school. And despite my apparent similarity in beards with Tony Stark, I should not grow a mustache like he had.

*Postscript Note: Since writing this, I found out that my wife apparently loves Thor. So, I suppose that I underestimated how many people might actually enjoy a Thor movie. With my wife now on board, that increases the total people looking forward to that movie to two: her and the little girl from Adventures in Babysitting.