An audience with the “Iron Man 2” crowd

So, a couple of weeks back, a volcano went off in Iceland. That meant that planes in Europe couldn’t fly for several days, which meant that suddenly a London press junket was canceled and rescheduled in Los Angeles, which meant that, one recent Thursday night, I wound up seeing “Iron Man 2” at the AMC Theater in Century City instead of “A Star is Born” at Grauman’s Chinese for the TCM Classic Film Festival. (The world is getting much smaller…)

Moreover, thanks to the volcano, the next morning, instead of my Crunchy Raisin Bran and 1% milk, I was instead being buttered up by with French toast and applewood-smoked bacon buffet at the Four Seasons, a free Iron Man action figure, and a theoretical chance to ask a question of the all-star cast of “Iron Man 2” — i.e., Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle,and soon to be super-villain of the year Mickey Rourke — not to mention director/co-star Jon Favreau, writer Justin Thoreaux, and producer Kevin Feige.

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Of course, considering the 150 or so people in the room, I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t get to ask any questions, but it was a pretty entertaining event. Robert Downey may have famously given up a number of vices, but being a perpetual class clown does not seem to be one of them, and it wasn’t like he was the only interesting person in the room.

The first question, about whether Favreau or he felt any pressure in terms of living up to the success of the first “Iron Man,” set the tone. Favreau admitted he had never been involved with a sequel before, unless you count his “under five” bit part as “Assistant” in Joel Schumacher’s notorious “Batman Forever.” It certainly is a change from small independent films like Favreau’s career-making acting and writing debut, “Swingers,” which he compared to throwing a party and hoping people would come.

“…[On ‘Iron Man 2’] we knew that people were going to show up,” Favreau said. “We just wanted to make sure that everyone who showed up had a good time and that this was going to be as fun or more fun than the last party. So it’s a different kind of pressure.”

Downey then felt the need to start listing sequels others on the panel had been involved in, real and fictional. “Scarlet Johansson was in ‘Home Alone 3.’ Don Cheadle, 11, 12 and 13.”

That led to a question that was geeky in a way that anyone whose ever been a superhero comics fan will recognize, and which wound up being answered by producer Kevin Feige. It was about the “time-line” of the film. It turns out that, if viewers pay close attention, they can figure out that “Iron Man 2” actually takes place before 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk.” (Having seen both movies, I have no freakin’ clue how you’d deduce that.)

The Incredible Hulk

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Will “Couples” find box office fulfillment?

Couples Retreat

As if the movie gods themselves wished to offer me some breathing space, this weekend has only one new wide release, and it sure doesn’t strike me as anything to get very excited about. Our own Jason Zingale — who enjoyed seeing a reunion of “Swingers” pals Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau — gave a pretty tepid, just this side of positive, review to “Couples Retreat.” Jason’s take, however, is a hysterical rave compared to the blistering reviews that had the film at a pretty darn rotten 09% “fresh” Rotten Tomatoes rating.

Nevertheless, audiences may differ from the critics. The comedy does boast the appeal of the all-mid-level star cast, which also includes the very talented Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell. Also, the fact that the R-rated blood/body-parts splatter comedy, “Zombieland,” and the PG-rated family food splatter science fiction comedy, “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” are dominating the box office right now means that there’s not a whole lot out there in wide release for the non-splattery date movie trade.

Whip ItNow, Fox Searchlight’s hopes of good word-of-mouth-based box office could pan out for the girl-powered sports comedy, “Whip It.” So, if director Peter Billingsley — yes, Ralphie from “A Christmas Story” — wants to avoid a nasty box office defeat, he’ll have to hope there are no pleasant suprises for his fellow ex-child star making a feature directorial debut, Drew Barrymore. Variety‘s Andrew Stewart says the lately somewhat beleaguered Universal expects “decent numbers” whatever those are, but my hunch is that “Couples” will be lucky to be in the top five on this weekend’s hit parade and may not crack double digits. However, I’m nearly always wrong when I stray from the experts. We shall see.

The remaining action this weekend is in terms of limited releases. As per Box Office Mojo, other than some potential Oscar fare we may be discussing in coming weeks, we have “Good Hair,” from Chris Rock and director Jeff Stilson getting excellent reviews and debuting in 185 theaters, as well as the LeBron James-headlined sports documentary, “More Than a Game,” expanding into 44 theaters. “From Mexico With Love,” an old-school boxing/message picture being aimed at the Latino market, is also getting a very decent sized release in 285 theaters. The earnest looking drama has been so successfully hidden from critics so far, it’s not even appearing on Rotten Tomatoes new release listing.

Oh, and I almost forgot the one release that’s probably destined to be more than a trivia question after this week is over. After an extremely successful midnight-only release last week, the canny scarefest “Paranormal Activity” will be getting a normal release in 159 screens this weekend. As it happens, I saw it last night and will be writing up the review after I’m done here, but suffice it to say for now that I personally observed a bunch of presumably jaded, mostly youngish, industry-connected folks at a screening on the Paramount lot last night doing a pretty good impression of the folks in the trailer — well, maybe laughing at their own fear a bit more. This is not just hype.

paranormal activity

  

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