As a good American, I’ve tried to start off this summer with action. And I was told that Iron Man was the way to go. And it is worth the $8.50 to hear Jeff Bridges bellow, in full surround sound: "TONY STARK WAS ABLE TO BUILD THIS IN A CAVE!!!!!!!!! WITH A BOX OF SCRAPS!!!!!!!" Bridges brings it strong like a good Santa Barbarian should. His Obadiah Stane looks gooooood suctioning up his cocktail and cigar in his striped magenta PJs. I love that before seeing the movie someone said his experience had been ruined because someone told him Obadiah was secretly the villain. Come on!! How many non-villains have ever had the shaved head and full beard look?? How many!?!?
On to secondary concerns: Iron Man is alright overall. Robert Downey Jr. was pretty funny but not some kind of revelation. He is, I must say, a little toadish in shape but this is probably an indication that he is off the smack. Which is good for him and for the future of this franchise (not to say that I can name a single Iron Man villain, or imagine that I will care). Gwyneth Paltrow is a total loss as Pepper Potts—she is trying to actually be a good actor in an action film but this only comes across as unneeded anxiety. I blame bowling-ball-shaped Jon Favreau. It could not have possibly cost more to have Megan Fox (a better reason for seeing any film), who can’t really act but can look intently at spots in the distance. Terrence Howard does nothing either. But that one dude who always plays a terrorist is pretty good. He seems like a terrorist.
Okay, it may be a stretch to call Shotgun Stories a summer action film—the violence is too believable. It’s brought to you by the letters DGG (David Gordon Green all over this). The structure is so borrowed from George Washington and All the Real Girls that this feels like homage. Even if the film is not action the main players at least have epic action movie names: Son, Kid and Boy Hayes. They are pitted against a separate set of brothers from a different mother (the cause of their anger might be that the other set of brothers have a) real first names and b) fancy pick up trucks). The father, whose death and funeral start the dust-kicking here, was a Mr. Prospector-level stud apparently.
The film is controlled by the magnetic Michael Shannon, who, no matter how many people tell me I’m way off-base, reminds me of early Christopher Walken. A big dude with honor and real menace in The Deer Hunter. And at least the menace in King of New York. Not so much the Fatboy Slim/Wedding Crashers/“I make my money just by talking this way” Walken. The great opening Shotgun shot is of Son standing in his bedroom with his back to us, revealing a spray of red boils down his back—already he is established as a protector. (He proceeds to wake his brother Kid from a tent outside the house and the younger brother pulls on a t-shirt tattered down the back, a sort of negative match to his Son’s back).
But in watching Shotgun Stories I really enjoyed all the Iron Man parallels. We start with the idea of wounds—Tony Stark wears FOX's glowing hockey puck in his chest as a memento of his time in the “Fun-Vee” and Son Hayes’s back is covered in boils resulting from a shotgun aimed at his family. We also have the mad genius tinkering of RDJ, his voice activated toys able to discern sarcasm even, paired with Boy Hayes’s magical conversion van. The tape deck in the van doesn’t work because Boy blew a circuit trying to run a portable air conditioner through the cigarette lighter. But, in one Moment of Zen, Boy is able to convert engine power into a blender, resulting in an Arkansas margarita and the restoration of 80’s radio. The exclusive locations are also fun to compare. Tony Stark's pleasure palace juts out concretely from the Malibu coast, stuffed with exotic rides. Shotgun's Arkansas landscape, where each character lives and works in angry heat, looks like this:
Nichols certainly commands all the dark spaces of his Stories. If he keeps it up, maybe he will be ready to helm Doctor Stange IV in 2019.