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Robert Downey Jr. as ‘Iron Man’ is a Can’t Miss

The actor, a superhero of sorts in the acting community, stars as an egocentric brainiac in ‘Iron Man.’ Plus, a Ringo Starr HBO series airs, and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” hits DVD.
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Movies

I guess it’s appropriate that Robert Downey Jr. will star as “Iron Man,” since he’s been through a lot and has proved to be indestructible. Of course, he had to lay off the bad stuff, but he’s kind of a superhero in the acting community because he’s a welcome presence who represents triumph in the face of adversity. “Iron Man” stars Downey as an egocentric, middle-aged brainiac who runs a weapons company and is kidnapped by insurgents in the Middle East. They want to force him to create a superweapon, but he foils them and escapes after inventing a mighty robot suit. That experience causes him to change his outlook on things, and soon he is committed to making the world a better place through superhero deeds. Actually, after Downey revived his career, the rest of Iron Man’s exploits is a cakewalk by comparison. (Paramount Pictures, opens Friday)

Television

RINGO STARR: OFF THE RECORD: Ringo Starr, Dave Stewart. photo: John P. Johnson

In 1925, New York Yankees first baseman Wally Pipp was benched in favor of Lou Gehrig, who not only kept the job but became a Hall of Famer. That was arguably the most famous replacement in the history of entertainment until Ringo Starr took over for Pete Best as the Beatles’ drummer in 1962. The rest, as they say, was Ringo’s massive good fortune and Best’s bum luck. But that was just the beginning. Starr went on to have one of the most amazing careers of any drummer — or any musician, for that matter — when the Beatles became a worldwide sensation. He discusses those days and his solo career in a segment of the HBO series, “Ringo Starr: Off the Record.” Fellow rocker Dave Stewart serves as the moderator during a session held before an audience of fans and other musicians. To paraphrase an old saying: All you need is Ringo. (HBO, Friday, 11 p.m.)

Music

In recent months, Steve Winwood has enjoyed a renaissance. He appeared at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival outside Chicago last summer, and has since played some dates at Madison Square Garden with his old Blind Faith mate. Just in case anyone needs a further reminder that Winwood is one of the true giants of rock music, he has a new solo CD out appropriately titled “Nine Lives.” Winwood has never played rock by the numbers. Instead, he invented a whole new formula, which he alters each time out to great effect. On this album, Clapton sits in on “Dirty City,” and the collection continues along an imaginative path with tracks such as “Raging Sea” and “Hungry Man.” This is Winwood’s first full-length studio album in five years, and even though the wait was excruciating, the result is a veritable sea of joy. (Sony)

DVD

“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” should have won an Oscar for best title, if there were one. (It would have faced stiff competition in that category from “No Country for Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood,” although it would have kicked “Juno” butt). Directed by artist-turned-filmmaker Julian Schnabel, the film tells the true story of a magazine editor who is stopped in his tracks by a stroke and his courageous battle not just to live life each day but to tell his story even though he can communicate only by blinking with one eye. “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” is out on DVD this week with a palette of extras, including a fine making-of featurette, audio commentary with Schnabel, and also a segment from the “Charlie Rose” show in which the director discusses his work and the film. It’s a very distinctive movie. Remember, it was up for best title. (Miramax Video)

Books

Stalinist Russia wasn’t the most open society in the world, but it was fine, as long as you didn’t mind being oppressed and you offered slavish devotion to the state. And in “Child 44,” the debut novel by Tom Rob Smith, Leo Stepanovich Demidov is doing better than most. It’s 1953, and he’s a war hero who now works for the state security force. One day his bosses ask him to investigate the death of a child. He decides it’s murder, and that there is a serial killer on the loose. However, that doesn’t sit well with his Soviet higher-ups, who won’t allow such a conclusion. But Leo and his wife decide to pursue the killer anyway. Let’s just say that by doing so it puts both of their plans for a quiet retirement in peril. In his first time out, Smith has created an authentic and horrific world that gets more gripping with each passing page. Even Stalin might have enjoyed this, if he could ever pull himself away from his reign of terror. (Grand Central Publishing)