Just a couple of timely points to make before I get to the main event.
This guy is going to kill somebody one of these days. Seriously. Hard to understand why someone so successful and so talented is filled with so much hate.
I think it totally sucks that Marvel and Edward Norton couldn't come to terms on the upcoming Avengers movie. It would have been great to see Norton back as Bruce Banner and interacting onscreen with Robert Downey Jr. and Samuel L. Jackson. I was a big fan of Norton's Hulk movie and I felt that he filled the shoes of the late Bill Bixby quite nicely. Rumor has it that Marvel is hot to get Joaquin Phoenix to take over the role. Phoenix is a good actor. I DON'T see him as Bruce Banner. (And to all the folks out there who insist that Steve Buscemi is the only suitable choice for the role, I have this to say: You're idiots.)
My preference: Lee Pace, star of the recent series Pushing Daisies. He's a good, solid actor, and he looks enough like Norton that the switchover would not be too jarring for the audience. (Plus, he probably comes a lot cheaper than Norton and Phoenix—and he doesn't have a reputation of being difficult or troubled, which certainly can't be said about Norton or Phoenix.)
Okay, on with the show...
Taking advantage of some free time with which I found myself recently—including a weeklong vacation from work—I decided to watch a bunch of movies, something I haven’t had a chance to do in a while. Here are the flicks I checked out during that chunk of time, with accompanying capsule reviews.
1) Toy Story 3 (2010): Starring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, and Ned Beatty.
I saw this at my local movie theater with my wife and 7-year-old daughter. We skipped the 3D version—it cost more than I was willing to shell out and I didn’t want to have to wear special 3D glasses over my regular ones—and settled for the old-fashioned 2D format. But it was hardly “settling.” You don’t need 3D to appreciate the creative genius of the folks at Pixar. They never cease to amaze me. They are so damned talented and good at coming up with fun, charming, heartfelt movies that thoroughly entertain people of all ages. Toy Story 3 is a great blending of the previous two movies. I’d say the first one is still the most fun, while Toy Story 2 is the most emotional. This new one feels very balanced. And the ending is just beautiful—both my wife and daughter were so moved in the closing minutes that they were weeping. They insist that I was too, but I maintain that someone must have been slicing onions near me in the theater.
2) The Wrestler (2008): Starring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, and Evan Rachel Wood.
I had this saved on the DVR since last November, from one of its airings on HBO. Director Darren Aronofsky and I were classmates in junior high, and we actually bumped into each other a few years ago, just as his filmmaking career was starting to take off. Since then, he’s impressed me a great deal with his work, and he is responsible for one of the most powerful, disturbing, and indelible movie-watching experiences I’ve ever had: Requiem for a Dream, which I need never see again because it made such a deep impression on me. The Wrestler does not quite fall into that category, but it’s a very well made film nonetheless, with strong, thoroughly convincing performances by Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei. Of particular note is the sequence in which Rourke’s character is working at a supermarket deli counter—those are among Rourke’s strongest, most compelling moments, in my opinion. I did think the subplot about the relationship between Rourke’s character and his daughter (played by Evan Rachel Wood) got a bit overwrought at times, but it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the film.
3) The Crazies (201o): Starring Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell.
I saw this on Blu-ray courtesy of my friend, the infamous Weird Pete, and his Netflix membership. This is a remake of a 1973 film by George A. Romero, who gave us the 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead and its terrific 1978 sequel Dawn of the Dead, among many other horror movies. I’ve never seen the Romero original, but remake director Breck Eisner delivers an effective, well-paced, suspenseful, and well-acted thriller about the death of a small Midwestern town by a mysterious plague that turns its inhabitants into, well, a bunch of crazies. Timothy Olyphant, who is so good as the star of the excellent new FX TV series Justified, turns in a strong performance as the sheriff of the town. The beautiful Radha Mitchell plays his wife, and they work very well together. Unlike the Friday the 13th movies and their brain-dead ilk, the characters in this film are well defined and written as real people instead of empty props, so that when deaths occur along the way, you actually feel something for the people who die.
4) Taken (2008): Starring Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, and Famke Janssen.
This is another one that I saved on the DVR, from one of its recent airings on HBO. When I think of movie action heroes, the name Liam Neeson normally wouldn’t come to mind. Which is probably one of the reasons why I was so pleasantly surprised by this film. Neeson is very effective as a former CIA paramilitary operative who goes back into action to rescue his teenaged daughter, who has been kidnapped in Paris to be sold into sexual slavery. In terms of tone and style, it’s not far removed from a James Bond film or the TV series 24, though it’s a lot more straightforward in its storytelling. Maggie Grace, playing Neeson’s daughter, is more likable here than she ever was on Lost, but poor Famke Janssen has to play the stereotypical “bitchy ex-wife from hell.” This film probably isn’t going to win the French any new fans, but I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing Neeson make a return visit to this genre in the near future.
5) Frost/Nixon (2008): Starring Frank Langella and Michael Sheen.
Another one that I had saved on the DVR for a number of months. Frank Langella turns in a triumphant performance as Richard M. Nixon, managing to avoid caricature and to portray the disgraced former U.S. President as a complex, intelligent, deeply troubled man with both flaws and virtues. Michael Sheen is strong as David Frost, but his character arc is not nearly as compelling as his co-star’s. What’s at stake for Nixon is the redemption of his presidency, the salvation of his reputation, and the restoration of his legacy. For Frost, it’s all about whether any TV network will air his interviews with Nixon—for which he’s paying out of his own pocket—and the professional setbacks he experiences when his talk shows in Australia and England get canceled. (Meanwhile, the wealthy Frost also has a gorgeous girlfriend standing beside him every step of the way, through thick and thin—hard to relate to or feel too sorry for the bloke.) Having finally watched this film, I am curious to watch the real Frost/Nixon interviews, to see whether director Ron Howard authentically captured the interplay between the two men. I’ve since read that the film takes many liberties with actual facts and events, which is to be expected, I guess, and now I’d be interested in knowing how things really went down.
6) Deadgirl (2008): Starring Shiloh Fernandez, Noah Segan, Eric Podnar, Candice Accola, and Jenny Spain.
I watched this on DVD. My friend Jack was actually one of the investors on this film and he loaned me a copy. It’s a disturbing independent horror movie with an extremely bleak outlook on the psyche of the teenaged human male. While the dialogue is a bit contrived, the cast of unknowns is mostly good—particularly Shiloh Fernandez, who plays the main protagonist, Rickie, and who kind of looks like a cross between a young Joaquin Phoenix and infamous serial killer Richard “The Night Stalker” Ramirez. The storyline is pretty original and unique, but I found that in order to make its point, it forced its male leads to act far beyond the point of believability and to do the absolute stupidest, vilest things that even the most desperately horny boys would never bring themselves to do in the name of getting laid. In that sense, the film works well enough as an allegory—but it doesn’t seem to know that it’s an allegory until its latter half. Until then, the film seems to be a fairly straightforward, earnest, somewhat realistic horror tale that only requires a little suspension of disbelief on the part of the viewer. But as plausibility goes out the window and things get more and more absurd—complete with some bits of odd humor—the only way for the movie to really work is for it to be viewed in allegorical terms. Still, it’s far above the utter brainlessness of most other teen horror flicks and certainly worth a look—but it’s definitely not a “date flick.”
7) White Oleander (2002): Starring Alison Lohman, Michelle Pfeiffer, Renee Zellweger, Robin Wright Penn, Noah Wyle, and Patrick Fugit.
I caught this on HBO. It’s the story of Astrid, a teenaged girl whose world falls apart and who is shuttled from one troubled foster home to another after her mother Ingrid—a free-spirited, manipulative, and truly warped individual (played by Michelle Pfeiffer)—murders her philandering lover and is sent to prison. As Astrid approaches adulthood, she struggles to gain emotional independence from her incarcerated mother, to forge her own identity, and to find her place in the world.
Not only do I not have an opinion on this film, I’m having a hard time accepting that I actually watched it.
8) X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009): Starring Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, and Lynn Collins.
I caught this on HBO. The best I can cay about this prequel to the X-Men trilogy of films it is that it’s better than X-Men 3: The Last Stand—but that’s not saying much. Despite the fact that this fills in Wolverine’s mysterious backstory and shows how and why he got to where he was in the first X-Men movie, I found this to be suspense-free, only mildly entertaining, and utterly lightweight, with Wolverine being far less interesting here than he was in X-Men and X-Men 2: X-Men United. There’s one (and only one) significant plot twist that I didn’t see coming, so I’ve got to give the film credit for that. Also, I think the character of young Scott Summers (who will grow up to become Cyclops, the field leader of the X-Men), gets to accomplish more here than he did in the previous three X-Men films combined. Liev Schreiber is appropriately menacing as Victor Creed, Wolverine’s half-brother, and Danny Huston does a good job as the younger version of Brian Cox’s William Stryker (from X-Men 2). But Hugh Jackman is simply not given much to work with. This is a soulless, insubstantial, forgettable film that adds very little to the X-Men franchise as a whole and to Wolverine as a character.
One thing’s for sure—you can’t say there wasn’t a lot of variety to this batch of flicks!