Thursday, February 24, 2011

Film Fan #401-425

#401. 16 Blocks (2006)
The thing about Bruce Willis is that he’s still hugely underrated. The fact that he’s never been considered even a suggestion for an Academy Award is something of a joke, since he’s by far one of the most skilled practitioners of his chosen craft. It’s just, I guess, he doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously. He’s too versatile for his own good, and worse yet, he never really goes for a gimmick. He simply acts. He has lately transitioned back into action mode, but not in the way that Clint Eastwood is still doing the same shtick he did forty years ago. Bruce does it because it’s truly relevant, he ca still pull it off, and he’s got new facets to explore. Watching him in RED is completely different from watching him in Die Hard. Part of the reason is that he’s done things like 16 Blocks in the meantime. Blocks is a Richard Donner movie (Donner being another of the great unappreciated Hollywood talents) that pairs Willis with Mos Def (yet another such talent) on a redemption ticket, allowing Bruno to explore all the depth and pathos he’d touched on with The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and others, but this time in a totally human context. He literally almost disappears, and this may be the first time he does that. Once the novelty of this hits parade wears off for him, I expect Bruce will return to this territory. And maybe he will even get some respect for it this time.

#402. The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
Speaking of publicity trends, none bothered me more in recent years than the lovefest for Meryl Streep. It actually kicked off after the most interesting period of her career, and probably ended right around The Devil Wears Prada, and included Adaptation and this movie, in which she plays a version of Hilary Clinton, better than Hilary herself ever did (which might be one of the many reasons she didn’t and/or hasn’t officially become president). But the acting stories don’t end there. Denzel Washington, of course, is the lead actor. Third lead is Liev Schreiber, one of Hollywood’s best actors, who has never truly broken into popular relevance. He’s also another Bruce Willis, deserving of critical acclaim but never having sniffed an Oscar. He should have here, since it’s his best work to date on the big screen. What sunk this movie is that it is, of course, a remake of a popular classic. No matter that this version is infinitely better. Some people like to protect all the wrong reputations.

#403. The Pink Panther (2006)
A franchise now in its fifth decade and with Steve Martin its fifth actor in the lead role of Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers is justifiably the most famous, but there really were three others, including of all people Roberto Benigni). Of course, like most people, it’s easiest for me to associate Clouseau with Sellers, but over the course of two films (just the one would have done it, really) Martin has succeeded in warming his way into the role and my heart (awww). For most viewers, just as Sellers is Clouseau, Clouseau is just another role for Martin, but Steve really does make it his own, not just by way of pratfall, but in how he makes Clouseau’s increasingly tortured relationship with the English language (the character is technically French, even though it really doesn’t make any difference otherwise to know that) an artform.

#404. Casino Royale (2006)
The fact that I have elsewhere linked the Pink Panther franchise as the comic version of the James Bond films certainly makes this segue easier. This, of course, is not the Peter Sellers (how appropriate again!) version, but the Daniel Craig bow, which bounces with kinetic energy (a chase sequence in which Craig bounces down balconies is a particular highlight) and strong sense of character makes this a movie I can really care about. As you might otherwise tell, I’m not really a Bond enthusiast (though if there were presently room, Connery and Brosnan would be represented), so for me to care about this much-ballyhooed relaunch is pretty much because of Daniel Craig, who finally earned the acclaim he had long suggested earlier in the decade.

#405. Bruce Almighty (2003)
This is a bit of an odd one for me. On the one hand, Jim Carrey was clearly trying to recapture the spirit of his earlier successes, so some of the spirit of it seems artificial to me, a bit mechanical. On the other hand, it allows for a little more room around him. Steve Carrell, for instance, had his breakout performance here (which actually led to a spin-off sequel). Morgan Freeman lampoons his reputation, and has a rare comedic performance. Jennifer Aniston, while she mostly reacts to Carrey, has one of her biggest successes, so this can technically be counted as a Jennifer Aniston movie, too. Also, “It’s goood.” I like that one. I still try to use it, even though I can never get it right.

#406. Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
Hey, so Will Ferrell piles on the irony train I’ve already got going this segment, as this is basically his Truman Show. It’s a shame that people haven’t generally reacted to it as such.

#407. Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
Adorable bunnies, British humor, good stuff.

#408. Ali (2002)
This was Will Smith’s most blatant stab at an Oscar before Pursuit of Happyness (the latter still rings a little more true), and I still need to feel fully comfortable with it, so here it is. I think this is the general reaction to Ali.

#409. Babel (2006)
After Traffic, a backlash set in on disjointed ensemble movies, with separate narratives following an expansive cast, which is unfortunate, because more often than not, they really work, and there’s no reason to automatically assume otherwise. Anyone who assumes the best way to tell a story is to keep to a single narrative has probably never consistently read books. Anyway, here you can find Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett struggle, along with a bunch of other characters, with the interconnectedness of life, not just in an increasingly globalized world, but as life works in general.

#410. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)
Coming smack dab in the middle of an avalanche of Jude Law movies, the sheer novelty of Sky Captain was almost entirely lost. But sheer novelty is not the only thing this movie has going for it. Beyond Law, you’ve also got Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie, among others, giving better classical Hollywood performances than classical Hollywood did (blasphemy!). This is basically pulp storytelling, incredibly stylized, so I guess the audience ultimately would always have been limited, but it’s still a shame that the audience really has to be even more limited by crack judgments.

#411. The Island (2005)
Ewan Macgregor and Scarlet Johansson (who I still contend to this day has never looked better than she does in this film) discover that they’re clones harvested to provide spare parts for the originals, and face to avoid the apparently inevitable. At one point Ewan runs into his alternate self, and that’s pretty awesome. An apparently easily overlooked but incredibly fun ride.

#412. Lions for Lambs (2007)
Mass audiences very quickly made it clear they didn’t much care for any movie that spun out of the Iraq War, and this movie was dismissed as far too preachy. It’s too bad, since it’s another of those movies where you could see that the politics of the filmmakers should have produced one message, but the finished product can satisfactorily be interpreted however you want. It’s compelling, and filled with great performances from old pros, including Meryl Streep (just to prove that I really don’t actually hate her, just in case you were still wondering, ‘Mamma Mia’ fans), Robert Redford, and yes, Tom Cruise. I would suggest that this one is minor genius, a classic just begging to be discovered.

#413. The Love Guru (2008)
Ha! So let’s go for controversy again! This has been dismissed as a dud pretty much from the start, the Mike Myers comeback attempt that fell flat, not even a trace of the old Wayne and/or Austin Powers flare apparent in this self-help put-on. In the era of self-help put-ons (that actually take themselves seriously), there’s no way this movie would ever have been received favorably anyway. But for those who do get it (I’m still searching for the other guy, but in the meantime, “Mariska Hargitay” to you, too), no explanation is necessary. Plus, I get to enjoy Jessica Alba while I’m at it. And “Le Coq,” Justin Timberlake.

#414. No Country for Old Men (2007)
Speaking of mind-blowing juxtapositions, did I really just suggest that The Love Guru is better Best Picture winner ‘No Country for Old Men’? Apostasy! Truth is, both were made, it seems to me, almost exclusively for me. No Country, for instance, was made as a vehicle for Josh Brolin. Doesn’t matter what else you’ve heard, how many Coen brothers you can name, or Javier Bardem deadpans you can imitate (“Call it, friendo”), or if this is the last film Tommy Lee Jones ever makes that anyone actually cares about. 2007 was pretty much the Year of Brolin in my book. He showed up in supporting roles with an alarming frequency usually only Morgan Freeman or Christopher Walken can attain. (2010 was the Awesome Reprise, by the way.) Yet overall, I felt as if the attitude of the movie was a little too loose. But that’s me. I did just list The Love Guru as one better.

#415. V for Vendetta (2006)
I’m no big Alan Moore fanatic. In fact, I find all the Alan Moore to be something of a joke at this point. I do admire Alan. I do respect him. But I think he takes himself a little too seriously. There’s no reason to automatically reject Hollywood adaptations of your work, and certainly not when they give Hugo Weaving an actual starring role (even if you never actually see his face), or Natalie Portman one of her occasional truly noteworthy roles. I also like that the Wachowski Bros. Were involved, but those are another few filmmakers that I seem to be in a minority of still admiring.

#416. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009)
A surprisingly awesome confection. I admit that I like it more for Sienna Miller than Channing Tatum, and for a whole collection of similar reasons. I love that Joseph Gordon-Levitt really seemed to believe Cobra Commander was his Joker (it really isn’t, or at least, not as he performed it). I love Dennis Quaid being all stolid. I love Rachel Nichols, and have since Alias. I love Brendan Frasier’s random cameo. I can’t wait for the sequel.

#417. The Buddy Holly Story (1978)
Sorry, Gary Busey, but I really like this one because of Buddy Holly.

#418. Veronica Guerin (2003)
Another piece of evidence for the case that Joel Schumacher is a legitimate filmmaker, it’s the story of a real reporter who came to a bad end for the sake of her ideals. Cate Blanchett stars, and what can I say, I love Cate Blanchett. Colin Farrell has one of his miniscule roles, back when it was still assumed his presence was an audience magnet. Unfortunately, it really isn’t.

#419. El Mariachi (1992)
Otherwise known as Robert Rodriquez and the Original Version of Desperado.

#420. 12 Monkeys (1995)
Terry Gilliam, Brad Pitt, and Bruce Willis combine for a project that’s equally distinctive for each of them, and an experience I’m still trying to process. At the moment, I will suggest that it’s Pitt’s work that has most helped make it personally remarkable, but as I said, I’m still working on it.

#421. Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
The last of the Mad Max trilogy is sort of like the exact equivalent of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, bringing the character into a more direct context after a couple of movies letting an icon just sort of flail around.

#422. Ask the Dust (2006)
Salma Hayek. Ahhh. A stunning beauty guaranteed a certain amount of Hollywood success. Then again, also guaranteed to be forgotten and replaced after a certain point. Well, she resurfaced after being granted a certain amount of critical praise in Frida in this movie, which pairs her with Colin Farrell, inhabiting one of his earliest characters. Sure, the fact that he’s Irish would be character enough, but to succeed in Hollywood, he had to embrace an American face for most of his performances, until someone realized he’s as interesting as a character actor as he is as a leading man. The challenge Farrell faces is successfully combining the two. I think he’s more than up to it. Here you can share with him the enthusiasm for the task.

#423. There Will Be Blood (2007)
Daniel Day-Lewis overwhelms this movie, one that I had been hotly anticipating, but grew a little weary of the more critics exaggerated its success. What’s worse than the actor’s mugging is the fact that it’s a virtual carbon copy of his performance from Gangs of New York, with a few modifications. Still, all told, it’s a pretty remarkable study of an dangerous character, almost a modern equivalent of Ahab, without a lot of the piercing insight Melville brought to the table in order to contextualize the obsession. “I drink your milkshake,” indeed!

#424. Quantum of Solace (2008)
One of the great quasi-sequels, in that viewing it in the context of Casino Royale would certainly help you, but watching it on its own gives Solace a whole new level of intrigue as well. I love Daniel Craig, of course, but you’ve got a couple of interesting “Bond girls,” too, including Olga Kurylenko and Gemma Arterton, who went on to steal a couple of moving in 2010, plus Mathieu Almaric and Geoffrey Wright, plus some chick named Judi Dench, the only real link between two different eras of James Bond, and this is probably her best appearance to date.

#425. Burn After Reading (2008)
The Coens issued their own response to the critical acclaim of No Country for Old Men with this follow-up, a madcap study of all the idiots there really are in the world, with George Clooney, Brad Pitt, J.K. Simmons, John Malcovich (“fucking morons”), and others gamely playing along. If I weren’t scared of completely crossing the Hollywood Heresy Line I would probably claim this is better than No Country.

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