Thursday, March 3, 2011

Film Fan #426-450

#426. Rob Roy (1995)
Liam Neeson is an actor who has only become more popular as he’s aged, going from someone who could be easily overlooked in minor supporting roles (Excalibur) to headlining unexpected blockbusters (Taken), and becoming an invaluable second lead in countless movies. Here’s one of his leading roles, a sort of Irish Braveheart, with Tim Roth equally memorable as his villainous foil.

#427. Cinderella Man (2005)
Russell Crowe went from powerhouse leading man to afterthought within the span of the Aughts, mostly due to his unruly behavior off-camera; in truth, most people were just looking for an excuse to ignore him, because he broke all the rules concerning what it means to be a leading man, too confounding and powerful a presence to easily categorize. This is another blockbuster collaboration with Ron Howard, a Boxing Movie that focuses more on the heart of the fighter than size of the fight in him.

#428. District 9 (2009)
A South African ditty about aliens who come down to Earth and end up residents, an elaborate allegory for Apartheid that quickly spirals from documentary to chase sequence, all spinning around the increasingly manic performance of Sharlto Copley, who would later steal The A-Team.

#429. Two Lovers (2009)
Released in the early days of that oddball experiment that saw Joaquin Phoenix totally trash his reputation, and thus completely lost to all good affection despite being a terrific story of pain and redemption, co-starring Gwyneth Paltrow.

#430. Lucky You (2007)
Eric Bana quickly became one of my favorite actors, and so I’ve made it a point to follow his career closely. This one apparently had some sort of tortured release history, so it was easy to overlook, even though it’s good work from everyone involved, including a typically scene-stealing Robert Downey, Jr. from just before Iron Man completely salvaged his career.

#431. The Cutting Edge (1992)
My sister is a huge figure skating fan, and so that’s why I’ve seen it, but truth be told, I’m a fairly decent fan of both, too.

#432. Melinda and Melinda (2004)
Imagine if people had told Shakespeare his stories were too repetitive. Ha! Well, given that his historical reputation really needed to be built up, I’d argue that maybe good Will is not so different from our own Orson Welles or the like, an incredible talent his contemporaries found very hard to appreciate. Anyway, so that’s the story of Woody Allen, a filmmaker most critics have grown tired of, so they pretty much rehash every thought on his new films from old reviews, no matter what the new material actually has to offer. I personally loved this one. Will Ferrell may be one of those “Woody Allen surrogates,” but he’s still Will Ferrell, and I for one could go fro Chilean sea bass lightly misted with lime. Also, Wallace Shawn. You cannot go wrong with Wallace Shawn. I was also amused to see Josh Brolin appear in a tiny supporting role. And while Rhada Mitchell sometimes theatrically overdoes it in her smoking scenes, I love this as one of her few leading roles.

#433. I’m Not There (2007)
This crazyquilt project is a character study of Bob Dylan, with a number of actors portraying a number of incarnations, including Cate Blanchett and Heath Ledger, in one of the few projects where he was really able to cut loose creatively, which like Lords of Dogtown present the long shadow before The Joker that few fans even now seem to appreciate.

#434. Funny People (2009)
Judd Apatow became one of the biggest names in filmmaking in recent years, and while I’ve had my share of enjoyable experiences from the most famous examples, this is the one I like best, starring of all people Adam Sandler, who embodied the spirit of what Apatow set out to accomplish before either of them knew it. This, then, also constitutes my favorite Sandler flick (Happy Gilmore and Punch-drunk Love are his other highlights as far as this film fan goes). Seth Rogen is here, too, but the guy who steals this show is Eric Bana, finally showing up in Hollywood full Aussie. Did you know he’s known as a comedian Down Under?

#435. Smart People (2008)
Similar in title to the above, and they both share a fair amounting of depression, too. I suppose I latched onto this one on account of the stars, doing fine work with little recognition. Ellen Page, who made her name in the cutesy Juno, is probably more appealing in a better performance here, while Dennis Quaid has another fine appearance here. Thomas Haden Church, who won accolades in Sideways but has been overlooked since (even though he’s the main reason I love Spider-Man 3), joins this little circle, and in fact might as well be considered the lead actor, even though time is shared pretty equally between them.

#436. Remember Me (2010)
I had Robert Pattinson pegged as a standout actor based on a very limited performance/appearance in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, long before tweens swooned over him as Edward in the Twilight films. This is easily his best film to date, casting him as a troubled young man (with no trace of his usual dry line readings) whose path leads toward one of the more poignant fictional stories to come out of 9/11.

#437. The Soloist (2009)
Robert Downey Jr. proved he wasn’t universally beloved after the Iron Man revival by starring in this nuanced portrait of a man trying to do good in extremely difficult circumstances, with Jamie Foxx pulling off one of his best performances as the homeless man he tries to help. This is basically Good Will Hunting’ minus Harvard.

#438. The Mist (2007)
Frank Darabont has now invested most of his cinematic career with adaptations of Stephen King, and this was the first time he was met with apathy (though to be fair he lost his critical mystique previously with The Majestic, a “Capra-esque” fable with Jim Carrey). Surprisingly, though, he still does good work, especially with the cinematic choice of black and white to add extra tension.

#439. The Wrestler (2008)
Like Robert Downey, Jr., Mickey Rourke was finally “rediscovered” thanks to a perfect project, even though he’d been doing exceptional work previously (notably Sin City, which is a better performance). As a wrestling fan, I know how much Darren Aronofsky gets wrong, preying mostly on popular misconceptions, but as a portrait of anyone down on their luck and forced into less than ideal circumstances, this is a real stunner.

#440. Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
The truth is, James Dean might have been a great actor, but he simply didn’t have the time or a real opportunity to prove it. His is a legend that will die over time, since the work he actually left behind will age mostly to irrelevance, something only connoisseurs will appreciate. Watch this without the reputation, and it’s at best a passable study of alienation and angst, something that would be a TV movie today, or maybe fifteen years ago. Beverly Hills 90210 and its descendents have replicated the James Dean formula for twenty years now.

#441. Julius Caesar (1953)
The difference between James Dean and Marlon Brando might as well be explained this way: whereas Dean really needed to do scenes that focused mostly on him to achieve his aura, Brando completely outclasses everyone else, even doing Shakespeare. As Marc Antony, he’s a lightning rod, especially in the impassioned speech after Caesar’s assassination.

#442. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)
Whereas some people might choose to remember Jason Segel in this film because of his junk, what really helped make him stand out was his puppet work, which showcased his singing and inventive humor. Speaking of that, there’s also Russell Brand, in what I now like to think of as the prequel to Get Him to the Greek. Plus Mila Kunis, in her breakout movie performance.

#443. Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003)
Recently I’ve gotten the distinct impression that most people don’t think as highly of Robert Rodriguez as I do. Granted, sometimes he can go the full Schwarzenegger in his eagerness to make kid-friendly material, but when he’s truly on fire, he’s got enough energy and swagger to fill the screen as few other filmmakers dare, both in pure showmanship and his ability to cast perfectly. This is the finale of his Mariachi trilogy, and while Antonio Banderas makes his second appearance of the franchise, this one really belongs to Johnny Depp. Coming in the same year as the birth of Jack Sparrow, most people probably considered his performance here as something of an afterthought, but to me, it’s one of his best, and least affected, performances. It’s simply Depp bringing out all his gonzo charm, with almost only Depp himself, not some weirdo character, showing.

#444. National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets (2007)
Nicholas Cage is another actor who gets almost no respect, and it’s pretty much his own fault, although I have very little personal experience to show for it. I simply haven’t seen his early performances, before he crossed over from dramatic roles in critically acceptable films to blockbusters, in one of the first Hollywood careers to fully embrace the modern era. The problem is, he could never hope to survive the critical backlash, even when he periodically attempts to placate his earlier fans (Adaptation would have been a fine movie for anyone; for Cage, it’s untoppable, and it came well after he made the transition). Now he seems to drift from one outsize persona to another. One of his more fascinating ones is the strange riff of a franchise that successfully crosses Indian Jones with Robert Langdon. The second film has more energy, a successful sequel that understands that “lived-in” shouldn’t be equated with “mailed-in.”

#445. The Spirit (2008)
Since filmgoers did not actually go ga-ga over Sin City (at least not quite in the same way I did), Frank Miller might have expected his own version of it, adapting the Will Eisner material that originally inspired him, to go almost completely over the same heads. It’s funny, too, because this is almost the reverse Sin City, with one central hero (a game Gabriel Macht) and one central villain (a typically expressive Samuel L. Jackson), and all the awesome women (Eva Mendes, Scarlet Johansson) surrounding them doing their best to not upstage either of them. More stylized, and owing more to 300. This is perfect cinematic material, but since it doesn’t call to mind any useful associations for the majority of filmgoers, it’s easy to dismiss.

#446. Garden State (2004)
The movie that briefly made it appear as if Zach Braff would have a career on the big screen was a tour de force that co-stars Natalie Portman, and overflows with charm.

#447. Do the Right Thing (1989)
Spike Lee’s first opus (and no doubt the movie he had to live down, and perhaps found that he never could) is a slice of life tale that explores the state of racial relations in 1989, which as it turns out still had its share of problems. Lee did make a bunch of other movies in the same vein, because those relations did not significantly improve over the course of the next decade. I’d strongly encourage him to make another movie on that topic today.

#448. Clash of the Titans (2010)
While everyone seemed to embrace Avatar as that James Cameron movie with all the giant blue people, a lot of its appeal for me rested on Sam Worthington, whom I’d earlier pegged as a standout in Terminator: Salvation, which is why when this movie was released, I didn’t view it as the first of many ill-advised attempts to cash in on the 3D craze with material that didn’t seem to warrant it. While Worthington perhaps spends a little too much time seemingly entirely too human (as his character keeps insisting he is), I still enjoyed a good romp through Greek mythology. Hey, did you notice Liam Neeson as Zeus? Also, the movie that helped me fall in love with Gemma Arterton, who serves more as narrator than actual onscreen presence, and still ends up stealing the movie from some other notable beauties.

#449. Brick (2006)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s first standout movie performance (enough time passed after 10 Things I Hate About You that he was basically starting over) is another little riddle I’m still trying to solve, but I admire its ambition too much to overlook in the meantime. Emilie De Ravin, who also co-stars in Remember Me, has a more notable role here.

#450. Dragon: The Bruce Lee Movie (1993)
It’s weird that for me, this biopic serves more as a legacy for Bruce Lee than any of his actual films, but that’s better than nothing, right?

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