Thursday, March 10, 2011

Film Fan #451-475

#451. Yes Man (2008)
Tracking a particular actor’s career can be pretty interesting. During at least part of it you can’t help but virtually love everything they do, otherwise you wouldn’t really be that interested in them. After a while, it seems, it’s only natural for that interest to wane a little, for any number of reasons, some being either that you’ve been distracted with someone else, or you generally find you don’t find that actor’s choices to be all that interesting anymore. Anyway, Jim Carrey, thanks to Ace Ventura in 1994, became unquestionably one of my favorite actors. I tracked his career backward, and I continued tracking it with each new release. It wasn’t until a few years into the new millennium where it seemed Jim was finally slowing down a little, feeling a little less fresh. Of course, this isn’t to say that I found him less appealing, only that some of the material coming his way seemed a little more tame, a little more geared to his reputation and not his talent (Bruce Almighty, The Number 23, though both are films I enjoy, and there are other examples where he seems to challenge himself more, with the most recent one being last year’s I Love You, Philip Morris). Yes Man is one of those films, a gimmick in the guise of Liar, Liar, designed to put him in an artificial situation that forces him to bug out a little. I’d be lying if I said Zooey Deschanel isn’t a strong draw for me in this one, and there’s nothing wrong with Jim almost taking the back seat. But shouldn’t Jim Carrey always sort of be the star of Jim Carrey movies? This isn’t Earth Girls Are Easy. You can tell because there’s less fur.

#452. Hitch (2005)
Will Smith is almost the opposite of Jim Carrey, in that he can be routinely trusted to anchor material that without him would probably spiral out of control. This is one of his rare movies where Will can just be Will, romancing Eva Mendes (perhaps never more gorgeous). Kevin James has his first big movie role here, too, although…in hindsight, it probably would have been better to just stick with Will and Eva.

#453. Crazy Heart (2009)
This was a huge awards draw last year, thanks to Jeff Bridges, a role that helped make him popular again, although I don’t think the movie around him really helps him out too much. Maggie Gyllenhaal is an actress with a considerable critical following, but her acting and her role here distract more than help the story. Colin Farrell gets precious little time to inhabit the character who helps motivate Bridges along his path throughout the movie, so the best you get to enjoy about him is his singing. And it might be said that it’s better than Bridges’. Aside from Ryan Bingham (who wrote much of the music), Farrell has the best version of the signature song, “The Weary Kind.”

#454. Alice in Wonderland (2010)
Tim Burton can sometimes become lost in his own gothic leanings, but here he finds material that is perfectly suited to him, bringing to full whimsical life the characters of Lewis Carroll in a kind of sequel to the original stories. It’s no surprise to me that this owes more to the spirit of Mars Attacks! than Edward Scissorhands.

#455. Music and Lyrics (2007)
Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore literally make beautiful music together.

#456. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
A fantastically clever stop-motion animation effort, anchored by George Clooney.

#457. I Love You, Man (2009)
I have very little actual experience with Paul Rudd, but he seems like a perennially underrated talent. Ironically, I’d suggest that he’s the only Woody Allen type to never have appeared in a Woody Allen movie, and the only one who hasn’t had to appear in a Woody Allen movie to fit the bill. Anyway, I really love this one for the way Jason Segel plays against him. Oh, and Lou Ferrigno.

#458. Dog Soldiers (2003)
Neil Marshall’s reputation seems to have fallen in recent years, but here’s where it began, and rightfully so, with Kevin McKidd trying to create a line of defense against werewolves, ahead of the Twilight curve.

#459. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Sometimes, a critic can allow a review to get away from them because of some personal bias or agenda (I would actually, less generously, suggest, “almost all the time”), and that seems to have been the case with this one, with many people cheering it more for the fact that it seeks to normalize homosexual acceptance than for its actual critical worth. I find it to be a little lazy and manipulative, yet on the whole it’s also pretty good. I guess the term would be unassuming, which is exactly the reverse of how it was received. I have a hard time with movies whose reputations are completely distorted (see: The Blair Witch Project, Gone with the Wind). I’d probably like Brokeback more if the popular perception were more reasonable. It doesn’t hurt that Heath Ledger really is allowed to act, and that his performance anchors the whole film, in a way that’s completely the reverse but to the same effect as his turn in The Dark Knight.

#460. Extract (2009)
Mike Judge has a knack for creating characters who are perfectly cast for the situations they find themselves in, whether you’re talking Beavis & Butthead, King of the Hill, or Office Space (I still haven’t seen Idiocracy, but I assume it fits the pattern). Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Clifton Collins, Jr., and J.K. Simmons (I don’t know whether I’m transposing him into both this and Burn After Reading, because both are fairly similar, or whether he truly is in them; either way, I love him) form another fine cast. Did I mention Mila Kunis?

#461. Scarface (1983)
Al Pacino in the role that probably spoiled him for every single critic, and made him an icon for everyone else, so completely overblown and outsized that it’s impossible to talk about Pacino and Scarface as if they’re separate entities. But really, isn’t that the goal of every performance, every movie?

#462. The Deer Hunter (1978)
Apparently not, because Robert De Niro barely registers in this one, with the filmmaker so completely detached from his subject matter, it would probably play better as a short film. I keep trying to completely figure it out, why it’s got such a big reputation, and I keep finding myself shut out. Still, the famous Russian roulette sequence keeps it in play.

#463. Rooster Cogburn (1975)
Take note, folks, because this is the sequel to the original cinematic version of True Grit, with John Wayne returning to perhaps his most famous role, and Kathryn Hepburn reprising her African Queen persona. Anthony Zerbe, however, ends up being my favorite actor in it.

#464. Be Cool (2005)
Speaking of sequels, this one follows Get Shorty, but also pairs John Travolta back up with Pulp Fiction co-star Uma Thurman. Vince Vaughn and “The Rock” Dwayne Johnson, however, are the real draws, at least in my humble opinion.

#465. Bottle Shock (2008)
Based on true events and centering on the improbable clash of personalities between Bill Pullman and Alan Rickman, this was also Chris Pine’s last chance to shine before Star Trek, and with a helping of long hair, completely nails it. Might also be Eliza Dushku’s most appealing, least assuming, performance.

#466. Death at a Funeral (2010)
Frank Oz doesn’t get a lot of love on this list, and he doesn’t get it this entry, either, because this is the remake, not the original, starring Chris Rock, Tracy Morgan, Zoe Saldana (she had a supporting role in every other movie that year, including The Losers and Takers), and Martin Lawrence. As outsize a personality as he is, Rock doesn’t get nearly enough love. This may be his best movie to date. I also enjoyed him in Head of State, among others.

#467. Fred Claus (2007)
This was Vince Vaughn’s Santa Clause. I know it seems obvious, from the title, but beyond that, it’s really just as entertaining, and has the added bonus of Paul Giamatti as the other Claus.

#468. The Robe (1953)
Another popular favorite in my family growing up was watching the religious films Hollywood used to make in droves. This one concerns the fate of, well, the robe that was taken from Jesus at the crucifixion.

#469. The Fourth Kind (2009)
Reputedly based on real events, this one casts the always appealing Milla Jovovich against footage of the real woman who experiences crazy alien visitations. Anyway., clever filmmaking that was all but ignored by audiences on release.

#470. Dukes of Hazzard (2005)
Combine Seann William Scott, Johnny Knoxville, Jessica Simpson, and Broken Lizard, and you’ve got a surprisingly effective update of the Good Ol’ Boys. I also enjoyed M.C. Gainey, Tom Friendly on Lost, in a rare appearance off-island.

#471. Kickboxer (1989)
I went through something of a minor obsession with Jean-Claude Van Damme after repeated viewings of this on TV.

#472. Just My Luck (2006)
Remember Chris Pine? Well, surprisingly, he once co-starred with Lindsay Lohan, before everyone hated Lindsay Lohan (or right around the time everyone started to hate Lindsay Lohan). Surprisingly entertaining.

#473. The French Connection (1971)
If this hadn’t starred Gene Hackman, it might have seemed more like The Deer Hunter. Come to think of it, maybe The Deer Hunter should have starred Gene Hackman, and French Connection should have starred Robert De Niro.

#474. Aliens (1986)
In hindsight, this is almost a direct precursor to Avatar. Go ahead and watch it again for yourself.

#475. A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, and John Cleese were so memorable in this one they ended up making a quasi-sequel, Fierce Creatures.

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