After the current vogue for having famous people play eminent people has lost its cachet among Oscar voters, what roles will we remember the nominees for? From 1929 to1942, six of the thirteen Academy Awards for Best Actor were awarded to actors playing real historical personages, from Henry VIII to “Yankee Doodle Dandy” songwriter George M. Cohan. Occasionally flaring up once every decade, the trend of remunerating actors for successful impersonations had almost gone into remission until recently. In 2002, 2004, 2005, and 2006 the statue was awarded for the most uncanny imitation of a deceased celebrity. In the Best Actress category the statistics are even more consistent; during the 2000s only two of the past awards have gone to actresses playing fictional characters. This year celebrated stage actor Frank Langella is nominated for portraying Richard Nixon in Ron Howard’s screen adaptation of the play Frost/Nixon. Considering Howard is the first filmmaker to perfect a “direct-by-numbers” technique, the likelihood of the red-headed former star of Happy Days walking away with a little gold man looks likely.
Before Langella was Tricky Dick, he sailed the West Indies as the ruthless pirate Dawg Brown in the 1995 action swashbuckler Cutthroat Island. Dawg’s corsair father leaves Dawg and his brothers a massive hidden treasure as their patrimony, but divides the map to the loot amongst his sons to insure the fair division of the horde. But avaricious Dawg seeks to deprive his brothers of their inheritance and he urges his brother Harry to hand over his map or walk the plank. Harry dies, but not before passing on his map (hidden in a brainy location) to his voluptuous daughter Morgan Adams (Geena Davis). Morgan takes her father’s place as captain of his galleon, although most of the crew is skeptical of her competence. To gain their trust she promises them an equal share of the treasure. Unfortunately, Morgan’s section of the map is in Latin, forcing her to go ashore in Jamaica where she is a wanted woman. On land she finds a dashing con artist (Matthew Modine) who can read the map, but might also steal her heart. Together they try to escape the forces of Dawg and the larcenous Royal Navy conspiring against them to steal their treasure.Continue Reading
Lewis John Carlino’s screenplay is sparse, but strong. Unlike newer action films, the script takes its time to give you a sense of the isolation and loneliness that comes with being a professional killer. The story provides two strong characters of vastly different backgrounds that share a similar sensibility. The result is an exciting and dangerous game of cat-and-mouse.Continue Reading
Out of Sight
Out of Sight is the story of a bank robber (Clooney) and his loyal sidekick (Rhames) who bust out of prison and abduct a U.S. Marshal (Lopez) on their way to heist millions in diamonds from an ex-con billionaire (Brooks).Steven Soderbergh (Traffic) directs a film that defies genres, making one of the most unique crime films in modern cinema. It’s both an interesting double-crossing caper and a brilliant romantic-comedy. Elliot Davis’ cinematography is fluid, mainly hand held, capturing wonderfully large and small moments alike. He makes great use of the color palette to differentiate the many locations, from the humid plains of a Florida prison to the gritty streets of steely Detroit. Scott Frank’s screenplay is smart, funny, and filled with crackling dialogue delivered by wonderfully colorful characters. There is no novelist who creates more endearing, seedy underworld characters to adapt to the big screen than Elmore Leonard. There is always a haze of gray in the morality of the characters-- whether it is the law or their criminal counterparts. It’s worth noting that some of the best scenes are additions made by Scott Frank. They fit so well within the paradigm of the world that it is impossible to discern which ones they are.
Anne V. Coates’ great use of non-linear editing throws us around in time and space, dolling out dimension to the large cast of personalities. Making great use of jump cuts and freeze frames, Out of Sight has the rhythm and style of a French New Wave film. David Holmes’ score is ultra-hip and reminiscent of crime cinema of 1970s, giving it a happy-go-lucky air.Continue Reading
A modernized take on the sort of old Hollywood ancient Roman epic that updates the sword and sandal genre with plenty of ass kicking spectacle and a powerful central performance from Russell Crowe as a Roman general who seeks vengeance after losing his family at the hands of a corrupt prince and is forced to fight as a gladiator in Rome’s coliseum. The film’s populist hero and themes went over big with audiences turning Crowe into a mega star in the process.
First off, it is important to note that even horrible films can be hugely entertaining and Commando may be the most defining example of this. Structurally the film has no arc whatsoever. It is simply a few minutes of set up and then the rest is simply conclusion. But what a wonderfully cheesy journey it is as Arnold mows down hundreds of hired thugs single-handedly and seeks justice against the men who dare take his daughter.
Although Schwarzenegger hit his peak as an action star later in James Cameron’s True Lies, this and Predator are the most fun of his eighties films, following the huge success of The Terminator. As “John Matrix” (how’s that for a name?), Arnold is one beefy, mean fighting machine. Introduced to us in typical montage, we know him to be a hard worker (as he carries a log bigger than a man) and that he is a great dad (feeding fawns in the forest with his daughter). After that, through the blatant exposition by the cardboard “General Franklin Kirby,” we learn that he is no mere man. Matrix is as bad as they’ve ever had to come out of Special Forces.Continue Reading
Copland (The Director's Cut)
Garrison, New Jersey is a pleasant place to live. Just over the Hudson River from New York City, this calm suburb is home to many NYPD police officers. These men who spend their days fighting crime on the streets of the Big Apple built this community in order to provide a safe haven to raise their families. But thing are not always what they seem, when the cops are corrupt and the law in Garrison is whatever they deem it to be.
The story kicks off on the George Washington Bridge. Officer Ray Donlan (Kietel) decides it’s best to fake the death of his nephew, Murray “Superboy” Babith (Rappaport), to avoid what could be seen as a racially motivated murder at the hands of a cop. That decision begins the spiral what will unfold, spilling over into their humble little community.Continue Reading
As the U.S. is flooded by Cuban refugees, forced out by Fidel Castro, two criminals land in a detention camp in Miami. They are Tony Montana (Pacino) and his right-hand-man, Manny Ribera (Bauer). The two men assassinate a political target inside the camp and it opens the door for them into the drug syndicate in Florida. The story of Scarface is that of the rise of Tony Montana to become the predominant drug lord of his time.
Inspired by Howard Hawk’s 1932 Gangster classic by the same name, Oliver Stone’s screenplay has coined some of the most used nomenclature in cinema. “Say hello to my little friend” may be the most imitated line of screen dialogue in history. Having won an Academy Award previously for writing Midnight Express, Stone certainly understood the drug culture of the time. His script captures a raw truth in the way people speak and treat each other, out of their minds, railed on blow. Structurally, the film is very classically designed, much like a Greek tragedy. It explores the ambition necessary to wear the crown of power and the violent end that comes to all those who do.Continue Reading
Mr. & Mrs. Smith
After five or six years, John and Jane Smith find themselves in a marriage gone stale. That is until a little spice is thrown into the mix, and they come to realize they are both professional assassins, working for rival outfits.
In Doug Liman’s (Swingers, Bourne Identity) Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie play the suburban couple with some serious skeletons in their closest. The film opens as the couple seeks marriage counseling and it becomes clear that the passion has all but drained from their love life. But when they are both sent out to neutralize the same target, their gun sights become turned on each other, with good comic effect.Continue Reading
In Bruges opened and closed here in the US without much notice. For all I know, it had a similar reception around the world. But for my money, it is one of the most interesting films 2008 has yet produced.
It begins simply enough, as a sort of fish-out-of-water buddy comedy with Ray (Colin Farrell), a streetwise Dubliner, suffering through his forced stay in Bruges with his partner Ken (Brendan Gleeson). Ray cannot bear the "medieval fairytale land" that is Bruges; Ken cannot seem to get enough of the place, with its historic churches and picturesque canals.Continue Reading
Jackie Brown (Grier) is a struggling middle-aged flight attendant who gets popped smuggling laundered cash into the country by a two eager-beaver cops (Keaton & Bowen). They give her two choices—prison or her help nabbing weapon’s dealer, Ordell Robbie (Jackson). But they don’t account for a third option—with the help of stand up bail bondsman, Max Cherry (Forster), Jackie plans to out con everyone one of them.
Based on Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch, Jackie Brown is a beautifully woven intermixing of characters and styles of two very talented dark comedy writers. Tarantino’s most significant change was with the title character—making her a black woman, rather than Italian. I think this change made the film almost like a Blaxploitation movie for the modern age. It’s as if Grier’s character, “Coffy,” had to conform as she grew older, but was still not a woman to mess with. The plot is clever and the dialogue, razor sharp.Continue Reading