Judging from the commercials, you might be forgiven for thinking that this is the story of Denzel Washington heroically saving a plane full of passengers from certain death, but the film’s barn-burning crash sequence is over by the 25-minute mark. What follows is an intense portrait of a self-destructive man in what seems like a death spiral.
I don’t know exactly where Thor rates on the pecking order of Marvel characters, but judging from the press coverage, few if any of the cast had heard of the comic book version of the Norse thunder god before they started working on this film. I suspect that, ten years ago, if you had told even the most ardent Thor-head that a movie version would star two Oscar-winning actors and would be the work of a director known for his Shakespearean films, that person would have backed away slowly and warily.
Fortunately, the top-notch talent in front of and behind the camera elevates the material well past what it rated in terms of cultural penetration before the film was announced. Kenneth Branagh may be slumming but he is not doing it grudgingly, not just cashing a check. Continue reading
I suspect that the Avengers exists as a comic book series because, despite their dominant position in that arena and broad portfolio of characters, only one, Spider-Man, really counts as an A-List superhero to the world beyond the fringes of comic book fandom. The rest of the major league franchises, Batman and Superman, belong to DC Comics.
Recent movies have changed that pecking order, but let’s face it: No one really gave a rat’s ass about Iron Man until Robert Downey, Jr. strapped on the suit and when most people hear “Incredible Hulk,” they think Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno before they think of Eric Bana, Edward Norton, or Mark Ruffalo.
The course of action I’d suggest is a course of action I can’t suggest.
The Hunt for Red October is still the gold standard for film adaptations of Tom Clancy novels, but this third installment, the second with Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan, is only second by a narrow margin and widely superior to the previous Patriot Games and the subsequent Sum of All Fears.
For moviegoers, the Marvel Comics universe has been hard to avoid these past few years. We’ve been treated to the excellent (Spider-Man 1 and 2), the pretty damn good (Iron Man), a nice try (The Incredible Hulk), and the god-awful (the Fantastic Four movies). Captain America: The First Avenger slides comfortably into Iron Man territory.
As comic book film-making goes, Captain America is everything it needs to be, with a likeable hero, the right tone, nice retro touches, and a straightforward story, briskly told. Continue reading
Remember, you're fighting for this woman's honour, which is probably more than she ever did.
I would offer up Duck Soup as the spiritual great-grandfather of movies like Blazing Saddles and Airplane!. Its plot seems to exist as an afterthought, unnecessary baggage that gets in the way of the movie’s true purpose: “four Jews trying to get a laugh,” as Groucho Marx would later confess.
It’s possible to view Duck Soup as a brilliant political farce, lacerating the bloated self-importance of world leaders, or you can just look to it for 68 minutes of pure post-Vaudevillian anarchy. It works both ways. This may not be the Marx Brothers at their most coherent, but it’s easily them at their funniest.
Sergio Leone’s follow-up to the “Man With No Name” film trilogy was probably not what anyone expected, but international audiences seemed better able to cope with the surprise than their American counterparts. Once Upon a Time in the West initially bombed in the States despite being a smash hit overseas. Only in retrospect have we conferred upon this film its proper status as a unique classic, as different from the director’s previous work as it was from the more traditional Hollywood conventions it inverted at the same time it was playing homage to them.
The Sons of Katie Elder looks epic in the sweeping vistas of its Mexican locations and its large cast of characters, but it doesn’t feel epic in the scope of its story. Its two-hour length is more than enough to contain its narrative, with a solid twenty minutes to spare. It’s not a bad movie so much as a decent one that takes its sweet time getting to the point.
Remakes of John Wayne movies are a rare thing. Stagecoach was remade twice, but never with memorable results. The Sons of Katie Elder was kinda/sorta remade as the Mark Wahlberg film Four Brothers, but the modern-day gang parable was barely recognizable next to the source material.
In True Grit, Jeff Bridges would be stepping into the iconic role that earned Wayne his Best Actor Oscar and the only character that I can recall that Wayne actually played twice. It was a ballsy move for an actor now permanently identified with “The Dude,” the memorable slacker from The Big Lebowski. Fortunately for Bridges, the Coen Brothers, also writer/directors for Lebowski, had the actor’s back.
Don’t be deceived by the fact that John Wayne received an Oscar for his performance as Rooster Cogburn. That award was probably more of a lifetime achievement award than recognition for a single performance, much like Paul Newman’s Oscar for The Color of Money. John Wayne had given better performances and made better films. Probably not coincidentally, John Ford was usually involved.
While John Ford would go on to direct several more pictures after this one, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance represents a sort of exclamation point of one of most celebrated directorial careers in American film. His previous high-water mark, The Searchers, was a film torn between the conventions of a previous era and emerging modern sensibilities. Liberty Valance is thoroughly modern by 1962 standards and virtually timeless by any other.
I think we’re wasting money on all the “Just Say No” programs we think are going to keep kids off drugs. Two hours with someone like Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) should convince anyone that drugs are a one-way ticket to nowhere. The first time we see him in The Fighter, the ex-boxer is living for two things: his rose-colored memories of the time he knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard and his next vial of crack.