Monday, August 31, 2009

Movie #118 - As Good as It Gets

"Brace yourself for Melvin."

Winner of two Academy Awards (Helen Hunt and Jack Nicholson - both for Best Actor/Actress) and also nominated for five more awards, this movie was one of the surprise hits of 1997. Not only was this film well cast from top to bottom, with Hunt and Nicholson leading the way, but it was definitely well-written.

James L. Brooks, probably more famous nowadays for his lifetime of work on the television blockbuster cartoon, The Simpsons, is the main person responsible for this movie. However, James L. Brooks has had a distinguished career in both television and film. From the television side of things, beyond The Simpsons, Brooks has been a writer for such hits as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and its spin-off Rhoda, not to mention an extended run behind Taxi. As for the big screen, Brooks is best known for Terms of Endearment and Broadcast News.

Casting Nicholson as a neurotic, rude, paranoid, crazy man wasn't much of a stretch. In fact, most of Nicholson's current roles now play on his Melvin character from this film - which probably is not a real stretch from his personality in real life, hence its so easy for him to play this type of character. Helen Hunt was the surprise of this film, but deserved her Oscar due to the ability to play alongside Nicholson throughout this film and having the uncanny ability to steal some scenes from the great actor as well.

The other cast members really make this movie work, from Greg Kinnear, Cuba Gooding Jr., and even a rare live appearance of Simpsons' alumnus Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa Simpson, who coincidentally is playing a character named Jackie Simpson. The real show-stopper was the pet dog, Vardell. This dog was the real driving force behind the friendship of the Kinnear and Nicholson characters, but was definitely well cast and well trained.

Anyhow, this movie is a treat for all you Jack Nicholson fans out there, however, it is the start of many movies similar to this in his resume. I'd like to see Jack begin to branch back into playing an evil villain similar to what he accomplished in The Departed or his earlier 90's roles such as in A Few Good Men. However, because this type-cast character is so successful and comedic at the same time, I doubt we'll ever be rid of this version of Jack anytime soon.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Movie #117 - We're No Angels

"The con is on."

A remake of the 1955 original of the same name, the updated version starring Robert De Niro and Sean Penn is a funny comedy of the late 80's that I am sure that no one watched. Growing up in a household in which my father ensured that he watched every De Niro movie ever made, this was obviously rented back in 1989 when it was first released.

The concept of this movie is quite comedic. Two convicts escape prison and are attempting to cross the border. When they are detained, they are mis-identified as two missing priests, who were traveling to join a local church.

The cast is full of recognizable names. Outside of Penn and De Niro, there are the likes of Demi Moore, Bruno Kirby, and a young John C. Reilly. Also, the production crew behind this film was actually top notch, as it was directed by Neil Jordan - famous for The Crying Game and Interview with the Vampire. It was also written by David Mamet, best known for his writing abilities on The Untouchables, Hoffa, Ronin, and Hannibal.

Overall, this movie has some funny scenes and does have a strong ensemble cast, but it falls flat in a lot of places. This movie is one of the first of many De Niro films in which he is poking fun at his tough guy persona in film and is playing a comedic role. There are probably more films like this now in his resume than serious ones. Also, Sean Penn is playing a real dope in this film - going back to his Fast Times at Ridgemont High days, but I like him better as a serious, dramatic actor.

This movie is a hidden gem amongst 80's comedies as many people did not watch this movie when it first came out in theatres or went to video, so it will also be tough to find to rent or purchase. However, if you are able to do so, you won't be overly disappointed as it does provide you with many laughs in the end.

Please note - was having trouble finding a trailer for this movie, so we'll have to settle for a scene from the film.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Movie #116 - Teen Wolf

"He always wanted to be special... but he never expected this!"

Definitely one of those quintessential 80's movies, starring one of the more recognizable 80's actors of all time - Michael J. Fox. Fox had everything going for him during the 80's. He never seemed to age or grow up, which worked to his advantage of playing a teenager, long after he had already become an adult.

Fox has a number of 80's hit roles both on television and in the movies. Family Ties was his big television role, which he portrayed the business crazed Alex P. Keaton. After Family Ties, Fox went on to Back to the Future - which became an instant classic.

With Teen Wolf, we were starting to get to the point of over-exposure for Fox. A silly, comedy about a teenager who discovers that he is also a werewolf makes this film's storyline quite appealing and obviously brainless as well. Written by Jeph Loeb, Teen Wolf is very early on his resume.

Who is Jeph Loeb you ask? Well, he is one of the brain trusts behind some of the hottest television shows on the tube right now, ranging from Lost, Heroes, and Smallville to name a few. His writing comes from the comic book world, hence his style of storytelling involves elaborate story arcs.

Loeb's other early stuff include Commando and Teen Wolf Too. Weird combination on his resume, but definitely a sign of his multi-faceted writing capabilities to both do comedy, action, comic book story lines.

Apart from Loeb and Fox, there really isn't much more to talk about for this film. Its a silly comedy which should make you laugh, especially to see how geeky 80's teenagers were. Fortunately, I was a 90's teenager, but I know and am related to a number of 80's teenagers and I love the hair, the clothes, and the style that people thought was cool back then. Despite the resurgence of popularity of the 80's, I honestly hope at the very least, the hair does not come back with a vengeance.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Movie #115 - Batman Begins

"Beginning in Summer 2005."

In my opinion, this is definitely one of the best films from 2005 and probably one of the most underrated. Many fans missed this movie the first time around, mainly because movie goers were getting tired of the prequel idea, especially if it meant changing the storyline of the main character.

In terms of Batman Begins, Director Chris Nolan and Writer David S. Goyer went back to the basics and re-told the original Year One storyline. Being a former comic book collector, the Year One storyline is probably one of the strongest stories of the Batman franchise, as it delves into his past, why he became Batman, and obviously how he went about doing it. This movie holds true to many aspects of the original storyline, as opposed to the 1989 Tim Burton version.

Although many fans loved the 1989 version as it was dark and action-packed, not to mention stellar performances by Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton, this Batman is better than all of the ones made thus far, including The Dark Knight.

Without the development of the key characters such as Bruce Wayne/Batman, Lucius Fox, Alfred, Jim Gordon, and Rachel Dawes, you cannot appreciate the villains of this first film and the critical success achieved by Heath Ledger in the sequel. In fact, having three villains in this prequel was a tremendous challenge to overcome and was done quite nicely - mainly by having the movie be longer than your typical action film.

Christian Bale does a wonderful job in portraying the conflicted lives of Batman and Bruce Wayne. The telling of his rise to the cape and cowl is a tribute to the original Batman character developed by Bob Kane many years ago. You generally feel the pain that he suffers through and the determination he has to fix Gotham in order to bring justice into the lost lives of his family.

The cast is spectacular in terms of ensemble and overall resume. There are supporting roles offered by veteran actors Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine. The villains are portrayed by Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Liam Neeson, and Ken Watanabe. While there are other cameos from recognizable actors such as Rutger Hauer.

I especially like the casting of both Katie Holmes and Gary Oldman. Holmes does a better performance in this film than her re-casted doppleganger in the sequel by Maggie Gyllenhaal. No offence to the Gyllenhaal's, but they really cannot act and it was difficult to take things seriously when both Bale and Aaron Eckhart (Harvey Dent) are fighting over the Dawes character - Gyllenhaal is not very attractive... I just don't see the appeal.

In Oldman, this was a very strong selection for Gordon - he's one of my favourite actors of all time and is quite versatile and brings a ton of credibility to the role and the franchise.

With Holmes, I don't understand the reasoning behind not doing the sequel... ever since she's become affiliated with Tom Cruise and Scientology, she's become a lost cause. Having the main characters fight over her beauty would've made sense in the sequel, but the re-cast was poorly executed and was my only complaint about The Dark Knight.

Overall, enjoy this film. 2005 was a great year for movies and you can easily catch this film on television as the popularity generated by Ledger's death in 2008 really pushed The Dark Knight and the remainder of this franchise in the forefront. Many probably regret not seeing this film in theatres the first time around, but the wife and I were fortunate to catch it before it left theatres. We almost missed the sequel due to similar reasons... however, I am grateful to have seen all of the Batman films in theatres... even if some of them were duds.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Movie #114 - Along Came a Spider

"The game is far from over."

A sequel to the critically acclaimed, Kiss the Girls, this film follows the character of Alex Cross (Morgan Freeman) as he tries to solve another mystery - the kidnapping of an U.S. Senator's daughter.

Based on the novel by James Patterson, Cross is pitted against another criminal mastermind in trying to solve this elaborate plot. As an audience, you are captured by this film from the beginning. Its filled with drama, suspense, and intrigue that you are somewhat disappointed by the ending, which I won't spoil here.

This film is highly underrated on the whole because its actually a solid suspense thriller. Morgan Freeman is the protagonist, but similar to his bumblings in Kiss the Girls, he makes a number of mistakes and poor decisions, leading to the deaths of many people in the process of attempting to save the young girl.

Monica Potter provides a solid support role in this film. Its one of only a few films that Potter completed in the early part of the decade in which it was not a time piece (seek out Patch Adams and Without Limits as examples). She does have that 70's look to her, even with the modern clothing and style - probably just type-cast and its hurt her longevity in the movie business. Potter has moved onto starring television roles, which has proven to be fruitful for her career in the end.

In the end, the real treat of this film is the kidnapper, portrayed by Michael Wincott (Gary Soneji character). He not only scares you throughout this film, but it follows a strong line of movies in which he plays a shady character or villain. Not known for any of his other movies, he is a great antagonist in this movie, which makes it a fun watch overall. I'd like to see Wincott continue in his portrayal of evil villains - he could easily capture the essence of a serial killer, crazy mad bomber, or even a mad scientist.