Monday, May 16, 2011

Review: Unknown

This was an easy review to write. I saw this movie because I like Liam Neeson most of the time and he is on my list of older men not to ever mess with. Also on that list is Clint Eastwood because I saw Gran Torino, and Jackie Chan because he is Jackie Chan. Back on topic however, I'll cut to the chase on this review instead of my signature wordy reviews that evaluate every actor in the cast as well as music, camera angles and so on and so forth.

If you have seen The Bourne Identity, you have seen this movie.

That was easy enough. And honestly that's all there is to say about it. Liam Neeson predictably kicks butt, January Jones was clearly medicated at the time of filming, and Frank Langella is (spoiler warning!) not a good guy. If you haven't seen The Bourne Identity, watch that instead of this. Terrible movie? No, but so painfully mediocre it's simply not worth saying more about. You're welcome.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Hits and Misses of Actor Replacement

     Occasionally it so happens that when sequels or series are made, that a character must be portrayed by an actor other than the original choice. This history of replacement has seen a diverse pattern of successes and failures, such as the following. 

Albus Dumbledore
In the grand Harry Potter series, Richard Harris owned Albus Dumbledore. Harris exuded the grace and wisdom that his character demanded, carrying off the presence and power of a regal wizard without even a half-effort. Following his death after only two movies, another actor had to be cast to take up the mantle of the memorable mentor figure. The choice was British film veteran Michael Gambon. Gambon took the character of Dumbledore in an entirely new direction, giving the Hogwarts Headmaster a personality that was trustworthy, personable, and grounded, but quirky in a manner more consistent with the books. HIT!



Clarice Starling
When Jodie Foster took the role of Clarice Starling for The Silence of the Lambs, it was hard to believe that anyone could ever fill her petite shoes after the now legendary chemistry with Anthony Hopkins. Anthony Hopkins returned for the sequel Hannibal, Jodie Foster did not. The character was portrayed by Julianne Moore instead. Julianne Moore was not Jodie Foster, but it worked in her favor not to imitate her predecessor when her scenes with Anthony Hopkins proved every bit as electrifying. HIT!






Rachel Dawes
Bruce Wayne does not have a reputation of picking particularly level-headed women as love interests, so the character of Rachel Dawes was a breath of fresh air to the Batman franchise when she debuted in Batman Begins. The character was written specifically for Katie Holmes, and when she could not reprise her role in The Dark Knight, Maggie Gyllenhaal filled in. Gyllenhaal's Rachel just didn't cut it, and the character fell flat, failing to be convincing in her most important moment. MISS!



James Bond
 On second thought I'll leave this one alone because the character has been played by so many actors and has seen its fair share of hits and misses. For the record, I maintain that Daniel Craig is a HIT.


Jack Ryan
Tom Clancy¹s classic American hero has eased in and out of action movies of the 90's like our very own James Bond, his shoes being filled by no less than three popular actors. The Hunt for Red October saw a young Alec Baldwin holding his own opposite the ever-incomparable Sean Connery. The Hunt for Red October went on to become a classic, but Alec Baldwin did not go on to become the golden boy. The next string of Jack Ryan movies were carried by action hero Harrison Ford, who brought Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, and other such intrigue and adrenaline flicks to the big screen. As Ford aged however, Jack Ryan's popularity began to fade and it was decided that someone younger and more popular was needed to reboot interest in Clancy's hero. Ben Affleck was cast for The Sum of All Fears and we haven't heard from Jack Ryan since.
Alec Baldwin to Harrison Ford: HIT.
Harrison Ford to Ben Affleck: MISS.





Col. Rhodes "Rhodey"

Forever doomed to be seen as Tony Stark/Iron Man's sidekick, Rhodey still has an important part to play in Tony Stark's life. While Iron Man 2 had disappointments throughout the overrated sequel, the greatest letdown was replacing Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle. Don Cheadle is a fine actor, but he was miscast in the role as Rhodey, and the rapport between Rhodey and Tony that fueled the dialogue of the first Iron Man film was painfully absent. MISS!



Review: Tangled

Disney has an unparalleled record for successfully reimagining fairy tales and literature and twisting them into shorter, usually somewhat lighter versions of their original forms, throwing in arbitrary musical numbers and animals with unnatural friendliness and understanding of their human companions. Disney's newest submission to the fairy tale extreme makeover is the classic tale of Rapunzel, retold in trendy 3D but complete with the usual doses of singing, dancing, young complicated romance, and strange animals.

The fact that this particular tale was released in 3D as an option is of no appeal to me personally, as I still view the 3D trend as an overrated gimmick to boost the number of theater-goers and weasel a few more dollars out of the customers. That is not to say that the film was done sloppily, merely that the addition of the 3D neither added nor subtracted from the experience altogether. Now that's out of the way, the review can begin.

"Rapunzel" is a popular enough tale that any retelling of it would need to be new and inventive, and Disney accomplished this quite well. For starters, Rapunzel's hair is not just immeasurably long, but magical with healing powers that are released through a song. Why? This is going to sound ridiculous, but it's really not that bad onscreen. Because a magical flower was used to heal her mother during childbirth and the plant's healing properties were transferred to the child. Hence Rapunzel's upbringing by the witch is not part of an obscure bargain (as in the original Grimm tale), but as a result of kidnapping. Predictably, the witch longs to be her younger self and uses the power of Rapunzel's hair to restore her youth. Rapunzel herself is completely unaware of how she is being used by the wench whom she knows as her mother. Another difference to the old tale is that Rapunzel, not her suitor, is royalty.

The three characters that this retelling concerns itself with are Rapunzel, Mother Gothel, and Flynn. Rapunzel is a lively young woman who entertains herself with art and song day in and day out with none for her companion but a silent though expressive chameleon named Pascal. Unlike some of her princess predecessors, Rapunzel is not particularly rebellious (no matter how justifiable it might seem) and has bundles of energy and spunk. She falls somewhere between the sheltered but opinionated Ariel (from The Little Mermaid) and the sweetness and loyalty of say, Belle (of Beauty and the Beast). Despite her being a blonde, Rapunzel is well aware of the world outside her tower and longs to see it, but remains obedient to the wishes of her unreasonable "mother." Even when she finally ventures outside the tower, she experiences extreme (albeit comical) mood swings ranging from despairing guilt to jubilant glee over defying her mother's wishes.

Mother Gothel is the kidnapping youth-loving witch who looks like Cher. For the most part she doesn't seem all that formidable, and come to think of it, I don't recall seeing her even use magic other than the mystical song that releases the flower power (which sounds so much worse when I say it that way). As a villain, Gothel is not particularly precarious, mostly just annoying, working manipulative "mother knows best" and "because I love you" angles as her greatest power. But she is a woman scorned and we all know what they say about that.

Flynn on the other hand brings an interesting life to the film. Flynn is easily one of the most unique heroes Disney has ever produced for a fairy tale remake. Unlike Prince Philip, Prince Charming, or even Prince Eric who all fit the perfect mold of having little or no character and almost no purpose other than to be one for the heroine to fall in love with, Flynn is a bit of a rascal. He's a self-important cad and thief who is initially motivated strictly by personal gain, trying more than once to talk Rapunzel out of her quest. Predictably, he changes his mind along the way, but he never loses his cad-like qualities or sarcastic cocked eye-brow attitude. In the climax, Flynn proves himself willing to put aside his self-centered ways and make a sacrifice for the girl he comes to love.

All in all, this is not a typical fairy tale retelling, and that's a compliment. The quirky characters and creative changes from the source material make for an entertaining and enjoyable if predictable Disney movie experience, complete with singing, dancing, and well-timed comic relief.