Slowly Turning Into You

It’s been a while since I’ve made a good, proper list and you know how I love to make lists.  Today’s topic: chameleonic actors.  Not just talented, not your favorite, not necessarily today’s best actors, but the most transformative actors currently in the biz.  Here’s a list of the first 7 that came to mind:

Bale -The FighterChristian Bale – I hear he’s a real tool to work with and his acceptance speech for the Oscar for his role in The Fighter certainly does suggest so but whether or not he’s a great guy has no relevance in this list.  The man can alter his physical appearance, stance, mannerisms, dialect and accent so much, you hardly recognize him but more importantly, once he commits to the role, you forget he’s Christian Bale.  The Fighter is a fine example as is American Psycho or The Machinist.

Tom Hardy – Even now, it’s difficult for me to believe that the Hardy I watched in Warrior is the same guy who played Eames in Inception.  Throw in his performances in The Dark Knight Rises and Lawless and there’s no question in his ability to transform for a role.  I happened to catch a scene of his small part in Band Of Brothers recently and I had to look him up online to confirm that it really was him.  I’m not sure how he does it, but Hardy somehow manages to look like an entirely different person for nearly every role.

Javier Bardem – I need only two titles to illustrate my point: No Country For Old Men and Vicky Christina Barcelona.  ‘Nuff said.

Cate Blanchett – I first noticed her uncanny ability between 2001’s Bandits and LotR: The Fellowship of The Ring.  Then she played a small but I'm Not Theredistinct role in The Shipping News, became briefly occupied by Katherine Hepburn’s ghost for The Aviator and somehow turned into a young Bob Dylan in I’m Not There.  Yes, you read that right: the same woman successfully played both Katherine Hepburn and Bob Dylan.

Daniel Day Lewis – DDL’s knack for becoming the character he’s playing is something of a legend in show business.  Start at Last Of The Mohicans and work your way through Gangs Of New York and There Will Be Blood all the way to Lincoln and you won’t wonder why.

John Lithgow – He might not be Hollywood’s biggest name right now but his range is astounding.  His earlier work like The Twilight Zone and Terms Of Endearment certainly prove my point but if you dare doubt me, think about this: that goofy, arrogant, outrageously funny alien in 3rd Rock From The Sun was played by the very same man who gave us the cold, calculating Trinity Killer in Dexter.  I hate to say I told you so, but… yeah, I did.

Natalie Portman – I struggled a bit with including Portman on this list but her performances in Garden State and Closer won me over.  She may not always bring the same level of commitment to every role, but these two at least prove that she can.

Tell me: who did I forget?

~Nikki

Yours Are The Sweetest Eyes I’ve Ever Seen

People magazine recently named Channing Tatum as the Sexiest Man Alive and, while he obviously takes very good care of himself, I must admit he just doesn’t do anything for me.  Appearance matters, of course, but just as much (if not more), substance is what makes a man sexy (to women).  By which I mean, his sense of humor, his I.Q., his ability to listen and communicate, his wit and integrity of character – these are the things that draw a woman’s attention.

Charming Potato is by no means unattractive but he seems little more than your average jock.  A beefcake, if ever I saw one.  Here are 8 actors every bit as good-looking and infinitely more interesting than Channing Tatum:

Ewan McGregor

Idris Elba

Joseph Gordon Levitt

James McAvoy

Michael Fassbender

Jesse Williams

Tom Hardy

Chris Hemsworth

~Nikki

I Am The Warrior

I’m really not a big sports movie fan.  And of all the sports movies I have liked, boxing movies don’t rank too high.  So when I saw the trailer for Warrior, I thought: “Eh… I’ll wait for it come to DVD.”  And even when it came to DVD, I didn’t rush out to get it.  It wasn’t until after seeing The Dark Knight Rises and then Lawless and had been utterly won over by Tom Hardy’s performances in both that I finally decided to sit down and watch it.  And once again, Hardy blew me away.

The film itself is good.  It is a fairly typical sports movie but it packs a meaner punch.  (Sorry, couldn’t resist the pun.)  You know I’m a sucker for an underdog and Warrior essentially has two underdog stories in one with a bit of a twist that gives it about ten times the emotion of your average sports/underdog tale.  It begins with the return of Tommy (Hardy), a quiet and seemingly hardened twenty-something who has been absent from his hometown of Pittsburgh, PA for more than a decade.  We learn right away that he abhors his father, Paddy (Nick Nolte), with whom he has had absolutely no contact since he fled as a teenager, for vague reasons including Paddy’s alcoholism and his abuse of Tommy’s mother, with whom Tommy took off many years previously.  Not only did he and his mom (now deceased) sever ties with Paddy, they were cut off from Tommy’s brother, Brendan, as well, also a teenager at the time they left. Brendan, we come to learn, chose to stay because he was in love with a girl who later became his wife and the mother of his two daughters.  As an adult, Brendan also estranged himself from Paddy for the same reasons that caused Tommy and their mother to leave.

Brendan (Joel Edgerton), now in danger of losing his house to foreclosure due to mounting medical bills for his little girl, is clearly set up as the underdog right from the start.  He’s a high school physics teacher who boxed as a younger man but has long since retired from the sport. Too proud to lose his home or file for bankruptcy, he begins moonlighting as an amateur fighter to make some extra cash.  Once he’s outed by a student, the school board suspends him without pay for the rest of the semester, giving him ample time to properly train for and enter the upcoming MMA tournament, much to his wife’s dismay.  In desperate need for even a piece of the $5 million cash prize, Brendan convinces her it’s their only shot at keeping their home and paying off their kid’s medical bills.

Meanwhile, Tommy, who has changed his surname from Conlin to Reardon for secretive reasons as yet unknown, has also decided to have a go at the MMA championship after easily defeating the current middle-weight MMA frontrunner at his gym.  Much more physically capable than his brother (with whom he still has had no contact), he seems nothing of an underdog but more like a villain given his unyielding hatred of his father and complete unwillingness to forgive, even though Paddy is now nearly 3 years sober and trying like hell to make up for lost time.  Nick Nolte shines as Paddy, a man so full of regret and eager to atone for the pain he’s inflicted on his sons that it’s hard to watch both boys reject him time and again.

Before too long, both Tommy and Brendan find themselves at the tournament, Brendan barely hanging on and Tommy knocking his opponents out almost effortlessly.  Finally, the two meet and this is where Tommy’s full history is revealed.  In the hands of another actor, he might still have been seen as something of a villain.  But Hardy’s powerfully quiet and intensely emotional portrayal turns him into a different kind of underdog, so that by the time these two brothers get into the cage as opponents, you are as torn and conflicted as they are.  For all of Tommy’s physical brutality and remorseless disdain for his father and brother, Hardy wears the pain that drives him like a shield and gives you glimpses of his yearning for redemption, making that final fight all the more gut-wrenching.

The performances of each of the three leads are what elevates this flick above its peers.  These characters aren’t really anything we haven’t seen before.  But Hardy, Edgerton and Nolte give them an authenticity and substance that you won’t find in any other sports flick.  They aren’t underdogs and frontrunners, heroes and villains, winners or losers, competitors, fighters… they are all of it and more.  Tommy, Brendan and Paddy Conlin are each so layered in conflict and character, none can be labeled with just one word.  And, though only one can win, you’ll root for all of them.

~Nikki

You Rip Out All I Have Just To Say That You’ve Won

Graphically and disturbingly violent, Lawless is a film not to be dismissed as another period piece about backwoods hicks bucking Prohibition.  Its characters are surprisingly rich in nuance and depth and the plot, though simple enough, draws you in and keeps you hanging on till the absolute end.  Though unrated, this flick is not for the faint of heart.  It contains a few of the most haunting images I’ve ever seen and feels relentless in its portrayal of the lengths some men will go to have their way.  Lawless, though set during post-World War I and during The Prohibition, a law that only served to create crime, has very little to say about right or wrong.  The protagonists are three brothers running a distillery in the “wettest county in the world” and the antagonist is a special deputy from Chicago come to claim a stake in Franklin county but the battle between them is not your typical lawman vs. outlaw.  Early on, the second of the three Bondurant brothers, Forrest (Tom Hardy) tells younger brother, Jack (Shia LeBeouf) that it isn’t the violence that sets men apart from each other but rather the lengths they are willing to go.  And that perfectly describes the conflict that drives Lawless.  It isn’t about right vs. wrong or even mine vs. yours.  It’s about how far a man will go to get what he wants.  And for most of the movie it feels, for a couple of these men, there is no limit.

Adapted to the screen by Nick Cave from the novel written by Matt Bondurant (descendant of the men about whom the novel is loosely based), Lawless begins with a myth.  The Bondurant boys, Howard (Jason Clarke), Forrest and Jack, are indestructible, as in, unable to be killed whether by man, disease or natural catastrophe.  Howard survived The Great War and now runs an illegal moonshine distillery with younger brother Forrest, a strong and quiet business-minded man prone to communicating in incoherent grunts.  Only Hardy could give such depth of emotion to this character.  Monosyllabic as he may be often be, the man never feels one-note.  The youngest Bondurant, Jack wants desperately to be allowed in on the operation but his impulsivity and lack of the brute strength his older brothers exhibit keeps him on the sidelines.  That is, until special deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) comes to Franklin county all the way from Chicago and ruins the harmonious balance struck between the county’s law enforcement and its countless bootleggers.  Rakes has no intention of eradicating moonshine.  He’s not here to clean the place up.  He simply wants a share in the profits in exchange for turning a blind eye.  All of the county’s many bootleggers step in line except, of course, for the Bondurant brothers, who are men of principle and will lie down for no one.

Pearce commits to the role of the twisted sociopath Rakes with scary intensity.  At times, he exercises shocking restraint, inflicting wild and brutal violence with detached control.  At others, he is so entirely unhinged, you can’t fathom what he may be capable of.  LaBeouf plays his role with a raw vulnerability that keeps you in his corner even when he’s making the stupidest of choices.  And Hardy, as I’ve come to expect from him, manages somehow to convey a wealth of emotion with few (if any) words and little (though powerful) action.  It seems effortless for him to make even the smallest movement expressive, as though he can’t help it, as though it just oozes from his pores.  Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowski, the only women in the movie, give engaging performances as two very different kinds of women and Dane DeHaan (of Chronicle) as Cricket, Jack’s naive and sweetly innocent friend, provides a much-needed respite from the film’s dark and violent tone.

There is no score to speak of which serves to make the violence feel all the more real.  Director John Hillcoat doesn’t rely on music to create suspense or punctuate turning points.  He uses a combination of graphic and gorgeous images to capture the simultaneous savagery and beauty of Franklin county and its inhabitants.  Hillcoat and cinematographer Benoit Delhomme juxtapose between soft, tender shots of hanging willows and still nights and the tense focus of Rakes’s merciless cruelty or Forrest’s powerfully quiet anger.

The violence itself is a character in the film, insidious and pervasive and unnervingly frank.  Never does it feel excessive or gratuitous but rather, necessary.  Rakes sets out to prove to the Bondurants that he is not to be rebuffed and to Franklin county that not even Forrest Bondurant is immortal and the Bondurant brothers meet his barbarity with equally ruthless malice.  None will stand down and because of that, no one and nothing feels safe.  Forrest seems to really believe he is invincible and, much as you want to believe it too, in the aptly titled Lawless, there is no law that can’t be broken, no line that can’t be crossed.

~Nikki

And It’s Peaceful In The Deep

I admit that, like everyone else in the Batman-watching world, I walked into The Dark Knight Rises wondering how Christopher Nolan could possibly top The Dark Knight.  And how could any villain be more fun to watch than Heath Ledger as The Joker?  I walked out of the theater with the one and only answer: there is no answer.  There is no answer because, it turns out, those are not valid questions.  The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises are so different in theme, feel, message and overall goal that they are incomparable.  The Joker and Bane are so entirely opposite in their motivations, goals and tone that it simply isn’t fair to compare one with the other.  These movies and their respective villains are on totally different playing fields.  The Dark Knight had a wild, frenzied feel to it, due in part to the The Joker’s manic attempts to create chaos and mayhem in Gotham.  TDKR is all about resolve, the summation of an epic tale and the final resolution for Gotham’s vigilante hero.  Like The Joker, Bane wants to destroy Gotham and its citizens but not through anarchy.  Instead, he cunningly and deliberately manipulates Gotham’s richest and most powerful people into collapsing in on themselves.  He is calculated, controlled, and intimidating as hell.  In short, The Dark Knight raised the bar for superhero/comic book films, to which The Dark Knight Rises responded: I see your bet and raise you.

For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, what are you waiting for??? please stop here.  Below this sentence, SPOILERS abound.

I’m not saying TDKR is perfect.  It isn’t.  But it is damn good and worlds apart from other blockbuster summer films.  Christopher Nolan knows how to craft a story while still giving the masses what they love (i.e., action, awesome CGI effects, drama) without ever cheapening the characters or the plot.  The Batman has surprisingly little screen time in TDKR and because of that, he feels more like a real person than ever before.   Yes, he is a human being underneath the suit and like all other humans, he has weaknesses, vulnerabilities, frailties.  Especially considering he is, at the beginning of TDKR, somewhere in the vicinity of 35-40 years of age and even with extensive training and all the heating pads money can buy, the physical toll of being Batman would have to be catching up with him.  Batman is not invincible.  In fact, his chosen career has a shorter lifespan than most, for the same reasons athletes’ do: the human body can only take so much.   Throughout the whole of TDKR, the demise of The Batman is hinted at, implied, inferred, even flat-out referenced at points.  I expected Nolan to kill him off before the end of the film but Nolan is too smart for that.  Death would be the easy way out.  Nolan knows this and, therefore, his Bruce Wayne comes to know it as well.  Early on, it seems Bruce is looking for death.  Leave it to Nolan to make him grow and evolve until finally reaching the realization that death is too simple.  Having the balls to seek the things you want in life, to turn your life into one you actually want, that’s a challenge.  And that is where Nolan takes his hero.  But the journey isn’t cheap.  It isn’t easy or full of holes and convenient turns in plot.  It isn’t perfect, but it is good.  Nolan does justice to every character, every plot point, every story line.

Of course, there are a few holes.  The fact that Bruce Wayne’s broken back heals within 4-5 months without drugs or medical equipment, just a swift kick to the vertebrae and vertical positioning for hours (days?) – please.  Also, how does he get from India to Gotham with no money?  How does he get back into Gotham when the tunnels/bridges are inaccessible?

Whatever.  The holes are entirely forgivable in light of all that works.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues to be The Shit and this is the most I’ve ever liked Bale as Batman, probably because this is the most of his humanity we’ve ever seen.  I also loved that Catwoman isn’t just another villain.  In fact, she’s never once called Catwoman.  Her given name, Selina Kyle, is most often used and once, I think, she’s referred to as a cat burglar.  Her character has some actual depth and plays a very different role than anything Halle Berry or even Michelle Pfeiffer offered us.

And Bane!  Oh, Bane.  He’s so much more than I expected, than I could have imagined.  He’s a fierce,  intimidating, powerful villain.  Everything about him works- his huge, bulking mass, the mask, his voice – all of it.  I really had no idea what to expect from the character or from Tom Hardy.  I’ve never followed the comic books and I opted out on the disgrace that was Batman & Robin so I knew next to nothing about the character.  And, while I really liked Tom Hardy in Inception, the only other thing I’ve seen him in was a film adaptation of Wuthering Heights and I didn’t think he quite caught the brooding intensity and anguish of Heathcliff.  Here, he kind of steals the show.  He is focused, controlled, inhumanly strong and seemingly unstoppable.  Without the use of most of his face, Hardy somehow manages to convey more conviction than most actors can summon with full use of all of their features.

Where TDKR takes its predecessor up a notch is in the reflection of current affairs.  Don’t misunderstand me: this film is not political.  It isn’t making a statement or preaching any particular agenda.  Nolan does not use it to push his (or anyone else’s) opinions/views.  He simply tells a story.  But, in doing so, he touches on a few nerves that, right now, feel a little exposed.  The idea of a revolution wherein the richest few lose what they have to those without has such relevance in our current state.  I don’t want to get political but come on, we live in a society wherein the richest 1% has more total wealth that the bottom 50% combined.  As someone outside that 1%, I could totally relate to Selina Kyle when she said, “You’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.”  The idea of class warfare is topical and adds a richness to the plot that is rarely, if ever, seen in blockbusters.

I could go on, and on and on, especially considering I haven’t even touched on the excellent surprise at the end or what it means for the future of this franchise, but I’ll stop here.  If you’ve seen it already, you don’t need me to keep gushing.  And if you haven’t, you have much better things to do than read this.  You have a movie to see.

~Nikki

You’re the Right Kind of Wrong

It’s time for another list, o wee group of followers.  :)  Today I present to you my favorite guilty pleasures.  The movies I’m straight up ashamed to admit that I love, and also, that I OWN.  I think that these are generally disliked by most of the population who has seen them (except the last one, but we’ll get to that).  Without further adieu, and in no particular order…

1. Drive Me Crazy (1999) – Is it because I graduated from high school this year?  Is it because I thought all of Chase Hammond’s (seriously?) goofy loser friends were so cute and endearing?  Is it because there were actually a lot of people to root for (Designated Dave, DaughterJudy!) in this kind of crappy, low-rent high-school flick?  I don’t know, but I inexplicably enjoy it, along with the great late-nineties soundtrack it boasts.  “Stranded” is one of my all-time faves.

2. Loser (2000) –  The Clueless goddess, Amy Heckerling, directed this slightly standard tale of a loser who goes to college in the big city, meets an oddball cutie-pie, cue happy ending.  Even though this has a 24% on Rotten Tomatoes (OUCH), I don’t believe that it’s craptastic.  I thought it was funny, Jason Biggs’ Paul was so earnest and kind and GOOD, and Mena Suvari’s Dora (adorabbbbbbbble) was both annoying, yet so darling.  I could completely understand her desire to hook up with her asshole teacher (Greg Kinnear, nailing the charming bastard role) – he was appealing, she was homeless, what’s a girl to do.  Something about the mood and tone of this film covers me in comfort like a sumptuous flannel snuggie – I’m embarrassed, but it just feels so damn good.  Oh and PLUS there are BABY KITTENS.

3. Coyote Ugly (2000) – I’m not going to insult anybody’s intelligence and say that this is a good movie – it’s not.  However, when you’re 19, and with a bunch of small-town girlfriends on a Friday night, what more do you wanna see than another young, small-town gal make it in the big city, singing and dancing her heart out, all while banging a DELICIOUS Australian?!  Oh of course I have this soundtrack, and went through a year-long phase of belting this shit out.  Looking back, oh the shame.  When my aunt and uncle took me to Vegas at 22 for the first time, I even made a point to go to the bar there of the same name, and just like the movie, it blew.

4. Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000) – Nicolas Cage.  Enough said.  However, this movie thrilled me, and I don’t even care about cars at all.  Fast-paced, with a somewhat unique plot for a car-heist movie, along with that awesommmmme intro scene, I must admit that I have a hard time understanding how this is so derided.

5. Star Trek: Nemesis (2002) - I’m a ginormous Trekkie, and it is generally accepted amongst fellow Trek fans that Nemesis is the worst of all Trek films.  This straight-up baffles me; when I saw it in the theater, I left thoroughly entertained (not to mention emotionally spent).  I thought it was exciting and added much to the Trek universe.  There’s a pre-Inception Tom Hardy, some Captain Janeway, and they killed off a main character, with class, in a scene of major self-sacrifice.  Still touches me, to this day.

6. Casper (1995) - The delightfully disheveled Bill Pullman, an interesting story, and a beautiful score by James Horner, all make this a kid’s flick that I can’t resist.  I know it’s cheesy, but it made my young teen self sob with its touching, heart-wrenching story, and now as a grown-up, I must watch it whenever it’s on, and accept the shame.

7. Freaky Friday (2003) - This has an 88% score on Rotten Tomatoes, so it must not be universally despised, however, I still feel slight mortification when I admit how much I love this.  Jamie Lee Curtis (I’ve always kinda wished she was my mom) and a mentally/physically healthier Lindsay Lohan tore it UP doing impressions of each other in this remake of the 1976 Jodie Foster flick.  Makes me a bit misty to remember how great Lohan used to be (Mean Girls anyone??).  This thing is actually well-written and funny, with several big, emotional payoffs, so I guess I shouldn’t feel so bad about liking it, but I can’t get past the stigma.  I even love the girls’ rock band and a couple of their songs.  Oh, and I’m such a sucker for buildup to “one great kiss with a great song playing”, so I am all over this scene.

What I’ve learned from this list:  I was more susceptible to crap in my teens/early 20s, and also, apparently if a movie has at least one killer song over a decent montage or kissing scene, I’m hooked for life.

What are the films that it pains you guys to admit you adore??

~Annie