Movies on DVD
It's so rare to find a summer blockbuster that isn't based on a comic book or video game, that when one comes along, I'm immediately drawn to it. I'll admit that is my primary reason for wanting to check out Tomorrowland (2015), which stars George Clooney as a former boy genius who embarks on a quest to a fictional world where science and imagination know no bounds.
Tomorrowland also looks to give Clooney a role unlike any other he's taken on as a paranoid recluse with powerful secrets lurking inside his head. In honor of Tomorrowland's release, I thought I'd revisit one of my favorite Clooney roles which, although unknown to many, remains loved by those who have seen it.
Written and directed by the Coen Brothers, Intolerable Cruelty (2003) stars Clooney as Miles Massey, Los Angeles' most cunning divorce attorney, who is able to make any cheating spouse in town look like the most innocent of victims. When he encounters the beautiful Marilyn Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Miles' views on love, marriage and divorce change forever.
Mad Max: Fury Road is one of those sequels many were hoping would become a reality, yet few actually believed would see the light of day. The continuation of what is undoubtedly Australia's most popular film franchise at last comes to the big screen in a dark yet sprawling apocalyptic action piece just ripe for summertime audiences.
Without question the biggest plus in Mad Max: Fury Road was in bringing back the series' original director, George Miller. The director made his name helming the previous movies in the franchise before creating one of the most unpredictable filmographies in Hollywood, with features ranging from Lorenzo's Oil (1992) to Happy Feet (2006). However, no choice Miller made in his post-Mad Max days remained as standout as his first Hollywood outing, The Witches of Eastwick (1987).
Based on a novel by John Updike, The Witches of Eastwick centered on three women (Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer) in a small New England town, who dream up what they believe to be the perfect man while on a drunken girls' night. Almost immediately, a mysterious stranger (Jack Nicholson) movies into town and sets his sights on enchanting the three women, who are so captivated by him that they fail to realize that he is actually the Devil.
Sofia Vergara has made a name for herself playing ditzy and adorable characters who also happen to be both strong and passionate. Yet for me, it's always been the same character. Audiences love Vergara's animated, over-the-top approach to comedy as evidenced by her acclaimed work on TV and in the performances she's given for directors such as Garry Marshall and Robert Rodriguez. This week, the actress gets top billing alongside Reese Witherspoon in the buddy comedy Hot Pursuit (2015). Vergara and Witherspoon hope for buddy-comedy gold playing a federal witness and the officer protecting her until trial, respectively.
The film is a continuation of that brand of comedy which Vergara has so skillfully honed, yet seldom managed to escape. Her work in Chef (2014) was promising, even if the role itself was limited. However, her performance in the movie Fading Gigolo (2013) suggests the actress has more to offer than just the same lovable dizzying persona we've seen before.
Fading Gigolo is the story of a florist named Fioravante (John Turturro, who also wrote and directed), who close friend Murray (Woody Allen) recommends as a third party for a menage-a-trois between dermatologist Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone) and her best friend Selima (Vergara). After realizing he can make a living at the world's oldest profession, Fioravante's perspective begins to change when he connects with a solemn Jewish widow (Vanessa Paradis).
I remember watching an interview a long time ago where Roger Ebert commented that nothing a critic said, good or bad, could alter the power of the superhero blockbuster. Those movies would always be hits because people were determined to make them so.
Ebert went on to say that where a critic's power truly lies is in giving attention to smaller films that don't usually have a such a grand platform on which to be discovered.
So in honor of the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), I decided to comb through the filmographies of its stars for some of those titles that definitely deserve a little more attention.
Robert Downey Jr: Two Girls and a Guy
Everyone was astounded with Robert Downey Jr's extraordinary career turnaround playing Tony Stark. It's resulted in people forgetting about some of the interesting films the actor made during his rocky period. Case in point, the actor-driven Two Girls and A Guy (1997). Teaming for a third time with writer/director James Toback, Downey plays Blake, a cheating New York actor who is confronted by his two current girlfriends (Heather Graham and Natasha Gregson-Wagner).
Wim Wenders' captivating documentary The Salt of the Earth (2014) opens Friday in Austin after numerous festival screenings and heaps of critical praise. The Oscar-nominated documentary film follows famed photographer Sebastiao Selgado as he embarks on one of the most ambitious projects of his 40-year career in an effort to capture the planet's true essence and beauty.
I've no doubt that Wenders' Salt of the Earth is the wonderful piece of filmmaking others have claimed it to be. Yet when I hear the phrase "salt of the earth," my mind can't help but think of the stirring 1954 independent drama of the same name as well as the important social significance it conveyed and the controversy that surrounded the movie.
Set within a New Mexico mining town, Salt of the Earth (1954) centers on husband and wife Ramon (Juan Chacon) and Esperanza (Rosaura Ruevueltas), a happily married couple expecting their third child. Ramon's grandfather once owned the land where the family lives. However, by the 1950s, ownership has reverted to the white man and Ramon now spends his life as an employee of the local mine. When poor working conditions force Ramon and his fellow miners to go on strike, their actions trigger a chain of events that may forever change the lives of Ramon, Esperanza and the whole community.
Child 44 (2015) opens Friday and features one of the darkest plots of any Spring release opening wide in recent memory. Focusing on a string of unsolved child murders in soviet Russia, the grim mystery features the always-watchable Noomi Rapace as the film's female lead.
Since hitting it big with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009), Rapace has deservedly enjoyed a steady career in a variety of complex film roles. It's never anything but a pleasure seeing an actress of Rapace's talent at work, yet I can't help but notice that in so many of her projects, including Child 44, she is usually second fiddle to her male co-stars.
One of the few exceptions is Rapace's work alongside Rachel McAdams in Brian De Palma's sexually charged thriller, Passion (2012). After advertising executive Christine (McAdams) takes credit for an idea from her associate Isabel (Rapace), a personal and professional tug of war between the two women begins, leading to mind-bending consequences.
Adapted by De Palma from a 2010 French film (Crime d'amour), Passion is one of the few De Palma films to feature two female leads as central characters. While they might not have been the focus of his films in the past, the filmmaker has always had a knack for portraying strong and confident women onscreen. Michelle Pfeiffer's ice queen in Scarface (1983), Nancy Allen's streetwise call girl in Dressed to Kill (1980) and even Melanie Griffith's ditzy socialite in The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) each mixed strength and sexuality in a way which suggested they were not merely an object in a man's world, but rather an equal player.
It seems the time is upon us once more for another Nicholas Sparks adaptation. The master of the sentimental once again sees another one of his novels featuring lovesick characters overcoming the complexities of life translated to the big screen with The Longest Ride (2015). The story depicts two different small-town romances (one from the past, the other from the present), which share life-altering links.
If there's one thing a movie based on a Nicholas Sparks novel does very well, it's giving seasoned pros plum roles to sink their teeth into and remind fans what exactly made them legends. Paul Newman, James Garner and Gena Rowlands all enjoyed scene-stealing parts in Sparks adaptations that earned them raves, even if the films themselves floundered.
Alan Alda fills that category this time around, playing a bedridden man with regrets over his past. With so few film appearances these days, Alda's performance just might be reason enough to catch The Longest Ride. In any case, it gives me the perfect excuse to write about my favorite Alan Alda movie, The Four Seasons (1981).
Helen Mirren is perhaps the only actress of her generation who can come close to matching Meryl Streep in terms of still finding quality film roles and delivering spellbinding performances. This week, she takes on the role of a real-life Austrian immigrant, seeking justice for her family by reclaiming a lost piece of art stolen during WWII, in the drama Woman in Gold (2015). Early reviews have been mixed, yet Mirren, as usual, has been showered with praise for another stunning portrayal from the Oscar winner.
For all the nuance that Mirren no doubt brings to Woman in Gold, it surely won’t be able to hold a candle to her finest post-Queen role, as the wife of the master of suspense in Hitchcock (2012). Based on the book by Stephen Rebello, Hitchcock chronicles Alfred Hitchcock’s (Anthony Hopkins) long journey in bringing the now-classic Psycho (1960) to the screen. The film depicts the legendary director’s battles with studio heads, censors and actors over the shocking content of the movie as well as the strain it put on the relationship between his wife/collaborator Alma Reville (Mirren).
Like many films based on the making of Hollywood movies and the people behind them, Hitchcock spent many years in development (with the two leads firmly attached) while producers decided which story they wanted to tell. In the end, they opted for both.
If there's one thing a movie starring Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart guarantees, it's mixed-to-negative critical reception and decent-to-stellar audience reaction. Both seem like strong possibilities this Friday with the release of the duo's new comedy Get Hard (2015), in which a wealthy tycoon (Ferrell) insists that his employee (Hart) show him the ins-and-outs of how to survive in prison after he himself is sentenced. Early screenings of Get Hard have brought claims of homophobia and racial stereotyping, yet the popularity of the movie's two stars should be enough to potentially carry the comedy to a healthy run at the box office.
Should Get Hard succeed, it will be another victory for director and co-writer Etan Cohen, who has found success writing such hits as Tropic Thunder and Men In Black 3. Yet for a select few, his collaboration with Mike Judge on the hilarious and somewhat horrifying Idiocracy (2006) remains his best work.
Judge's second live-action film and Cohen's first, Idiocracy told the story of an average army officer named Joe (Texas Film Awards honoree Luke Wilson), who unwillingly becomes the guinea pig for a top-secret experiment. Joe and a local hooker named Rita (Maya Rudolph) are cryogenically frozen for what they believe is a full year. Yet when the pair awaken, they soon realize 500 years have gone by and the world they once knew has been replaced with a corporate-driven society where everyone is quite literally, an idiot. With the help of an "attorney" named Frito (Dax Shepard), Joe and Rita attempt to make sense of the new and mind-numbingly dumb world where they find themselves.
This week sees the release of The Gunman, an actioner starring Sean Penn as a sniper on the run for his life after the assassination job he was hired for goes awry. The film will surely draw in the parents of teens seeking out Insurgent, thereby affording The Gunman a decent performance at the box office.
In looking back through Penn's filmography before writing this, it became evident to me that the incredibly fearless actor has only anchored a number of films throughout his many years in the movies. Moreover, his selectivity toward leading projects and the diversity of his choices make him one of the most chameleon-like actors in film.
Among all of Penn's leading turns, my favorite still remains his Oscar-nominated work in the drama I Am Sam (2001). Penn spent many hours studying the developmentally challenged (to compelling and magical effect) in order to play Sam Dawson, a man with the mind of a child who finds his young daughter Lucy (Dakota Fanning) taken from him after he is declared an unfit parent due to his disability. Through a series of events, Sam meets a high-powered attorney Rita (Michelle Pfeiffer) who agrees to help Sam prove that, regardless of his limitations, he does indeed have the ability to be the father Lucy deserves.