Movies that couldn’t survive without their lead actor

Posted on July 25, 2010. Filed under: Ramblings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Some movie characters are iconic.  In some cases the reason for that is more to do with the actor playing the role than the character itself.  There will always be parts that you couldn’t imagine anyone else playing, but arguably some characters are so wrapped up in the identity of the actor that they would be entirely different with someone else in the costume.

The character who I think fulfils this most of all is Captain Jack Sparrow.  Just try to imagine any other actor playing that role.  Can’t do it can you?

Legend has it that Johnny Depp turned up to the audition in that costume, complete with make up, accent and real gold teeth.  Without Sparrow there is no Pirates of the Caribbean and I would argue without Depp there is no Sparrow.  The movie was a real risk-taker, with the appeal of pirate movies long dead and many people  wondering if a film based on a little known ride, made by Disney but not strictly for kids, could make it. Then Jack staggered on to the screen and everyone was hooked.  The whole movie hinges on that one iconic character; a point backed up by the fact that he is the only returner (except Gibbs) in the upcoming fourth movie.  Sparrow is now as famous, if not more so, than Long John Silver or Captain Hook and I really don’t think the movies would have done even half as well without Depp at the helm (bad pun not entirely intended).

Another character who I think is intertwined with the actor playing it is Iron Man.  He basically is Robert Downey Jr.  When he was announced as the man stepping into the suit it seemed a strange choice but it’s turned out to be a career defining role.  I’m not saying that no one else could play Iron Man, because I can think of a few other people who probably could, but I think the characterisation would be very different, as the writers have clearly put a lot of RDJ into Stark.

It’s not just faces on screen either.  Imagine Disney’s Aladdin without Robin Williams voicing the genie.  Doesn’t work does it?  And I’d put a strong case for the fact that Woody and Tom Hanks fit so well together that Toy Story would be a different movie without him.

Pretty much anything in Jim Carrey’s early career is entirely dependent on him too.  Obviously a lot of that is down to parts being written for him, but can you really picture Ace Ventura or The Mask in the hands of someone else?

There is only one incidence I can think of where the same character played by two different actors has an equal impact on the movie, and that’s The Joker.  Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman completely owned the movie and was put down as the definitive Joker.  Or so we thought. Fast forward 19 years and Heath Ledger brings something completely new to the table which has audiences and critics alike lost for words playing a huge part in the success of The Dark Knight.

Usually we think of movies as making or breaking the career of actors, but it works both ways.  One  performance can lift a mediocre movie to a whole new level, or just as easily bring it crashing down.

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The Theory of Second Viewing

Posted on January 7, 2010. Filed under: Ramblings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

Sounds clever doesn’t it? Don’t worry, it’s not.

Basically, I am of the belief that you cannot form a proper opinion about a movie until you’ve seen it twice.  Case in point: if you look back you’ll see that when I watched Iron Man for the first time I said that I liked it but probably wouldn’t put it on the movies to see before you die list, and didn’t rate it too highly amongst the other Marvel films.  However, now I’ve watched it again (a couple of times) I’ve pretty much completely changed my mind! Definitely a firm favourite for me now and making it’s way onto the list.  There’s also been films I wasn’t too sure about first time around but having seen them again I think I misjudged them. Sin City springs to mind. Twelve Monkeys takes most people a couple of goes too, but that’s mainly to get your head round it.

I think part of it is that the first time you see a movie you’re trying to keep up with the plot and the characters and so you can miss little things like throw away one liners or cool set design that you’ll pick up second time around.  Of course some times though, you’ve got to trust your instincts.  You will have to pay me a whole lot of money to make me sit through the  Mamma Mia or Lost In Translation again, while at the same time it didn’t take me more than one viewing to realise that Lord of the Rings was a brilliant film.

More often than not I find that films I thought were only OK to begin with get better the more you watch them, but things can go the other way too.  The sequels to The Matrix and the Pirates follow ups both came out in a wave of PR and special effects that had you going in the cinema, but the plot holes get wider once you get the DVD back to your sofa. Not that I dislike any of those films, just perhaps not as into them as I was the first time.  I’ve already written about how hype can affect your opinion of a movie with The Dark Knight, and from what I hear of Avatar so far, it seems like that will be another one which loses some of the magic once it’s out of the cinema, especially since so much stock is tied up in the effects.

There’s more than a few places on this blog where I’ve written I need to see a movie again before completely making my mind up (The Eternal Sunshine debate rages on).  It’s not so much for the films you either love or hate, it’s the ones where at the end you can’t quite decide how much you like it.  My advice is watch it again.  You’ll probably find it’s better than you think.

…unless it’s Mamma Mia 😛

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Great Expectations

Posted on March 7, 2009. Filed under: Movies to see before you die | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Tonight I found myself with some free time on my hands, which is becoming increasingly unusual for me, so I decided to re-visit the most hyped film of last year: The Dark Knight.

Raving about the brilliance of the film is old news, but I realised as I was watching it that there was no way it was ever going to live up to the expectations people had for it.  Don’t get me wrong, I think its a great movie, and Heath Ledger is in a league of his own when it comes to performance, but I too fell victim to the hype and found myself rating this movie higher than perhaps it deserved when I first saw it in the cinema.

The cast is something to be envied, including star turns by Gary Oldman, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, and the special effects are pretty awesome.  Christian Bale also plays well, although I find his “bat-voice” increasingly difficult to take seriously.  The main problem with the film is its length; clocking in at 2 hours 25 mins which I think must be something of a record for comic book films, and there are sections that feel slow, mainly because you’re just waiting for Ledger to reappear on screen.

*update: I thought it was long, then I saw Watchmen!*

It falls foul of the same problem that Spiderman 3 had: one two many villains.  Even though the signposting for the transformation of Dent into Twoface is a delight to comic book geeks, it feels like the final half hour is actually another short film tacked on at the end, which could legitimatley have been saved for a sequel, especially since the actual ending is so clearly gearing up for one.   In general the plot is good, but there are sections which are confusing.  I’m still not that sure what’s going on in the car park at the beginning with all the copycat batmen….

Basically it boils down to this: The Dark Knight is an average film catapulted to mega-success simply because of Heath Ledger.  I would like to believe that if the tragedy which brought the film into the media spotlight had not happened, the film would still have enjoyed the same hype on the basis of what really is an astounding performance.  The scenes in the jail are creepily reminiscent of Silence of the Lambs and everything about the characterisation is completely unique.  I guess we’ll never know,  but it just goes to show that when tragedy is involved even critics draw in their claws and choose to overlook faults in favour of seeing the good.

Case in point: I’m a Marvel girl, I’ve never liked DC or Batman, mainly on the basis that he has one of the lamest costumes in superhero history!  But I desperately wanted to see Dark Knight.  Now, I have always been a Heath Ledger fan, and that was a big part of it, but I can’t help wondering if I’d have heard so much about his performance if he hadn’t died.  I still maintain that it was for Brokeback Mountain that he deserved the Oscar.

I love Dark Knight, and I think everyone should see it, but without Heath Ledger, I don’t think I’ll be fighting to see the next one.

why so serious?


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Oscar Nominations 2009 Announced!

Posted on January 22, 2009. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

It’s that time of year again. Here’s the nominations for this year’s Oscars (thanks to Oscar.com) and who I think will win. Time to find out how psychic I actually am….

Best picture

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Frost/Nixon

Milk

The Reader

Slumdog Millionaire

It’s gotta be Slumdog.

Best director

Danny Boyle – Slumdog Millionaire

Stephen Daldry – The Reader

David Fincher – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Ron Howard – Frost/Nixon

Gus Van Sant – Milk

It’s between Slumdog and Benjamin Button I think. Probably Slumdog. Actually I’ve changed my mind. Button.

Best actor

Richard Jenkins – The Visitor

Frank Langella – Frost/Nixon

Sean Penn – Milk

Brad Pitt – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Mickey Rourke – The Wrestler

I’ll come back to this when I’ve had a think…Maybe Brad Pitt but I haven’t seen it.

Best actress

Anne Hathaway – Rachel Getting Married

Angelina Jolie – Changeling

Melissa Leo – Frozen River

Meryl Streep – Doubt

Kate Winslet – The Reader

It’s tipped to be either Winslet or Hathaway. I think its Winslet’s year after the Golden Globes.

Best supporting actress

Amy Adams – Doubt

Penelope Cruz – Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Viola Davis – Doubt

Taraji P Henson – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Marisa Tomei – The Wrestler

I’m gonna go with Benjamin Button as I’m predicting a sweep.

Best supporting actor

Josh Brolin – Milk

Robert Downey Jr – Tropic Thunder

Philip Seymour Hoffman – Doubt

Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight

Michael Shannon – Revolutionary Road

Ledger, no question.

Best foreign language film

Revanche – Austria

The Class – France

The Baader Meinhof Complex – Germany

Departures – Japan

Waltz With Bashir – Israel

I’m not gonna know I’m afraid. Psychic guess says The Class.

Best animated feature film

Bolt

Kung Fu Panda

Wall-E

Wall-E for sure.

Best adapted screenplay

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Doubt

Frost/Nixon

The Reader

Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog.

Best original screenplay

Happy-Go-Lucky

Milk

Wall-E

In Bruges

Frozen River

I reckon Wall-E

So there you go folks.  I guess we’ll find out on 22nd Feb.

*Update*

In my hurry to blog this before anyone else, I missed some of the smaller categories, but having got some of them up I reckon I’ve got time to go back…

Cinematography

(A subject of much debate on this blog)

Changeling

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Dark Knight

The Reader

Slumdog Millionairre

Having only seen one of the nominations (sad isn’t it?) I can’t call it. I’m guessing Button.

Music (score)

My favourite

Defiance

Milk

Slumdog Millionairre

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Wall-E

I’ve only seen Wall-E and the music in that wasn’t groundbreaking…Slumdog or Benjamin Button. Incidentally, Slumdog is double nominated for best song (against Wall-E). It’s bound to win that so I don’t think it’ll win this.

Visual Effects

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Dark Knight

Iron Man

I think Dark Knight

It’s probably going to be a sweep by Slumdog Millionairre and Benjamin Button (which has 13 nominations).  Button will get the most overall.


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Brokeback Mountain

Posted on January 21, 2009. Filed under: Movies to see before you die | Tags: , , , , , |

I (unsurprisingly) managed to cause a miniture uproar by slamming Lost in Translation, being reminded that it is wonderfully “subtle” with beautiful cinematography.  I’d like to fight back with a review of a film which embodies both these characteristics while also having the crucial factor that is missing from Lost in Translation; a compelling plot.

Brokeback

Essentially, Brokeback Mountain and Lost in Translation are very similar films;  both are stories about two people who can’t be together, but while one of them shuffles along with little to capture the emotion, the other is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen.

The strength of this movie lies in its director and its cast.  Ang Lee’s cinematography is truly mesmerising, with shots that would look just as at home on the wall of a photography gallery, but this is combined with career making performances from Ledger and Gyllenhaal which make the story so thought-provoking and so tragic.  Ledger in particular, manages to portray so much while saying so little.  This was the movie he should have got an Oscar for, although he will get one for Batman.

The score of Brokeback is also brilliant, written by the relatively unknown Gustavo Santaolalla and adding that final detail that makes this movie one of the best ever made.
So here is an example of a subtle plot and sweeping cinematography put together to make a film which has a real effect, and definitely one that I think everyone needs to see.

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