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Disliking actors

It’s safe to say that actors get more attention than any other position involved with making a movie. People like Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise and so on are mega-celebrities, household names and constantly in the public eye. Those of us who are more into film than the average movie-goer can rattle off the names of this director or that screenwriter, but most people tend to focus on the actors. The Descendants isn’t “the new Alexander Payne film.” It’s “the new George Clooney film.” This line of thinking often seeps back to critics and bloggers in a way. I can only speak for myself (though I see this in the writings of many people), but I know I certainly spend some time in my reviews talking about the actors. He was great, she was awesome, this guy did the best work of his career, etcetera. Even a brief cameo can be worth mentioning. But when was the last time I talked about, say, the sound mix of a movie? I don’t think I ever have, which seems unfair. The sound of a movie is always present, affecting me from beginning to end. And yet I’ll still be more inclined to mention the performance of an actor with 15 minutes of total screentime. I don’t have any real reason for this, other than the fact that it’s an established way of thinking that I rarely reflect over.

Since the actors is what many people care the most about when they see a film, they get a lot of passionate support. Everyone has their favorites, whether they’re Ryan Gosling, Robert De Niro, Catherine Deneuve, Tilda Swinton, Humphrey Bogart or what have you. The ones that make you want to see everything they’ve ever been in, or whose mention in the opening credits always puts a smile on your face.

"No no no no no no no!"

But then there’s the other side of the coin: the actors you hate. They keep popping up in movies you see, and you’re never impressed by them. You find them distracting, boring, annoying, overbearing. You wonder how they keep getting work and why people would pay to see them. Whether they’re leading stars or supporting players, you wish they would just retire. Some oft-mentioned targets for derision nowadays seem to be Megan Fox, Michael Cera and Shia LaBeouf. Others have more unusual dislikes. For instance, a real life friend of mine thinks Peter O’Toole is pretty much the worst thing in the world. To each their own.

I try to maintain a positive attitude as much as I can when it comes to film. That’s not to say that I won’t point out stuff I don’t like, but I do try to focus on the good things. This goes for acting too, especially since acting is a two-man job. A great performance is the result of a collaboration between the actor and the director. The director needs to convey just what it is they want from the actor. Some director-actor pairings just don’t function, because the people work in ways that don’t gel. Time constraints during shooting can mean that there’s just not enough time to get that one really great take. There can be many factors at play, and a lackluster performance can not always be blamed solely on the actor. Actors are among the many tools a director uses to craft a film. Is the hammer to blame when a nail bends? Some actors can shine in anything. Others need the right project and motivation. That doesn’t mean that the latter group is bad at what they do.

All I need from an actor to convince me that they have talent is one good performance. No matter how many hum-drum rom-coms Kate Hudson stars in, I’ll always have Almost Famous to remind me of how good she can be. Adam Sandler can be in as many unfunny films as he likes, because Punch-Drunk Love still tells me he has real chops. And while I went a long time thinking that Keira Knightley was pretty much useless, that changed once I got around to seeing Atonement. Another example: Keanu Reeves. Often described as wooden and life-less, but what if he had stuck to comedies a la Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, a film many seem to like him in? He’d be much more loved today, I reckon. On a side-note, I thought he was pretty good in Thumbsucker too.

Anna Faris. Not one of my favorites.

As such, there are few actors I find unbearable. Few, but they’re there. Two examples stand particularly tall – or low. One is Orlando Bloom, who is just boring as all hell. Boring in Lord of the Rings, boring in Pirates of the Caribbean, boring in Troy, boring boring boring. The other is Anna Faris, a particularly annoying example as she happens to be in my favorite film Lost in Translation. Her effort there isn’t terrible, but then it boils down to nothing but a caricature of Cameron Diaz (would it be unfair to label her entire career as that?) with maybe 5 minutes of total screen-time. She tends to stick to comedies, despite the fact that she’s never funny or charming. Even when she ventures out of that comfort zone to try out different stuff, the results aren’t pretty. Evidence A: her turn in quirky horror film May, where she plays a seductress with a tone so disconnected from the rest of the movie. Highly jarring, and a blight on what is otherwise a very fine film.

That said, I’d be happy to be proven wrong about both Bloom and Faris. If you know of any great performances they’ve turned in somewhere, please let me know.

What actor(s) do you dislike?

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Posted by on 22 March, 2012 in Discussions

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 1999

Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about the 10 films on this list is the abundance of directing newcomers on it. 7 of the movies were made by people who made their feature film directorial debuts, and while not all of these film-makers would go on to lasting greatness, it still makes for an impressive class of 1999. The other three films are made by two well-established masters and one quickly rising star. There’s also, as usual, a lot of comedy on here. This shouldn’t surprise you with my lists any more.

So far in this series of blog posts, I have chosen to largely abstain from making honorable mentions. This has largely been due to a stubborn adherence to principles; if one sets out to make a list of 10 films, one should not name 20 films. I have now realized that this is counter-productive to the aim of these lists, which is to give people an idea of what movies I like.

With that in mind, here are some 1999 films I really like that didn’t quite make my list. Honorable mentions, if you will. In alphabetical order:

Arlington Road, Beyond the Mat, Bringing Out the Dead, Girl Interrupted, The Green Mile, In China They Eat Dogs, Magnolia, Office Space, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Toy Story 2

Now on to the list proper. As usual, I’m going by IMDB’s year of release.

10 – EYES WIDE SHUT (Stanley Kubrick)

“No dream is ever just a dream.”

Equal parts nightmare sightseeing tour through New York City and meditation on infidelity, Stanley Kubrick finished off his career in great fashion with Eyes Wide Shut. Impeccably designed and shot – as is to be expected from Kubrick – and with one of Tom Cruise‘s best performances in the lead, this film is also helped by having a strong story, one that might seem simple and straight-forward on paper but that reveals more layers with each watch.

9 – THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez)

“I’m afraid to close my eyes, I’m afraid to open them.”

While this movie didn’t invent the found footage genre of film (Cannibal Holocaust from 1980 seems to be the agreed-upon originator), The Blair Witch Project popularised it, paving the way for films like REC, Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity and many others. When I first watched it at home alone one night as a teen, it had me rattled to the core. Even today, it remains a highly effective horror film by making us fear what we can’t see, rather than throwing a monster right in our faces. A picture might say more than a thousand words, but in horror, so does a sound that shouldn’t be there.

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Posted by on 5 March, 2012 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2001

Time to set the time machine to 2001, a year that like many others had a great deal of great films to offer. There’s a nice mix to be had with this list, I think. Sure, it leans slightly towards comedy as my lists tend do – although there’s nothing here that i’d classify strictly as a laugh-out-loud type of movie – but there is some international variety. USA, France, Spain and Norway are all represented in one way or another.

I don’t normally do honorable mentions for these lists, but I do need to give a shout-out to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. The trilogy as a whole is a remarkably ambitious cinematic accomplishment which does such a great job of bringing the world of the novels to life. Both The Two Towers and The Return of the King barely missed out on spots on their respective year lists. The Fellowship of the Ring – my personal favorite of the three – was sitting at #9 on this list at first draft. Then along came a movie I hadn’t seen before (#7), and Fellowship got bumped down. And then I realized a teriffic film I thought belonged to 2000 was actually released in 2001 (#2), and just like that, Fellowship dropped off. So an honorable mention goes out to that film and, by extension, the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy.

On to the list proper. As always, this is 2001 as listed on IMDB to avoid confusion with international release dates.

10 – HUMAN NATURE (Michel Gondry)

“Remember: when in doubt, don’t ever do what you really want to do.”

The most overlooked of the films written by Charlie Kaufman, Human Nature is a movie of many questions about – of course – human nature. What’s fun is the strange ways in which it goes about asking them. The central characters are a scientist (Tim Robbins) trying to teach mice to have a formal dinner, a man (Rhys Ifans) who grew up in the wilderness thinking himself to be an ape, and a woman (Patricia Arquette) who voluntarily abandoned civilization as an adult due to feeling out of place because of her thick body hair. This story proves to be a good fit for Michel Gondry, here making his feature film debut and immediately establishing his unique style – how many directors would go with a sudden Disney-esque song number in a film like this? Human Nature is both funny and thought-provoking, and it deserves more attention than it tends to get.

9 – A KNIGHT’S TALE (Brian Helgeland)

“Now that I got their attention, you go and win their hearts.”

Wikipedia describes this as an action-adventure film. This is false. A Knight’s Tale is very much a sports movie, with all the familiar story elements and tropes associated with the genre. It just so happens to take place in medieval times, with the sport in question being jousting. What makes the film stand out even more is the anachronistic music. Here we have a dance scene in at the royal court set to David Bowie’s “Golden Years”, and joust audiences clapping along to Queen’s “We Will Rock You”. Heath Ledger makes for an effective protagonist, Shannyn Sossamon is as radiant as ever as his love interest, and Paul Bettany and Alan Tyduk as comedic sidekicks take turns to steal the movie. Often hilarious, always feel-good. A Knight’s Tale never fails to put a smile on my face.

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Posted by on 25 January, 2012 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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The remake conundrum: Open Your Eyes and Vanilla Sky

A few years ago, I watched Cameron Crowe‘s Vanilla Sky for the first time. It’s the favorite movie of a friend of mine, and he insisted I give it a go. So I did, and found it to be very much to my liking. It’s a very intriguing mystery of a film, dipping into various genres on its way to a surprising conclusion, all helped along by a number of great acting performances. Simply put, a really good watch.

At the time, I wasn’t aware that it was in fact a remake of the Spanish 1997 film Open Your Eyes (Abre los ojos), directed by Alejandro Amenábar. Nowadays I generally try to watch the original first before seeing a remake. It seems more fair that way. The people involved with creating a movie from scratch deserve to have it seen by someone who knows nothing about the story, who experiences it the way they envisioned it. It also means that I’m able to recognize little nods and homages to it once I get around to seeing the remake. But this wasn’t how it turned out that time. The remake was seen first, and while I was interested in checking out the original, it never was very urgent for me.

Cruz and Noriega, Open Your Eyes

Today I did finally see Open Your Eyes, and it was a really strange experience, not quite like anything I’ve been through before in my film-watching. The movie was good. Really good. Great, actually. It’s a very slick and engaging movie, bringing along many of the same qualities that Vanilla Sky did. I could find nothing to complain about.

But I had already seen it. Except then it was called Vanilla Sky.

I already knew all the twists and turns. I knew who the characters were, what they were like and what they were going to do. I knew what was going to happen in any given scene. Yes, the movie was great, but the sense of discovery wasn’t there. I couldn’t make heads or tails of which one was the better film. It was really baffling. A rewatch of Vanilla Sky seemed in order so I could make some sense of it all. So I saw the story unfold once more (and on a whim, I turned on the audio commentary with Crowe and Nancy Wilson, who composed the score for the film).

(Mild SPOILER ALERT: I’ll go into plot developments of both films to some degree in the next few paragraphs. If you haven’t seen at least one of the movies yet, proceed at your own risk.)

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Posted by on 9 November, 2011 in Misc.

 

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Films I’ve forgotten, and why

I got a bit bored today, so inbetween a couple of failed attempts at writing new blog posts, I went to Swedish movie site Filmtipset, which is my main record-keeper as fair as what movies I’ve seen is concerned. I noticed that I had commented on some 500-odd films during my time there, so in lieu of anything better to do, I read through them all. It turned into a fun little trip down memory lane. Sure, the actual comments weren’t very enlightening (“[Actor] and [Actress] are pretty good, but the story isn’t anything special”), but I was reminded of the existance of plenty of films I had forgotten ever seeing.

Why did I forget these films? Most of them are, simply speaking, unremarkable. Not terrible, not great, maybe kind of decent. They may have a generic title. Perhaps the premise is just something seen many times before. A lack of big names attached is another possibility. But I believe the main reason is just that they’re never talked about. Nobody mentions them when discussing awful films, or great films, or underrated films. Few people see them, so theres no random “Hey, I just saw this film, anyone else seen it” conversations. Even just a passing mention of a film at some point can be enough to refresh its presence in one’s memory banks for a long time. When no such mention is made, the movie fades from memory.

Rick Kirkham, TV Junkie

I there’s one of these films I rediscovered that you ought to see, it’s definitely TV Junkie. It’s a documentary on TV reporter Rick Kirkham, who for 14 years filmed himself every day of his life. The footage of these personal recordings make up the bulk of the film, and it’s quite harrowing. His drug addiction takes a tremendous toll on both his career and his family, and we see it all just as it happens. It culminates in a really uncomfortable domestic arguement, as Rick and his wife scream and fight right in front of their kids. It’s a shame this one has slipped my memory for so long, beause it’s a really good film that I remember reacting very strongly too. I’d love to call it unforgettable, but that’s obviously not the case. Definitely worth checking out, though.

The Dark Hours was a real headscratcher for me when I came upon the title. More so than any other film on here, I really struggled to remember anything about it, even reading the short plot synopsis on the site. It took a trip to IMDB for even the vaguest of bells to ring, and I still can’t really tell you anything about it. It’s a thriller, at least. Canadian. Wikipedia says it made $423 at the U.S. box office, so it’s no wonder it’s rarely talked about, I guess.

A movie that should have been memorable is Danny Deckchair. Rhys Ifans plays a man who, after having his vacation unceremoniously cancelled by his girlfriend, attaches a bunch of helium-filled balloons to his deckchair and just flies away (think Up on a smaller scale). A novel idea, but it all devolves into a fairly standard romantic comedy as it goes along, unfortunately. Not a bad film by any means, as far as I recall, but not worth going out of your way to see either.

Knockaround Guys has a fairly star-studded cast (Vin Diesel, John Malkovich, Dennis Hopper, Barry Pepper and more), but all I can really remember about it is that Seth Green‘s character loses an important briefcase at some point. Hospital horror Sublime is another one I can’t recall much of, except that it careens off in a weird direction towards the end. At least the DVD box art is kind of nifty. And The Salton Sea has Val Kilmer playing a saxophone. Possibly in a burning building. Drugs might be involved at some point. That’s about it as far as my memory goes.

Pathfinder I can’t remember anything about except that it was really damn boring. American Crude has some degree of name value to it (Michael Clarke Duncan, Rob Schneider and John C. McGinley), but it has a muddled plot with weird characters that obviously failed to leave much of a lasting impression. The Deaths of Ian Stone, meanwhile, is a god-awful horror fiilm, and I’m glad it had managed to drift out of my memory for so long.

Love Object at least has a neat-sounding premise about a guy who buys a custom-made sex doll based on the appearance of a co-worker he has the hots for. Complications arise when he finds himself starting a real relationship with said co-worker, however. The comment I made on this film at the time was actually fairly positive, so maybe this one’s unfairly forgotten.

One film that actually did cross my mind briefly just the other week is Lost in the Dark, a movie about a blind girl who ends up alone in a cabin with criminals soon popping in to harass her. It briefly came to mind when I was watching Audrey Hepburn-flick Wait Until Dark, in the form of “Hmm, didn’t I see another thriller once about a blind girl?”. Well, Lost in the Dark was it. An okay film, as I recall, but Wait Until Dark is definitely superior.

An interesting case here: The Girl Next Door. No, not the teen comedy with Elisha Cuthbert. No, not the horror film based on a Jack Ketchum novel based on a true story either. This one’s a documentary on adult actress Stacy Valentine. You’d think I’d remember a film like that, but apparently not. I assume title confusion is part of why this has gone forgotten. I can’t recall any other trio of films I’ve seen that all share the same name.

Kristen Stewart, Speak

Last on this list are two films featuring now-famous actresses early in their careers. Speak stars Kristen Stewart and arrived two years after her initial breakthrough in Panic Room. In Speak, she plays a teenager who stops talking upon returning to school after a summer holiday. An intriguing little film, actually. I recall liking this one. And then there’s The Last Supper, only the second movie in the career of Cameron Diaz. A very black comedy in which five friends invite guests for dinners and, if they deem them “bad people”, kill them. The film is a bit stiff at times, but at least it presents some interesting questions and has a fairly delightful supporting turn by Ron Perlman.

Time will tell if I’ll forget these movies again. Maybe some film I saw just the past week will meet a similar fate. With the exception of TV Junkie, there’s none of these that I’d call essential viewing, so it’s not a big crime that I haven’t remembered them. But forgetting TV Junkie is bad enough. If there’s one think to take away from this blog post, it’s this: Remember to talk about good films! Don’t let yourself forget them. They deserve better.

Have you seen any of the films I’ve mentioned in this post? What did you think of them? Have you had any similar experiences yourself with remembering long-forgotten movies? Leave a comment!

 
19 Comments

Posted by on 1 November, 2011 in Misc.

 

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