Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Editorial: Are Comic Book Movies Resurrecting Careers?

Are comic book movies becoming the catalysts in career resurrections? Consider this:

1. Most people would say that 2008 was RDJ's year; MTV went as far as to anoint him the "Actor [They] Were Most Thankful For." Although Downey had been steadily doing good work for years, Iron Man launched him to Hollywood heights he hadn't seen before

2. Ron Perlman was relegated mostly to television before his breakout performance as Hellboy in 2004. Since then, he's done a sequel, a motorcycle gang show on the FX network, and he's got at least seven movies that he's completed or is working on for 2009 and 2010. Plus, he's going to be a main character in the interesting-sounding Josh Hartnett movie Bunraku.

3. Mickey Rourke has put out at least one movie a year since 1979 (with the exception of 2007), but his career received an extra boost after his portrayal of Marv in the critically acclaimed and fan-praised Sin City. He's currently got five films in pre-production.

4. Gerard Butler was in a few big budget movies like Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, Reign of Fire, and The Phantom of the Opera but never really shined until he became a household name with his bellowing portrayal of King Leonidas in 300. He's got some more high profile projects on the way, most notably Law Abiding Citizen with Jamie Foxx.

5. The cast of Watchmen isn't exactly the most high-profile ensemble gathered for a comic book movie (that honor goes to The Dark Knight), but a few of the film's stars are already feeling the effects of their participation in the film. Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Comedian) is joining another comic book adaptation - this one based on Andy Diggle's "The Losers." Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach) has been hired recently to star in Fox's "Human Target," also based on a comic. Plus, Haley is in serious discussions to star as Freddy Krueger in the upcoming Nightmare on Elm Street remake due (almost certainly) to his insane performance in Watchmen.

These are just five examples - not a full-fledged thesis, but I think enough to be considered a hypothesis. Something to think about, at any rate. Any other instances you can think of? Let me know in the comments section. Until next time...

Note: I've been a little busy lately with weddings and bachelor parties and such, so my production hasn't been as high as usual (although March was pretty awesome). But I'm heading to Ground Zero for movies - Los Angeles, California - for a week on Tuesday, so I'll let you guys know how that went if you're interested when I get back.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Fast & Furious

I had very low expectations for this movie going in, and perhaps that's why I enjoyed it so much - it easily surpassed my expectations and shockingly became my favorite film in the series so far. The Fast and the Furious Omnibus continues...

Fast & Furious
Director: Justin Lin
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster

Respect must be given to Justin Lin for making a complete turnaround from the putrid third film, Tokyo Drift. Lin directed that entry as well, and somehow secured his position as director for this fourth installment (which I always thought should have been called 4 Fast 4 Furious). This is the type of project I'm sure he wanted to make with the third one, but simply couldn't due to a rancid script. This time out, Lin scales back the flash and concentrates a little more on character and action, delivering relatively convincing portrayals of both. He urges the emotion back out of his actors that this series has been missing since Rob Cohen's flick started this off back in 2001; the film definitely benefits from having the actors TRY instead of drifting through the last one (pun intended...HAH!).

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that Fast & Furious is a "good" movie. Labels like that are dangerously subjective. But I will say that I liked it more than any other movie in the franchise. Yes, yes - I realize there's not much competition involved; in reality, the first film is the only one truly worth watching, and that's only if you can't get your hands on a copy of Point Break. But this film gave me the distinct feeling that everyone involved has grown up over the past few years, and the movie was better because of that development. Even Chris Morgan, who wrote this and the third film, seems to have grasped a better sense of the fun that this series needs to please its audience. And while Tokyo Drift didn't incorporate any references back to the first two movies (with the exception of that short Vin Diesel cameo), Fast & Furious does a great job of tying the series together while keeping the action at a satisfying level.

Massive Spoiler Alert Ahead

A guy named Han (Sean's "backer" in TFATF:TD) works with Dom (Diesel) and Letty (Rodriguez) in the beginning of this film before he heads out to Tokyo for the events of the third flick. This nice little send off was well-handled and gives the audience a reference point as to when these events are happening within The Fast and The Furious universe. After the fantastic opening sequence involving hijacking an oil truck in the Dominican Republic, the cops are slowly figuring out that Dom and Co. are behind these robberies. Brian O'Conner has upgraded from cop to FBI agent despite stealing a bunch of money at the end of 2 Fast 2 Furious, and he's living in Los Angeles tracking down a drug smuggler who uses street racing cars as his delivery trucks. Of course, Dom and Brian inevitably cross paths when Letty is brutally murdered by one of the drug smuggler's henchmen and they both join the smuggler's driving squad.

From here, Fast & Furious gets into some dicey territory as far as predictability goes, but that doesn't mean it isn't sufficiently entertaining. It made something like $72 million in its opening weekend, shattering the record for April releases. The online community was shocked to hear this news, and some even seem angry about it. Come on, this isn't Paul Blart: Mall Cop here. Why do you think people saw this movie? Because fans of the franchise were holding out hope that this entry might be better than the last, and with the reunion of Diesel and Walker, they were rewarded. It was a much better film than the last two installments - yes, even with its ridiculous moments. When Dom pieces together Letty's death just by finding some scratch marks on the road, it's pretty unbelievable. When the guys are driving at insane speeds through a labyrinthine tunnel system under the US/Mexico border, it doesn't make any sense. But the movie was fun again, damn it. And that's something that you just can't say about the last two.

End of Spoilers

I've been comparing this movie to its predecessors a lot, but does it stack up against other action movies of today? The answer, I think, is yes. Aside from the aforementioned tunnel sequences, I thought all the driving scenes were pretty cool. It had the requisite drug traffickers, the scantily clothed women, the love interest for Brian (Mia, Dom's sister, back in a throwaway role), and a nice revenge plot for Dom. As a no-brainer action flick, this definitely delivered.

It would seem I've written too much about this already. But trust me - even if you've only seen (and enjoyed) the first film in this series, I would highly recommend checking this out for more of the same. Is it worth seeing in a theater? I'd say yes, if only for the gorgeous opening scene. And the ending (which I guess I won't give away here) was perfect for this type of movie and definitely left the door open for the inevitable sequel The Fa5t and The Furiou5. Until next time...