Back with a proper review this week, although we’ll also delve into all that fun auteurism stuff again. Next week, I’ll take a look at “Paranormal Activity 2” just in time for Halloween. (It strikes me as a completely unnecessary cash-in sequel to a film that was perfect as a stand-alone, but there’s always a slim chance the filmmakers learned from last decade’s “Blair Witch 2” fiasco, and ensured that their movie augments an established mythos instead of, you know, taking a giant dump on it.
Like I said, a slim chance.) After that, awards season (hopefully) kicks into high gear with Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter.”
Also, my sincere apologies to all involved for my lack of participation in http://www.lodinews.com/blogs/battle_royale">Battle Royale for the past week or so. Had one heck of a week, but that’s no excuse for going AWOL from the blog. I’m back in full form now, though, so join us as we glibly dish about random movie topics as we gear up for our next full-on discussion: movies and scenes that prey on your own personal fears in really messed-up ways. (For instance, I’m freaked out by insects and home invasions, so it’s “Arachnophobia” for the one-two punch!)
When I say that “Red” represents a cast in search of a movie, you may take it as a harsh criticism. And, certainly, it is an issue when the power of your cast absolutely dwarfs anything your film could possibly have to offer in terms of plot or dialogue or visual appeal. However, in the rare case of a movie like “Red,” such shortcomings take on less significance. See, “Red” is almost exclusively concerned with how its characters — and, by extension, the stars themselves — interact with one another. More pointedly, it’s all about the feel-good vibe of cooperation and camaraderie that steadily builds between this cast of characters, even if most of them do happen to be retired assassins. They belong to an exclusive club, and although they’re a morally unscrupulous bunch who aren’t quite as fast or steady or generally badass as they used to be, you can’t help but want to be a part of their group.
So discovers Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker), a quiet, reluctantly single government payroll employee who falls in with retired government assassin Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) after many months of unrequited phone-flirting. Yet instead of a traditional knight in shining armor who sweeps Sarah off her feet, Frank turns out to be a gruff, no-nonsense killer who puts his would-be girlfriend in jeopardy within seconds of meeting her face-to-face: A ghost from Frank’s past has caught up with him and his former associates, and is aiming to take out them and their loved ones one by one. As Sarah meets more of the AARP hit squad, she gradually becomes more comfortable with the situation. Before too long she’s a full-fledged member of the gang, staging daring rescues and swapping machine-gun fire with the best of ’em.
And who can blame her? It’s a fun group, rounded out by Helen Mirren (toting an automatic weapon, she’s rarely been sexier), Morgan Freeman and a typically deranged John Malkovich. Richard Dreyfuss and Ernest Borgnine also make noteworthy appearances, and as the primary government stooge, Karl Urban (perhaps best known as Leonard “Bones” McCoy in the new “Star Trek” franchise) delivers a nicely subtle performance that stands out after a summer full of mustache-twirling bad guys.
The action may not be completely high-octane, but it’s still pretty impressive considering that some of the participants are in their 70s. And besides, with a cast of characters like this, action takes a back seat anyway.
Super-auteurs take center stage
Last week, I was droning on about how the auteur theory (or, the idea that a skilled filmmaker is chiefly responsible for the artistic success or failure of a given film) seems to be gaining ground among mainstream moviegoers. I got side-tracked by my thoughts on David Fincher, but my main point originally had to do with how the ascent of multiplex auteurism is, perhaps unexpectedly, linked to the rise of the comic-book superhero movie. Just a few quick words on that:
When the genre got kick-started with 2000’s “X-Men,” Bryan Singer (“The Usual Suspects”) was brought on board to oversee the ambitious project. Like fellow demi-auteur Sam Raimi (who has been dabbling in the superhero genre as far back as 1990’s “Darkman,” with great success), he proved himself capable for two films but suffered a hellish misfire with the third (“Superman Returns” for Singer, and “Spider-Man 3” for Raimi).
Hollywood then moved away from the “established director” mode and started assigning major projects to seemingly anyone they could get their hands on. And what do you get when you pay random winos $20 to direct your superhero movies? “The Fantastic Four” and “Ghost Rider,” that’s what. The genre floundered.
Then came “Batman Begins” and, more importantly, “The Dark Knight.” As helmed by auteur extraordinaire Christopher Nolan (“Memento,” “The Prestige,” “Inception”), these films proved that by putting a true artist — not just a “good filmmaker” — in charge of a franchise, studios could reap critical praises and box-office receipts beyond their wildest dreams.
Which brings us to the present, and the possibility that Nolan’s “Batman” films may end up being far more influential than anyone could have anticipated. In case you haven’t heard, Nolan was made kingmaker for the Superman relaunch planned for a couple years from now. And, upon Nolan’s recommendation, the studio went with Zach Snyder, the budding young talent who gave us “Dawn of the Dead,” “300” and “Watchmen.” Snyder has a very unique eye for action and spectacle, and although I would have loved to see what a filmmaker like Ben Affleck — also originally under consideration — could have done with Superman, it’s hard to argue against Snyder as the most logical choice.
Soon, we will see if auteurism even has the power to resurrect recently gutted franchises. Word has it that Darren Aronofsky’s (“Pi,” “Requiem for a Dream,” The Fountain,” “The Wrestler”) interest in the sequel to “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” is not, in fact, a ghastly joke, and Matthew Vaughn (“Layer Cake,” “Stardust, “Kick-Ass”) is already working on “X-Men: First Class.”
I’m telling you, you can call me crazy all you want. But in a decade, when the comic-book genre is officially credited with having saved the once-endangered craft of true pop art, I’ll have the last laugh.
Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.