Who I Would Have Cast: Superhero Edition

by Cole Albinder

 

Welcome to the first issue of the weekly column, Who I Would Have Cast. In this column, I’ll be looking at different movies and re-casting some of their actors with those who I personally felt would have been good for the parts. In some cases, I’m not trying to stain the original actors with my words, just re-interpreting the roles differently through my eyes. As always, a disclaimer: I am not trying to force my opinion down your throats, as I know that there are those who are fine with these picks and enjoy the movies themselves. You are entitled to your own feelings and opinions. With that said, let’s explore!!

 

SUICIDE SQUAD (my favorite punching bag):

Jeffrey Donovan as Floyd Lawton/Deadshot

Jeffrey Donovan in "Burn Notice".

Courtesy of Twentieth Television, Inc.

Will Smith in 2016's "Suicide Squad".

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

Starting off with Deadshot, who is the first in the line-up introduced to the audience. I love Will Smith, and I thought he did the best with what he was given (as did everyone), giving off the right amount of charisma and grit that the movie required (I swear that if Will Smith were cast as Ben Stein in a movie, he’d be more charismatic than the actual Ben Stein).

But that said, I do agree with several fans and critics on his casting: you don’t take him seriously as a borderline heartless assassin. Yes, acting is all about becoming someone you’re not, but you never got the feeling that this was a guy who truly felt the weight of being a killer and a family man (a better script could have helped in this regard, but still) The only other version of this character I’ve seen was on Arrow, and that version remained likable despite his extremely killer tendencies; that’s what we need to see from Deadshot. The first guy to pop into my head was Jeffrey Donovan, who you’ll recognize as Michael Westen from USA’s Burn Notice. From what I’ve seen of that series, Donovan effortlessly remains likable as he pulls off the hardest cons, and has the charisma and action experience down pat. He was also one of my picks for Batman, but I felt that Deadshot would be a bit more in his wheelhouse. Plus he’s gone toe-to-toe with Smith himself:

 

 

Ksenia Solo as Dr. Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn

Ksenia Solo as "Kenzi" on "Lost Girl".

Courtesy of Prodigy Pictures Inc. in association with Shaw Media and Showcase.

Margot Robbie as "Harley Quinn" in "Suicide Squad".

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

Margot Robbie was great in Suicide Squad, arguably stealing the movie with her every scene. Her energy was infectious, and I’m excited to see more of her (she’s set to star in a spin-off, Gotham City Sirens, alongside Poison Ivy and Catwoman). However, I couldn’t help picturing how well Lost Girl’s Ksenia Solo would fare in that part after watching her in the film Pet. See if you get any vibes out of this scene (start from the 0:48 mark):

Courtesy of Orion Pictures.

Pretty scary, right? Harley needs to toe the line between being witty, brainy, and dangerously psychotic (she’s obsessed with The Joker, obviously). This scene proves that Solo has the chops to take on the psychological elements of Harley’s personality. From what I’ve seen of Lost Girl, she’s also got very good comedic chops. Mix those traits together and you’ve got a bonafide Harley.

Courtesy of Prodigy Pictures Inc. in association with Shaw Media and Showcase.

 

Alan Tudyk as The Joker

Alan Tudyk in "Firefly".

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Courtesy of Twentieth Television, Inc.

Jared Leto as "The Joker" in 2016's "Suicide Squad".

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

Ah, Joker, Joker, Joker. As I went over in one of my previous articles Jared Leto’s Joker: Were We Too Harsh?, I mentioned my preferred choice for the Clown Prince of Crime, Alan Tudyk, who’s been in everything from Firefly to Dodgeball to Moana. He’s taken more roles in every genre than you can name, and you need a good set of comedic and dramatic chops to take on this maniac. I’ve been told that his character Alpha on Dollhouse is very Joker-ish; I couldn’t find any direct clips of him, but I found this trailer:

      Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Television.

Very, very nice. In the meantime, I’m willing to give Jared Leto another chance with a different script.

 

Jake McLaughlin as Rick Flag, Jr.

Jake McLaughlin as " Agent Ryan Booth" on "Quantico".

Courtesy of Disney-ABC Domestic Television.

Joel Kinnaman as "Rick Flag, Jr." in "Suicide Squad".

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

Quantico‘s Jake McLaughlin would have been my pick for Col. Rick Flag, Jr.. His show character Ryan Booth is a born leader and skilled tactician, a person who weighs the pros and cons for every situation, ultimately going with his gut, not unlike Flag. The fact that he served in the U.S. Army (he was in the 3rd Infantry Division, and his unit was one of the first to go into Iraq) would have given him an advantage in playing this character as well.

Ryan Kwanten as George “Digger” Harkness/Captain Boomerang

Ryan Kwanten as "Jason Stackhouse" on "True Blood".

Courtesy of HBO Enterprises.

Jai Courtney as "Captain Boomerang" in "Suicide Squad".

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

Jason Stackhouse?? AUSTRALIAN?!! Yep. As convincing as he is as a Southern bad boy on True Blood, Ryan Kwanten was actually born in Sydney, Australia. The goofy charm and occasional recklessness he displayed on that series made him my first pick for Boomerang, who in the comics is known for being the Suicide Squad’s resident prick. Jai Courtney made the role his own (he was given too little to do, in my opinion), but I feel like Kwanten would have had a field day with this part.

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2: 

Jose Pablo Cantillo as Max Dillon/Electro

Jose Pablo Cantillo as Caesar Martinez on "The Walking Dead".

       Courtesy of AMC Studios.

Jamie Foxx as "Electro" in "The Amazing Spider-Man 2".

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment, Inc.

Cantillo might look familiar, and with good reason: he was a stand-out as Caesar Martinez, second-in-command to The Governor on a few seasons of The Walking Dead. But it was his role on Sons of Anarchy, as spurned Mayan MC member Hector Salazar, that made me want to cast him as Electro. He made the role of Salazar his own, a revenge-hungry, violent thug who could go psychotic (if he needed to) at the drop of a hat (sadly, I couldn’t find any clips of this role. Watch Sons of Anarchy though). The ability to go from normal to psychotic is crucial for playing Electro; get him too angry and he’ll sap the electricity out of an entire town to fry you alive. The ASM2 version of Electro didn’t go far enough in fleshing out its nerdier Max Dillon, his inner struggle to be accepted, and the level of his revenge he takes out using his new powers, and I feel that’s necessary for any future version of Electro. If the Marvel Cinematic Universe wants to play with Electro (and in my opinion, base it off the version from The Spectacular Spider-Man animated series):

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Television.

Cantillo would be my pick for the role and he’d knock it out of the park.

 

Ethan Suplee as Alex O’Hirn/The Rhino

Ethan Suplee as "Randy Hickey" on "My Name is Earl".

      Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Television.

Paul Giamatti in Columbia Picture's "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," starring Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone.

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment, Inc.

With its version of The Rhino, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 checked off the “cheesy, over-the-top villain” requirement on its “How Not to Do a Superhero Movie” checklist (Green Lantern had Hector Hammond, Batman vs. Superman had Lex Luthor). As much as I love Paul Giamatti, this was not the role for him (he’d a great Penguin in a future Batman movie), though he got to live out his dream by playing the role. No joke: here’s the article:

http://comicbook.com/blog/2013/07/24/conan-obrien-responsible-for-paul-giamatti-casting-in-amazing-spider-man-2/

so that’s nice in a crossing-something-off-your-bucket-list kind of way.

In the main Marvel Comics series, The Rhino is a Russian-born man named Alexsei Sytesevich fitted with an irremovable artificial rhinoceros skin that gives him superhuman strength and speed; he’s usually known for charging at his enemies like an actual rhino (see below):

"The Rhino" from Marvel Comics.

   Courtesy of Marvel.com.

In the Ultimate Marvel line of comics (which re-imagine the characters with modern-day origins. Ex: in the original 60’s-era origin, Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider, but by a genetically-altered spider in the Ultimate comics), the Rhino is a suit of armor called R.H.I.N.O. (Robotism Heuristic Intelligence Navigable Operative), operated by Alex O’Hirn (whom we never see), which he uses to rob a bank in Manhattan.

"Ultimate Rhino" from the Ultimate Marvel Comics line.
Sorry, this was the only one that worked.

Courtesy of wikimedia.org.

The ASM2 version combined these two versions of the character, making him a Russian thug named Alexsei Sytesevich, who at the beginning of the film who attempts to steal plutonium from Oscorp, but is foiled by Spider-Man. At the film’s end, the mysterious Gustav Fiers breaks him out of jail (we don’t get to see this directly, another one of the film’s flaws), and gives him a high-tech rhinoceros-themed suit, equipped with missile launchers and machine guns. However, I feel that if Marvel wants to re-introduce the Rhino in a film (and it might be a while before they do that), then they’ll go with the original incarnation of the character, making him a common thug who receives his artificial skin through experimentation (perhaps like in The Spectacular Spider-Man):

    Courtesy of Sony Pictures Television. 

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Television. 

(Sorry about the music on this one).

As you can see in the first clip, the animated version is named Alex O’Hirn, and doesn’t speak with a Russian accent but with a stereotypical Bronx-based one (this is also true of the comics version, even though he was born in Russia). The comics also tend to point out how he’s not too bright either; essentially brawn over brains. The first guy I thought of to play this Rhino was Ethan Suplee, better known to fans of My Name is Earl as Randy Hickey, the brother of the titular character. On that show, he plays a similarly dim-witted character, but one who has an undeniable amount of charm so that we’re not always laughing at him, which I’d want to see from Rhino. It also helps that he’s a big guy (though I think he’s lost some more weight recently) and whether it’s a computer-generated suit or not, I’d love to see this guy go toe-to-toe with Tom Holland at some point in the future.

 Stay tuned to the Non-Stop Film Talk pages on Twitter, Instagram (Cole Albinder), and Facebook for more posts, and leave your thoughts in the comments section!!!!! You’ll be seeing a lot more of me very soon. 

Almost Cast (July 1st, 2017)

by Cole Albinder

Almost Cast is a monthly column here on Non-Stop Film Talk that looks at actors who were almost cast in famous roles, and how getting those roles would have affected their career trajectories.

 

Jon Hamm as Derek Huff in Step Brothers

Jon Hamm as Don Draper in "Mad Men".

Adam Scott as Derek Huff in "Step Brothers".

Starting off this column with a banger (a Catalina Fucking Wine Mixer-sized one) is that Jon Hamm, towards the beginning of his acclaimed tenure as suave yet self-destructive ad exec Don Draper on Mad Men, auditioned to play the scene-stealing part of Derek, brother to Will Ferrell’s Brennan in 2008’s Step Brothers. On a 2012 episode of the Nerdist podcast Making It, comedian and The Odd Couple star Thomas Lennon (pictured below), revealed it came down to himself, Hamm, and Adam Scott for the part before Scott nabbed it.

Actor and comedian Thomas Lennon.

Given Step Brothers‘s release in 2008, it stands that it was filmed in 2007-the same year Mad Men premiered on AMC. While this wouldn’t have caused Hamm to miss out on his breakthrough role, the floodgates to more comedic roles would have opened for him , much like it did for Adam Scott, bringing him stardom through starring roles on Party Down and Parks and Recreation. Had Scott not scored this role and proven himself a talented comedic actor, it’s possible that other actors could have gotten his roles on those aforementioned series and not been as successful.

Even without Step Brothers, Jon Hamm has showed off his comedic chops extensively, from his role as Kristen Wiig’s scumbag hook-up in Bridesmaids to a more pathetic version of himself in the second season of The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret. While his role in the former proves he can be lovably detestable (and his good looks could have made him more of a “perfect son” compared to Will Ferrell’s character), Adam Scott just hit all the right beats in his performance, and Hamm might not have been able to do as well, as he had yet to properly hone his comedic chops. Still, it’s fun to imagine what could have been.

Charlie Hunnam as Aldous Snow in Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Charlie Hunnam as Jax Teller on "Sons of Anarchy".

Russell Brand as Aldous Snow in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall".

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of my all-time favorite movies, Forgetting Sarah Marshall works so well because of how it mines humor and pathos from what it feels like to get over the break-up of a long-standing relationship. Another reason it works so well is because of the committed performances from the cast, particularly Russell Brand as uninhibited rock star and recovering drug addict Aldous Snow. But had Jason Segel gotten his first choice for the part, we would have had a completely different movie.

Charlie Hunnam, known to most  (myself included) as Jax Teller, the charismatic, bad-ass biker from the (PHENOMENAL) FX series Sons of Anarchy, has a history with Segel; the two of them (along with Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel) had starred on a short-lived Fox sitcom called Undeclared back in 2001, which was created by present-day comedy auteur Judd Apatow. Though they hadn’t worked together since that show ended, Segel initially thought of Hunnam when writing Aldous Snow, who was originally going to be an author rather than a rock star. Hunnam reportedly turned down the part to star on Sons, which coincidentally came out the same year as Sarah Marshall. Russell Brand’s audition caused Segel to rewrite the character entirely, and the rest is history.

As Hunnam was focusing on more serious roles at the time (such as his part a few years before in Green Street Hooligans), it’s understandable that he wasn’t completely interested in the part. It’s not entirely clear where his career could have gone had he taken the role; the movie could have flopped had it decided to go in its original direction, and everyone could have suffered for it. Joining Sons of Anarchy was ultimately the right move for Hunnam, as it allowed him to move on to bigger projects like Pacific Rim and (most recently) King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. And frankly, I can’t imagine this movie without Brand’s Inside of You scene. But here’s hoping that Hunnam and Segel make a movie together in the near future, one that benefits them both. Here’s some parts of an interview from a few years back where Hunnam talks about passing on the role:

“It was in a really difficult time in my career where a lot of directors that I really loved and respected wanted to hire me, but then they would go with the idea to the studio and the studio would say, ‘Listen, we think he’s great. He’s just not a big enough star for us to justify gambling this big of an investment on. So you can’t hire him.’ And I had my heart broken time and time again. Like we kind of discussed a little earlier, I had a really, really specific idea of the type of work that I wanted to do. And it was much more dramatically based. And I just felt at that point I was really, really primed to go and do something that I needed to do that was going to be a catharsis for this massive amount of period of time that I’d been out of work and struggling. So when that came along it just felt like the wrong thing for me to do at that time. So I did the read-through, and it went really well and everything, and they made the financial offer and I just said, ‘Listen, guys. I’m so sorry. I really, really appreciate the opportunity …’ [Jason] was one of my best friends. I said, ‘Thank you so much. I know this is going to be kind of a blow for you, but I just can’t go and do this movie right now.’ Judd was pretty pissed off about it. He didn’t fully understand where I was coming from, but hopefully now that he’s seen me stick to my guns and go and do the type of work that I do want to do that in hindsight he may understand the reasoning behind it.”

After seeing how “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” turned out, did you have any regrets?
No. You know what? I did have some regrets. Because after that period, after I turned that down, I still had another whole year of complete unemployment. They went off and made this movie and had a wonderful experience and everyone got paid a lot of money. They had offered me a [bleep]-load of money that would have been life-changing for me at that point, but I just couldn’t do it. I toiled with myself for that whole year, like, “Why? Why am I so cerebral? Why didn’t I just go and have a good time with my friends and go and do this thing and what the hell is the matter with me?” All those type of thoughts.
And then it’s funny; I couldn’t see the movie for a while because I was a bit tortured by it. And then I went and did some projects—I got “Sons of Anarchy” and I made a couple movies that I was really excited about. Then I saw it right after I had seen Russell Brand do some stand-up on TV. It just seemed to me that it had all gone exactly the way it was supposed to go.

Russell Brand did a so much better job than I would have done in the movie. He was so much more equipped for that role. The role was different; he wasn’t a rock star. He was a young actor in the version that I was going to do. And there was actually a very, very funny reveal where I had this really big Texas twang for the first half of the movie and then I get into an argument with Sarah Marshall and she goes, “Can you stop doing that goddamn accent?!” And then I’d say (in English accent), “But honey, how am I ever going to get work in America if I don’t practice my accent?” And then there’s the big reveal that I was actually English. We had a lot of laughs in the read-through, but like I said, it was bad timing for me.”

Shia LaBeouf and Jesse Eisenberg in War Dogs

Shia LaBeouf asks audiences to watch all his movies with him in real time over three days straight.              Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor in "Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice".

 

Jonah Hill and Miles Teller in "War Dogs".

Scheduling conflicts in 2014 prevented LaBeouf and Eisenberg from starring in Todd Phillips’s crime comedy-drama, based on the true story about two 20-somethings who receive a contract from the U.S. Army to supply the Afghan National Army with munitions worth $300 million. Eisenberg chose Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice instead, whereas LaBeouf was in jail after disrupting a Broadway performance of Cabaret. This pairing could have been interesting, yet it’s possible that given LaBeouf’s penchant for causing trouble, the two actors could have clashed behind-the-scenes, and that could have made for bad chemistry in the film as a whole. As with Hunnam and Segel, let’s hope that LaBeouf and Eisenberg get to be in a movie some day, when both of their schedules match up accordingly.

Like what you read? Leave thoights in the comments section, whether it’s about this article or about topics you’d want to see me tackle. Expect the next issue of this column out on August 1st. 

Jared Leto’s Joker: Were We Too Harsh?

Jared Leto as "The Joker" in 2016's "Suicide Squad".

                                    Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

Jared Leto’s Joker: Were We Too Harsh?

by Cole Albinder

Admit it: Suicide Squad was the most anticipated and promoted film of this past summer. From the trailers to the merchandise, people were gearing up for what looked like the most insane, action-packed, wickedly clever comic book movie, one that would focus on a group of villains forced to do some good. Despite that angle, and the presence of some top notch acting talent (Will Smith, Margot Robbie, and Viola Davis, among others), there was one aspect of the film that audiences were excited for: the inclusion of Batman’s arch-nemesis The Joker, to be played by Oscar-winner Jared Leto.

Heath Ledger’s mesmerizing, psychotically-charged take on the Clown Prince of Crime in 2008’s seminal The Dark Knight left such an imprint on audiences. He was at once captivating, cunning, manipulative, and just the right amount of crazy; he arguably stole the spotlight from Batman. Just a few years ago, when Warner Bros. announced their own DC Comics film universe to rival Marvel’s, few doubted that The Joker wouldn’t return to menace the Batman once again. Flash forward to the first giant casting announcement for Suicide Squad, and Jared Leto was included as The Joker himself. Fans went rabid over how The Joker would fit into the movie; his “lover” Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) was in it, so it would make sense if he figured into the plot somehow. Would he only be in flashbacks to Harley’s past? Or would he be the villain of the movie? People also wondered what what he would look like. That question was answered a few months later, when director David Ayer tweeted out this picture:

"The Joker" (Jared Leto) in "suicide Squad".

                             Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

Any fears about this movie were intensified once this image hit the web. I mean, we partly got what we wanted: a Joker interpretation far removed from Heath Ledger’s. But metal teeth (this would later be explained as Batman having knocked his teeth out, which kinda works)? Tattoos?! This went a bit far, and people were understandably upset, confused, or both. But the actual footage of Joker in several trailers and commercials mostly assuaged these critics. Take a look at this one:

                   Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

And then there’s this one focused mostly on him:

                          Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

Piqued your interest, right? As long as his trademark insanity was present, it wouldn’t matter what The Joker looked like. Audiences were pumped to see just what crazy shit The Joker would get away with throughout the film. Opening day finally came, and audiences finally got to see Joker….but only for a little bit.

Turns out that the negative feedback Warner Bros. got from Batman vs. Superman‘s dark and dreary tone scared them into re-editing/re-shooting Suicide Squad to be much lighter and fun, like what the trailers promised. Unfortunately, this meant the shelving of a lot of Joker footage, even if it made sense to keep it in, story-wise. We only got to see a few scenes with the Clown Prince of Crime, about 10 minutes worth.

Even with his limited screentime , audiences weren’t completely forgiving with Leto’s take on the villain, with a good portion of internet forum groups, casual fans, and members of the public singling him out as one of the movie’s worst aspects. It’s unlikely we’ve seen the last of this Joker, as Leto has teased his return via posts on social media. With his return imminent, what can we hope for until then?

First, I’ll give my take on Leto’s performance. I can’t say that I’ve seen a large amount of his work as an actor, save for Dallas Buyers Club. I thought he was very good in that movie, showing how much of a chameleon he is when playing different roles. I didn’t doubt that he would bring that same ethic to Joker, and I was excited as many others were. His actual performance divided me, though: while he had presence and came off as chilling in a few scenes, I felt that he was playing it too over-the-top, almost trying too hard to be crazy and unpredictable whenever he showed up. His laugh was also divisive; the maniacal laugh is integral to any actor playing the Joker, whether it be a live actor or a voice actor. Mark Hamill, who has done fantastic voice-over work as The Joker in several animated series and video games, describes the process of finding the right laugh in the video below:

          Courtesy of Warner Bros. Animation. 

My first thought after hearing Leto’s laugh was that it sounded like a creepier version of the sloth’s laugh from Zootopia. I didn’t hate it necessarily, but I felt that it would only sound creepy on occasion, which the movie proved correct. There’s a shot of him in both trailers above where he’s lying in the middle of a room and lets out a laugh; that scene was where it worked. It didn’t really work at the end of this scene, though:

                       Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

Remember what I said about trying too hard?

However, there is room for improvement. The script for Suicide Squad wasn’t that great  (it was rushed, but that’s another story, as shown in my review of the movie), and the editing was on the wall, so you can’t completely blame Leto for how The Joker was treated. With Warner Bros. undergoing new management for running their DC Comics film division, it’s hopeful that they will give their characters more of the respect and character depth that we know and love from the comics, and The Joker could certainly be one of them. That way, Leto could flesh out his take on the character a little more, and maybe audiences would warm up to his Joker. They might even switch up his design for the next film he pops up in, given how much flak the movie got for the tattoos and metal teeth. Maybe something closer to the comics or animated series.

The Joker's typical design, as seen in "Batman: Hush".

       Courtesy of DC Comics Entertainment. 

 

The Joker in "Batman: The Animated Series".

     Courtesy of Warner Bros. Animation.

You never know what Warner Bros. might do. But like any comedian, The Joker knows how to reinvent himself and his material for any occasion, so it would make some deal of sense.

But if it were up to me, I would have gone with someone other than Leto for Joker. Maybe Alan Tudyk, otherwise known as the most underrated actor in Hollywood.

 

Alan Tudyk in "Firefly".

You’ve probably seen him in a few TV series and movies over the years, but fans of Fox’s revered but short-lived show Firefly will recognize him as the pilot of Serenity, Hoban “Wash” Washbourne. In that role, and in several other roles, he’s shown experience in comedy, drama, and action, all of which are necessary for The Joker. You’re more likely to recognize him from his voice work, though. Here’s a clip from Wreck-It Ralph, where he plays a very Joker-like character, King Candy, a.k.a. Turbo.

               Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

In addition, he was the voice of K-2SO in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Tucker in 2010’s Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, as well as the voices of the Duke of Weselton in Frozen, Duke Weaselton in Zootopia, Allistair Krei in Big Hero 6, and Hei-Hei in Moana. I feel that if he were given this role, that he would not only do something unique and interesting with it, but he would also have a lot of fun with it. As long as he doesn’t take it too far of course, like sending people rats and boxes of bullets (which Leto did as part of his method acting for the role).

Thanks for joining me this week on Non-Stop Film Talk. Stay tuned for next week’s post!

 

 

 

Reviewing: Fracture (2007)

 

Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling in 2007's thriller "Fracture".

          Courtesy of Castle Rock Entertainment.

2007’s Fracture is a film that seemingly went under the radar in a year otherwise dominated by franchise installments like Spider-Man 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. And it’s certainly not the first kind of movie to do that; year after year, there are movies that are quietly released and often aren’t as successful at the box office as the movies I previously mentioned. Which is what makes discovering them on television or DVD all the more exciting. A cat-and-mouse-esque thriller, Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling play a wealthy aeronautical engineer and a young hotshot district attorney respectively. Hopkins’s character is being tried for the attempted murder of his wife, and Gosling’s character at first thinks it’s an open-and-shut case: the defendant has admitted to the crime, along with supplying a signed confession. But there’s much more going on under the surface. While I was expecting a somewhat more twisty thrill ride, the film more than suffices, thanks in large part to the equally great performances of both Gosling and Hopkins.

 

 

 

 

Reviewing: Baghead (2008)

The title character of 2008's "Baghead".

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Filmmaker brothers Mark and Jay Duplass have carved out an extensive resume of projects, most notably those in the independent film genre. It’s in this genre that they truly thrive, churning out films that have oddball sensitivities, but are grounded in the real world. Their 2008 feature Baghead is one of them. The film follows four struggling actors, Matt (Ross Partridge of Stranger Things), Chad (frequent Duplass collaborator Steve Zissis), Michelle (a still-unknown Greta Gerwig), and Catherine (Elise Muller), who, after watching a shoddy film at a film festival, believe that they can make a movie that is not only more successful, but can launch their careers as well. They go up to a cabin in the woods and decide on a plot for their newly decided horror film: a group of people are stalked by a man wearing a paper bag over his head. Things become more complicated when a similar individual starts stalking our main characters. The film itself is enjoyable and strikes a clear balance between comedy, drama, and horror, and each of the actors are clearing enjoying themselves. I was hoping for a bit more intrigue in regards to the titular killer, maybe some more inventive ways he could have intimidated the main characters. Overall, it’s a good film: not great, and not terrible, but an enjoyable (albeit not entirely promising) film experience.

Reviewing: Crush (2013)

Crystal Reed (center) and Lucas Till (right) in "Crush".

Courtesy of FilmNation Entertainment.

Crush was a film that I had a degree of hope for: it had an intriguing premise (a high school student is obsessively and violently stalked by a crush) and a few actors I’d been familiar with. I wasn’t crazy about the trailer I saw, but I decided I had nothing to lose and watched the movie nonetheless. While the film is entertaining, it’s only to a degree. This is largely in part because of an almost cringe-worthy script and a predictable storyline, both wasting the talents of a group of very talented actors (Lucas Till, Sarah Bolger, and Crystal Reed, among others). I know it sounds harsh for a film that was released direct-to-DVD, but that shouldn’t be an excuse for those behind the film to not try as hard as they could have, as the premise is ripe for innovation and intrigue.

 

 

Reviewing: Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016)

From left to right: Anna Kendrick, Zac Efron, Adam DeVine, and Aubrey Plaza.

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox. 

by Cole Albinder

I’ve been noticing a disappointing trend in some recent big-budget comedies, mostly R-rated ones. Now more than ever, they seem to always ride on a constant stream of dirty jokes and droppings of the F-bomb. Now don’t get me wrong: those two factors can make for some funny scenes in movies, but they start becoming more obnoxious than funny when that’s what makes up most of the humor. Not to say that every recent movie that’s done this has been terrible, but in my opinion there should be a way to curse and crack jokes in ways that don’t feel outdated and in your face. What I’m saying is that characters in a film should go a while into their running time without using “fuck” as a noun/verb or going overly dirty with their jokes, even if that film is R-rated. This week’s entry, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, improves a bit on this front but otherwise fails to take advantage of a great premise.

Mike (Adam DeVine) and Dave Stangle (Zac Efron) are brothers who have a reputation in their family for wreaking havoc during family gatherings with their antics (a flashback shows that their fireworks display at one party didn’t go as planned). Not wanting the boys’ sister Jeanie’s (Sugar Lyn Beard) wedding in Hawaii to suffer a similar fate, their father Burt (Stephen Root) demands that the boys find “respectable girls” to be their dates to the wedding, so that they will keep the boys out of trouble. The boys agree, putting an ad out on Craigslist, before appearing live on The Wendy Williams Show. 

The two main couples.

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox. 

This televised appearance catches the attention of two slacker party girls, Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) and Alice (Anna Kendrick), who have just been fired from their jobs. After catching the brothers’ attention one night (when Tatiana throws herself in front of a car, with Mike rushing to her aid), they agree to take the girls to Hawaii. Once there, the girls struggle to hide their true identities from the brothers and their family members (Tatiana says she is a schoolteacher, Alice goes with being a hedge fund manager), along with actually growing attached to the boys, all the while leaving just as much mayhem in their wake as the brothers usually would.

All in all, it’s an entertaining, if not quite fulfilling movie. It has its moments, no doubt, but even then, those moments could have been made better with more attention on character development and stronger writing. Fortunately, the cast brings their A-game to the material. Efron has been proving himself to be a talented comedic actor in the past few years, and here he succeeds on giving Dave both humor and pathos. DeVine (already well-known as one of the co-creators and stars of Workaholics) matches him with hilarious intensity, and Plaza proves that she’s one of the best female comedians working today. Then there’s Kendrick: don’t get me wrong, she’s a great actress who’s proven her comedic chops in the past, but I haven’t been as comfortable with her playing overly raunchy, quirky characters like she does here. I watched another movie called Mr. Right where she played a similar type of character, and it almost made me cringe watching her deliver certain lines as that character. To be fair, that movie wasn’t quite a gem either, so it’s possible that she can deliver more as this character when she’s got better material to work with.

The four leads huddle up.

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox. 

But as I said at the beginning of this review, Mike and Dave doesn’t go full speed ahead into dick jokes and F-bombs until a little into the movie, which I commend it for (if I wrote an R-rated comedy, I’d use the F-bombs and jokes more wisely, just saying), but it still points out a fundamental flaw with big budget comedies: they feel like they can coast by on cursing and making stale dirty jokes, leaving little room for character development or innovation. It could be said that no one sets out to make a bad movie, but I feel like if people in this business could be pushed toward change and originality, then there’s hope for entertainment in the near future.