Morgan Freeman

Street Smart (1987, Jerry Schatzberg)

Somewhere around the halfway point in Street Smart, when both female “leads” get reduced to a combination punching bag–figuratively and literally–and damsel, the movie starts to collapse. It doesn’t collapse in a standard way. It doesn’t give too much to either of its dueling stars, Christopher Reeve and Morgan Freeman; instead, it gives them less. It collapses out of a kind of inertia. After promising sensational developments, it offers none.

Except, of course, Reeve embracing his mediocre (but good looking) white guy privilege. Like everything else in the ending, however, Street Smart doesn’t really want to pursue it. It just wants to be over.

Lots happens in the third act–assaults, murders, two jail sequences for Reeve (though the second is after the movie’s stopped treating him like a protagonist)–and none of it gets any resolution from the characters. The film skips over their reactions to their subsequent actions. It rushes through the most intersting part of the story, when Reeve’s hubris brings suffering on everyone.

The film starts with Reeve as a floundering New York (sadly filmed in Montreal because Cannon) magazine reporter. Despite going to Harvard and being good looking, Reeve can no longer hack it. The managing editor, Andre Gregory, thinks he’s boring. Until Reeve sells them on a lifestyle piece on a Times Square pimp. They buy it. Only problem, Reeve doesn’t know any Times Square pimps to write lifestyle pieces about. He does, however, take Times Square working girl Kathy Baker out for ice cream.

So Reeve makes up the story. Girlfriend Mimi Rogers is supportive, as Reeve losing his job means they can’t pretend to be successful yuppies anymore.

Simultaneously, Times Square pimp Freeman has just accidentally killed an abusive john. The D.A., Jay Patterson, is out to get him. Patterson is everything Reeve isn’t. Patterson’s not good looking, but he’s honest and hard-working. He’s also cruel as shit. Reeve’s not cruel. He learns to be cruel (not thanks to Patterson, who keeps getting him thrown in jail, but Freeman, but it’s in the dreadful third act so who cares).

Patterson wants Reeve to snitch on Freeman. Only Reeve doesn’t know Freeman. Until Freeman finds out Baker knows Reeve and then decides to use him as a defense witness. Reeve needs Freeman to convince Gregory he’s got a real pimp. Reeve and Freeman have a successful reciprocal relationship, complicated when Reeve gets too close to Baker and vice versa.

The one thing Street Smart never does–oh, I forgot, Reeve also becomes a TV news reporter because he’s rather good looking and photogenic–but the one thing the film never does is show Reeve reacting to where he was wrong in his fiction. He sees Freeman’s real life, in some of the film’s best scenes–even when it’s over dramatic, the acting is superb (director Schatzberg realizes then forgets the cast is best when in frame together)–but he never really reacts to it.

He’s got the Baker subplot instead.

And Baker’s great. It’s just not great for the movie.

Most of the acting is excellent. Freeman is phenomenal. If he doesn’t give the best performance in sunglasses ever in Street Smart, he’s got to come close. Patterson’s great. Baker’s great. Reeve’s quite good some of the time. The rest of the time the writing’s just too thin. And he and Rogers have zero chemistry.

Rogers isn’t good. She’s occasionally okay, but it’s a crap part. Gregory is annoying. It seems unlikely such a nitwit could run a successful magazine, even if he’s rich and white.

Erik King is pretty good as Freeman’s sidekick. Anna Maria Horsford is awesome as Freeman’s “business manager.” She only has a couple scenes but she’s so good.

Schatzberg’s direction never makes much impression either way. Given the film’s Montreal shooting location, I guess it’s impressive how well he makes the film feel like New York. Adam Holender’s photography should get some of that credit as well. It’s not great cinematography and he really should’ve worked with Schatzberg on some of the establishing shots, but it’s convincing.

Robert Irving III’s score is a little much. Miles Davis contributing results in some nice trumpeting, but not much in the way of effective movie scoring.

Street Smart has some great acting going for it and a lot of interesting character intersections. It’s a bit of a cowardly script. It runs away from the race angle; brings it up, then (impressively) runs away from it, enough fingers to fill ears and cover eyes. Basically it just needed a strong rewrite–or a stronger director–but it’s a Cannon production. Its producers don’t care about making a good movie, just selling one.

So, for a movie about a mediocre white guy’s bullshit catching up with him and forcing a metamorphosis (for better or worse), it’s a fail. But for a Cannon production, it’s pretty amazing.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jerry Schatzberg; written by David Freeman; director of photography, Adam Holender; edited by Priscilla Nedd-Friendly; music by Robert Irving III; production designer, Dan Leigh; produced by Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan; released by Cannon Films.

Starring Christopher Reeve (Jonathan), Morgan Freeman (Fast Black), Kathy Baker (Punchy), Jay Patterson (Pike), Mimi Rogers (Alison), Erik King (Reggie), Anna Maria Horsford (Harriet), Shari Hilton (Darlene), Frederick Rolf (Davis), Michael J. Reynolds (Sheffield), and Andre Gregory (Ted).


Million Dollar Baby (2004, Clint Eastwood)

Million Dollar Baby has a somewhat significant plot twist. Well, it actually has a couple of them. And neither comes with much foreshadowing. A little in Paul Haggis’s script, which director Eastwood visualizes appropriately, but they’re in the background. The film has its larger than life story to worry about–Clint Eastwood as a stogy old boxing trainer taking on a female boxer, played by Hilary Swank. Except she’s not a kid. She’s a grown woman.

The film opens without cast title cards. Immediately, it’s very smooth. Eastwood has a gym, Morgan Freeman runs it for him. There are assorted goings-on at the gym involving the guys training there. It’s a great supporting cast at the gym–Jay Baruchel, Mike Colter, Anthony Mackie–but the gym is initially just where Eastwood hangs out, not where he interacts. So instead Freeman is telling him the goings-on, which does fantastic setup for their relationship throughout the film. Only when Swank arrives does Eastwood get forced to participate and only after prodding from Freeman.

It’s great character development, funny, sweet, sincere. Eastwood’s very careful not to push too hard on any emotional buttons. He makes sure the actors’ emotions are authentic and doesn’t lay it on with the filmmaking. Tom Stern shoots Million Dollar Baby with crispness for the daytime scenes and sharpness with the nighttime. It works as to how the performances come across, how Joel Cox edits them. If it weren’t for how well Haggis’s script works, especially how it integrates Freeman’s narration, Million Dollar Baby might just be one of film’s finest melodramas. Well, if Eastwood–who does a lot in Million Dollar Baby as an actor and a director–wanted to make a melodrama.

He doesn’t though. Instead, he makes this strangely small, while still big, character study of three people and a location and shared experiences. Most of the film takes place in the gym. It’s the touchstone for the characters and the audience. Eastwood and Haggis never wax on about the hopes and dreams of the boxers at the gym–or even Swank’s. It’s not a meditation on the sport of boxing. It’s this devastating human condition piece, with characters revealing depths the entire length of the film, both through scripted dialogue and the actors’ performances. All of the acting is great; Swank is the best, but Eastwood’s the most surprising. You never once get the feeling Eastwood ever has an idea of what he’s going to say to Swank.

Freeman is great too, in the film’s most “of course” sort of way. He gets to be a bit of a mystery and has some fun with it. He narrates and he’s never untrustworthy or anything, he just isn’t telling his own story and it turns out–thanks to Freeman and Haggis–it adds to the film.

Eastwood also did the music, which is sort of unsurprising and also fantastic. The music is perfect. It’s such a strange film, this gentle American Dream rumination, celebration, and condemnation. It’s always sincere, never cynical, never defeatist, but never hopeful either. Eastwood’s filmmaking is focused character study. The music is restrained and minimal.

So many different things are going on in the film at any moment–whether it’s Swank’s Rocky story, Eastwood’s aging one, Freeman’s supporting mostly wry one, Eastwood and Haggis rely heavily on that Freeman narration. He never disappoints. Million Dollar Baby is kind of a love letter; all of a sudden I’m wondering how the script was written with the narration or if it was cut together later.

Eastwood, Swank, and Freeman don’t reinvent the melodrama; they just perfect the melodramatic character study. Ably assisted by Haggis, Stern, and Cox. Million Dollar Baby is phenomenal.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Clint Eastwood; screenplay by Paul Haggis, based on stories by F.X. Toole; director of photography, Tom Stern; edited by Joel Cox; music by Eastwood; production designer, Henry Bumstead; produced by Eastwood, Haggis, Tom Rosenberg, and Albert S. Ruddy; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Clint Eastwood (Frankie Dunn), Hilary Swank (Maggie Fitzgerald), Morgan Freeman (Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris), Brían F. O’Byrne (Father Horvak), Jay Baruchel (Danger Barch), Anthony Mackie (Shawrelle Berry), Mike Colter (Big Willie Little), Lucia Rijker (Billie “The Blue Bear” Osterman), and Margo Martindale (Earline Fitzgerald).

Seven (1995, David Fincher)

Seven is a gorgeous film. It’s often a really stupid film, but it’s a gorgeous film. Even when it’s being stupid, it’s usually gorgeous. Director Fincher has a beautiful precision to his composition; he works great with photographer Darius Khondji, editor Richard Francis-Bruce and composer Howard Shore (about half the time with Shore). Seven is a visually harrowing experience. Shame the narrative breaks down halfway through when Andrew Kevin Walker’s already problematic script shifts leading man duties to Brad Pitt (from Morgan Freeman). It’s not just Pitt’s inability to lead the film, it also gets really dumb once they use the secret FBI database to find their bad guy. Fincher spends a lot of time setting up the authenticity of his hellish American city. When Seven starts flushing that verisimilitude down the proverbial toilet, well… it splatters on everyone, most unfortunately Freeman.

Freeman’s great in the film. He can’t do much in the scenes where he inexplicably plays sidekick to Pitt, who’s really bad at this particular role. While Pitt doesn’t have any chemistry with wife Gwyneth Paltrow, she doesn’t have any chemistry with anyone. Sure, her part is horrifically thin, but she’s still not good. Her scenes bonding with Freeman are painful. It’s good production designer Arthur Max went out of his way to include frequent interesting signage in the backgrounds because otherwise Paltrow’s big monologue wouldn’t be as tolerable. Even Freeman can’t make that scene work.

There’s some decent acting from R. Lee Ermey. It’s strange how well Fincher and editor Francis-Bruce do with some performances and how badly they do with others. Especially since the second half is just a star vehicle for the completely underwhelming Pitt. But there’s also this interrogation sequence (a very, very stupid one as far as cop movie logic goes, but Seven laughs at reasonable cop movie logic time and again) where Pitt’s interrogating Michael Massee and Freeman’s interrogating Leland Orser. Orser’s awful, but clearly going for what Fincher and Walker want. Massee’s great in his few moments, the editing on his side. Sure, Massee’s acting opposite Pitt, but the editing lets him have his scene, it doesn’t give it to Pitt.

Later on in the film, when Pitt’s having his big intellectual showdown with Kevin Spacey (who does wonders with a terribly written part), Fincher and Francis-Bruce let Pitt have the scene. They really should. One feels bad for Spacey, acting opposite such a vacuum. Pitt’s far better in the first half of the film, whining about being Freeman’s subordinate; he lets his hair do a lot of the acting in those scenes. His frosted blond tips give the better performance.

It’s a beautifully directed film. Fincher’s excellent at whatever the film needs–Freeman sulking around because he’s a lonely old cop and it’s what lonely old cops do, Pitt doing a chase sequence, even John C. McGinley’s glorified cameo as the SWAT commander has some good procedural sequences–but he doesn’t actually have a real vision for it. He takes a little here, takes a little there. It ends with an inexplicable nod to film noir and Casablanca. It’s dumb. Because Walker’s script, in addition to often being bad, is often dumb. It needed a good rewrite and far better performances in Pitt and Paltrow’s roles.

Oh, and the nameless American city bit? That choice was stupid too.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by David Fincher; written by Andrew Kevin Walker; director of photography, Darius Khondji; edited by Richard Francis-Bruce; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Arthur Max; produced by Arnold Kopelson and Phyllis Carlyle; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Brad Pitt (Mills), Morgan Freeman (Somerset), Gwyneth Paltrow (Tracy), Kevin Spacey (John), R. Lee Ermey (Police Captain), John C. McGinley (California), Richard Schiff (Mark Swarr) and Richard Roundtree (District Attorney Martin Talbot).


The Dark Knight Rises (2012, Christopher Nolan)

Much of The Dark Knight Rises is rushed. The film runs over two and a half hours and director Nolan can’t find anything he wants to spend much time on. He’s got a lot of characters to occupy that run time; they occasionally intersect, but rarely long enough to make an impression. Nolan seems to think the Wally Pfister photography can sell any scene, whether it’s one of the most boring chase sequences in a big budget film (but it’s at twilight and Pfister makes it look great) or if it’s ostensible lead Christian Bale and his romantic interest, Marion Cotillard, letting the rainy afternoon bring out their passions. Passions can be in the script, but there’s no chemistry between Bale and Cotillard. Though, again, rainy afternoon passion? Pfister can shoot it. Competent photography doesn’t make something any good, unfortunately.

And there’s not much good about Rises. Some of the acting is fine, some of the acting is bad, some of it is good. But the script’s so lame, Bale never has anything to do. It sets him up as physically incapable of being Batman (set some eight years after the previous entry). Bale looks awful too. So what does he do? He becomes Batman again. There’s no logic to it, just like there’s no logic to all the corporate machinations going on with an extremely lame Ben Mendelsohn as another businessman trying to take Bale’s company. Rises seems like it had an outline, but no connective tissue between events. Anne Hathaway’s “Catwoman” is shoehorned into the film. She’s pointless. Hathaway gives a technically good performance, Nolan just doesn’t have anything to do with her. She’s scenery and the occasional plot foil.

Then there’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who pops in as Gary Oldman’s sidekick. Real quick–Oldman’s awful in the beginning of the film and better in the second half, though he’s no William Shatner when he needs to be–Nolan always casts the wrong kind of ham. Michael Caine’s real bad. His writing is bad here, but he’s also real bad.

Anyway, back to Gordon-Levitt. He’s fine–he and Bale are great together too, but they only get two significant scenes together. It’s dumb. The mistakes the film makes with its characters are dumb. The whole thing seeks to reimagine the previous entries in the Bale and Nolan Bat franchise to fit this one’s needs. But being out of ideas is no excuse, ditto Nolan’s utter boredom with the filmmaking. Rises is like a bad James Bond knock-off, complete with a Bond villain in Tom Hardy’s philosopher brute.

Rises is also a New York action movie, only one where Nolan wants to pretend it’s about “Gotham City” while winking about how it’s really “New York City.” There’s even the obligatory insensitive 9/11 reference–Nolan really goes for the Americana here. Usually to roll his eyes at it. At its core, Rises is supposed to be about heroism. It doesn’t fail at it because Nolan’s a cynic, necessarily, it fails because it has a really bad, stupid script. With awful reveals. And a lot of poorly edited montages set to bad music.

Technically, other than Pfister, Rises is a joke. Hans Zimmer’s score is terrible, Lee Smith’s editing is ugly. It’s not just a poorly edited film, it’s ugly. It’s not all Smith’s fault either, he’s got no coverage from Nolan and Nolan’s got no rhythm.

As for Hardy, like most other things in Rises, he’s lame. It’s not entirely his fault, but maybe some of it is his fault. Did he do his Count Dracula-impression voice? Then that one is his fault. His face being so covered he has no visual affect? Nolan’s fault.

Nolan hopes his cast will earn enough interest to keep the film going–the way he cuts between Bale, Gordon-Levitt, Hathaway, Hardy, Oldman, Morgan Freeman and Cotillard–there’s a definite attempt to engender concern for the cast. Not concern with Hardy so much, but everyone else. Hardy’s supposed to be the toughest mother on the planet and Nolan’s action direction is so bad–not to mention his direction of Hardy as an actor–Hardy comes off less threatening than a villain on the Adam West TV show. Nolan purposely removes Rises and its characters from reality and from danger. There’s nothing to get invested in.

So instead of the movie making it because of Bale or anyone else, it makes it because you feel sorry for them. I didn’t know I was capable of feeling sorry for Bale, but I clearly am, because Bale showed up for work–probably was going to yell at some caterer or whatever–and Nolan didn’t.

The Dark Knight Rises is a bunch of underwritten, short scenes strung together–usually stuck haphazardly together with crap montages. Even more than Nolan’s direction, the problem is the script. It’s atrocious and it’s too bad. It isn’t just Bale who showed up willing to work, it’s just about everyone except for Michael Caine.

It sinks. And it stinks.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Christopher Nolan; screenplay by Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan, based on a story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer; director of photography, Wally Pfister; edited by Lee Smith; music by Hans Zimmer; production designers, Nathan Crowley and Kevin Kavanaugh; produced by Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas and Charles Roven; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Anne Hathaway (Selina Kyle), Tom Hardy (Bane), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (John Blake), Michael Caine (Alfred), Gary Oldman (Commissioner Gordon), Marion Cotillard (Miranda Tate), Matthew Modine (Foley), Ben Mendelsohn (Daggett) and Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox).


Clean and Sober (1988, Glenn Gordon Caron)

In hindsight, as the film settles during its final scene, it becomes clear a lot of Clean and Sober is obvious. Director Caron and writer Tod Carroll withhold a few pieces of information until that final scene, which do inform a little more, but the obviousness isn’t actually a problem. Protagonist Michael Keaton’s motivations do not have to be mysterious or singular, because he’s neither.

The film tracks Keaton’s drug addled real estate salesman through rehab and his time immediately following it. Caron and cinematographer Jan Kiesser portray the rehab clinic as drab and weathered, in contrast to Keaton’s home and office, which are sterile. The second half of the film feels either like a lengthy epilogue or the first half is just a lengthy prologue. Probably the former, since Carroll’s script forgets a lot of outstanding plot threads.

Caron’s direction matches the forgetful nature of the script; he never picks one style or another, sometimes using comedic techniques and pacing for dramatic scenes and vice versa. While the incomplete narrative plays towards realism, Caron fails to acknowledge it or embrace it.

But none of Clean and Sober would work if not for Keaton, who gives a singular performance. Every scene has something phenomenal from him.

The supporting cast is excellent. Kathy Bates, M. Emmet Walsh, Morgan Freeman, Luca Bercovici; all great.

Gabriel Yared’s minimalist but sympathetic score is essential.

Clean and Sober has its problems, but it’s a significant success. Keaton is mesmerizing; Caron builds the film around him.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Glenn Gordon Caron; written by Tod Carroll; director of photography, Jan Kiesser; edited by Richard Chew; music by Gabriel Yared; production designer, Joel Schiller; produced by Deborah Blum and Tony Ganz; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Michael Keaton (Daryl Poynter), Kathy Baker (Charlie Standers), Morgan Freeman (Craig), Luca Bercovici (Lenny), Brian Benben (Martin Laux), Tate Donovan (Donald Towle), Claudia Christian (Iris) and M. Emmet Walsh (Richard Dirks).


Now You See Me (2013, Louis Leterrier), the extended edition

Now You See Me plays a little like Ocean’s Eleven without Steven Soderbergh and a great cast of supporting character actors instead of lead actors doing an ensemble. Except maybe Jesse Eisenberg. He acts like he’s running See Me, even though he’s not in it very much. And his character’s supposed to be acting like he owns it… it kind of works.

Director Leterrier is outstanding at the flash. There’s a flashy car chase, there’s flashy magic acts, there’s flashy this, there’s flashy that–but he’s also capable of doing a nice, quiet character arc for Mark Ruffalo and Mélanie Laurent. They’ve got wonderful chemistry. They play the federal agents (okay, she’s from Interpol but whatever) after Eisenberg and his fellow outlaw magicians (an amusing Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher in the film’s only bad performance and a very appealing Dave Franco). Along the way, they get a little flirty and it’s a nice subplot for the picture, which is very busy with it’s more scripted plotting.

Besides the magicians–and See Me jumps ahead a year from their introduction, so they’re no longer reliable protagonists–there’s the FBI, but also Morgan Freeman as a magician debunker and Michael Caine’s around too as the magician’s wealthy benefactor. Leterrier juggles everything quite well–the film doesn’t even drag until the car chase, almost seventy minutes in, gets a little long in the tooth.

It’s just empty and dumb. An actual smart script, and not a sneaky one, would have helped a lot.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Louis Leterrier; screenplay by Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt, based on a story by Yakin and Ricourt; directors of photography, Mitchell Amundsen and Larry Fong; edited by Robert Leighton and Vincent Tabaillon; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Peter Wenham; produced by Bobby Cohen, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci; released by Summit Entertainment.

Starring Mark Ruffalo (Dylan Rhodes), Mélanie Laurent (Alma Dray), Jesse Eisenberg (J. Daniel Atlas), Woody Harrelson (Merritt McKinney), Isla Fisher (Henley Reeves), Dave Franco (Jack Wilder), Morgan Freeman (Thaddeus Bradley), Michael Caine (Arthur Tressler), Michael Kelly (Agent Fuller), Common (Evans), David Warshofsky (Cowan) and José Garcia (Etienne Forcier).


Oblivion (2013, Joseph Kosinski)

There’s not much original about Oblivion. Most of the sci-fi elements are familiar, as are most of the plot twists; the unfamiliar ones play like sci-fi elements no one had been able to do before because the special effects were too expensive. None of that familiarity matters, however, thanks to director Kosinski and star Tom Cruise.

Kosinski is able to play each scene earnestly. It catches on; one gets so enthralled with the film–Cruise’s performance holds it all together, whether he’s running around fighting aliens or just sitting and listening to someone talk–the unoriginality doesn’t matter in the least.

Oh, and the music from M.8.3, Anthony Gonzalez and Joseph Trapanese is also essential. It’s a loud electronic score out of the eighties (but with modern sensibilities) and it makes each frame seem new.

The special effects are outstanding. The desolate Earth, the giant futuristic constructs… everything looks great. Kosinski does an outstanding job putting Cruise into these amazing environments too. Claudio Miranda’s photography is fantastic.

As for the supporting cast, it’s decent. Morgan Freeman’s not doing anything he hasn’t done before, but he’s solid. Olga Kurylenko is fine as the mystery woman who haunts Cruise. Her role’s underwritten and she suffers in comparison to Andrea Riseborough. Riseborough plays Cruise’s supervisor and love interest. She’s excellent.

Oblivion is a big, pseudo-smart sci-fi epic. It’s breezy and engaging. Cruise’s performance gives it some depth. Could it be deeper? Sure. But it doesn’t need to be.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Joseph Kosinski; screenplay by Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt, based on a graphic novel written by Kosinski and Arvid Nelson; director of photography, Claudio Miranda; edited by Richard Francis-Bruce; music by M.8.3, Anthony Gonzalez and Joseph Trapanese; production designer, Darren Gilford; produced by Kosinski, Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Barry Levine and Duncan Henderson; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Tom Cruise (Jack), Morgan Freeman (Beech), Olga Kurylenko (Julia), Andrea Riseborough (Victoria), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Sykes), Zoe Bell (Kara) and Melissa Leo (Sally).


Danny the Dog (2005, Louis Leterrier)

Danny the Dog is better than it should be–it’s not as good as it could have been, but it’s definitely better than it should be.

The film finally gives Jet Li an appropriate English language role. Here, he can turn in a decent performance while doing his physical stuff. Li’s very likable (maybe because he’s so diminutive).

Villain Bob Hoskins is a bit of a problem though. While dynamic, the character’s too one dimensional (it’s one of those wholly evil villains) and Hoskins doesn’t bring anything to it.

The big surprise of the film (besides it being good and Morgan Freeman starring in it) is Kerry Conden, playing Freeman’s stepdaughter. Conden binds the film. She and Li’s chemistry (it comes mostly from her; he’s good here, no miraculous) is very nice. It’s not quite a romance and not quite not.

Director Leterrier’s the film’s greatest asset. His fight scenes utilizes Li’s martial arts abilities in the narrative, but he also brings the human element.

The story’s incredibly simple. It might be entirely free of subplots–for example, Freeman’s great apartment–he tunes pianos–is never explained–so it shouldn’t have much room to go wrong. Except it’s Besson; he eventually decides to dramatically shift the narrative’s course, trashing some great plot threads.

While the film doesn’t live up to its potential, it’s a shame it isn’t more acknowledged. Between Conden’s performance, Leterrier’s direction and even Besson’s script (which starts smart, then goes easy), Danny the Dog is good stuff.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Louis Leterrier; written by Luc Besson; director of photography, Pierre Morel; edited by Nicolas Trembasiewicz; music by Massive Attack; production designer, Jacques Bufnoir; produced by Besson, Jet Li and Steven Chasman; released by Europa Corp.

Starring Jet Li (Danny), Morgan Freeman (Sam), Bob Hoskins (Bart), Kerry Condon (Victoria), Vincent Regan (Raffles), Dylan Brown (Lefty), Tamer Hassan (Georgie) and Michael Jenn (Wyeth).


Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991, Kevin Reynolds), the extended version

It’s sort of amazing how little personality Kevin Reynolds brings to Robin Hood. I suppose his direction is adequate, but his shots are absent any creativity. Of course, maybe the shots were very creative and then Michael Kamen’s score–a combining, for the most part, of his Die Hard and Lethal Weapon scores–came in and ruined it all.

There are strong elements to the film. Alan Rickman, in the other major Die Hard connection, takes the idea of a sinister villain and turns him instead into comic relief, while maintaining the villainous attitude. Reynolds’s best direction is of Rickman, as Reynolds seems to understand what he’s doing.

Morgan Freeman, Nick Brimble and Michael Wincott are all good. Freeman’s Moor among the Englishmen is some of the script’s sillier developments (oh, wait, I forgot Geraldine McEwan’s witch).

Christian Slater is bad; Michael McShane’s Friar Tuck is weak.

As for the leads–Kevin Costner is appealing enough, if way too old to be playing the character as written. And then there’s the issue of his hair–he’d need a hair stylist in Sherwood Forest every day to get that bouffant style going. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio disappears for long stretches (the film’s too long by about a half hour but the script’s structure needs time to play out) but she’s fine. She’s not in it enough to really make an impression.

Robin Hood’s generally a tolerable blockbuster. Better composition–and consistent photography (Douglas Milsome is all over the place)–would have helped.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Reynolds; screenplay by Pen Densham and John Watson, based on a story by Densham; director of photography, Douglas Milsome; edited by Peter Boyle; music by Michael Kamen; production designer, John Graysmark; produced by Densham, Watson and Richard Barton Lewis; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kevin Costner (Robin Hood), Morgan Freeman (Azeem), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Marian Dubois), Christian Slater (Will Scarlett), Alan Rickman (Sheriff George of Nottingham), Geraldine McEwan (Mortianna), Michael McShane (Friar Tuck), Brian Blessed (Lord Locksley), Michael Wincott (Guy of Gisborne) and Nick Brimble (Little John).


Red (2010, Robert Schwentke)

I was unhesitant to enjoy Red. It’s one of those ensemble feel-good pieces (like Sneakers or Ocean’s Eleven), but it’s not a particularly upbeat feel-good piece. But I was rather hesitant to approach it as a good movie. But it is a good movie. It’s smartly written, beautifully acted (Red’s casting is superior)… and impersonally directed. I’ve never seen any of Schwentke’s other films, but he’s a TV director inexplicably directing cinema. He’d be a fine TV director, he’s just not a filmmaker.

But Schwentke aside, there’s nothing not to recommend the film. However, I do think Bruce Willis going bald the last ten years makes it a little more difficult to take his balding as some sign of aging.

Red’s principal cast–Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren and John Malkovich–is all exceptionally solid. It’s interesting to see Mirren in this kind of role (though she does it perfectly) and Malkovich is delightful in a role he easily could have played spoofing himself, but doesn’t. Freeman’s the mentor (to Willis) and Parker’s forty-something single woman has shades of Joan Wilder (in the best possible way).

The “supporting” cast consists of Karl Urban, Brian Cox, James Remar, Rebecca Pidgeon, Ernest Borgnine and Richard Dreyfuss. Whoever casted this film is a genius–if it was Schwentke, I’m a lot more enthusiastic.

Willis is most impressive in how well he works in an ensemble, never his greatest strength.

Red probably could do with a sequel. White?

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Schwentke; screenplay by Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber, based on the comic book by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner; director of photography, Florian Ballhaus; edited by Thom Noble; music by Christophe Beck; production design by Alec Hammond; produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Mark Vahradian; released by Summit Entertainment.

Starring Bruce Willis (Frank Moses), Morgan Freeman (Joe Matheson), John Malkovich (Marvin Boggs), Helen Mirren (Victoria), Karl Urban (William Cooper), Mary-Louise Parker (Sarah Ross), Brian Cox (Ivan Simonov), Julian McMahon (Robert Stanton), Rebecca Pidgeon (Cynthia Wilkes), Ernest Borgnine (Henry, the Records Keeper), James Remar (Gabriel Singer) and Richard Dreyfuss (Alexander Dunning).


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