Happy 40th Birthday Ewan McGregor!

One of my favorite Scottish actors Ewan McGregor turns 40 today! Boy, he still looks so youthful. He certainly ages well and is still busier than ever!

I’ve only seen about a dozen of his work, which sounds like a lot but it’s only a quarter of the number of films he’s churned out. Ewan (his first name is pronounced “you-an”) is a hugely prolific actor. In the last decade alone, from 2000 – 2010, he’s starred in no less than twenty five films (and that’s not counting voice work in animated feature like ROBOTS).

Ewan with his motorcycle expedition partner Charley Boorman

It’s amazing how this married father of three finds the time to do those and still have the energy to embarked on a motorcycle trip around the world, chronicled in a documentary titled Long Way Down.

He consistently churn out good performances even if the movies aren’t necessarily good (i.e. The Island, Cassandra’s Dream). Yet given his versatility, I’d say he’s quite under-appreciated. I mean, some of the roles he’s played run the run the gamut from heroin addict (Trainspotting), glam rock star (Velvet Goldmine), lovesick writer (Moulin Rogue!), a Jedi Master (Star Wars episode I-III), all the way to a Catholic Cardinal. At least two of those (Renton and Obi-Wan Kenobi) are such iconic roles most people would perhaps remember him from.

Ewan as the penniless writer in Moulin Rouge!

My number one favorite of all his roles has got to be Christian in Moulin Rogue! where he sang up a storm with his gorgeous voice. He’s on the top of the list of actors who are surprisingly good singers… he’s so good that I wish he’d just produce an album already!

He’s never looked so good and romantic in a movie! I think his performance is as strong as Nicole Kidman’s but for whatever reason he didn’t win a Golden Globe while Nicole won for Best Actress. The Academy also failed to nominate him alongside Nicole that year, though I certainly think his performance was Oscar-worthy. Anyway, here’s one of my favorite scene in the movie where Christian sang ‘Your Song’ to Satine with his mesmerizing performance.

Apparently he auditioned for the role of Mercutio in the 1996 Baz Luhrmann’s modernized Shakespeare version of Romeo + Juliet, but the role went to Leonardo DiCaprio instead. That’s not the only time he’s lost out to Leo for a role. According to IMDb trivia, he was originally up for the lead role in The Beach (2000), which would have reunited him with director Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge who collaborated with McGregor on three movies, Shallow Grave (1994), Trainspotting (1996) and A Life Less Ordinary (1997). But the role went to Leo again. While McGregor blames studio influence for the casting decision he has not spoken to either Boyle nor Hodge since.

He’s got a few new movies in the works and to be released this year, including a rumored role in Jack the Giant Killer. But the one I’m looking forward to is Haywire, a Steven Soderbergh action thriller out this August with Michael Fassbender as his co-star. I better add that to the my Most Anticipated 2011 Movies list!

So here’s wishing Mr. McGregor a wonderful birthday and hope he spends it doing what he loves most.

Surely you’ve seen at least one of his movies. Please share your favorite Ewan McGregor’s role.

Random Thoughts: Fabulous actors, puzzling choices

Amanda Seyfried & Gary Oldman in RRH

This is another one of those posts that’s been sitting in my draft folder for ages. I actually started writing this back in December! But some of the comments on the Gary Oldman post questioning his decision to take on Red Riding Hood inspired me to finish this.

The Twilight-ish version of the classic fairy tale garnered a paltry 11% Tomatometer. Granted, a thespian of Gary’s caliber is certainly the least of the movie’s problems, but no matter how good an actor, he can’t possibly ‘rescue’ a movie from a terrible script, bad directing or inept acting from his co-stars. It kinda make you want to scream ‘do these actors actually read the script?!?’ But that is assuming that a ‘good’ script is the one and only reason an actor sign on for any role. Of course that’s not always the case, there are surely a bazillion other reasons (a dump truck full of cash being dropped on the actor’s backyard perhaps?) that are a much compelling deciding factor.

In any case, Mr. Oldman is hardly the only great actor who’ve made some puzzling role choices. I decided against making a top ten list as most likely I’d be excluding a bunch actors and/or projects that people deem more ‘worthy’ to be included. I’ll just list a few of them just to illustrate that even the best and most talented actors are not exempt from making bad movies. The higher they climb, the harder they fall, or so it seems. Some of their movies are so terrible they actually end up in the Worst Reviewed Movies list on RottenTomatoes. Here are just a few I can think of at the top of my head (the titles link to their RT.com pages):

  • Before Russell Crowe became critics’ darling, he was in a silly supernatural comedy Rough Magic. What’s more peculiar than the movie is the Aussie thespian’s involvement.
  • The multi-talented Ralph Fiennes was actually in a rom-com with J Lo called, get this, Maid in Manhattan. I saw this on TV once and cringed every time I saw Fiennes on screen. It didn’t help that he had no chemistry whatsoever with Lopez.
  • Even the recent Oscar winner Colin Firth made one of the worst rom-coms ever graced the big screen, The Accidental Husband. It’s no accident though that it also boast one of the worst movie posters of all time. (Sheesh, just look at those hands holding the bouquet, I mean I can’t imagine someone actually approved this going to press!)
  • Sean Connery in the Highlander sequel, which earns a big fat ZERO Tomatometer, yikes! Mr. Connery is known to turn down a bunch of roles, yet he accepted this one?? [shrugs]
  • Robert De Niro in …  well, he’s in quite a few stinkers in the last decade, just check out his RottenTomatoes profile page
  • And as long as we mention De Niro, Al Pacino’s been making poor role choices lately as well. In fact, they did it together in Righteous Kill, though it’s still got a [slightly] better score than 88 Minutes. Oh, did you know Mr. Pacino was also in Gigli?

Now, before you accuse me of listing only the male actors here, great actresses have also signed on to duds. Love Ranch, Helen Mirren’s movie directed by her own husband Taylor Hackford was poorly received. Bad title doesn’t usually translate to a bad movie, but it certainly does in the case of Because I Said So, starring Diane Keaton. Did someone yell those very words to her to take on the project?? Surely Mrs. Keaton, you deserve better!

I’m sure there are better examples than the ones I listed above, but anyway, it’s just meant to illustrate that even the best actors don’t make proper role choices. Even if any of these actors ends up being the only saving grace in it, one can’t deny the movie in question is a stinker. But hey, as long as they learn from it and don’t continue making the same mistake, I’d say we ought to cut them some slack. Who hasn’t made a single bad decision in the course of one’s career, right? Certainly we are guilty of it just the same. Besides, it’ll make us appreciate their good movies all the more and hope they’d help erase the bad ones from our memory.

Well, what do you think of the topic? Feel free to add to the list which actor(s) you think have made terrible or simply head-scratching role choices.

Musings on my favorite Lois Lane and Amy Adams casting

Those who’ve been following the updates on the upcoming Superman reboot surely have heard that 36 year-old Amy Adams has been cast as Lois Lane. More on that later.

Can you read my mind?

As everyone’s processing that bit of casting, I’d like to take the time to highlight my favorite Lois Lane in Superman adaptation: Margot Kidder. Just as Christopher Reeve’s iconic portrayal as Man of Steel is inimitable, what Kidder brought to the role is just as indelible. As you can see in her screen test below, I think Richard Donner made the right choice in casting her amongst other more well-known actresses vying for the role (including Anne Archer, Lesley Ann Warren and Stockard Channing).

What makes Margot a great Lois Lane is also her ability contrast the way she behaves around the dual identity of Superman, both the hero and his bumbling alter ego Clark Kent. She’s appropriately domineering and bossy to Clark (I love how he always brought her freshly-squeezed orange juice for her at the office in Donner’s versions), then she goes all googley-eyed around Superman and mesmerized by his every move. She’s got the right amount of spunk that makes her truly believable as a workaholic reporter who cares more about her career than anything else… that is until Superman comes along. From the second he rescues her in that classic helicopter rescue scene, she — along with every single woman in the audience — was under Superman’s spell.

There are a lot of memorable scenes from the first Superman movie that’ll remain a classic for a long time, but the one of her interviewing Superman on her apartment balcony is just wonderful. I love the flirtatious and whimsical banter back and forth between the two smitten lovebirds and the flying sequence that follow is absolutely beautiful and dreamy. I couldn’t find the exact clip of the interview scene, but it starts at about 08:30 in the video below. Unfortunately, both that scene and the flying sequence have to be viewed on YouTube.

Back to Amy Adam’s casting, frankly, I was quite taken aback when I heard it, as I never thought she was a contender. For what it’s worth, I actually prefer Rachel McAdams or Emily Blunt in the role whose age is a bit closer Henry Cavill who’s only 27. But age isn’t that big a deal for me, especially since Amy looks so youthful.

Besides, it’s entirely possible that Lois is actually older than Superman, even though in the Richard Donner’s version, Lois is shown as a young girl when Clark was already in High School, implying that Lois is perhaps a decade younger than him. In any case, I’m more concerned with whether the actress can portray the personality of Lois Lane, the pretty and tough-as-nails Pulitzer Prize-winning star reporter for The Daily Planet. I haven’t been impressed by any of the Lois Lane actress on Superman TV series, and Kate Bosworth in Superman Returns lacked the wit and the spunk in the role IMO, and she looked way to young and inexperienced for me to believe she’s won a Pulitzer!

Amy on the other hand has proved that she has the chops for both comedy and drama, and she’s got three Academy Award nominations to prove it. This Batman-Superman.com site has a pretty detailed description of the character, which I believe she can easily pull off. Oh, it’s interesting that the comic book image of Lois I found here is also a redhead 🙂

Well, what are your thoughts on Margot Kidder as Lois Lane? And are you happy with Amy Adams casting in the role?

FlixChatter Review: Jane Eyre (2011)

After nearly a year of waiting, finally I got to see the latest version of one of my favorite classic love stories, Jane Eyre. The oft-filmed Charlotte Brontë’s gothic novel has been adapted into tv and motion pictures more than two dozen times, not to mention countless theater work of the same name. It’s amazing that after its first publication in London in 1847, one hundred and sixty four years later the story still resonates and beguiles people the world over.

Fukunaga on Jane Eyre’s set

Even if you haven’t read the book, I presume most people are familiar with the story of a young governess who falls for her employer who’s twice her age, the ultimate Byronic hero Edward Rochester. Brontë’s Jane Eyre is decidedly darker than many romantic period dramas, such as those by Jane Austen or even Elizabeth Gaskell’s North & South, there are elements of mystery and horror that plague the protagonists’ lives. 33-year-old director Cary Fukunaga is fully aware of it and makes the most of those elements into his sophomore effort (his first was the acclaimed immigrant-themed indie Sin Nombre).

Instead of a straight review, for this purpose I’d like to list what works and what doesn’t in this adaptation. It’s longer than usual because there’s just a lot to cover, so bear with me.

The Good:

Fukunaga’s direction – He preferred natural light for much of the film, forgoing camera lighting and instead opted for candles which created the proper dark, moody and gloomy atmosphere that matches Rochester’s temperament perfectly. He used some hand-held camera work to great effect — Jane walking through the corridor, narrow gates, etc. — but not too much so that it became distracting. The extremely gloomy and rainy setting give the beautiful Spring-y backdrop during the day scenes much more impact, and they seem to mimic the sentiment the protagonists are feeling.

Thornfield Hall, Rochester’s expansive mansion looked like something Count Dracula could comfortably settle in. It almost became its own character in the story and adds the necessary spookiness we come to expect from this Gothic tale.

Click to see a larger version

Judi Dench as Mrs. Fairfax – When does Dame Judi ever disappoint? Apparently never. Even in small roles, the scenes she’s in are one of the best ones in the movie. There was an important scene involving Jane and Rochester where Mrs. Fairfax didn’t utter a single word, but she made quite an impact just with her expression. With that bonnet and frumpy frock, it’s hard to imagine she’s the same woman playing James Bond’s formidable boss, M.

Mia Wasikowska as Jane – A lot of the issues I have with literary adaptation is that the supposedly plain heroine usually ends up being played actresses who are too glamorous for the role. Fortunately in this one, Wasikowska was believable as a plain young girl, though she obviously is a pretty girl. At 18, she’s also the perfect age for the role. If I were to nitpick though, she’s not exactly ‘little’ as she’s described in the novel as Rochester doesn’t quite tower over her.

In any case, I thought she did a wonderful job carrying the film. She captures the essence of the strong-willed character who holds her own against her much older subject of her affection, and one who despite ‘not being well-acquainted with men’ doesn’t seem intimidated by them.

Michael Fassbender as Rochester – In many ways, we evaluate a Jane Eyre adaptation by its Rochester, and as long as we use that ‘calculation,’ I think he measures up quite well. He has a strong screen presence and is the kind of actor who’s usually the best thing even in a so-so film (i.e. Centurion), and he makes the best of what’s given to him for the role. By that I mean, given the relatively short screen time, which is less than what I had hoped to see, he was able to make us care for Rochester.

Which brings me to…

The not-so-good:

This cliff-notes version feels way too fast. With a complex story like Jane Eyre, no doubt it’d be a challenge for any filmmaker, no matter how talented, to pare it down into a two-hour movie. So it’s inevitable that this film just moves along too quick for me, it’s almost at breakneck pace! Of course that is not Fukunaga’s fault and he really made the most of it, but still this version just leaves me wanting more. I guess this is perhaps a more ‘accessible’ version for the crowd that otherwise would not watch Jane Eyre. But to me, the story is compelling enough that an extra half-hour would only enhance the viewing experience and allow enough time for the characters to develop authentic connection.

Click to see a larger version

Dialog omission. Again, this is not a criticism as much as a ‘wish list’ on my part, and perhaps a result of being ‘spoiled’ by the comprehensive 1983 version (which at 5.5 hours is perhaps the longest adaptation ever). Of course it’s impossible to include every single dialog from the book, but I was hoping at least some of the important ones are kept. The famous quotes such as  “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me”, Do as I do: trust in God and yourself”, Reader, I married him” are not spoken in this adaptation.

There’s also an issue with the way some of the lines were delivered, I just find it lacking bite, y’know that certain oomph that an actor does to bring those timeless words to life.

Jamie Bell seems miscast. Now, keep in mind I really like Jamie as an actor and have said so many times in this blog. However, I don’t feel he’s right for the role of St. John (Sin-Jin) Rivers. First, when you’ve already got someone as striking as Fassbender as Rochester, I’d think the casting agent would have to find someone much fairer than he. No offense to Jamie, but that’s not the case here and he certainly doesn’t fit the book description of ‘tall, fair with blue eyes, and with a Grecian profile.’ Now, physical appearance aside, he also lack the solemn and pious sensibility of a Christian missionary.

Unconventional storyline – Moira Buffini’s script tells the story in flashback mode instead of following the novel’s linear storyline. The movie starts off right as Jane is leaving Thornfield, which is right smack dab where the main crisis of the story begins. Now, I can understand that it’s done to make it less boring rather than following the five distinct stages of the book faithfully. Yet it gets confusing at times to figure out which part happens in the past or present. I think for someone not familiar with the book, the shuffled timeline might be a bit tough to follow.

In conclusion, despite me leaving the theater wanting more, I really think this is a worthy adaptation. The production quality is really top notch, with gorgeous cinematography, affecting light work and music that serve the story well. There is even one scene of Jane and Rochester that Fukunaga took liberty with that’s quite tantalizing. It caught me off guard but wow, I must say that scene left me breathless and is an effective way to convey how much Jane longed for her true love.

But in the end, as far as Rochester is concerned, even though I adore the actor, Fassbender still hasn’t replaced Timothy Dalton as my favorite in the role. Sure, the production is much inferior to this one, but what makes a Jane Eyre story so fascinating and memorable are the heart-wrenching connection between the two main protagonists and the dialog spoken between them, so in that regard, the 1983 version is still the one to beat.

4 out of 5 reels

Those who’ve seen this one, feel free to offer your thoughts about the film. Also, if you’ve seen several adaptations, which one is your favorite?

THIS JUST IN: ‘Three Musketeers’ Trailer

I’ve always had a soft spot for Alexandre Dumas’ 17th century classic tale The Three Musketeers. Now, I haven’t seen any of Paul W. S. Anderson’s movies (for better or worse), as he’s known for movies like Resident Evil, AVP: Alien vs. Predator, Death Race, etc., none of which is my cup of tea. So this’ll be the first movie of his I’d watch. Check out the trailer below:

This is one of my anticipated movies of this year, and as I said in that post, I particularly like the cast that make up the Three Musketeers themselves: Ray Stevenson, Luke Evans and Matthew Macfayden. Oh and of course there’s Christoph Waltz — as well as German actor Til Schweiger — who were both great in Inglourious Basterds. As for D’Artagnan, I’d rather see someone like Aaron Johnson in the role but I guess Logan Lerman would do, I thought he was pretty decent in 3:10 to Yuma as Christian Bale’s son. Oh, Anderson’s wife Milla Jovovich (the heroine of Resident Evil) also plays one of the movie’s antagonists. I hope both she and Orlando Bloom as the Duke of Buckingham have just a small screen time here.

Oh, and how could I forget Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, who is another reason to watch this movie! The Casino Royale baddie once again has something in his eye, donning an eye patch this time 🙂 Mads and Christoph are playing Comte de Rochefort and Cardinal Richelieu respectively.

Now the trailer is obviously way more bad ass and explosive than previous Three Musketeers‘ adaptations. I don’t have much of a problem with that, just like I didn’t mind that Guy Ritchie’s action-packed Sherlock Holmes. We’ll see if this will replace The Man in the Iron Mask as my favorite adaptation so far, but at the very least, it looks like a fun swashbuckling entertainment as the weather cools off come October. If I’m feeling generous, I might even check it out in 3D (at least it was shot in 3D, not a conversion like they did with Clash of the Titans).

What do you think folks? Would you watch this one?

Everybody’s Chattin: It’s Friday link love time!

Happy Friday all! It’s the first Friday of Spring this year, though here in the Land of 10,000 lakes, temps are still hovering in the low 30s F, about 15 degrees cooler than average! 😦

But why be gloomy right? After all, it’s link love time! Check out these links for your reading enjoyment:

  • Zack Snyder’s fantasy thriller Sucker Punch is out today. Should you see it? Well, your friendly neighbor ScarletSp1der‘s already got his review out: Sucker Punch Knocks Itself Out.

    I personally have zero interest in seeing this in the theater. Fortunately, neither does my husband. Though we generally dig Snyder’s work (even the one with the owls was pretty cool), this one just looks too bizarre and silly to be taken seriously.
  • Dezzy the ever so busy Hollywood Spy is always hard at work in bringing us the latest tv/movie news. Well yesterday he reported an intriguing (or preposterous, depending how you look at it) upcoming project called War of the Ages, the premise of this 3D swords and sandals flick is certainly a head-scratching one, but if they can pull it off, wow… that’d be one not to be missed!
  • The always discerning Univarn @ Life in Equinox never fails to compel us to get our thinking cap on. This week he asked the question: Is everyone a critic? A must read for every blogger and moviegoer who’s been asked ‘what do you think of [such and such] movie?’ at least once in their life.
  • Darren from themOvieblog cogitated on the power of a tagline upon seeing Terrence Stamp’s poster The Limey. He’s right, I immediately picture General Zod er.. Stamp uttering ‘Tell Them I’m Coming’ in the only way he could. Btw, Darren also recently won Best Pop Culture award at the Irish Blog awards… woot! woot! Go on and congratulate him if you haven’t already.
  • Elizabeth Taylor died Wednesday of congestive heart failure at the age of 79. Fandango Groover paid tribute to the screen legend with images from her classic roles.
  • Last but not least, check out the various contributions of this edition of LAMB Acting School featuring Gary Oldman. Thanks to CS from Big Thoughts From a Small Mind for organizing this event. This is the first time I took part on it, so if you haven’t already, check out my tribute to one of the finest actor working today.

Anyway, I’m sure glad the weekend is upon us. I’m tickled pink that I’ll finally be watching Jane Eyre tomorrow with my pal Prairiegirl. I also have the classic Thomas Crown Affair I didn’t get around to watching last week, and the Keanu Reeves sort of movie marathon continues with the action horror flick Constantine.

So before you click away to these fine posts, first tell me, what are your movie watching plans this weekend?

Chat-Worthy Thespian: Gary Oldman

This is my LAMB Acting School debut post. It’s kind of perfect timing as the British thespian just turned 53 this past Monday!

If I were to come up with top ten great actors who haven’t won an Oscar, Oldman would’ve certainly made the list. If you think that idea is atrocious, get this, he actually has never gotten a single nomination!! Wha-? U-huh. Really? Yep. Come on! Exactly.

There are so many of his performances that are Oscar-worthy. Just from what I’ve seen, here are at least three roles that merit a nomination: Dracula (Bram Stoker’s Dracula, 1992), Stansfield (The Professional, 1994), and Beethoven (Immortal Beloved, 1994). It’s challenging to play a persona like Dracula that’s been done so many times over, but Oldman was quite a revelation as the romantic, seductive yet utterly terrifying prince of darkness that it could easily be one of the best Dracula ever. As Stansfield, he was so darn creepy as the pill-crunching corrupt cop who personifies evil through and through, it was a scene-stealing role that puts him as one of the most memorable movie villains. In the same year, he ‘transformed’ himself into one of the greatest composers that ever lived, Ludwig Von Beethoven. He immerses himself in the character and captured the musical genius’ inner turmoil, passion and madness, even in the scenes of him going deaf, it’s as if we could feel his world turning silent.

Now many of you probably would list his iconic portrayal of Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy as his greatest role (which ranked #62 on Premiere Magazine’s 100 Greatest Performances of All Time in 2006). I haven’t seen the film yet, but from the clips and reviews I’ve read, I have no doubt it was a spectacular performance.

The many faces... and hairstyle of Gary Oldman

You could say that Oldman’s an actors’ actor, as a number of talented actors such as Ryan Gosling and Jason Isaac regard him as one of their favorite actors (per IMDb). Last August I made a post about The Chameleon vs. Perpetually-Typecast Actors and his name is the one that immediately spring to mind when thinking about chameleon actors. He along with under-appreciated thespians such as Alfred Molina, Ciaran Hinds, Sam Rockwell, etc. are the kind of actors who are able to ‘disappear’ into their roles. They’re the kind of actors who consistently seek out roles where they often appear unrecognizable on screen as their looks vary drastically from film to film. Even though he often plays bad guys, he manages to always bring something new to the table and elevate them from being caricatures or one-dimensional characters.

Despite his more indelible psychotic roles, I find him equally convincing as a noble regular guy. Case in point: Commissioner Gordon in Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. At first I was quite puzzled Nolan’s choice, but after seeing him in the role, I really think it’s inspired casting! In fact, Gordon stands as one of my favorite Gary Oldman roles, as well as my favorite amongst the stellar cast he shared the screen with. Oh, speaking of stellar cast, his supporting role as Sirius Black in Harry Potter is also one of my top ten faves in that franchise.

Just a couple of tidbits about the actor you might not know about: In 1997, Oldman directed, produced, and wrote a gritty drama Nil by Mouth (starring Ray Winstone), partially based on his own childhood. The movie ended up winning a BAFTA for Best British Film and is regarded by the organization as one of 100 best films of all time. Oldman’s also an accomplished pianist who once considered becoming a musician rather than an actor.

Gary Oldman as George Smiley

I can’t wait to see Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy – a spy thriller with Oldman in the leading role. It’s one of my most anticipated movies 0f 2011. This is a role that another British great Alec Guinness once played in a BBC miniseries back in 1979, a huge shoes to fill of which I’m sure Oldman is more than up for the task.

Too bad we’d have to wait until December for this, but on the plus side, it’s perfect timing for award season that hopefully Oldman would finally get the recognition he deserves. Now that Christian Bale’s won his Oscar, I’m pulling for Oldman to at least garner a nomination next year. Interestingly enough, both British actors often gravitate toward obsessive and/or deranged roles, and have a knack for doing various accents in movies.

Here’s hoping the day of this massively talented thespian getting passed over for an award will soon be at an end.

What are your thoughts about Gary Oldman? I’d also love to hear your favorite Gary Oldman role(s).