Flix Character Spotlight: Lucy in ’13 Going On 30′

If one were to Google “scene-stealing performance,” Judy Greer should appear as the first page of hits. Born and raised in the Detroit area, she’s been working steadily since the late 1990s. She gets the odd dramatic role here and there (The Village, What Women Want) and has worked a fair amount in television (Arrested Development, Archer, and Mad Love, which looks to be headed for cancellation).

But mostly she utilizes her talents to grab your attention in light comedy movies. It’s a definite talent, one that few have to this degree. Perennially cast in the best friend or supporting character role, she takes that type and makes it riveting. She brings a needed acerbity to rom-com fare like 27 Dresses (in which she co-starred with the perennially under-appreciated James Marsden). She has the distinction of being the only watchable thing in The Wedding Planner. She apparently also portrays the best friend in Love and Other Drugs, which I have not yet seen.

However, I’d like to give her props for her work in one of my all-time favorites, 13 Going On 30. Yes, this is a deeply cheesy movie, and the formula of the younger person trapped in an older body has been many times before. But somehow this one is fresh, and I think Greer is part of why. Jennifer Garner captures Jenna’s 13-year-old mannerisms and speech patterns perfectly, but Greer, as her grown-up best frenemy Lucy, is excellent. With line delivery ranging from deadpan (“You’re pregnant”) to sarcastic (“Oh no, not his thingy”) to snappy (“Jenna, if you’re gonna start lying about your age, I’d go with 27”), sometimes within the same scene, she commits cinematic larceny just about every time she appears. She also manages to make shallow, two-faced Lucy funny and very nearly likable until the very end. What could have been more of cardboard cutout becomes a very real person, similar to someone you probably know…especially if you’ve attended high school.

I don’t know if she’ll ever become a household name or carry a big action picture, or if she even wants to. I do know that I am interested to see the three projects Greer has in the can for 2011 and 2012: The Descendants, directed by Alexander Payne, starring George Clooney, due out December 2011; and two in post-production: Jeff Who Lives At Home, with Ed Helms and Jason Segel, and Playing The Field, with Gerard Butler and Jessica Biel.

What do you think of Judy Greer? Do you think she’s leading lady material?

Guest Post: The rise and fall of Kevin Costner’s career

With the news that Costner will play Jonathan Kent in the new Superman film, Man of Steel, I thought I should write up about his rise to super-stardom and his fall from that status.

You see I never thought of Costner as good actor and yet I’ve seen every single film of his from 1985 to 2003, starting with Silverado and end with Open Range. It’s kind of ironic since both the first and last film I saw him are both Westerns.

To me, Costner was never a strong leading man, even though a lot of his films in the late 80s and early 90s were box office hits. Don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of his early films, The Untouchables, Field of Dreams, Revenge and Dances with Wolves were quite good. In those films, he just never stood out; I felt like he was there but not really ‘carried’ the movie but somehow he made it worked. Especially in Revenge, I always thought had someone like Bruce Willis or Tom Cruise starred in it, the film could’ve been even better.

I’ll list the films that made him a superstar and films that ruined his career as a leading man. Here goes:

  1. The Untouchables
    This was his first starring role in a big summer movie, co-starring with Robert De Niro and Sean Connery. The movie was a big hit at the time and catapulted Costner into an A-list leading man status. Looking back, this was a big gamble for Paramount, having a relatively unknown actor as the leading man for a summer film. Of course it paid off for both the studio and Costner, it didn’t hurt that they surrounded him with veterans like Connery and De Niro.
  2. No Way Out
    This film also came out in the summer of 1987, two months after The Untouchables, in fact. Even though it wasn’t a huge box office hit, it cemented Costner as a sex symbol to a lot of his female fans. I saw this film when I was in my early teens and I fell in love with Sean Young, who’s quite sexy in the film.
  3. Bull Durham
    Now that he’s an elite leading man, Costner decided to tackle romantic comedy and his first baseball theme film. This film was released in the summer of 1988 and again it was a box office hit. I didn’t particular like this movie, I thought the chemistry between Costner and Susan Sarandon didn’t really click.
  4. Field of Dreams
    Costner decided to do another baseball theme film and I thought this one was much better than Bull Durham. Again this one was a box office success and Costner can pretty much do whatever he wanted in the Hollywood.
  5. Revenge
    After two lighter films, Costner decided to star in a dark thriller and this was his first box office misfire since becoming a Hollywood star. I did like this film but I thought Costner was wrong for the part. He just wasn’t strong enough for this role and apparently many people agreed since the film barely made more than $20mil at the box office. Also, I think maybe because of the film’s violent content, it might’ve turned off many of his fans.
  6. Dances with Wolves
    He turned down the role of Jack Ryan in The Hunt for Red October so he could star and direct this Western. Well, I guess it was great a move on his part because the film made close to $200 mil at box the office and won him an Oscar for best director. (Scorsese should’ve won that year, but that’s another debate at another time.)
  7. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
    By this time, Costner was on the top of world and it seemed everything he touched turned to gold. This film came out in the summer of 1991 and again it was a huge hit.
  8. JFK
    In this film he teamed up with another A-lister, Oliver Stone, the film did pretty well in theaters and also got several Oscar nominations. I thought this was a very good movie, just a tad too long in my opinion.
  9. The Bodyguard
    After several serious films, he decided to come back and make a romantic-themed film. He teamed up with Whitney Houston (she was a huge pop singer at the time) and of course the film was a box office gold. I really hated this movie, the chemistry between Costner and Houston just didn’t click and the plot was more of a TV movie of the week than a big screen film.
  10. A Perfect World
    So after a few box office hits, he decided to team up with another A-lister, Clint Eastwood and make this film. I believe this is the film that started his downfall as a box office leading man. The film didn’t do well in theater and it didn’t receive any praises by the critics. I’m sure the studio executives probably thought, hey we got Eastwood who’s just won an Oscar for Unforgiven and a young hot box office star, it’s a sure box office gold. Well it didn’t turn out that way and the film got zero Oscar nominations. Personally I thought the film was okay, the plot’s really uneven and again Costner just wasn’t a strong enough leading man to carry the film.
  11. Wyatt Earp
    After the disappointment of A Perfect World, Costner’s back doing a Western. This time he played the title character and it’s a big budgeted summer film. Unfortunately most people have already seen a similar film a few months earlier, Tombstone. So this movie barely made back it’s $60-mil plus budget and again Costner’s bankable leading man status went down fast. Now I actually like this film better than Tombstone, I know I can’t believe it either, I really dug the whole back story of the Earps family and I thought Dennis Quaid played Doc Holliday in a more realistic way than Val Kilmer’s version.
  12. Waterworld
    Even though his last two films were box office duds, Universal still believed Costner was a bankable star, so they greenlit this $100 mil plus action/sci-fi film. The film was in trouble right from the beginning, Lawrence Fishburn left the project a few weeks before shooting starts and they had to scramble to find his replacement. Dennis Hopper ended up with the role. Then just a few weeks into shooting, a hurricane destroyed the sets and so they had to rebuild them. By now the film’s budget had ballooned up to $150 mil, some even said the film’s final budget was somewhere between $170 to $200 mil, this was the mid-90s when that kind of numbers was unheard of.

    Then towards the end of shooting, director Kevin Reynolds and the studio people were in disagreement over the tone of the film. The studio wanted him to cut down the violence so it could get a PG-13 rating; Reynolds on the other hand wanted a more gritty and violent film. Costner stepped in and sided with the studio and Reynolds left the film before editing even started. He still received a directing credit even though Costner finished the movie in post-production. The film opened in the summer of 1995 and of course it tanked big time and pretty much ruined Costner’s cred as a bankable leading man.
  13. Tin Cup
    After a string of box office misfires, Costner decided to go back and starred in another romantic comedy. The film opened in the summer of 1996 and it did a pretty decent business at the box office. I actually enjoyed this film quite a bit, probably because I was madly in love with Rene Russo at the time and not because of Costner. A lot of people in Hollywood around this time still think that he’s a bankable star. Which explained why his next film got made.
  14. The Postman
    Warner Bros. somehow believed that Costner could still open a movie with just his name alone, why else would they give him $80 mil to shoot this movie, right? This film was based on some little-known novel of the same name, which I had never heard of the book until they announced the movie. I assumed Warner Bros. thought Costner can make another Dances with Wolves since they scheduled the film to open on Christmas Day of 1997.

    Well, a few months prior to the film’s release date, the trailer was shown and a lot of people in theaters around the country laughed out loud at the title and the test screening didn’t go too well either. A friend of mine got selected to the test screening at the Mall of America theaters and he told me to stay away from it at all cost. I didn’t listen and went to see the movie anyway; after I saw it I wish I’d listened to him. A few months before the film open, it got such a bad word of mouth that Warner Bros. decided to not to even spend big money promoting it. The film made about $17 mil and pretty much destroyed Costner’s career as a bankable leading man.

After The Postman, Costner made a few films with similar genre that made him a big star in the first place but none of them were big hits. By the late 90s and 2000s, leading men weren’t really necessary to open films anymore, people went to see big films for only certain genres. Of course, some big-named stars could still open films on their names alone, i.e. Tom Hanks, Jim Carrey, Will Smith and Tom Cruise, just to name the few. But around this time, it’s clear that Costner is not in that club anymore. As I mentioned earlier, the last film of his that I saw was Open Range and I thought it was great. It didn’t wow many people so it didn’t really help Costner’s career at all.

I’m curious to see how big a screen time he’ll get for the new Superman film, it’s hard to believe how his career has fallen so fast as it did. [rtm’s note: Deadline has just reported yesterday that he’s working on a TV miniseries for the History channel]

What do you think of Kevin Costner? Are you a fan or do you feel the same way as I do that he’s just not a strong leading man?

Seven Favorite Cate Blanchett’s Performances

I began jotting this list right after I saw Hanna a few weeks ago, but since May 14th, is her 42nd birthday, it’s fitting to publish this today in her honor.

Catherine Élise Blanchett, the Melbourne-born actress seemed to be destined for greatness right from the time she graduated from Australia’s National Institute of Dramatic Art at 23. In just about a year, she had already won Sydney Theatre Critic’s Circle Theatre award for Best Newcomer in Kafka Dances. The first time I saw her must have been in Elizabeth, and immediately I was in awe of her transcendent acting ability and striking screen presence. The film might not have been a masterpiece, but her performance was pretty darn close. The only thing more astonishing than her performance is how The Academy didn’t give her most-deserved Oscar that year.

I have since watched over a dozen films of hers and not a single one of her performances has been disappointing. Even in bad movies — not that she’s been in many of them — she remains a delight to watch on screen. Yes, even Irina Spalko in the ill-conceived Indy 5 doesn’t diminish my admiration of this great actress. Cate is one of those rare artist who’s got the perfect combination of beauty and brains… she is luminous and stylish on the red carpet, but yet she’s not afraid to look plain or even ugly on screen, unlike many other vain what-so-called ‘actors’ who won’t take on a less-than-glamorous role for fear of ruining their image. No matter what she looks like in a given movie, one can expect an amazing depth and intelligent charisma she consistently projects on screen. There is also this chameleon-like quality that makes her perfectly suitable of any genre, from quintessential costume drama to contemporary thriller. Combine that with her knack for accents, Cate is without a doubt one of the most versatile talents working in Hollywood today.

The many faces of the great Cate

As I said above, there hasn’t been a single disappointing performance from Blanchett, but these seven are the ones I enjoy the most from her, even if the film itself might not be the greatest. Please bear in mind I have yet to see I’m Not There (I know, I know, it’s in my Netflix queue!) and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, so my list might look different once I’ve seen those. Anyway, here they are in order of the film’s release:

  1. The Virgin Queen in Elizabeth
    Blanchett tackled a complex role of Queen Elizabeth I seemingly with ease, from the monarch’s arduous ascension to the throne to her early reign. She’s so comfortable at the center stage, carrying the film on her delicate shoulders with such charisma that you’d be hard pressed to believe it was her first feature film. Both strong and vulnerable, it’s a dazzling breakthrough performance that’s worthy of an Oscar, even to this day, people still think she was utterly robbed (by Gwyneth Paltrow no less!).
  2. Kate Wheeler in Bandits
    Ok, so this isn’t one of the best crime comedy out there, but I thought it was quite entertaining and enjoyable. Cate pretty much stole the show from Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton, the two bandits who fell for the run-away housewife they kidnapped. Sporting a spot-on southern accent, her quirky performance was such a hoot to watch. She definitely have a knack for comedy, something I wish she’d do more of to balance her more serious/darker roles.
  3. Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
    Interestingly enough, most of the actors I love, both men and women, usually have a distinct voice. I absolutely adore Cate’s narration right from the moment she spoke the words “It began with the forging of the Great Rings…” Her luminous beauty makes for a perfect elf-princess who’s wise as well as kind to those who oppose the great evil Sauron. She’s easily one of my all-time favorite character in the entire franchise, so I’m thrilled that she will reprise her character in The Hobbit next year!
  4. Charlotte Gray in Charlotte Gray
    Just another proof that Blanchett can play all kinds of nationalities believably, in this WWII romantic thriller, she played a young Scottish woman who joined the French Resistance to rescue her Royal Air Force boyfriend who’s lost in France. I saw this film a long time ago, but I remember how good Cate was in this. This is the kind of role tailored for someone with her dramatic chops and she does the title role justice. I saw the trailer again earlier today and it made me want to re-watch the movie. Michael Gambon and Billy Crudup are both good in this as well.
  5. Veronica Guerin in Veronica Guerin
    Another title role and this time it’s a biopic of an Irish crime reporter who was murdered by the country’s drug lords in 1996. Cate not only portrays the feisty reporter, she embodies the journalist’s incredible valor in investigating Dublin’s drug trafficking. She looks the part and even does the Irish accent convincingly, which is what you come to expect from her. Don’t be put off by Joel Shumacher, it’s actually a great film with a great message of courage and risking one’s life for the good of others.
  6. Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator
    This is the role on everyone’s best-of list and it’s no surprise why. This is Cate at the top of her game, practically transforming herself into a classic Hollywood icon. It’s as if she belonged in this era with that side-part wavy hairstyle, those vintage clothes. Cate stole every scene she was in with her spot-on Hepburn’s mannerism and speaking voice. That dinner scene with Howard Hughes and her family is a downright classic! Finally the Academy recognized her stunning performance and awarded her a well-deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar.
  7. Marion Loxley in Robin Hood
    Sure this movie is quite divisive and not exactly Ridley Scott’s shining hour, but I quite enjoyed it and it definitely has its merits. As I said in my review, Cate’s casting is one of the movie’s major strength. She made me sympathize with Marion almost instantly, and her chemistry with Russell Crowe’s Robin is sweet and affecting. Their scenes together are wonderful to watch, but then again, we’re talking about two of the most charismatic actors in Hollywood, not just the ones from Australia.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Susan Jones in Babel
  • Tracy Heart in Little Fish
  • Marissa in Hanna

So happy birthday to my favorite actress… looking forward to more wonderful roles in the future!

Dear readers, what are your favorite Cate Blanchett’s roles? Please list ’em in the comments.

Happy Birthday Sandra Bullock!

Yesterday Sandra Bullock turned 46, so happy belated birthday, Sandy!

This has been quite a year for the affable actress, winning an Oscar and losing a marriage in the same year, which is tough enough in and of itself even without a heinous scandal associated with it. Yet, the gorgeous actress continues to carry herself with grace and class through it all. I’ve always liked Sandra, even if I don’t always like her movies, and that’s because in a town where narcissism run amok, she still comes across as a genuinely nice and humble human being

The night before she won her Best Actress Oscar on March 7th, she actually showed up at the Razzie to accept not one, but two Raspberry trophies she ‘earned’ for both Worst Actress and Worst On-Screen Couple for All About Steve. You’ve probably seen the video at the Razzie award where she hauled a wheeled wagon full of the chastised All About Steve dvds and delivered a speech equally gracious as the one she delivered for the real honor! You’ve got to hand it to her for that self-deprecating sense of humor and her ability to laugh at herself.

As my tribute to the lovely actress, here five of my favorite Sandra Bullock movies (in order of release):

  • Speed (1994)
    This is one of the movies Bullock and Keanu Reeves will be remembered for. I love this action flick when it first came out, it was so much fun to watch and both of the leads have a nice chemistry together as they flirt their way through the terrorist scheme of the late Dennis Hopper. I did swoon over Reeves in his hunkiest role, but Sandra is so darn likable as the ordinary hero Annie, it’s no surprise this movie made her a star.
  • The Net (1995)
    This movie is so dated now, and it’s asking a bit much to have us believe that someone as pretty as Bullock is a reclusive geek who has no friends or boyfriend. But if you can just get past that absurd notion, the movie itself is quite enjoyable. Of course having a baddie in the form of the tall, dark & handsome Brit Jeremy Northam can’t hurt 🙂 Sure this movie doesn’t hold up well now, but Bullock’s sincere performance and non-stop action sequences kept me in suspense.
  • While You Are Sleeping
    I’m not a huge rom-com fan, but this one still gets me every time it came on TV. The movie truly hinges on Sandra’s likability factor, but it was so easy to root for her character, even if we don’t agree with everything she does. A train fare collector who’s a hopeless romantic, she has a massive crush on a dashing commuter, and pretends to be his fiance when he was knocked unconscious. With a premise like this, you need a leading actress who can sell it. Sandra definitely passes with flying colors. Heck, she’s able to make even Bill Pullman seems so irresistible! 🙂
  • The Proposal (2009)
    Another rom-com, I know. But this one actually comes pretty highly recommended that I was curious enough to check it out. One thing I notice is Sandra definitely ages well, this is over a decade after Speed and she still maintain that youthful radiance and lithe figure. The movie also benefits from Ryan Reynolds’ casting, an actor equally affable and funny, and though I don’t quite buy the chemistry between the two, it’s still fun to watch the two banter with each other, not to mention the hilarious scenes between her and Betty White!
  • The Blind Side (2009)
    This is one that I’d get flak for even including in my list. Yeah, I know a lot of people are still enraged over her winning Best Actress Oscar, but it’s a given that moviegoers disagree with what the Academy picks. I for one thinks it’s well-deserved, it might not be the best performance of the year, but it was Bullock’s strongest and most nuanced role yet. As I said in my review, the movie works thanks largely to Sandra Bullock’s assertive but guarded performance, and again she comes across very genial and relatable.

Well folks, what are your favorite Sandra Bullock movie(s)?

Chat-Worthy Actor: Mark Strong

Special thanks to guest blogger Samantha Klein of Banana Oil Movies for her outstanding contribution!

I have a confession to make. I play “Six Degrees of Russell Crowe”. Yes, I know it’s supposed to be Kevin Bacon, but I don’t watch Kevin Bacon stuff, and I’m a huge Crowe fan. I’ve seen over half of his movies so far, which makes it easy to connect him to pretty much anyone within about 3 moves. It helps me fall asleep. Lately, my weapon of choice has been Hollywood’s new It Villain, British-born Mark Strong.

Some of you (probably not regular readers) are scratching your heads in confusion right now, but trust me; you’ve seen the guy. He’s been called Andy Garcia 2.0, Alan Rickman 2.0, and Peter O’Toole 2.0. In interviews, he’s humble, charming, and clearly hard-working, as also evidenced by 14 credits on IMDb in the last two years; those in quite a number of notable films, I might add. In reviews, he’s always deemed a strong supporter.

So who is the guy? He’s the new face of menace, from Stardust to Green Lantern. He’s played villain (or at least semi-antagonist) to some of Hollywood’s most notable actors; Leo DiCaprio, Robert Downey, Jr., and Russell Crowe, to name a few. Still not totally clear? Well, that’s the danger of being a character actor. But here – allow me to enlighten you with a small sampling of notable (to me) Strong performances.

Mark Strong and Helen McCrory

1. The Jury (2002).

This Brit mini-series, recommended to me by rtm, features Strong as a troubled husband. He’s suffered a debilitating injury that has damaged his leg, his self-esteem, and his marriage to Rose (Helen McCrory), one of the jurors on the case. Rose seeks to escape from her stifling life by way of serving on the jury, quickly catching the eye of a fellow juror (Gerard Butler), and embarking upon a reasonably serious flirtation. Strong discovers the would-be affair, and drama ensues. This riveting performance is a true precursor to Strong’s current position in Hollywood. The character of Len is pure menace throughout. What truly impressed me, though, is that despite knowing he’s in the wrong, and being really creeped out by him, I found Len to be a sympathetic character. Yes, he’s scary. He does some bad things. But mostly, he’s a broken, beaten man who’s suffered a serious blow to his own confidence, and is just trying to hang on to something he loves. This, I think, is what Strong does best. He imbues characters of questionable (or sometimes quite obvious) moral and ethical standing with humanity. In the end, I felt nothing but sorry for Len, as someone unable to control his life or his own impulses.

2. Stardust (2007). I would argue that “the new Princess Bride” qualifies as Strong’s star-making turn. The devious, totally evil Prince Septimus is a really great villain. Strong plays him with snarling intensity and cold, callous concern for anyone but himself. This was my introduction to Mark Strong, and I was totally taken in by his performance. I think that probably happened a lot in Hollywood, too, since it is after Stardust that Strong has gone on a major tear. The amazing fight scene in which he is essentially a re-animated corpse was an astonishing piece of work, one which he apparently did himself, and this whole movie is a must for anyone looking to see what Strong can do.

3. RocknRolla (2008). Guy Ritchie’s mob romp is a whole lot of fun, and boasts a really great cast that includes the always-brilliant Tom Wilkinson and rtm/Samantha fave Gerard Butler. In my opinion, though, the movie belongs to Mark Strong. He plays Archy, Wilkinson’s mob boss’s right-hand man. In thinking about it, I would compare this role to that of Len in The Jury, but I think it’s more subtle and well-played. Technically, Archy’s a bad guy. He’s a mobster. He walks on the wrong side of the law. But for all of that, his character exemplifies a clear moral code and a sense of right and wrong within the framework of the world in which he lives. Archy is just doing his job, and he does it well, so you get that wonderful Mark Strong menace (tired of that word yet?), but you also get a sense of ambiguity in the sense that, when Archy believes that he, and other people on his level, have been wronged by the higher-ups, his sense of justice is very clearly defined. This, I think, is at the heart of what makes Strong so good. He’s got that look, and clearly his resume is skewed toward villains, but he’s got something more than that. I don’t think it takes a particularly great actor to stand around and snarl and/or look scary, but it does take a bit more nuance to give one’s character a more complex background than just “being the bad guy,” and this is something at which I think Strong excels.

Mark Strong in Body of Lies

4. Body of Lies (2008).

This, I believe, is Strong’s best performance to date. It takes some hard work to be billed under powerhouses DiCaprio and Crowe and still somehow manage to walk away with the movie. Strong is Hani Salaam, the head of Jordanian intelligence. He works closely, and contentiously, with DiCaprio’s CIA agent in an attempt to bring down a group of terrorists. So, in theory at least, Hani is not a “bad guy”. What he is, though, is an extremely suave, intelligent, and ambiguous figure. There are times when he seems to be playing both sides of the fence, but he’s mostly just playing his own game, in which he allows the CIA to think it’s running the show.

This performance is a marvel of highs and lows, with Hani one second charming and friendly (he calls Leo “my dear” most of the time), and in the next instant, we’re back to a sense of immediate danger that is somehow doubly frightening coming from Strong’s soft-spoken accent and impeccably tailored suit. All in all, the movie is decent but not great, but I would suggest it for the performances and the interplay between the three leads more than anything else.


So there you have it. A Mark Strong primer. I highly recommend that you check out this talented guy, particularly in these films, although I have heard good things about a number of others. Syriana and The Young Victoria, in particular, are supposed to be very good, and Sherlock Holmes is pretty much a must for Downey fans. AND, you can look forward to Strong in the upcoming Crowe/Scott Robin Hood (yes, I am horribly excited) and in the Ryan Reynolds-starring Green Lantern (as Sinestro!), due out in 2011. Many thanks to rtm for asking me to write this post and giving me the opportunity to gush a little about my new favorite character actor. Enjoy!

So what’s YOUR favorite role of Mark Strong?