Archive for the ‘Ed Harris’ Category

MOVIE: Snowpiercer (2013)

July 15, 2014

snowpiercerIn 2014, we’re told during the opening frames of this post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller, mankind finally figured out a way to stop the progression of global warming. A chemical, found to lower the temperature of the atmosphere by a few degrees, was released into the sky by dozens of countries at the same time, then everybody sat back and relaxed, anticipating the glorious need for socks and sweaters once again at last.

Great idea; one small problem:  Mother Nature rarely appreciates being monkeyed with, and instead of cooperating by chilling out ever so gently slightly, she opened up a can of Ice Age on their ass.

Cut to 17 years later and a train.  It’s called the Snowpiercer, and it’s the largest train ever built.  On board are the last survivors of the planet Earth. The train uses a perpetual motion engine, we’re told in an educational video, and travels along a huge, globe-spanning track, cycling once around the planet every year (try not to wonder how this magical track never needs repairs; it won’t do you any good).

When the Snowpiercer was first unveiled as the last stop for man, it was boarded using a class system — essentially to establish a class system, really, since the money was immediately useless the second it was spent. You either paid for a first- or second-class ticket, or you ended up jammed in the tail of the train with 1000 other poor people, where there was no food, no water, no windows, and no hope.  For 17 years, the tailies have struggled to survive, and while eventually, the owner/conductor of the train, “Wilford the Benevolent,” stepped in to provide them with just enough water and gelatinous “protein bars” to survive, the conditions began horrific and pretty much stayed that way.

As the story opens, a young tailie named Curtis (played by Captain America) and the tail’s elderly leader Gilliam (John Hurt) are planning a rebellion, the first in years. The conditions they’ve been forced to endure and the terrible abuses they’ve been increasingly subjected to have finally become intolerable, and the group intends to turn this train around once and for all, so to speak.

The plan?  To bust through the length of the Snowpiercer and get to the engine — the ultimate seat of control. Though they have almost no weapons whatsoever, and face a force of guards armed to the teeth (or are they? rumor has it they actually ran out of bullets years ago. . .), the proletariat is, as always, a class to be reckoned with, because the “have-nots” are fueled by something the “haves” simply ceased to  possess: the ardor of want.

As they make their way from car to car, through battle after battle, Curtis and his team (including the ever-wonderful Octavia Spencer) encounter one astonishing sight after the next, beginning with their first look out a window in 17 years, and followed quickly by cars filled with living, growing fruits and vegetables; frozen slabs of beef and whole chickens (try not to wonder where this magical meat comes from; it won’t do you any good); and a tunnel through a car surrounded on all sides by a glassed-in aquarium loaded to the gills (pun) with fish.

While the poor have been barely subsisting on those disgusting “protein bars,” the rich have been feasting on what appears to be an endless supply of sushi and steak. Every injustice fuels the tailies’ fervor further until, finally, the last survivors of the team break their way into the engine, finding there the biggest shock of all.

Now, there are a WHOLE HOST of things that make absolutely no sense whatsoever in this film, which is typically something that drives me pretty bananas.  Here, though, while I noted each one in turn, and rolled my eyes at more than a few (including everybody’s horror at finding out what the protein bars are made of, which: who cares? Plenty of people eat that right now by choice all over the world already, you wimps), the movie is so damned entertaining, being annoyed seemed like a waste of a perfectly good time. This is pure summer popcorn fun, with some extra-delightful elements on board as well, including and especially the magnificent Tilda Swinton, virtually unrecognizable as the cruel, bug-eyed, buck-toothed spokesperson for the Wilford of Oz, coincidentally wearing not only my haircut from the 3rd grade, but my glasses as well.

While Snowpiercer thinks itself more clever than it actually is (for all its earnest “analysis” of the ramifications of a class system where the rich have so MUCH more than the poor, it actually has nothing new or interesting to add), this is easily the most thoroughly entertaining sci-fi flick I’ve seen all year. Great production values, good storytelling, engaging character dynamics. Plus, if you’re in the middle of a heat wave like we are in Seattle right now, spending two hours with a movie set in a world where your arm can freeze solid in 7 minutes makes for some pretty nice daydreaming.

Not that I’m complaining about the heat, Mother Nature. NOT ONE TINY BIT (please don’t hurt me).

Recommended!

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Genre: Science Fiction, Disaster
Cast: Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, John Hurt, Alison Pill, Ed Harris, Kang-ho Song, Ewen Bremner

National Poetry Month 12/30: THE ABYSS in 5-7-5

April 12, 2010

Celebrate National Poetry Month with us!  Post your own haiku about The Abyss in the comments!  (Go ahead, make fun of the ending — you know you want to.)

Blue water toilet.
Fish that ring back out, Brigman!
You’ll need it later!

BOOK: Resolution by Robert B. Parker

April 2, 2009

I’m not sure why I picked this book up, considering the fact I wasn’t that impressed with the first book in Parker’s Western series, Appaloosa, nor was I that impressed with the film version that came out last year (starring Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris).

The only way I can explain it is that I’ve been a fan of Robert B. Parker’s since I was a teenager, and, kind of like with the show ER, once I’ve invested over a decade in something — a TV show, an author, a convoluted procedure by which I consume a bag of M&Ms (don’t ask), it’s hard for me to let go.

In any case, as I’m sure you can tell, I wasn’t all that impressed by this second installment in the Hitch and Cole series either. In this one, Hitch has left partner Cole behind in Appaloosa, and been hired to “keep the peace” in the small town of Resolution. There’s a local guy who has been systematically taking control of everything in town, and the local farmers, keen to keep their land, eventually also enlist Hitch’s support in their cause. As those of us familiar with the character no doubt knew was coming, Cole shows up eventually, having finally come to his senses about flaky, flirty wife Allison. So, the team is back together again, uniting to save the town from the bad guy.

Here’s my problem — again, this is a storyline that I’ve encountered 86 gazillion times in the Western genre. I’m a big fan of that genre, so I know all these stories already, and Parker doesn’t seem capable of coming up with any new plotlines for this series. That would be fine, though, if the characters were unique and interesting. Here, they just aren’t. Watch Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, and then watch Ed Harris again in Appaloosa, and I think you’ll see what I mean. And in written form, Hitch and Cole are no more interesting. They’re just flat, with a few little personality affects that are supposed to authenticate them, but just aren’t quite “on” enough to seem anything but forced.

Anyway, I hate to say it, but dude, I sincerely hope Parker ditches this series soon and returns to the characters we already know and love – characters that have remained dynamic and authentic for years and years. I actually MISS Spenser when I’m in between novels. When I finished Appaloosa or Resolution, I honestly never gave Hitch and Cole another thought. Meh. Done.

[WESTERN]

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MOVIE: Appaloosa (2008)

February 9, 2009

appaloosa1I’m having a hard time with this one.  I actually saw it over a week ago and I STILL can’t decide if I liked it or not.  The film, based on a novel by Robert B. Parker, has all of the elements that I typically love about Westerns: intense male bonding, a smidge of romance, good guys versus bad guys, where the good guys aren’t really all that “good” but aren’t as “bad” as the bad guys so it’s close enough, etc. But at the same time, there’s almost too MUCH of the stuff I typically love about Westerns — which is the exact same problem I had with Parker’s novel, so I suppose this should have come as no surprise.

The story is about two old friends, Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and his “strong and silent type” partner Hitch (Viggo Mortensen), who travel around working as lawmen for hire, helping towns that are having, shall we say, “security” problems.  Their latest gig is in the town of Appaloosa, where the mayor and others  have hired them to battle a bad guy named Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons), a rancher who has been trying to take over the town.  As Hitch and Cole settle in, they also become involved with another newcomer to Appaloosa, a young woman named Allison French (Renee Zellwigger), who Cole quickly falls madly in love with.  But Allison isn’t quite the “good girl” she makes herself out to be, leading to a series of complications that make Cole’s job in Appaloosa all the more challenging.

Here’s the thing, though.  As was the case with the novel, I never really felt like any of the characters in this film ever truly came alive.  Of the four stars, I would say Viggo came the closest, but that’s partly because his character’s job was mostly to look serious and occasionally throw out a sentence now and again.  Viggo’s good at that brooding, distant kinda thing.  Harris, on the other hand, was sadly forgettable as Virgil Cole, and that’s despite the fact he had the one role in the movie that involved a degree of wit.  Zellwegger I was more or less bored by, whatev’, and Jeremy Irons?  I don’t know why he was cast in his part to begin with.  He was completely wrong for it.

That said, the film did have its moments.  There’s a slowness about it — a loping easiness, I guess — that brings a nice rhythm to the story.  It’s a quiet movie about two extremely close friends doing their best to make the world a better place, and the relationship between Virgil and Hitch was one of the few that I felt actually had a little bit of chemistry to it.  There’s also a very intriguing lack of violence in this movie, which was a pretty interesting way to make a Western.  The one big shoot-out scene is over in seconds, and the characters even comment on it, Hitch saying, “That happened quick,” and Cole replying, “Everybody could shoot.”  I got a chuckle out of that, because I always find it kind of ridiculous how many times in movies and TV the shoot-em-up scenes last forever because nobody seems like they could hit the broad side of a barn with a tractor.

In any case, meh, I don’t know.  I thought Ed Harris might’ve been able to take the novel and transform it into something with a little more depth (he wrote the screenplay, in addition to starring in it), but I’m not convinced he did.  I mostly felt kind of underwhelmed the whole time I was watching this movie, and it hasn’t really lingered with me at all.  It’s not a BAD movie.  It’s just not that interesting or unique either.  I’ll try it again sometime soon and see if it goes down better the second time around (when expectations are lower, see?).

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Genre: Western
Cast:  Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Renee Zellwegger, Jeremy Irons, James Gammon, Timothy V. Murphy

MOVIE: National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007)

June 30, 2008

Okay, listen up. I LOVED the first National Treasure movie. I thought it was funny, entertaining, engaging, and just a total blast to watch. And I know I’m not alone in that, either. So, like, what gives with the response to its sequel? Suddenly, all the critics are exclaiming, “The premise of this movie is utterly ridiculous! There’s nothing believable about it whatsoever — it’s completely preposterous. I give it zero stars! ZERO!”

Unbelievable? Dude, aren’t you the same guys who raved about the Lord of the Rings trilogy? What, and you thought the Hobbits were REAL?

This movie is 100% popcorn summer movie fun. Yes, the premise is utterly ridiculous — do I really believe that Mt. Rushmore was commissioned by President Coolidge so as to disguise the location of Cibola, one of the seven Lost Cities of Gold? Do I actually need to answer that question? But at the same time, lighten up, people — it’s a comic action movie! Just relax and go with the flow already!

Book of Secrets brings back the four main characters from the first film: Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage), his hilarious geeky sidekick Riley (Justin Bartha), his now-wife Abigail (Diane Krugar), and his father, Patrick Gates (Jon Voight). (Oh, actually, there’s a fifth returnee too — Harvey Keitel as the Feebie who is having WAY too much fun chasing after the Gates family.) Added to the mix this time include the always-awesome Helen Mirren as Patrick’s estranged ex-wife (Ben’s mother) and Ed Harris as Mitch Wilkinson, the sorta-bad guy who sets the whole story in motion by accusing one of the Gates’s ancestors of being involved in the assassination of President Lincoln.

This movie has something for everyone: comic banter (for me), history that is probably outrageously inaccurate (for history buffs who like to bitch about how everybody gets it wrong — you know who you are), a cute geek (again, for me), a U.S. president who isn’t a total butthead (for all of us), kissing (ahem, also for me), chase scenes (for the boys), and nary a gratuitous naked boobie to be seen anywhere (for the girls).

Oh, and it also has Bruce Greenwood, who I have an enormous crush on, as the aforementioned non-butthead president. And is it just me or does Greenwood play the President of the United States rather a lot in movies? Bruce, I hear Obama is still looking for a running mate — throw your hat in the ring, man! From what I’ve seen, you’re absolutely smashing at running a country AND you look totally adorable while you do it. I was going to vote for John Edwards for roughly the same reason, after all. I think you have a shot! Call me — we’ll get started on the campaign plan.

And as for the rest of you, if you didn’t enjoy a single moment of this movie — not one funny line from Riley, not one action moment, not one scene with Helen Mirren — it’s time for you to pack up your UFO and return to your home planet. Here on Earth, we like to have FUN sometimes. And this? This is one of those times, people. Word.

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Genre: Action, Comedy
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Jon Voight, Justin Bartha, Diane Krugar, Helen Mirren, Bruce Greenwood (p.s. will you marry me?), Ed Harris, Harvey Keitel

MOVIE: Gone Baby Gone (2007)

February 27, 2008

A couple of days ago, I said the movie Sunshine was a flick made for people who like it when a movie inspires them to think in addition to just entertaining them.

When it comes to this film, I’d say that’s the understatement of the year.

This intriguing drama/mystery is about a 4 year-old girl named Amanda McCready who has been kidnapped out of a low-income house in South Boston.  Her mother, Helene, is a drug addict/prostitute, and doesn’t seem all that upset about her disappearance, so the girl’s aunt and uncle decide to try to enlist some outside help.  They hire a pair of private detectives, Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennero (Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan), and though they primarily specialize in tracking down deadbeats and have never worked on anything as serious as a kidnapping before, they agree to try to do what they can to help.

Lucky for everybody but the kidnappers, Patrick grew up in Southie and despite his disarmingly youthful and innocent face, the guy’s got some serious connections in the underworld.  His search for clues leads him to a variety of bad dudes, mostly drug dealers with the occasional pedophile thrown in for kicks, and it’s not long before he begins to sniff out a trail.  He’s also managed to impress the police captain assigned to the case, Capt. Doyle (Morgan Freeman), who, despite brief initial reluctance, agrees to help, instructing his two detectives, Remy and Nick (Ed Harris and John Ashton), to work with Patrick and Angie as closely as they can.

Of course, nothing makes me more suspicious than a police captain who eagerly embraces two rookie private eyes, so that was the first clue this wasn’t going to be your average cops-and-kidnappers crime drama.  As the film progresses, more and more little hints that things are not quite what they seem are dropped here and there, allowing the savvy viewer to start piecing together their own theory about what’s truly going on.

What I really appreciated about this film, though, is that while I managed to figure out the “who” and “how” of the mystery before the ending, I got the “why” completely wrong.  That just doesn’t happen that often and yet, by the time all was revealed, I could look back and see exactly how I could’ve figured it out if I’d just been paying slightly closer attention in a few scenes.  All the pieces were there — I had just missed a few of the corners.  I love it when that happens — when a movie actually manages to outplay, outwit, and outlast me.  It’s a rare occurrence these days and thus, something to be wholeheartedly embraced.

On top of it all, that “why” — boy, did it ever make me think.  It took me days after seeing this film to finally resolve my feelings about its ending.  I won’t say anything about what happens, of course, except to say that though my instantaneous “gut” reaction was that Patrick makes the obviously-correct choice, I’ve since realized I can’t really say for sure that I would’ve made the same decision in his place.  And, more interestingly, I also can’t say whether I think that makes me courageous or a coward.  I could go either way — I think we probably all could.  When was the last time a movie made you feel both morally smug and utterly ashamed, all at the same time?  For me, I think it was probably Dead Man Walking — and never before or since until now.

This movie is classy, smart, and thoughtful.  It’s clear from the first ten minutes that it’s being made by someone who knows South Boston intimately — not only Casey Affleck, of course, by also his director, big brother Ben — and I really felt myself sinking completely into the setting and the characters.  It’s a movie that has stayed with me for over a week now, and I don’t sense I’ll be shaking elements of it for quite a while to come. 

My only complaint is that I found Michelle Monaghan to be almost superfluous here — she could easily have been omitted from the film completely and I don’t think we would’ve missed her.  And I can’t tell if that’s a flaw with the role itself, or if it was just that Michelle didn’t have the oomph needed to make an impression on me as strong as the one Casey Affleck did.  In any case, her character was there to provide a balance to Patrick — someone NOT of the Southie world, someone with a different opinion about what’s “right” in the situation they’re thrown into, etc.  And I just didn’t feel she managed to provide that balance quite as strongly as I would’ve liked.

Other than that, though, I really can’t quibble with a thing.  Definitely one to  see — everybody’s been talking about this one for a good reason.  By the way, I also just saw Casey Affleck in the new Jesse James movie, so watch for my review of that one in another day or two. 

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Genre: Drama, Mystery
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Robert Wahlberg, Ed Harris, Amy Ryan