Sunday, May 30, 2010

Dennis Hopper (1936-2010)

Having built a career out of playing unconventional characters, probably because he was one himself, Dennis Hopper passed away Saturday at the age of 74. Having fought prostate cancer for a number of years, Hopper succumbed to the disease at his home in Venice, Calif. His acting career, which included a few stints into directing (most notably "Easy Rider" and "Colors"), spanned six decades, with extensive work in both film and television. Although quite ill at the time, Hopper finally was recognized with his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in March.

It was a career marked with some memorable highs and forgettable lows, and one glance at his body of work shows an actor who clearly was never lacking for employment. It might also show somebody who would have been better served to have said 'No' a little more often to job offers, as his resume is littered with, well, let's just say material that's below his skill level.

That said, there's a lot of memorable roles mixed in there, with villainous performances leaving a particularly indelible mark in cinematic history. Whether it's the Pabst Blue Ribbon-loving psycho Frank Booth from "Blue Velvet" or the devious bomb expert Howard Payne in the action hit "Speed," Hopper knew his way around bad guys.

But for my money, his performance as "Shooter" in the great 1986 sports flick "Hoosiers" was Hopper at his best. As the father of a student at a small town Indiana high school, his character has a brilliant basketball mind, but one that struggles with alcoholism. His battle to redeem himself in the eyes of his son, and for the coach (GeneHackman ) that entrusts him with some responsibility with the team, brings a poignancy to the film that goes beyond any of the accomplishments taking place on the court. It's a great performance, and the only acting Oscar for which he would ever be nominated. The fact that Hopper himself had just recently emerged from drug rehab prior to taking on the role shows a man able to tap into a little of his own personal demons for positive gain.

Regardless of what one thinks of his assorted film choices, Hopper crafted an indelible footprint on Hollywood. Thankfully, he was able to have it permanently left on the streets of the town before passing away. Now that site serves as a shrine for fans to leave flowers and mementos marking the death of a true Hollywood maverick.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Summer Movie Preview: June 2010

After some of the heavy hitters were unleashed in May, June’s movie release schedule is filled with a couple of sure-fire hits, along with several that have the potential to heat up at the box office. The competition for audience attention will likely be brutal.

Starring Katherine Heigl, Ashton Kutcher, Tom Selleck, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Mull, Rob Riggle
Directed by Robert Luketic

A suburban housewife (Heigl) learns that her husband (Kutcher) is an undercover assassin, who himself has been targeted for termination. He must then work to stay alive, with his incredulous wife in tow. The two stars have a spotty track record in films, and while the material is not the freshest, it still has hit potential. Then again, it could bomb big time. (June 4)
Official Web site

“Get Him to the Greek”
Starring Jonah Hill, Russell Brand, Elizabeth Moss, Rose Byrne, Colm Meaney and Sean Combs
Directed by Nicholas Stoller

From the makers of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” comes a tale of a lowly intern (Hill) at a record company tasked with transporting an egotistical, hard-partying British rock star (Brand) to a show in L.A. This is a spin-off of sorts from “Sarah Marshall,” with Brand portraying his same character for that film here. However, Hill, who was also in that movie, is not playing the same role. Go figure. (June 4)
Official Web site

Starring Owen Wilson, Lee Pace, Judy Greer and William H. Macy
Directed by Tom Dey

The same studio that brought you the successful “Alvin and the Chipmunks” franchise is dipping into comic strips with a big screen version of the Winslow family and their large and loveable Great Dane, Marmaduke. Wilson provides the voice of the canine, who never spoke in the comic. Fans of the longtime newspaper staple might have trouble wrapping their heads around that decision. (June 4)
Official Web site

“The A-Team”
Starring Bradley Cooper, Liam Neeson, Jessica Biel, Sharlto Copley, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Patrick Wilson
Directed by Joe Carnahan

You can hardly have a summer movie season anymore without a big-budget film version of a popular TV show, and it’s the old 1980s-era NBC show that made Mr. T a star getting the treatment here. T’s nowhere to be seen, but the casting does look pretty good here. Still, will this be able to balance the action and comedy for which the TV show aimed? And how many fans of the show really were clamoring for a movie? (June 11)
Official Web site

“Toy Story 3”
Starring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Michael Keaton, Joan Cusack, Whoopi Goldberg
Directed by Lee Unkrich

With everything that Pixar touching turning into a hit, there’s no doubt that the third edition of this very successful franchise will draw in large numbers. This time, Woody, Buzz and the gang are brought to become playthings in a daycare after their owner, Andy, heads off to college. (June 18)
Official Web site

“Grown Ups”
Starring Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider, Salma Hayek
Directed by Dennis Dugan

In what looks like a 1990s-era “Saturday Night Live” reunion, Sandler (who is also serving as one of the writers and producers) has brought together some longtime friends for a movie about a reunion of ... well, longtime friends. One look at the trailer and you should know exactly what you’re getting here. The only thing that matters here is whether the movie makes you laugh. (June 25)
Official Web site

“Knight and Day”
Starring Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Peter Sarsgaard, Maggie Grace, Paul Dano
Directed by James Mangold

A superspy (Cruise) his employers are claiming has taken a serious mental break from reality enlists the help of woman (Diaz) he met on a blind date to help him. This film looks like it’s mixing in the action, comedy and romance much like the similarly-themed “Killers,” which will be released a mere three weeks before. If ever there’s an example of Hollywood recycling ideas, here it is. This could prove to be a real test of the star power of Cruise and Diaz, who previously appeared together in “Vanilla Sky.” (June 25)
Official Web site

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Summer Movie Preview: May 2010

With the arrival of May, the summer movie season officially arrives, with studios regularly unleashing some of their tentpole films before Memorial Day weekend. This year is no exception, as many big guns roll out prior to the holiday, including possibly the season’s biggest movie (“Iron Man 2”) hitting screens Friday.

“Iron Man 2”
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Gwenyth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke and Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by Jon Favreau

The huge success of the 2008 superhero film made this sequel a foregone conclusion. With several big name cast additions (Johansson, Rourke and Cheadle, taking over his role from Terrence Howard), the success of the next chapter in the franchise would also seem to be quite assured. This time out, the government is hot after the design secrets of billionaire Tony Stark (Downey Jr.), who refused to give them up, while a formidable adversary (Rourke) seeks a measure of revenge from an incident from his family’s past. (May 7)
Official Web site

“Robin Hood”
Starring Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, William Hurt, Mark Strong, Mark Addy, Oscar Isaac, Danny Huston, Eileen Atkins and Max von Sydow
Directed by Ridley Scott

In what would seem to be the umpteenth telling of the story about Robin Hood, frequent collaborators Crowe and Scott (both Oscar winners for “Gladiator”) team up again in this big budget action-adventure set in 13th century England. As the title character, Crowe seeks to undermine the authority of the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham (Macfadyen) while pursuing a romance with the widow, Maid Marion (Blanchett). The story is overly familiar to many, but there’s a reason why it’s told so often – it’s just plain good. (May 14)
Official Web site

“Letters to Juliet”
Starring Amanda Seyfried, Chris Egan, Franco Nero, Gael Garcia Bernal and Vanessa Redgrave
Directed by Gary Winick

A quieter, fairly lower star wattage flick, “Letters to Juliet” has the ability to serve as a nice change of pace from the usual collection of loud, special effects-laden movies from the season. Up-and-coming star Seyfried (“Mamma Mia!”) stars as a vacationing American in Italy who finds a love letter and sets out to find the writer, kicking off a chain reaction of events. (May 14)
Official Web site

Starring Will Forte, Kristen Wiig, Ryan Phillippe, Powers Boothe, Maya Rudolph and Val Kilmer
Directed by Jorma Taccone

Having picked up some good buzz on the festival circuit, “MacGruber,” an adaptation of a “Saturday Night Live” skit, could become a bit of a sleeper hit. Obviously, the film has to expand upon the limited premise of the reoccurring “SNL” skits, which always ended with everyone blowing up in a huge explosion. Having the always interesting Kilmer on board as the villain would seem to be a good casting decision. (May 21)
Official Web site

“Shrek Forever After”
Starring the voices of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews, Jon Hamm, Walt Dohm, John Cleese
Directed by Mike Mitchell

In what’s being billed as the final installment of the “Shrek” franchise, the big green ogre signs a contract with the sneaky Rumpelstiltskin, in the hopes of having one day to be the fearsome ogre he used to be. But in doing so, Shrek soon realizes he has been tricked, and an alternate universe has been created by his decision, causing all sorts of problems. While the third film didn’t quite live up to its promise, the hope is that the fourth will wrap things up on a good note. (May 21)
Official Web site

“Sex and the City 2”
Starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon, Chris Noth, David Eigenberg, Evan Handler, John Corbett
Directed by Michael Patrick King

With the first “Sex and the City” movie becoming a box-office hit, a sequel seemed an inevitability, despite the lack of necessity. Still, that could be said about most movie sequels. Obviously, there’s a built-in audience that loves the exploits of the female quartet, which finds them headed to Morocco for a getaway. While there, Carrie (Parker) runs into a romantic suitor of the past (Corbett), causing her to contemplate her current direction in life. (May 21)
Official Web site

“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time”
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterson, Ben Kinglsey, Alfred Molina
Directed by Mike Newell

Quickly becoming a genre unto itself, the latest video game to movie adaptation is of the popular “Prince of Persia” title, with the unexpected casting of Gyllenhaal as a prince teaming up with a princess (Arterton) to stop a power-hungry ruler from unleashing a destructive sandstorm that could have dire consequences on the world. With Gyllenhaal as a largely unproven actor in action films, it would seem this Disney release’s real star is its endless supply of special effects, if its trailer is any accurate indicator. (May 28)
Official Web site