Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Why I love Clive Owen

I think there comes a point with various actors and actresses where they've finally been in enough films and big enough films that their body of work starts to impress you. I previously found this with James McAvoy. Recently I rewatched Inside Man and felt the same way about Clive Owen. So here's my list of why I love Clive Owen, and hope for the best in the rest of his career.

I first watched and love Mr. Owen in a funny little British movie called Greenfingers. He plays a criminal in an experimental prison that is allowed to start a garden. He recruits some other prisoners to help him and their gardening skills are soon recognized and eventually they're allowed to compete in a huge national gardening competition. There are all the usual macho jokes about guys gardening, but of course our lovable heroes overcome the teasing and prove that success is the best revenge. Clive is quiet, but kind, and spends most of the movie trying to overcome something or another. For a long time afterward, whenever Clive appeared in something else, our family referred to him as the guy from the gardening movie.

Then Clive did a bunch of TV stuff, before landing one of the downstairs roles in Robert Altman's masterpiece, Gosford Park. Along with every other major British star (and Ryan Phillipe), Clive Owen plays a small but intricate role in this story of class lines and struggles with identity, all while solving the murder of the lord of the manor. His part was small, but I remember him walking around with guns and all the while thinking he's got a secret that will turn the whole house upside down. He plays secretive very well.

These small but memorable parts continued in The Bourne Identity. Clive plays the assassin trying to kill Bourne. They meet out in the field as they try to shoot each other, and of course Bourne wins and Clive is gunned down, but has that moment of revelation that perhaps being an assassin is not a great thing and that Bourne should try to save himself. Small role, but one that people tend to remember.

There was a series of movies Clive did next that I saw out of order, so I'll discuss them together. He and Angelina Jolie starred in Beyond Borders, the story of "star-crossed lovers" who are relief workers in various hotspots around the world. They meet in a war zone in Africa, and meet up around the world trying to bring medicine and relief to people struggling with war, famine and disease. The acting and love story are really secondary to the documentary sense of the wars and activism the main characters try to support. I mixed this with watching King Arthur, which was so dreadful I can't really even comment. Clive plays slightly dirtier characters in both of these movies, guys willing to buck the rules and save the people he loves. Not great films, but a bigger move for dear Clive.

Next, Clive hit the big time, a BAFTA and Golden Globe win and an Oscar nomination, with Closer. He's sexy, mysterious, a little mean, and hot as hell. He dates Julia Roberts character, but is incredibly drawn to Natalie Portman's broken ingenue. He fights for what he wants, but never really wins the girl because he can't let go of his suspicious nature. I love watching him in this movie and fast forward to the scene with him and Natalie Portman flirting and arguing and seducing and being sad. So great.

Since Closer, Clive has done some really big movies, including Sin City, Children of Men, Derailed, and Elizabeth: The Golden Age. I liked his character and the story in Children of Men, but I didn't really like the movie as a whole - it didn't achieve the book's apocalypse atmosphere very well, just dark and uninteresting. He almost pulled the movie together with his depressed yet optimistic (hard to pull off, but it's Clive Owen's bread and butter) brooding hero. He drops some of the optimism for Elizabeth: The Golden Age as he plays Sir Walter Raleigh, consort for the Queen. Still sexy, but doesn't quite run the movie.

I can't wait to see the next Clive Owen work in Sin City 2, but I hope he's able to play a few different roles. I love what he's done so far, and look forward to more of the same, but just like the secrets his characters have, I suspect Clive Owen, the actor, has lot of different roles left in him as well.

Monday, May 26, 2008

I know I'm alone, but I loved Indy's comeback!

I've been called a nerd or geek from time to time, deservedly so, and am often proud of that. Perhaps that's why I liked the new Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I liked that they took an established fictional character, in all his leather jacket, fedora and whip-wielding glory and moved him into a different set of circumstances and it still made for entertaining movie-making. Maybe it was just the setting they moved it into - a Cold War/Twilight Zone atmosphere that still has to use the tools of archaeology and "X marks the spot" logic to solve the mystery. The plot is ridiculous - but finding the Ark of the Covenant, the Temple of Doom, or the Holy Grail weren't exactly intellectual exercises. So this movie succeeded exactly where the others did, a great bad guy in Cate Blanchett's doctor seeking glory and knowledge, lots of chases and crafty escapes, a side-kick that makes Indy feel like he's "too old for this shit", and a heroine that can match Indy blow for blow. Basically, Indy gets kidnapped and made to find something in a government warehouse (Area 51!) for the Russians. He finds it, gets double-crossed and then followed by the feds for a while. The Russians keep looking for him and he meets a greaser Mutt (Shia LaBoeuf) who needs his help save his mom - Marion Ravenwood (the unforgettable Karen Allen from Raiders) lost in the Amazon. They leave to save the girl and of course get caught up in finding the actual treasure. The crystal skulls are a fairly ridiculous plot point, but create an interesting sci-fi background that doesn't actually make much difference to the story. Harrison Ford does a great job of trying to defeat the bad guys and keep the banter going, fighting with Marion, and trying to teach Mutt a thing or two. The effects are fun, and as a "Saturday matinee" type of film it works great. I love series of books, movies, etc. I love seeing characters in new situations but still being the same great character. That's what this movie delivers, incredibly well in my opinion. It's fun, ridiculous, entertaining, unbelievable, crazy, and a great time. Don't take it too seriously and you'll have fun.

Monday, May 19, 2008

I can't wait for Indy to come back!

There's been lots of talk about the new Indiana Jones movie, and I admit, I'm definitely one of those who can't wait. The Sci-Fi channel's been showing the first three movies in succession for a while, so I caught up on my favorite again - Last Crusade. The first one is classic - saturday matinee classic camp and hurrah with heroes and bad dialogue and unbelievable stories. But "Last Crusade" is a whole other level of ridiculous - mostly related to the awesome dialogue between Sean Connery and Harrison Ford. There are all kinds of lines that have permeated our family lexicon - "No ticket", and "I was the next man". And with the new characters they've introduced in the "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" there could be lots of great lines ahead. Here's hoping the new movie rocks as much as the others.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Robert Downey Jr. is awesome

Ever since he appeared on Ally McBeal I've loved Robert Downey Jr. He's funny, witty, takes control of scenes, he sings, plays the piano, and now is IRON MAN! The new movie isn't quite like other super hero movies, though there are the requisite explosions, good guy turns out bad, and long-suffering female love interest. However, there are also lots of really timely social messages. Tony Stark (Downey) is a genius who inherited a huge weapons manufacturing factory. Stark is in Afghanistan arrogantly showing off his newest weapon when he's kidnapped by a terrorist group who wants him to build them the weapon, from pieces of Stark weapons they've accumulated. So he's kept in a cave with another scientist, Yinsen, for months. Of course he builds the Iron Man suit and escapes, but the really cool thing the other scientist builds and he perfects. Stark was hit with tons of shrapnel when his Hummer was attacked. To prevent the pieces from traveling to his heart and killing him, Yinsen puts a magnet attached to a car battery into his chest to hold the shrapnel in place. Stark improves it and a glowing circle ends up permanently in his chest and ultimately acts as the power source for Iron Man. The concept is just cool. Of course when he returns Stark goes through the necessary moral questions of how to use this amazing power he's built and whether his company should still make weapons, but luckily Terrance Howard is a military officer who helps get him through those issues. And of course there's his assistant, Pepper Potts (Gwenyth Paltrow), who ultimately helps save the day, in many different ways, but I'll leave that for future viewers. It's obviously been set up to make the sequel more fun, but I still really liked it. The kids probably won't quite understand all the social implications they address, but it's still a very good movie for everyone. The banter is funny, and the effects are terrific. I can't wait for the sequel, although Indiana Jones opening this weekend will probably distract me!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

James, and James, and James, oh my

I just got back from a long trip, so the best part was obviously watching lots of movies on the planes to and fro. The theme I found was James. On the way to Europe they were showing Becoming Jane and I was once again reminded of my love of James McAvoy (see here for a reminder). He's romantic, a playboy who converts for the woman he loves, honorable, and plays against Anne Hathaway perfectly (even if she's not British, she's a good Jane Austen). Then on the way home, they were playing 27 Dresses and Enchanted which I'm sure you'll remember that I liked both. James Marsden was even more arresting this time in both roles. He's cute, sexy, with a grin that doesn't end, and can play a fairy tale prince more convincingly than you'd expect. Oh, and since I spent most of the flight telling people that in fact James Marsden's name was James Franco, I will pay homage to him as well - he's awesome in the Spiderman movies and hopefully will be in lots more fun movies. Oh well, I definitely appreciate the James' in my movie-viewing experiences. Any others I've forgotten, I bow to you too.