Eclaire Fare

Enjoying Pop Culture, One Bite at a Time

Spring Movie Roundup May 21, 2010

The tv season is winding down, but since I’m having trouble collecting my thoughts about shows like Lost, 24, and Fringe, I’ll share my thoughts on some movies I’ve watched recently:

  • Rain Man – This Oscar-winning movie from 1988 was fun to watch, as much for the 80s cultural references as for the well developed story. Since I was only ten years old when the movie was released, I’m not sure I had ever watched the whole thing before. It was thoroughly entertaining from start to finish. Dustin Hoffmann won best actor, and the movie also won Oscars for best picture, best director, and best screenplay. Most people these days still associate Tom Cruise with his “crazy phase” from a few years ago, with the sofa leaping on Oprah and whatnot. I don’t have much of an opinion about Cruise as a person, but he has been in a lot of good movies that represent a variety of roles. Some of my favorites include Collateral, Minority Report, and A Few Good Men. In this movie, Cruise and Hoffmann are a great team with good acting chemistry. The 80s cars, clothing, music, billboards, etc. were a nice backdrop to a story that would work well during any time period: self-centered Charlie discovers he has an older, autistic brother – Raymond – and during a cross country journey the two brothers develop an unlikely bond and Charlie’s perspective on the situation changes. If you’ve never seen this movie, I’d definitely recommend it, and it’s also worth a second look.
  • Soapdish – This campy comedy has been on my rewatch list for awhile, since my appreciation for all things Robert Downey, Jr. has increased over the past couple of years. The character Downey plays (a spineless producer for the show) in this soap opera parody isn’t very likable, but the movie is entertaining and represents the flavor of early 90s cinema (it was released in 1991). It features an appropriately histrionic Sally Field and Kevin Kline, a fresh-faced Elisabeth Shue, and a pre-Lois and Clark/Desperate Housewives Teri Hatcher. The convoluted story, which involves a power struggle between soap divas, a love triangle, and a surprise paternity revelation, is understandably ridiculous – as it is a soap opera parody, but the main characters are just likable enough that it also works as a romantic comedy. I watched this through Netflix Instant Watch – if you are home one night with no tv shows to watch, this is a fun way to pass the time.
  • An Education – This movie caught my eye only because author Nick Hornby wrote the screenplay. I always enjoy his books, which include About a Boy and A Long Way Down, so I was curious to see how his knack for creating interesting characters and situations would translate to the big screen. While the movie lacked appealing characters, it definitely presented flawed, complex individuals. The story centers around a 16 year old girl, Jenny, who falls for a much older man, David (he must be in his late 30s). The disturbing thing to me is that her parents actually encourage the relationship. David is a charming guy who sweet talks his way into Jenny and her parents’ lives, and the audience spends most of the movie uncertain about his true intentions/motivations. The title of the movie refers to how this experience affects Jenny’s world: she certainly learns some life lessons, and she also begins to question the goals that had always been straightforward before meeting David – to finish at her prep school, make it into Oxford, and study English. After becoming involved with David, she comes to regard school as boring and leading to a dull future, and regards life with David as exciting and full of possibility. If this movie were set during modern times, it would play out a lot differently (for example, Jenny’s parents would probably have David arrested instead of inviting him over for tea!). But, I can only assume that things were different in 1960s England, which is the time period during which we see Jenny’s story unfold. This is not a feel good movie, but it’s not a complete downer either. It’s worth seeing for the excellent writing and acting, and because it makes you think about the expectations society places on young women when it comes to getting an education and finding someone to marry.
  • The Proposal – I was surprised how much I enjoyed this movie. It’s far from Oscar worthy, but its entertainment value is off the charts. I smiled or laughed just about all the way through it. The story is your typical cliched romantic comedy fluff: New York editor Margaret forces her personal assistant, Andrew, to agree to marry her when she finds out she’s about to be deported to her home country of Canada. The business arrangement soon turns into something more as they take a weekend trip to Alaska together to share the “happy news” with Andrew’s family. Not surprisingly, we learn that Margaret isn’t the evil witch that everyone thinks she is, and she learns that there’s much more to Andrew than she had given him credit for. The real fun in the movie can be attributed to the “fish out of water” aspect of city girl Margaret adapting to life in the Alaskan wilderness, whether she’s dancing with Andrew’s grandmother (scene stealer Betty White) in the woods as a tribute to the gods, trying to prevent a hawk from stealing her cell phone, or enduring special attention during a performance by the local male exotic dancer (Oscar from The Office in an unlikely and hilarious role). But Bullock isn’t the only thing to love about this movie. Everyone was well cast, and I was really charmed by Ryan Reynolds, an actor who I had previously written off as someone who specializes in a brand of silly movies I have no interest in. It turns out that in addition to being quite attractive, he is a pretty good comedic actor. The final thing I’ll say about this movie is that parts of it were filmed on location in Rockport, Massachusetts, where I went on vacation a couple of years ago. It is a quaint, scenic little town close to Boston, and I loved it. I recognized the red barn that is a Rockport landmark, in the scene where Margaret and Andrew climb into a boat to ride to his family’s house. Seeing familiar sites in the movie made me happy. As far as romantic comedies go, this one is a definite winner, and one I could watch several more times before tiring of it.
  • The X-Files: I Want to Believe – As an avid X-Filer, I should have watched this movie in the theater, but I heard so many negative reviews of it that I kept putting it off. It’s not that the movie was bad – it just wasn’t great. For me, it was enough to see Mulder and Scully together again, investigating a string of mysterious disappearances. It was nice to see them years after the events of the series finale, settled into a comfortable domestic existence, with Mulder “hiding out” from the feds and Scully working as a medical doctor. A supposed psychic’s discovery of a human limb buried in a field, and his insistence that he is having visions of a woman’s abduction, leads the FBI to enlist Mulder and Scully to help investigate a case that involves a serial kidnapper, black market organs, and a connection to the psychic network. Many fans of the show were disappointed that Chris Carter didn’t take this opportunity to provide more answers to the show’s many unresolved conspiracy theories and alien investigations, but I was entertained. I agree with a review I read that the movie played out like an extended “episode of the week.” Was the movie as memorable as X-Files: Fight the Future? No. Is it worth watching again? No. But it was comforting to revisit these old “friends,” so I’m glad that I watched it.
  • Where the Wild Things Are – What an odd little movie this was. When the trailers first surfaced on the internet, the buzz among people of my generation was crazy. We grew up reading this book, and now Spike Jonze, the mastermind behind Adaptation and Being John Malkovich, was bringing it to the big screen! When the movie actually hit theaters, the buzz turned into more of a shoulder shrugging, “eh, it was okay” attitude. I even heard some people say it was depressing. There was debate about whether this was a movie intended for kids, or a movie geared toward the 30 somethings who first made the book popular. It seems to be a mix of both. The shenanigans of Max and the “wild things” he meets on the island are very silly at times, but Max’s home life that leads him on his adventure, and his complex emotions about his life and relationships, can only be appreciated by the adult audience. Most kids’ movies don’t delve beneath the surface to explore the reasons that a child is feeling lonely, alienated, or neglected, and this movie did an excellent job of that. However, I think the movie would have been better if Jonze had chosen one specific direction rather than dividing his vision between the two extremes.
  • Up in the Air – I had been looking forward to this George Clooney movie for awhile, and was curious to see if it would live up to all the Oscar hype. It was very good, but not at all what I was expecting it to be. The writing, acting, directing, soundtrack, cinematography were all top notch. The story was clever and kept me completely engaged. My husband and I appreciated the business traveler aspect of the movie, since he travels quite often for work and is familiar with the never ending sequence of airport security checks, hotel key cards, airline/hotel/rental car points, etc. It was the tone of the movie that was a surprise. I was expecting it to be a dry comedy, and it was at times, but there was a persistent theme of loneliness, isolation, and even despair that made it difficult to watch, particularly as it neared its end. I wasn’t sure what to take away from such a movie. It left viewers with no hopeful message, and really no message at all. We weren’t sure what to think about where the main characters ended up. As the credits rolled, I just said “huh” and felt a little gypped. Despite my disappointment with the direction of the plot, there is much to appreciate in this movie, so if you can handle your comedy with some twists, turns, and drama, give it a look.

Next on my movie list are Dear Frankie, my current Netflix rental, and Iron Man 2, a necessity for me to watch since it stars my beloved Robert Downey, Jr. What have you seen lately?


My Top Ten Favorite Robert Downey Jr. Movies May 30, 2009

From the moment I first saw Robert Downey Jr. play Cybill Shepherd’s reincarnated husband in Chances Are, I’ve considered him one of my favorite actors. Early in his film career, he charmed us with his handsome face, his winning smile, and his witty humor. In more recent years, he’s played a variety of roles, many – but not all – of them more serious than the romantic comedy leads that first brought him fame. After watching The Soloist last month, I was reminded of not only what a great actor RDJ is, but how much I love him! So in the spirit of fandom, I’m counting down my Top Ten Favorite Robert Downey Jr. Movies. I’ve even tried to rank them!

  • 10. Soapdish (1991) – I haven’t seen this movie in years, but from what I remember, and from the impressive cast roster (RDJ was joined by Sally Field, Kevin Kline, Whoopi Goldberg, Teri Hatcher, etc.), I am certain that it was entertaining and amusing. I’ve always found real soap operas very comical (mainly because they are so bad), so I am a fan of a movie that uncovers humor behind the scenes of a soap. Robert Downey is in the center of the action as producer of the fictional soap The Sun Also Sets. Much hilarity ensues. I need to watch this one again!

  • 9. Heart and Souls (1993) – Someone must have been trying to capitalize off the popularity of Chances Are by making another “life after death” fantasy movie. In Chances Are, Robert Downey was the one who died and returned to earth in another body. In Heart and Souls, he plays a regular guy (Thomas) who has four guardian angels, who have been “attached” to him since the night they died in a bus crash while he was being born. The plot revolves around Thomas helping his angels take care of unfinished business before they can move on to the afterlife, and during that process he learns a thing or two about himself. This isn’t Oscar material, but it is a feel good story with likable characters and a few great songs (most notably “Walk Like a Man”). Another plus is that the story takes place in San Francisco, one of my favorite movie settings. Downey and Elisabeth Shue have good chemistry as the romantic leads as well.

  • 8. Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) – Robert Downey looks good in black and white! Actually, he looks good in just about anything. He has a timeless appeal, whether he’s playing a Renaissance character in Restoration, a silent movie icon in Chaplin, or a McCarthy-era journalist in this movie. The George Clooney directed Good Night, and Good Luck was surprisingly good, and had a timely message about the role and responsibilities of the news media. Robert Downey portrayed real life CBS journalist Joe Wershba, and the most significant aspect of his character was his secret marriage to co-worker Shirley (secret because of CBS’ policy at the time that no co-workers should be romantically involved). Downey and Patricia Clarkson brought these characters to life, and this subplot humanized an otherwise issue-oriented film.

  • 7. Wonder Boys (2000) – This is one of those offbeat, at times bizarre movies that is difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t seen it. It deals with writer’s block, the theft of Marilyn Monroe memorabilia, a transvestite named Antonia, and everything in between. As a story about the difficulties and adventures that come with being a writer, it’s enjoyable. As a tale of lost souls who are searching for companionship, validation, and a sense of belonging, it’s fascinating. Robert Downey, Jr. plays Grady Tripp’s (Michael Douglas) editor, Terry Crabtree. They have worked together for years and so understand each other. Terry is one of the more unconventional characters that Downey has played. Terry brings Antonia, a transvestite he met on the plane, as his companion for a weekend visit to take a look at Grady’s unfinished book. Before long, though, he dismisses Antonia when he becomes infatuated with James Leer (Tobey Maguire), one of Grady’s creative writing students. Katie Holmes also stars, as James’ friend Hannah, who is interested in Grady. But Grady is too busy juggling ex-wives and and a current lover – who is pregnant, and married to his boss – to reciprocate. What follows is a series of misadventures that lead these characters toward their own forms of resolution. A year after this movie was released, Downey’s problems with the law and substance abuse started to subside, as he successfully completed a drug rehab program, and his career had a resurgence (after a slump during his late ’90s personal problems). Wonder Boys, then, marked the beginning of Downey’s rise to critical acclaim that has continued throughout this decade (we’ll pretend like The Shaggy Dog never happened).

  • 6. Iron Man (2008) – What a fun surprise this movie was! In addition to being a fantastically entertaining action movie with impressive special effects, it proved that Robert Downey can play any role he sets his mind to. I was more than a little skeptical when I heard he was playing the lead in an action hero movie. My thoughts included, “Don’t those roles usually go to younger, buffer actors? Isn’t he like 40? That’s just weird!” But, it so wasn’t! He was his usual charming self as Tony Stark, billionaire genius and inventor. And in the tradition of comic heroes, we saw how he evolved from a self-centered playboy to an iron-clad beast saving the world. And I needed not be skeptical about Downey’s age or physique. He looked awfully good in his tux and his Iron Man suit. 🙂  Click here to read my full review of Iron Man.

  • 5. Zodiac (2007) – This movie about the 15+ year investigation into the real life Zodiac killer is part horror, part mystery, part drama, but they all add up to one solid, excellent movie. The murder scenes are some of the most disturbing ones I’ve seen, but as long as you can make it through those, you are in for a gripping account of this criminal investigation, and the toll it took on those involved. Robert Downey, Jr. plays Paul Avery, a crime reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, who becomes wrapped up in the mystery of the Zodiac killer. This unidentified killer starts sending clues to the newspaper through letters with encrypted codes. This draws the attention of political cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), who becomes obsessed with deciphering the codes. Both men eventually connect with Detective Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo), who has been assigned to the case, and this trio struggles over several years to unravel the mystery of the Zodiac killer. I love all three of these actors, so this movie was a joy for me to watch. They all did an excellent job with their roles, but especially Robert Downey. We see Avery go from a spirited, ambitious journalist to a downtrodden, substance abusing recluse over the course of the investigation. So, no, this isn’t a feel good movie. But as a factual account of the Zodiac investigation, it is intriguing, and as a study of the cost of obsession and professional ambition, it rings true and has me engaged from beginning to end. Another winner for Robert Downey!

  • 4. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) – I watched this movie for the first time when it came on TBS last summer. Why didn’t I watch it sooner?! It was simply a delightful breath of fresh air! It is billed as a comedy mystery thriller, and I would stress the comedy part of that equation. Most private detective movies are very dark, with only the most deadpan of humor thrown in the mix. I loved how this movie didn’t take itself seriously – at all – and Robert Downey was largely to thank for its fun, quirky tone. He plays Harry Lockhart, a small time thief who stumbles upon an acting audition while trying to evade the cops, at which point he begins posing as an actor who shadows a private eye (Val Kilmer) to prepare for a new role. The ensuing chain of events reunites him with a childhood friend, and involves him in a murder mystery. What makes this movie so entertaining is Harry’s voice over narration, through which he points out the humor or irony of various parts of the story, interjects random sidebars, and occasionally backtracks. Here’s one example of his sarcastic narration: “Don’t worry, I saw Lord of the Rings. I’m not going to end this 17 times.” I love it when Robert Downey plays witty, irreverent characters!

  • 3. The Soloist (2009) – Of all the character types that Downey has played, I think I like him best as a journalist. He plays tenacious reporter very well, no matter the decade. (1950s in Good Night and Good Luck, 1970s-80s in Zodiac, and 2000s in The Soloist.) And his character in The Soloist, L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez, is very likable. He has a strained relationship with his son and wife (Catherine Keener), from whom he is separated. When he isn’t in the office or tracking down his next story, he lives a life of solitude in an apartment where he has never unpacked his moving boxes, and where his only solace is writing his column and listening to old records. Enter Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx), a homeless, schizophrenic musical prodigy, who Lopez encounters on the street and proceeds to develop an unlikely friendship with during the course of collecting information for his column. The more I think about this movie, the more I like it. Like I said before, Downey’s character is very likable, flaws and all. He is a lonely, troubled, but good-hearted man who you root for during the movie just as much as you do for Foxx’s character. I love movies that introduce us to lonely or isolated characters, and show what happens when they let down their guard long enough to let someone else in. Other movies in this category include The Visitor and The Station Agent. Go see The Soloist! It is well worth two hours of your life.

  • 2. Chances Are (1989) – This is an odd little movie, but an enjoyable one nonetheless. Robert Downey plays Alex Finch, a college aged guy who is living in his car when he meets Miranda, who happened to be his daughter in a previous life. Not realizing that, he becomes interested in her, but before long she introduces him to her mother, Corinne, who coincidentally was his wife in a previous life. When they meet, something clicks in his head, and he starts to remember his previous life. The rest of the movie finds humor in young Alex acting like a father figure to Miranda, Corinne trying to figure out if Alex is really her Louie or if he’s just crazy, and family friend Philip trying to finally successfully romance Corinne. The Cher/Peter Cetera duet “After All” is perfect at the end of the movie, and ignoring the potential incest topic, the story wraps up nicely. Robert Downey is at his most charming and funny in this movie. Click here to read my thoughts in a previous post about Chances Are and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which I watched during the same weekend last summer.

  • 1. Only You (1994) – Drumroll please……. and the winner is Only You! So why does a silly ’90s romantic comedy earn the #1 spot on my list of favorite Robert Downey, Jr. movies? Well, first of all, it really is a good movie – entertaining, funny, sweet, beautiful… Secondly, I have a nostalgic attachment to this movie. I watched this movie several times when I was in high school. I had the soundtrack. I had a celebrity crush on two of the actors (RDJ, of course, and Billy Zane). A few years later, I spent a summer semester in Rome, Italy, which inspired me to watch the movie again, since many of its scenes take place in Rome and other locations in Italy. This is probably my favorite romantic comedy of all time. All the actors are great for their parts: Bonnie Hunt, Fisher Stevens, Marisa Tomei, and most importantly, Robert Downey, Jr. He plays Peter, a charming man who knows a lot about shoes but doesn’t always tell the whole truth about everything else. I enjoyed the fantastical adventures that Peter, Faith, and Kate experience in bella Italy. Click here to read more of my thoughts on Only You.

So there you have it. My top ten favorite Robert Downey, Jr. movies. It looks like he has some more good ones coming up, including Sherlock Holmes and Iron Man 2. I’ll just pretend like Tropic Thunder never happened, since it’s about the only black spot on the last decade of his career. And, actually, Downey’s character was the best thing about that movie! It’s funny to me that he was nominated for an Oscar for that role, but I suppose he did play it well. Kudos to Robert Downey, Jr., for always doing an outstanding job with any role he is given, for always being thoroughly entertaining, and for overcoming his personal struggles to continue his successful and memorable acting career.


Iron Man Lives Up to Its Name October 15, 2008

Filed under: Movies — Emily @ 10:21 am
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When I first heard that Robert Downey, Jr. had been cast in a super hero role, I was quite skeptical. I love RDJ, but he’s more romantic lead (see Only You) or wisecracking sidekick (see Zodiac or Good Night, and Good Luck) than bold and buff hero material. Now that I’ve watched Iron Man, I must say that I was impressed. Although I applaud Downey for his always impressive work, credit also goes to the screenplay writers, for giving him such rich material to work with. Most comic book movies are more flash and less substance. I’m not saying that Iron Man was deep, Oscar-worthy material, but we did get some interesting character development for Tony Stark, aka Iron Man. Warning: I divulge quite a bit of the plot ahead, particularly the beginning of the movie, so if you haven’t watched the movie yet, read on at your own risk.

Tony starts out as a rich, carefree, irresponsible playboy, ditching an awards banquet to gamble, and having an endless supply of fast cars to occupy his time. However, he is a likable, endearing guy as well, and is always the life of the party. He wins over everyone from the beautiful and initially hostile reporter (who quickly ends up in his bed) to the uptight, all business military man (who ends up drunk and high-spirited).

Tony’s outlook on life, and on his weapons company, changes when he finds himself in a dire situation. After being seriously injured, abducted, and ordered to build a destructive weapon, he uses his genius, creativity, and will to survive to escape his captors. How? First he and his fellow inmate create some sort of glowing magnet that will keep him alive after the life-threatening injury he sustained (that’s a good enough explanation for me), and then they proceed to build a super cool suit instead of the missile they were supposed to be working on. The movie really picked up speed about the time Stark first dons his high tech armor, and it never let up after that.

The passage of time was difficult to follow during the movie (his three months of captivity seemed more like a few days), but that’s a small complaint in a movie that never had a dull moment. Another of the less enjoyable aspects of the movie was the occasional cheesy moment, but what’s an action movie without a few of these? I was a bit disturbed to see the normally goofy Jeff Bridges as the sinister Obadiah Stane, but I hardly recognized him with his bald head and frizzy beard. The other main character was Tony’s personal assistant, Pepper Potts (what a great name, as are all the character names in this movie! Plus, it was nice to see Gwyneth Paltrow again – it’s been awhile.). Tony’s interaction with Pepper is what allows us to see his more likable side.

The most impressive part of the movie? Iron Man! I’m usually only mildly impressed by gadgets and super hero suits, since I’m more interested in characters and plot, but what else can I say but that Iron Man was super cool? From the impenetrable suit to the flame throwers, to the super sonic flying ability, I was basically mesmerized by Tony Stark’s genius creation. It was also fun to see the evil Iron Giant that Stane’s team came up with. The iron on iron fight in the streets and on the rooftop was rather legendary.

I also liked that the movie ended differently than most super hero movies. Usually, our hero saves the day, then continues to wear his mask to hide his true identity, but as a bonus he gets the girl. This movie flirted with both of those stereotypical super hero motifs, but ultimately went in a different direction.

So, was it a four star movie? No, not really. Was it entertaining? Most definitely. Fantastic special effects? Certainly. Everything it promised to be? You bet. I must say, that Robert Downey, Jr. can do no wrong.


Robert Downey, Jr.: Reincarnated Lover and Amateur Detective July 9, 2008

The past few days I have had the oddly blended voices of Peter Cetera and Cher running through my head. Remember their classic, catchy love ballad from the late ’80s, “After All”? You probably do. But, did you know that it was featured in the movie Chances Are, starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Cybill Shepherd?

Robert Downey Jr. in Chances AreI happened to watch two Robert Downey movies over the weekend, and they couldn’t have been more different. That man has been in as many movies as Kevin Bacon! In one, the aforementioned Chances Are, he plays Alex, the reincarnated husband of Corinne (Cybill Shepherd). Alex, by chance, meets and falls in love with Miranda (his daughter from his previous life – yuck?), until he remembers that he’s in love with her mother, Corinne. All kinds of fun and chaos ensues, and the movie manages to dodge the whole incest topic rather well. I actually really like this movie and have watched it many times.

Robert Downey Jr.

The other Downey, Jr. movie I watched was Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. I didn’t really know much about it, but it was very entertaining. The plot itself was convoluted enough to keep me intrigued – Harry (Downey, Jr.) is a criminal who stumbles (literally) into the world of acting, and soon afterwards begins shadowing a private detective (Val Kilmer) to prepare for a potential role. Very quickly Harry and Perry get in over their heads, along with Harry’s childhood crush Harmony, trying to solve a double murder mystery while also staying alive. What I liked even more than the plot, though, was the playful, quirky feel of the movie. Harry also narrates the movie (in typical PI movie fashion), but he doesn’t take himself seriously. He pauses from time to time to apologize for unnecessary scenes, to talk about movie conventions, etc. One of my favorite moments is when he talks about how he hates when a movie panders to the audience by wrapping up a story with a happy ending, having everyone live (even those thought to have died). Suddenly all the characters who have died in the movie walk into the room, and then they are joined by Elvis and Abraham Lincoln. Very funny moment! There was also plenty of dark humor. For example, Harry couldn’t seem to keep track of one of his fingers (I won’t explain how he lost it). At one point it is sitting in a bucket of ice, but then a dog grabs it to play with. This is complicated by the fact that Harry is at a crime scene, and leaving his finger there will place him at the scene. Yes, I found this scene amusing as well.

So, kudos to Robert Downey Jr. for always playing interesting characters. I hope to see Iron Man soon since I hear it was very good. A super hero is a role that he hasn’t played before, from what I remember of his roles. Some of my favorite movies that he’s starred in are Soapdish (another fun ’80s movie), Zodiac (disturbing but very good), Only You, and Chances Are.

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