With so many interesting movies by so many of our top stars either out or emerging, I think it’s time to take a look at what Hollywood’s offering during this busy season.
And with so many of these stars leading extravagant and intrusive off-screen lives, this will probably get snarky in a jiffy.
- “Unstoppable” -- I love trains, train movies and Denzel Washington so this one tops my must-see list. The reviews are great and it is one of three major releases filmed here in western Pennsylvania. Denzel brings no distracting baggage to his films. In fact, he’s becoming one of our coolest stars.
- “Fair Game” -- This is the story of the disgraceful Valerie Plame affair. Some of the pre-release events I’ve seen have shown Plame with Naomi Watts and, gee, Plame is far prettier than the starlet cast to play her. And she’s smart. The combination means I’d rather see the real Plame being interviewed about her life than the film version of events. Plus, this movie will remind of me of guys like Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby, and Robert Novak and that’s a dark part of history I just don’t care to revisit during the holiday season.
- “127 Hours” -- Gruesome tale of the man who had to cut his own arm off to survive a rock climbing accident. I can’t see mention of the movie without being reminded of a similar event from about 15 years ago when I was working for National Enquirer. A Pennsylvania woodsman was pinned by a tree he’d felled and had to sever his own leg to escape. It was one of the most amazing stories I’ve ever heard. It got such saturation coverage the Enquirer eventually passed allowing me to fabricate a better reason for when friends asked why there’d be no story from me. I told them it lacked enough compelling elements to warrant Enquirer interest. In order for it to a be an Enquirer story, I told them, the woodsman would have needed to have severed his own leg and then eaten it to survive. This looks really good but as sitters are hard to come by, it won’t make the, uh, cut.
- “Little Fockers” -- “Meet the Parents” was wonderful. But how this humble story inspired a three-movie franchise with a cast of A-listers is a disgrace. Everyone involved ought to be ashamed. Robert DeNiro? Again? This is the man who played Jake LaMotta in “Raging Bull?” He ought to be ashamed of himself. Same with Ben Stiller. Every time I hear this crew’s going on another cheap money grab it makes me like the funny original less and less.
- “Tangled” -- This looks like a fun Disney movie. My wife’s taking our daughters to see it today and the girls seem a bit miffed the old man doesn’t want to tag along. Well, I predict by 2012, I’ll have seen “Tangled” about 150 times on the DVD we’re bound to own. Me watching college football with the boys in the bar seems like a more sensible option for a guy who gets bored with re-runs.
- “The Next Three Days” -- I’ve done a complete 180 on Russell Crowe. I used to hate him for his pretensions and public surliness. Then I loved him (and Denzel) in “American Gangster,” a movie that still freezes the remote whenever I stumble upon it. Then Crowe came to film this one here in Pittsburgh and I heard all kinds of stories about what a great guy he was while here in town. That means a lot to me. Maybe he just doesn’t like people in New York, L.A., or every other place he’s filmed on location. I heard one story that he was in a local guitar shop and overheard a couple saying a fine mandolin was just too expensive. The story, one I believe, says he paid for it and walked out without even waiting to be thanked. Makes me wish I’d been mandolin shopping that day. The movie trailers make the scenery look like a love letter to Pittsburgh. Very cool. Alas, it is being dogged by lukewarm reviews. I’ll wait for the DVD.
- “Love and Other Drugs” -- This is the third major release this month filmed in Pittsburgh. Take that L.A. If anyone surpassed Crowe in the good guy department it was Jake Gyllenhaal. The city fell in love with him. Me, I’m in love with his co-star Anne Hathaway. She’s had my heart ever since “Ella Enchanted.” If the term didn’t have such dog-like connotations I’d call her fetching. Plus, she’s nude in this and that still appeals to the eighth grader in me. The reviews aren’t great, but I haven’t read any reviews penned by eighth graders. It’s in play if Val’s eager to see it. Looks like it would be decent enough if all the actors remained fully clothed.
- “The Tourist” -- Johnny Depp is one of my favorite actors; Angelina Jolie/Brad Pitt one of my least. They make what ought to be one of the most fun things in the world -- being an adored celebrity -- seem as crushing a burden as driving the last bus bound for Surlytown. It would take a lot of nudity for me to want to see a Jolie in a movie.
- “True Grit” -- This is the most intriguing offering of the season. First of all, I loved the original and Jeff Bridges is becoming one of our most interesting actors, if not the best. We just loved him in “Crazy Heart.” But the Coen brothers have been infuriatingly uneven lately. After being golden with a run that included some of my favorite movies (“Raising Arizona,” “Fargo,” “The Big Lebowski”), they have lost their way. I hated “Burn After Reading” and “No Country for Old Men.” Their purest defenders say the latter was true to the original intent, but after 2 hours and 40 minutes I have a right to expect a conclusion. It was an infuriating afternoon at a movie I’ve heard some call “No Ending for Stupid Movie.” This “True Grit” looks great and the cast is outstanding. I’m eager to see the reviews. If they screw this up, may both Joel and Ethan Coen be horsewhipped by the ghost of John Wayne.
This list omits about 20 other new movies that are so obviously dreadful (“Yogi Bear,” “Faster,” Burlesque”) they deserve no consideration.
The best movie I’ve seen this year is by far “The Social Network.” And “Zombieland” is uproarious fun.
In short, Hollywood’s still capable of making some great entertainment, but its batting average is well below the Mendoza line.
If it were a ball player it would be utility infielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates.