Paul G — #6

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Last time we were here, Paul was being held hostage by Samuel L. Jackson in a tense dramatic thriller F. Gary Gray made back in the late ’90s. Let’s negotiate our way past that and look at a more substantial supporting role he’s had as part of one of Ron Howard’s many prestige pictures. Here is a character that somewhat flies in the face of a career built upon playing untrustworthy, shady types and you know what? The nice guy act really suits him.

Paul G in Cinderella Man

Paul Giamatti as Joe Gould in Ron Howard’s Cinderella Man.

Role Type: Supporting

Genre: Drama/sport/biopic

Plot Synopsis: The story of James Braddock, a supposedly washed-up boxer who came back to become a champion and an inspiration in the 1930s.

Character Profile: Boxing manager Joe Gould met a then-20-year-old James “Cinderella Man” Braddock at a crumbling gym in Hoboken, New Jersey. Gould immediately liked what he saw: a tough, durable competitor, a well-spoken, decent man with one hell of a right hand. The two struck up a friendship that very soon developed into a mutually beneficial professional relationship, and under Gould’s management Braddock turned pro in 1926 as a light-heavyweight contender. Ron Howard’s 2005 biographical drama, set against the backdrop of The Great Depression, focuses on a tumultuous but ultimately miraculous period in both men’s careers, capped off by Braddock’s historic upset of current World Heavyweight Champion Max Baer in 1935. This was the unlikely result of a series of victories Braddock claimed after Gould begged for him to be re-instated as a boxer following the infamously embarrassing, one-sided loss to light-heavyweight champion Tommy Loughran six years earlier. It was Gould’s pitch that became instrumental in setting the “Pride of New Jersey” back on a course to stardom, necessarily establishing Braddock as one of the few rays of light amidst one of the darkest periods in American history.

Why he’s the man: In an Oscar-nominated supporting turn, Giamatti embraces a much less shifty character than he has in the past, though Joe Gould wasn’t exactly a man without foibles. (In 1942 he enlisted in the Army and earned the rank of First Lieutenant, but was later sentenced to three years’ hard labor for conspiring to accept bribes; and Cinderella Man tends to cast a less favorable light on his decision to pitch Braddock’s comeback as a major profiteering venture for fight promotor James Johnston.) Giamatti, despite a sense of two-facedness, remains a thoroughly likable guy throughout, his closeness to Braddock and the respect he has for Braddock’s love for his family readily apparent. He plays such an excitable, emotional fella, the kind that’s easy to root for, so it was a shame Giamatti lost that year to Morgan Freeman for his work in Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby. A shame, but also understandable.

Rate the Performance (relative to his other work): 


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Photo credits: http://www.realtimewriteups.com

Decades Blogathon – Batman Begins (2005)

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They say all fun has to come to an end sometime. Here we are at the end of the first ever Decades Blogathon and I know Mark has said it already, but I would just like to reiterate how much fun it’s been getting to read everyone’s contributions and seeing the variety with regards not only to genre but to the years in which they came out. It’s been a great time, and Mark and I thank you for participating. We hope to be back next year with another version. Let’s round out this year’s version with a look at 2005’s reboot of Batman in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins

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Release: June 15, 2005

[Theater]

Distributor: Warner Bros.

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

From Wikipedia: [Batman Forever‘s] tone is significantly different from the previous installments, becoming more family-friendly since Warner Bros. considered that the previous film, Batman Returns (1992), failed to outgross its predecessor due to parent complaints about the film’s violence and dark overtones.

Poor Joel Schumacher. Pressured by an industry where — not unlike many others — the bottom line is defined by the dollar bill, he was only trying to expose Bob Kane (and yes, Bill Finger)’s creation to broader audiences. Unfortunately (and naturally) in so doing, he lost the trust of more than a few of the long-been faithfuls. Though everyone regards the variations on cape and cowl as a singular symbol of hope for a city desperately needing it, very few are likely to conjure images of Val Kilmer in the process. Michael Keaton is to this day more often than not understood to be that presence lurking in the shadows, occupying the space between hero and antihero.

How to explain the 2005 re-boot? How do we go from Batman and Robin to Batman Begins? And how did they do it without coaxing Keaton back? Batman Begins, representing a heightened sense of thematic and literal darkness, is on one level a natural progression of a long-running story. Other proposed continuations of the saga (what about a Batman Triumphant, or perhaps Batman: DarKnight?), looking back now, just don’t feel . . . right. On another level, Batman Begins is highly memorable cinema independent of the legacy preceding it throughout the decades.

Call it a culmination, call it enigmatic, call it what you want. Me? I call this film the best thing Christopher Nolan has ever done. He may be a filmmaker by title but what Nolan really is is a magician. Wave a little magic wand and presto! Memories of a family-friendly era of Gotham’s Knight in not-shining armor, who hunts down the vilest criminals from the rooftops and down back alleys — they’re all but gone. Christian Bale is in as the handsome but aloof billionaire Bruce Wayne, a man who has a legitimate fear of bats because of a childhood trauma. And the metaphorical rabbit to be pulled from the hat? Setting the film in our world, our reality — or at least paralleling it with remarkable precision.

Batman Begins operates fundamentally as one of the most celebrated reboots in all of cinema . . . or at least in an era where reboots and revisitations became an acceptable trend. A proper origin story that affords the night-abiding vigilante a plausible and compelling resurgence. The story, and eventually the titular hero, thrives on fear and the instilling of it in others. For Bale’s Bruce (and by extension, in Nolan’s interpretation) fear goes far beyond those nocturnal little creatures. Having lost his parents at an early age and fled to all corners of the globe to seek justice — this isn’t the kind of grief you might mistakenly label as teenage angst in things like Spiderman — Bruce Wayne is afraid not so much of life beyond his parents but of one devoid of meaning or purpose.

That a film — a Batman film, no less — plays so well to people’s fears (you don’t have to have any special powers to deduce the simultaneous death of Mr. and Mrs. Wayne was a pretty horrible event) speaks to the power of good storytelling. Nolan has proven himself a talent in that regard with previous films like the mind-bending Memento and perhaps it was a matter of inevitability that he took the Batman legend and bolstered its image for an entirely different generation, a generation more tolerant (is that the right word?) of violent and brooding imagery and action that fails to become cartoonish.

Passionate requests from reinvigorated fan bases notwithstanding, Nolan’s take could also function as a comic in and of itself. It’s not difficult to imagine an overhauled DC strip based upon this new chapter in Gotham history, one that would see the introduction of Rachel Dawes and versions of Ra’s al Ghul and Scarecrow that no longer need revamping. Given the way The Dark Knight trilogy eventuates, this too might be a matter of inevitability. This is all assuming such a comic doesn’t exist already.

Batman Begins is a sign of the times. The first installment in one of the most commercially and critically successful trilogies in cinematic history is a challenge to the status quo, at least when it comes to first comprehending and then translating to the big screen such celebrated super-heroic beginnings. 2005 is the year Warner Brothers realized taking a drastic step away from Batman’s more cartoonish roots — no more Bat-turn or Bat-nipples, folks — not only could work, but had to work. Realism blends with the fantastical in Batman Begins in ways that, while not expected, when all is said and done, just feel . . . right.

If it seems a little hypocritical for the same studio that tried moving away from the ‘darker’ side of Batman is now passionately embracing the box office numbers in the same way fans have embraced the gritty new films, it’s because it is. But I don’t know how anyone can blame Warner Brothers for reversing course. Blame is not even the right word. We should, in some ways, be thanking the studio for greenlighting these very dark, very real stories and recognizing the power laying dormant in this legend. Perhaps Warner Brothers ultimately decided the timing just felt . . . right.

Recommendation: Dark, moody and yet unbelievably enjoyable, Batman Begins is the film that started it all (again) for the Dark Knight et al. I challenge anyone to watch this film and not have a great time. Of course, fans of the comic version should find even more to latch onto with Christopher Nolan’s stunning attention to detail, and it should go without saying that fans of his directorial CV have this one high up on their list of favorites. For me, personally, a film doesn’t get much better than this.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 140 mins.

Quoted: “It’s not who I am underneath . . . but what I do that defines me.”

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Photo credits: http://www.dcmovies.wikia.com

TBT: The Descent (2006)

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There is no shortage of horrors I could have/might have gone with here. But I decided to ultimately pick something a bit more. . .random out of the hat, as I think more obvious choices like Halloween, or Psycho, or even Friday the 13th would be a little more difficult to say something original about. I turned instead to a film that really, really gave me the heebie-jeebies on the first viewing. As someone who loves rock climbing, it’s pretty ironic that caving (or ‘spelunking,’ if you want to get technical) is terrifying to me. Much like people who are averse to scaling heights outdoors, dropping one’s self into dark, cramped spaces beneath the surface of the earth seems like such a bad idea. I wonder if that in any way might be related to my experience with 

Today’s food for thought: The Descent.

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Descending into chaos since: August 4, 2006

[DVD]

Few horrors have managed to consistently thrill me the way writer/director Neil Marshall’s impossibly claustrophobic tale of a cave-diving trip gone awry has. Time and again, the heady vibrations of the blood-soaked, tenebrous The Descent leave me exhausted come the end, and in a genre where first impressions are critical I find it unusual to exit a film on the tenth go-around in such a manner. It’s like watching it for the very first time again. . .and again.

I feed off of adrenaline, and certain installments offer a mainline shot of it. This chaotic and brutal journey into what might reasonably be described as hell has been like taking one to the carotid. For the uninitiated: a group of young outdoor enthusiasts reunite a year after a tragic car accident involving some of their friends and decide to get a secluded cabin in the backwoods of North Carolina. On their itinerary is an exploration of a massive cave system close by. Of course, things don’t go according to plan and they are left fighting for survival when they find living creatures inside the tunnels. What begins as a routine exploration ends in an epic battle for the surface when they realize the inhabitants don’t take kindly to visitors.

In a refreshing twist, the group’s presented as an all-female cast determined to not be pinned down by the horror tropes of yesterday. (Hooray for climbing/rappeling gear!) Juno (Natalie Mendoza), Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), Beth (Alex Reid), Sam (MyAnna Buring), Rebecca (Saskia Mulder) and the most recent addition to the group, Holly (Nora-Jane Noone), are all given sufficient, if not wholly original introductions. It’s not likely you’ll remember these names after watching but what’s more memorable is the tension between them even before the film dives into the deep end.

The Descent has been most successful in drawing upon the decay of its hopelessly confusing confines. The labyrinthine setting forever remains frighteningly unique — a character unto itself — and Marshall even took the time to stuff it full with plenty of gruesome surprises. (I’m left wondering how many films have been based upon the amazing Carlsbad Caverns?) The Descent has earned a reputation from the speed with which an innocent day trip transitions into a situation darker than the stuff of nightmares. Marshall is less concerned with the minutiae of spelunking in all its spectacular danger in the same way he’s not as bothered with bringing out award-worthy performances from his relatively unknown cast. What comes front-and-center in this wonderfully under-lit production is emotion, energy, a need to survive.

If this all sounds rather familiar, it should. Less familiar is the effectiveness of the atmosphere. You’d never guess this was filmed in the comforts of the Pinewood Studios near London. Or, you know. Maybe you might. You might’ve naturally assumed that filming within an actual cave is simply too dangerous and/or impractical to achieve the desired effect. (Or you could have been perusing Wikipedia, like I just was. . .) Either way, the bloodcurdling screams echoing off these walls have this tendency to trick the mind into thinking we are where we really aren’t. The lack of light, the pools of blood. The pickax and the neck. The crevasses. Interpersonal tensions resulting from last year’s car accident boiling over at the worst times. All of this adds up to a stressful experience that’s difficult to put into the back of one’s mind.

The Descent doesn’t exactly escape unscathed, as its gender-uniform cast at times struggles to reach the gravitas necessary to sell the moment. There are the usual jump-scares lurking around many a dripping stalactite that pass by rather forgettably. There are cringe-worthy lines sprinkled in here and there. Fortunately these issues constitute a small enough percentage of the run time to not overwhelm.

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3-5

Recommendation: There are many aspects to this spelunking expedition that are likely to turn many outdoors-oriented types away. Personally, I find the exhibition of passion for the outdoors often goofily exaggerated in films — not even Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours is immune — as if the industry feels it ought to confront those who don’t quite ‘get’ what it’s like to be an adventurous, outdoors type. But to get caught up in frivolous details like that is to overlook the pure adrenaline rush and psychological torment that the film provides. The Descent is taut, exciting, bloody and brutal and if those are the requirements you would list for a good horror, you should avoid this film no more.

Rated: 

Running Time: 99 mins. 

TBTrivia: This film had a working title of ‘Chicks with Picks’ during production. That conjures up an entirely different image now, doesn’t it?

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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com