Monday, June 29, 2009

Fall of the Legends. Thoughts on Good Actors In Bad Movies.

As I started to watch Terminator: Salvation, I received a genuine jolt during the opening credits. Among the actors in the movie was Jane Alexander. The name may not be familiar, but she is a great talent. She portrayed Eleanor Roosevelt in Eleanor & Franklin, one of the most popular mini-series made, so much so there was a sequel: Eleanor & Franklin: The White House Years. She's a Tony and Emmy winner and four-time Oscar nominee. A veteran of Broadway, she took time from her career to lead the National Endowment for the Arts. As I stated in my review for Salvation, I expected a great performance & an important role for an actress of her caliber. Instead, what I got was a tragedy: a first-rate actress reduced to screaming a lot and having nothing to do with the plot. Maybe she wanted it that way: I have no knowledge of her thinking. However, I can't help but think that she got shafted big time, and that her reputation will suffer because of the debacle that is Salvation.

That led me to think who else has endured a project not worthy of their talent. Tragically, I found some more examples.

John Hurt in Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls. This is Caligula in I, Claudius (along with Roots the best mini-series ever made). This is Kane from Alien, one of the most shocking moments from one of the GREAT sci-fi films (and yes, his spoof of it in Spaceballs shows he has a sense of humor about it all). This is The Elephant Man. With those kinds of performances, why was he reduced to babbling in the worst Indiana Jones film? Whoever would think that Shia LeBouef deserved more screen time? It might have worked better if Hurt weren't just looking like he was crazy (although he was for taking the part) and instead served as a guide for the Jones boys, but what did he add to the overall story except the excuse needed to go down into the jungle? I will say this: his little "Fireside Dance" in Crystal Skulls was no match for his I, Claudius dance number (still one of the most jaw-dropping moments on television). The latter was part of a brilliant performance, while the former was just... so pointless (rather like the movie itself).

Sir Sean Connery in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I suppose even he has to pay his mortgage, but did he have to agree to THIS? A loud, pointless picture which had no action for an action picture, no fun for a graphic novel adaptation, and a submarine the size of two or three aircraft carriers floating easily through the canals of Venice? Connery is the rare character in film: an action star who is also an excellent actor. It made sense to cast him as Henry Jones, Sr. in Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade--Harrison Ford is also like Connery in being able to do action and acting...sometimes at the same time (example: Blade Runner). However, while he was right to decline appearing in Crystal Skulls he was wrong, oh so wrong, to agree to helm this. He needs to make another film, if only to rescue his legacy and not let LOEG be his final film appearance.

Peter O'Toole in Supergirl. The fact that O'Toole has appeared in projects not worthy of his talents and abilities is no secret. However awful the film itself was (Troy being a contemporary example) he at least managed to bring his skills (and Irish charm) to the project. However, no amount of alcohol intake could possible justify (or improve) his turn in this wildly misguided entry in the Superman franchise. To think that Lawrence of Arabia is trapped in the Phantom Zone...just a nightmarish memory that won't ever fade. Should he get a Kennedy Center Honor or AFI Lifetime Achievement Award (he is worthy of both), I hope they don't show clips of Supergirl...unless they want to kill him.

A special mention goes to Laurence Olivier in Sky Captain & The World of Tomorrow. It's one thing to be in a bad movie. It's another to be in a bad movie after you're dead. In fairness to Lord Olivier, he gave the best performance in the film; it was also the best performance of his career since his death (what that says about talented performers like Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law I'd rather not think about). However, his estate erred in agreeing to allow footage of him reciting the opening chapters of Genesis to be an important plot point. He had no control over how he would appear, and for an actor of his rank, that is almost unforgivable.

At least he has the excuse of not knowing what his voice & image would be put to do. Marlon Brando in Superman Returns doesn't get off quite so free. Yes, that footage was from & for the original Superman: The Movie so at least it relates (loosely) to the story. However, just because you add an actor who is part of the Superman legacy doesn't mean you tie it all together. Instead, you only remind audiences about how good the original is, and how far you fell. Not since I saw Fred Astaire dance with a vacuum cleaner did I feel so sorry for a legend who had been so shamefully reduced (no pun intended).


Sad. So Sad. What next? Ernest Borgnine in BASEketball? Sir Derek Jacobi in Underworld: Evolution? Oh...really? Never mind.

I guess we all have to eat.


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