Saturday, 16 January 2016

2015 Retrospective (Part 2 of 2): Old Dogs, Same Tricks, New Stories

In my review for Bridge of Spies, I talked about how at a certain point, the filmmakers we revere as visionaries, tend to devolve into embarrassing caricatures of their past selves. As much as that might be true for people behind the camera, it certainly tends to be the case for the people in front of it. Actors seem to have a shelf life on their talent, more than any other artists. This can be due to a lot of things. It can be physical, as their looks and voice start to wane, or it can just be that they just seem completely out of it, unable to find that spark that made them the greats they used to be.

You've never seen this movie. There's a reason for that.

Of course, since this article is being written, you know that that's not always the case. Someone who was in danger of this phenomenon happening to them is acting giant Robert De Niro, but just 3 years ago, he was nominated for an academy award for best supporting actor in 'Silver Linings Playbook'. Although the Academy isn't always the best indicator for quality, it's not gonna nominate someone who does an impression of his character from 30 years ago, like De Niro did in Little Fockers.

This past year saw some of it's own exceptions, mostly in the latter part of the year. First off is Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa in 'Creed'. After an embarrassing number of films that seemed to simply showcase Stallone's age and botox addiction, Stallone has given what some are calling his best performance in years. He's already won the Golden Globe for it, and he's been nominated for an Academy Award. It's a performance that no one expected from the near 70 actor who hadn't had a good gig since...well the last time he played Rocky.

Stallone surprises audiences yet again, not just for taking a punch, but for giving a knockout performance

If you looked at Stallone alone, you might think that's the key. Picking a role that you're familiar with from your prime. Harrison Ford gives credence to this theory, with him returning to the role which made him who he is, Han Solo. Which is all the more perfect because Han Solo is exactly the way Harrison Ford is right now in real life. He's grumpy, and tired of young people asking him about how great it was to be Han Solo. Aside from that, Harrison Ford is great in the new Star Wars because...he seems like he gives a damn.

The old saying, you can never go home again, seems not to apply to actors, unless of course you consider Harrison Ford himself in 'Kingdom of the Crystal Skull', where he just seemed tired half the time. Of course, that movie had problems beyond his performance, and Ford had another incentive to give his all in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but maybe it's a combination of both. Maybe it's not just putting an actor into something he knows, but presenting it in a way that not only makes him care about it, but makes the audience say, "Yes, I'd like to see this senior citizen portray a character I saw him play 40 years ago".

But remember, that's RARELY the case

Look some roles should stay dead. No one wants to see John Travolta come back and rev up Grease Lightning for one last ride. Okay, I want to see it but I don't think anyone else would. Unless it was the right idea. In this age where film is becoming more and more derivative, taking cues from older films or just flat out remaking them, there's something to be said for filmmakers like Ryan Coogler who grew up with a story and want to see it continued. Otherwise, you get Bruce Willis running around yelling that he's on vacation 80 times in the latest 'Die Hard' movie.

Rocky is actually a perfect example of the older actor being great again. In Rocky III Balboa loses to Mr. T's Clubber Lang because he's no longer hungry for the title. He's gotten soft. So, he goes through a montage with someone who saw him in his prime, Apollo Creed, and suddenly he's imbued with new purpose and wins the fight. Basically what I'm saying is every actor that's called a hasbeen needs a Rocky like trainer who verbally abuses them and makes them remember what made them great again so they can climb those art museum steps.

Have I mentioned how much I love the shit out of 'Creed'?


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