Moneyball: Here’s a possible after-effect of the Judd Apatow era of studio comedy: it seems to be much easier for comic actors to get serious (or at least seriocomic) work, or at least it happens a bit faster and smoother than it used to. Robin Williams eventually showed that he’s an accomplished dramatic actor (far moreso, actually, than a comic actor, in general), but had to sort of creep into it with some crying-clown type performances. Jim Carrey basically had to become the biggest comic actor in the country to step into The Truman Show. Adam Sandler still does serious movies only sparingly. Will Ferrell and especially Steve Carell, though, aren’t as cautious; even Seth Rogen, who probably no one would mistake for a wildly versatile actor (nor a Sandler-level superstar), has touched upon serious work, both with Apatow and on his own—in an upcoming Sarah Polley movie (!). Now Jonah Hill plays it straight for Moneyball, from the director of Capote (interestingly, this casting brings to mind the rogue’s gallery of comedians playing straight commissioned by originally assigned Moneyball director Steven Soderbergh for The Informant!); in his promotional interviews, he’s been talking up this transition, repeatedly citing the funny-but-not-always-ha-ha-funny Cyrus as his focal point.
Maybe Apatow-trained guys are making the jump quicker because his style of comedy is a bit more grounded and character-based, or maybe this is just how actors do things now that the star system is eighty percent dismantled, and Sandler’s level of satisfaction in doing mostly big-screen sitcoms with his buddies is just unusually high. Interestingly, for a long time Brad Pitt was at his most interesting onscreen when he allowed himself to play funny, be it in 12 Monkeys, Snatch, or the more deadpan Ocean’s movies. But post-Soderbergh (there’s that guy again!), he’s also found his footing as a serious actor, doing career-best work in movies like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The Tree of Life, and Inglourious Basterds (okay, that’s also sort of funny stuff). What I’m saying is: charming and much-improved Pitt plus more serious Hill equals… body-switching Pitt-Hill reunion?! No, wait, I’m not saying that. I’m saying Moneyball looks really good, even though Miller’s Capote was crazy overrated.
The Killer Elite: Remember how last week I said that Drive made a bunch of movie geeks feel the same way I feel every time Jason Statham appears in a movie? Yeah, that (also: token acknowledgement that Drive was awesome. Geek crisis averted!). Editor Mark tells me that this Jason Statham/Clive Owen/Robert De Niro smackdown, which to me sounded pretty clearly like a streamlined Expendables with actual acting chops instead of dialogue that sounded poorly translated from a dead tough-guy language, is too serious to work its full Stathamosity but too stupid to work as a serious thriller. I tried not to hold my ears and scream NOOOOOOOO. Obviously I’m hoping for fistfights and shootouts, even if they verge on the too-serious, but I’d also pay to see a verbal argument between Statham and Owen, like maybe about whether Statham’s average $33 million gross for Transporter movies constitutes more or less success than Owen eking out similar grosses of higher-minded fare like Closer or Children of Men. I’m resigned to the fact that neither of them will be playing their characters from Crank or Shoot ‘Em Up (in retrospect: the poor man’s Crank). Besides, if you want to see people punching and shooting, what other choice do you have?
Abduction: LOL you have this!!!! I don’t usually say stuff like this, but I want to see this serious action-thriller starring one of the dudes from Twilight because it looks fucking hilarious, even without getting Mr. New Moon into his trademark jorts. Luckily, this movie appears to call upon Herculean feats of his one facial expression, which I would describe as “dimly comprehending.” Watch! As New Moon dimly comprehends that his parents may not really be his parents! Thrill! As New Moon dimly comprehends that bad people are after them! Marvel! As he totally outgrosses any non-Twilight movie starring Lord and Lady Twilight themselves! Fun fact: New Moon totally played Sharkboy in The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl. I totally praised him in my review! There’s the bar, New Moon. Good luck clearing it (or at least dimly comprehending it).
Dolphin Tale: A brief conversation with my wife in front of the poster for Dolphin Tale (or, if you or no one pleases, Dolphin Tale 3-D) made me wonder if I had imagined it, Ashley Judd’s tenure as a major movie star that she assured me I had, at best, exaggerated. But no, it happened! For five or six years, late nineties to early aughts, Ashley Judd basically borrowed Sandra Bullock’s career, only reversing the ratio of thrillers to romcoms. Discounting the supporting parts and limited-release stuff, Judd was averaging a solid $60 million or so gross for awhile. What happened was kind of that she did less commercial, more dramatic work after that and kind of that Hollywood hates ladies over 40 unless said ladies are in fact Meryl Streep. They also kind of hate serious dramas, and Ashley Judd, though she hasn’t appeared in many great movies, has always seemed attracted largely to serious dramas and thrillers, which is pretty cool compared to the romcom wringer so many of her peers went through. But there’s no avoiding it: she’s entered the family-support arena. This movie reunites her with Morgan Freeman, yet I’m fairly certain Dolphin Tale is about an actual dolphin (and an actual tail!), not a slightly more obtuse Alex Cross thriller title like Kiss the Girls or Along Came a Spider [Even despite the presence of Copycat's Harry Connick Jr.! -Ed.].
Machine Gun Preacher: Speaking of careers that sort of stalled out with seriousness, it’s come to this: Marc Forster is directing a third-tier Oscar-also-ran that Gerard Butler made as a break (or is it?!) from appearing in the worst movies ever made. Obviously Forster was never a heavy-hitting auteur—in fact, he’s exactly the kind of middlebrow maybe-hack that tends to get stuck in Harvey Weinstein’s teeth for a bunch of years. But as far as those types of directors go, Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland, Stay, and Stranger Than Fiction certainly display a bit more adventurousness and variety in middlebrow fare than, say, three-for-three-time Oscar nominee Stephen Daldry (and that’s coming from someone who half-hates Stranger Than Fiction despite really liking the entire cast). Add on Quantum of Solace, and he seems sort of like a poor man’s Gore Verbinski. Weirdly, it seems to be Quantum—his biggest grosser ever by a factor of three or so, and, actually, the highest-grossing James Bond movie ever (by just a hair over the superior Casino Royale, but still) threw him onto movie probation. Or maybe this incredibly dull-looking movie about a guy who redeems himself by building a church for orphans and/or blows up enemies of orphans, or something, probably a true story, is what Forster really wanted to make next, in which case, best of luck, buddy.