Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Seeing RED

All right, so I know I'm supposed to be getting back to this question about writing and why anyone bothers to do it at all, but I saw this great movie over the weekend and feel like it's time for my very first all pop-culture post. There's also that 2/3 of my kids are still sick, and the oldest one turned 15 (yikes!) over the weekend, so it's been difficult to sit down and do any "serious" writing this past week. Besides, pop-culture stays crispy in milk, so you can linger over this as long as you need to!

Just by way of introduction, I love comic books. Just the idea of them. This is not to say that I love all comic books, just like I don't love all movies, but, in general, I think, comics are pretty cool. Although I don't actively collect anymore, I own waaay too many (and that's after selling off about 30 long boxes (over 10,000 issues) several years ago).  All of that to say that I have a sort of natural inclination to like movies based on comics, and it takes a lot (Superman Returns, Catwoman, Burton's Batman (and its sequels)) for me to actively dislike them since I go into them wanting to like them.
My wife, though, has no such inclination.

Which brings us to RED.

The comic that the movie is based on was written by Warren Ellis. Ellis is a writer that I tend to like and is the creator/writer of one of my favorite series: Planetary. However, I never read RED, so I really had no idea of what it was about other than what I saw in the trailer for the movie. It was a movie I really wanted to go see in the theater, but... well... last year was full of chaos which included, during the summer while RED was in theaters, our van, nearly literally, blowing up (while I was inside it, no less), so I never did make it into the theater to see it. That turns out to be (mostly) okay. There are a few scenes that would have been great to see on the big screen, especially the scene where Moses steps out of the police car (but, of course, at the theater we couldn't have immediately rewound that one and watched it, again, as my wife demanded we do), but, overall, it isn't the sort of movie that loses its impact in translation to the television screen since the movie is about the characters, not about the action.

The central character, Frank Moses, is played by Bruce Willis. This is just Bruce Willis being Bruce Willis, but, when you need an actor to play the part of Bruce, there is no one else that can do that, and he is great in this role. It would not surprise me if Willis was in Ellis' head as he wrote the character, although that is pure speculation on my part. At any rate, Bruce is completely enjoyable in his role as Frank Moses, and I can't really imagine anyone else doing the role the justice that Bruce gave it.

Mary-Louise Parker plays the love interest, Sarah Ross. I've never been a big Mary-Louise Parker fan and never thought her memorable in any of the roles I've seen her in. In fact, I have to look to see what I actually have seen her in, so little impact she has had on me. I mean, I know she's the lead in Weeds, but I've never seen that and don't have any immediate plans to do so. However, she was perfectly delightful in  this role. She really brought just the right mixture of naivete, awe, and enthusiasm to the part. I'm not saying that there's not another actress that could have played that role, but she did a great job in it, and I can't think of anyone, off the top of my head, that could have done it better.

Then there's Morgan Freeman. Freeman is another that is hired just to play himself, and, again, there is no one else that can play Morgan Freeman better. This is not to say that Freeman is incapable of a greater range than just playing himself; we've seen him in more than enough features to see that Freeman can play, pretty much, anything that is asked of him, but, when you need the, mostly, compassionate (grand)fatherly figure, there's probably no one better than Freeman, so he excels in his role. I can't say more than that without giving away pieces of the plot that you don't want to know about if you haven't seen  the movie.

Freeman's counterpart is played by Helen Mirren, and she's no less than awesome. I believe that Helen Mirren can do pretty much anything, and I don't think she's ever hired to just "be herself." I don't even know what that would mean as I don't think I've ever seen her do anything that had just become cliche for her. Certainly, I've never seen her behind a machine gun before, so that was pretty incredible and probably worth the whole movie. However, her role is really summed up in her comment to Sarah, "I kill people, Dear," just as if she was saying "I made some cookies." She was just perfect.

And that brings us to John Malkovich. Malkovich is like crab to me, and I don't mean that in a good way. I spent years and years eating crab because I felt like I ought to like it, but, every time I did, I came away from it with the thought, "I just don't like it." But I would try it, again, the next time because I felt likt I just ought to like it. Really, I did that for years before I finally decided, "you know, I really just don't like crab" and gave up on it for good. That is my experience with Malkovich. Any time he was in something, I would go into it with the thought that I ought to like it because it was John Malkovich, but I always came away just not liking the experience, most notably in Jonah Hex, which was just dreadful, I think, mostly, due to how horrible Malkovich was. There are a few notable exceptions, I suppose, such as Being John Malkovich, but he's not an actor I generally enjoy, mostly due to the fact that he's really just always the same in every role he's in. However, he was brilliant in RED! I'm not sure there is anyone else that could have pulled off this role and been believable in it. To some extent, he played the role the way he always is, but, it was like he turned his perfomance, this time, up to 11, and that's exactly what this called for.

The cast of villains, however, is somewhat divided. Richard Dreyfuss is amazing, as always, but Rebecca Pidgeon could have been replaced by anyone. Sure, the role wasn't written to stand out, but she did nothing to really make it her own, either. Karl Urban, on the other hand, was great. Hunky, pretty boy assassin. His complete seriousness in the role gave it the gravity and believability it needed, and he was pretty perfect opposite Bruce Willis. Besides, my wife says he's hot, although he needs to smile more. According to her. The last player for the villains is Julian McMahon. Although, I really enjoyed him as Dr. Doom in Fantastic Four; he is completely forgettable in his role as the vice president in RED and, probably, could have been replaced by just about anyone walking down the street.

I didn't get enough Ernest Borgnine. He's impossible not to love, and it's a great, albeit small, perfect role for him.

My immediate response to the movie was "I'm going to have to buy this one." And I will. My second response was, "The kids will love this," and they did. I'm not really saying it's a family movie, but it certainly is a great movie for my family. My younger son asked me if they were going to make a prequel for it. heh Interestingly enough, they did do some prequel comics to coincide with the release of the movie. I haven't read those, either, though. Unfortunately, although the movie did make money, it wasn't the blockbuster they'd hoped it would be, so it's unlikely that there will be anything further. I guess I'm okay with that. I think it does help illustrate, however, that, as a culture, our current love is for super heroes, not comic books in general. I think Hollywood is kind of stuck on the idea that anything translated from comics will be a hit, but even a wonderful movie like RED underperformed due to its lack of capes and tights, as the cliche goes.

If you're looking for a fun action/comedy, you should check RED out. Especially if you have netflix. Even if it's not the kind of thing you'd see at the theater, it's not likely to disappoint as a rental. Unless, you know, you only do "serious" movies. This is certainly a popcorn flick. Just be careful of the popcorn. If you're not careful, it'll end up all over the couch.


  1. I actually ended up watching this movie a couple weeks back and was thoroughly surprised. I think this post summarizes the cast/characters rather well, and I would have to agree.

    What was that line about the pig again? I had this "what is he talking about" moment, and after the fact, I laughed pretty good.

  2. The line is something like, "I didn't think I'd ever say this, again, but I'm getting the pig!" It made us laugh, but it made us laugh more when he pulled the grenade launcher out of it.

  3. Exactly...I didn't laugh at first, because I was so confused. Then I saw the pig and half chuckled. AND THEN, when things went down and he pulled the rocket launcher, I laughed. It was a good progression from "Huh?" to "Hah!".

  4. I loved this movie! Then again, I'm a Bruce Willis fan. Like you, I've never really liked MLP, but I thought she was good in this. John Malkovich sort of gives me the heebie jeebies, but sometimes that's as it should be. Helen Mirren rocked and Morgan Freeman could come read me the stock market page of the newspaper and keep me enthralled.

  5. LOL
    So true about Freeman. We just watched The Contract the other night, and, although the plot is fairly typical, he (and Cusack) is just so enjoyable to watch, it makes it worth seeing.