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Entries in Nick Nolte (3)

Thursday
Sep082011

Warrior

In my review for The Fighter, I began with a simple thought: “If you’ve seen one sports story, you’ve seen them all.” At that point, it seemed true. Though still a good movie, The Fighter was nevertheless overrated. It was predictable and formulaic to a fault, despite some solid performances. It was just like every other sports drama I had seen. But now it appears I’ll be eating those words because Warrior stands apart from the crowd. It’s a unique film in an overabundant genre and it gets nearly everything right. It’s so good, I'm a little tempted to go back and bump all my recent scores down a point because nothing so far this year has come close to matching it. It may be getting the same score as Kung Fu Panda 2 and the last Harry Potter, but make no mistake, Warrior is superior in nearly every way.

The film begins with Tommy (Tom Hardy) sitting on the steps of his father, Paddy’s (Nick Nolte), house. They haven’t seen each other in 14 years, but there’s a reason for that. Paddy was a drunk and it tore the family apart. Tommy has never been able to forgive his father for his past mistakes, despite the fact that he has been sober for over two and a half years, but he is seeking his help anyway. He needs a trainer so he can fight in “Sparta,” a mixed martial arts tournament that is handing over five million dollars to its winner. Meanwhile, his brother, Brendan (Joel Edgerton), with whom he also has bad relations, is having financial problems and cannot pay his mortgage. If he can’t come up with the money soon, the bank is going to take his home. Being a former UFC fighter (and a family man), he can’t let that happen and also enters into the tournament, unaware that he could end up facing Tommy.

Warrior is as gripping a sports drama as any that has come out in recent memory. A big part of that is due to its refusal to follow the typical path sports dramas usually take. Because the two estranged brothers are pitted against each other (a story point that shouldn’t be considered a spoiler given the all too revealing trailers), it gives the film more depth. Their fight is not one of glory or fame and the money is merely a means to an end, to solve whatever problems and battle whatever demons they might be facing. Their fight is one of emotion, an emotion that has been building for many years and for many reasons. This is not a feel good movie where there’s a clear team or person to root for like in Remember the Titans or The Express (or, for that matter, most other similar movies). In Warrior, you are presented with conflicting emotions because both fighters have noble motives, one to protect his family from bankruptcy and the other I’ve deliberately kept mysterious to avoid spoilers. You come to feel for each of them and wish for both to be victorious, but it’s an outcome that is simply impossible.

All of this works because of the actors. Hardy and Edgerton both show the desperation their characters are going through, though one is more an inner turmoil, ashamed of something he has done and wishing to make it right. Their performances bring their characters to life and though they talk a lot about forgiving others, it’s in their mannerisms that you can tell what they really need to do is forgive themselves. The real standout, however, is Nick Nolte in a comeback role for the ages. In recent years, he has done little more than voice work in garbage like Zookeeper and Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore and it’s nice to actually see him in a role that doesn’t require him to hide behind CGI animals. His character is trying to turn things around and wants nothing more than to reconnect with the sons he regretfully neglected so many years ago and his performance is heartbreaking. While this movie deserves a number of nods come awards season, if Nolte isn’t nominated for an Oscar, it should be considered a crime against cinema.

I’m not a fan of mixed martial arts. To me, it’s nothing more than senseless, barbaric violence. It’s a sport that if done in the street will land you in jail, but surround yourself with a cage and suddenly it becomes acceptable. I simply do not understand the fascination of watching two men beat the living daylights out of each other for sport, but that’s what’s so great about Warrior. It’s not about the sport. It’s about the characters. It’s about the drama. It’s about forgiveness. It’s about family. It’s about everything but mixed martial arts. In this movie, MMA is merely a tool used to create deeper meaning, a metaphor for the struggles the characters are going through. You may hate the sport as much as I do, but that shouldn’t stop you from seeing this film. It’s not what you expect—it’s not cheesy like The Blind Side or emotionally manipulative like, well, any other sports drama—it’s raw and real. It’s as gripping as movies get.

Warrior receives 5/5

Friday
Jul082011

Zookeeper

I have to imagine Kevin James is a likable fellow. He strikes me as the type of person who, if approached on the street, wouldn’t mind chatting with fans, signing autographs and taking a few pictures. However, that affableness doesn’t make up for the fact that he’s made us sit through some of the trashiest, most foul, unwatchable pieces of garbage to come out in recent years. While he may be a nice guy in real life, he has never impressed in his films, which are almost always heavy-laden with physical comedy, an area where his abilities rest somewhere between slight and non-existent. He’s the type of comedian we’re supposed to laugh at simply because of his large visage, but laughing at someone’s weight is comedy of the shallowest order. James has starred in such abominations as Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Grown Ups and The Dilemma, but, if it can be believed, his newest film, Zookeeper, is his worst yet.

James plays Griffin, a zookeeper who is beloved by his animals. Five years prior, he popped the question to then-girlfriend, Stephanie, played by Leslie Bibb, but she shot him down because she was embarrassed by his occupation. Now, she has returned and Griffin once again finds himself falling for her. After overhearing a conversation one night, the animals learn that Griffin may be leaving the zoo. They’re none too happy with this news—besides, he’s the best zookeeper they’ve ever had—so they divulge their secret to him: they can talk. In an attempt to keep him around, they teach him mating techniques so he can snag the girl of his dreams without having to give up his job.

It would be easy to say that Zookeeper is absurd. Any movie with talking animals is, but as a colleague of mine pointed out, it’s weirder than usual and it gets weirder as it goes on. It’s strange enough watching James walk like a bear and learn to attract his mate with urine, but when the gorilla ends up at T.G.I. Friday’s, buys drinks for some cute ladies and ends up courting one of them, the film has clearly gone overboard. If anything can be said for it, Zookeeper doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is.

The problem is that what it is is a movie so desperate for laughs, it quickly resorts to tired slapstick and gross-out humor. In the first ten minutes alone, you’ll see Griffin fall over at least three times, break a tree limb that can’t carry his weight, get shot twice with porcupine quills and get splashed in the face with a lioness’s saliva. I suppose I should be grateful nobody gets covered in feces, especially given the nature of these types of films, but not throwing crap on someone comes off as faint praise for a movie with metaphorical smears all over it.

Zookeeper is juvenile, inane and utterly devoid of anything even remotely interesting, sure, but it’s surprisingly offensive as well, with traces of mild sexism and veiled homophobia throughout. While certainly minute in the big scheme of things, their diminutive nature makes them no less distasteful. For an entire scene, we watch as Griffin insults Stephanie and orders her to do things for him, playing up verbal abuse towards women as funny. Though not funny in any context, it’s especially shocking here given its PG rating and marketing towards children.

The only person treated with respect in the film is the zoo vet, played by Rosario Dawson, but even she is trapped in the archetypal “plain before pretty” role that has been outdated since Freddie Prinze Jr. fell for Rachael Leigh Cook in 1999’s She’s All That. It’s a shame because the filmmakers have gathered a great supporting voice cast that includes Nick Nolte, Adam Sandler, Sylvester Stallone, Cher, Judd Apatow, Jon Favreau, Maya Rudolph and Don Rickles, yet they are all squandered here, forced to recite insipid lines of dialogue about having thumbs and throwing poo. Frankly, it’s an embarrassing farce. Zookeeper is torturous, and that’s enough to make it one of the most unwatchable movies to be released this year.

Zookeeper receives 0.5/5

Friday
Jul302010

Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore

A few weeks back my Marmaduke review carried the headline, “Talking Dogs Will Never Be Funny.” After making a statement so matter-of-factly, it’s only a matter of time before it comes back to haunt you. One day, I will see a talking dog movie that is funny. Today is not that day. The latest film to bleed my ears dry with the inherent nonsense of a talking animal picture is Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, the unnecessary sequel to the 2001 original.

In the first film, we learned that all dogs and cats are natural enemies (spoiler alert!). Their factions had been in a long term battle for supremacy amongst the humans. The dogs took the title of “man’s best friend” to heart while the cats hoped to eliminate them and become the new household pet. In the sequel, not much has changed. Kitty Galore (voiced by Bette Midler) has a similar plan. She plans to make all the dogs in the world go mad, which would turn them against their owners who would have no choice but to lock them up. However, Kitty’s plan would also harm the humans, something the good cats in the M.E.O.W. squad don’t want, which forces them and the dogs at D.O.G. Headquarters to team up against their will. Headed by Butch (voiced by Nick Nolte) and joined by new recruit Diggs (voiced by James Marsden) and M.E.O.W. agent Catherine (voiced by Christina Applegate), they set out to stop Kitty and keep the natural balance.

I’ll admit. I enjoyed the original. The reason for that is due to its grounding in its own fictional world. It played it straight, imaginative and fun. In the sequel, it branches out into spoof territory taking on Scarface, Terminator, The Silence of the Lambs and referencing the James Bond series, quite literally, dozens of times. Its shameless attempts to pander to the adult audience is depressing and unfunny. They won’t work even for those familiar with the pictures it’s joking on, so don't expect the kids to understand. It’s a lose-lose situation all around.

If there’s one thing in the world I hate, it’s animal puns. If you’ve ever seen a live action talking animal movie, you’ve heard one. They’re insufferable and grating, the least funny of all jokes on the laugh spectrum, and they’re in spades here. To put it simply, Marmaduke now has a serious contender for one of the most annoying movies of the year. Take for instance the vehicle the dogs ride in to get to D.O.G. Headquarters that, upon arriving at their destination, is put into “Stay” rather than “Park.”

Most jokes play out one of those two ways: animal gags or film references. It’s only about an hour and 20 minutes long, but you’ll hear every tick of the clock as the seconds go by. Five minutes will seem like ten. Ten will seem like twenty. Twenty will feel like an hour.

There’s not much else to say that hasn’t been said before, either in other reviews or about previous films in the genre. You either like these things or you don’t. Personally, with only one or two exceptions, I loathe them. Cats and Dogs may have gotten by in 2001 for being somewhat original in a genre that had yet to be exploited, but its sequel is merely another drop in the bucket of talking dog movies as far as I’m concerned.

Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore receives 1/5