“THE EAGLE” – 2 STARS

There have been several movies about Rome’s powerful Ninth Legion and their annihilation in the British territories in the 2nd century. The newest addition is “The Eagle”, adapted from the novel “The Eagle of the Ninth” by Rosemary Sutcliff. Channing Tatum plays Marcus Aquila, a young Roman centurion taking his first command in a dangerous and isolated part of Britain. Aquila seeks to restore the honor of his father who was leader of the powerful Ninth Legion when they mysteriously disappeared along with the sacred golden Eagle of Rome. After their fort is attacked, Aquila gains the trust and admiration of his legion by leading them to victory but is injured in the battle resulting in his honorable discharge. But with his father’s name still held in contempt and the Eagle still missing, he sets out on a quest past the Northern Wall, accompanied only by his newly acquired slave Esca (Jaime Bell), to find the Eagle and redeem his father’s reputation .

While “The Eagle” does start off promising, it’s an inconsistent and uneven film that falls into mediocrity. The first act is encouraging. The attack on the fort features the film’s best action sequences. They are furiously shot and edited and bring reminders of films like “Gladiator”. Later, as we’re introduced to Esca, the relationship between wounded Roman hero and Rome-hating slave offers up potential even though it’s built upon pretty familiar grounds. But it never goes very far. Nonetheless the movie still has some pretty decent moments early on.

But then the picture bogs down in numerous scenes of tedious exposition and a quest that lacks any real sense of urgency or peril. These problems can be traced back to a very lackluster script. Other than a few bits of text in the opening, there’s no real effort to develop the film’s historical setting. There is no real explanation of the importance of the Eagle other than “The Eagle is Rome”. The relationship between Aquila and Esca is underdeveloped and hard to buy into. The ending is flat and lacks any real punch or emotion. These are all issues that could be resolved with better writing.

Channing Tatum does a better acting job than in many of his previous films but the verdict is still out for me. He gives a good effort but he just can’t carry a picture like this. His scenes involving interaction with his soldiers early on are his best but he struggles elsewhere. Then you have Donald Sutherland who is laughably bad and terribly miscast as Marcus’ uncle. He appears to be just going through the motions and he’s impossible to take seriously. Jamie Bell gives the better performance of any but even he is handcuffed by the weak screenplay.

“The Eagle” is a very “ok” movie. It’s best parts are experienced early then the movie falls off considerably. It starts off as a poor man’s “Gladiator” which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But then it loses it’s identity and heads off into a different direction becoming a very mediocre action picture. The characters and the story are underdeveloped and in a movie like this you have to buy into the quest and the stakes must be high. The stakes weren’t that high and I was never sold enough on the story to really invest in it.

5 PHENOMENAL MOVIE HERO DEATHS

SPOILER: THESE ARE 5 FILMS WHERE THE MAIN HERO DIES. BE FOREWARNED!

Everyone loves a great hero. In fact, entire movies can stand or fall on how good the main hero of the story is. We’ve all seen the “ride off into the sunset” endings where everything is happy and uplifting. The boy gets the girl (or vice versa) and all is right with the world. But then there are the movies where the good guy may win, but dies in the process. If you think about it, there are several films that feature their hero dying. I’ve chosen five fantastic deaths that are worth some praise. Now there are many I had to leave off so this certainly isn’t the definitive list. But there’s no denying that these five movie hero deaths are absolutely phenomenal.

#5 – “ROAD TO PERDITION”

Sam Mendes’ “Road to Perdition” may have one of the saddest hero deaths in cinema. Tom Hanks plays Michael Sullivan, a mob hitman who gets revenge on his bosses who turn on him and kill his wife and younger son. The mob higher-ups seek to silence him and he escapes to a small town on Lake Michigan called Perdition. Sullivan stands by a window of a beach house looking out over the lake waters when two bullets hit him from behind. Jude Law walks out of the shadows as Sullivan falls to the ground. Sullivan kills his killer then dies in the arm of his crying son. It’s a devastating scene involving a young boy losing his father and even though Sullivan isn’t the most upright hero, we still root for him.

#4 – “THE PROFESSIONAL”

Jean Reno stars as Leon, the most loveable movie hitman who befriends and shelters a troubled young girl named Matilda (Natalie Portman) who has witnessed the murder of her family at the hands of Standfield, a corrupt DEA agent played by Gary Oldman. Stansfield brings his forces for a big final showdown in Leon’s apartment building. He gets Matilda to safety before sneaking out after a massive gun battle. He makes it out of the building and while hobbling down an alley Stansfield shows up and shoots him. Leon hands him a grenade pin that he says is “from Matilda”. Standfield rips open Leon’s jacket to expose a number of live grenades. BOOM! Leon take Stansfield with him. A hero going out with a bang.

#3 – “PAN’S LABYRINTH”

While young Ofelia isn’t your typical hero especially for this type of list, I had to put her on here. Fleeing from her brutal stepfather, Ofelia carries her infant brother into a garden labyrinth. She puts her life on the line to save her brother but her stepfather soon catches up with her and shoots her dead. He gets his when he reaches the exit of the labyrinth and plenty of people are waiting. But one of the most devastating scenes is when they discover Ofelia. What makes her death so powerful is the sad life she was confined to throughout the movie. In her fantasy world she went on to rule. But in our world she died a true hero’s death.

#2 – “NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD”

After all Ben had been through the night before, to be killed the way he was just stinks. Zombies corner up seven people in a Pennsylvania farm house and only Ben (Duane Jones) survives the night. After barricading himself in the cellar, he comes up after all seems quiet upstairs. It’s daylight outside and Ben hears dogs barking. He sneaks up to a window and peaks out. At that second he gets shot in the head by a group of men who mistake him for a zombie. Just like that. Ben was cool and calm and managed to survive the zombies. It’s too bad he was later mistaken for one.

#1 – “GLADIATOR”

Russell Crowe’s performance as Maximus in Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator” was exceptional and his death was certainly that of a hero. After being stabbed while chained up by the sniveling Emperor Joaquin Phoenix, the wounded Maximus is then brought out to fight the Emperor and die in front of the huge crowd in the Coliseum. But just like a true hero, Maximus prevails and kills the Emperor just before passing out. He dies there in the Coliseum and we see him being reunited with his wife and son through a dying vision. Maximus is carried off while the Emperor is left laying in the dirt. It’s a poignant and moving ending and it still gets to me no matter how often I see it.

There ya go – 5 Phenomenal Movie Hero Deaths. Now I could easily have done a top 20 so I know I’ve left some good ones out. What’s your favorite movie hero death?

5 PHENOMENAL MODERN DAY ACTORS

One thing that we movie fans can be happy about is the large number of great actors in the business today. When putting together this list of five great modern-day actors I couldn’t help but feel bad about leaving guys off who certainly deserve to be on. But such is a testament to the great amount of talent out there. It’s hard to balance incredible individual performances with bodies of work, but I’ve tried to factor in both. So as hard as it was, here they are. As always, I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. But there’s no denying that these 5 modern-day actors are absolutely phenomenal.

#5 – CHRISTIAN BALE

Bale has come a long way from being the young 14-year old boy in “Empire of the Sun”. At 38 years of age he has amassed an impressive resume of performances that range from straight-forward action pictures to gritty, emotional dramas. After “Empire of the Sun”, Bale received a lot of attention for his role as a serial killer in 1999’s “American Psycho”. From there he established himself as a quality action movie star in films like “Reign of Fire” and “Equilibrium”. In 2005 his career skyrocketed after being cast as Bruce Wayne in “Batman Begins”, director Christopher Nolan’s fantastic reboot of the Batman series. The role opened up doors for Bale to work with some great directors such as Terrence Malick in “The New World” and Werner Herzog in “Rescue Dawn”. After working with Nolan again in “The Prestige”, he worked opposite Russell Crowe in the underappreciated remake “3:10 to Yuma”. That led to Bale’s biggest film yet, “The Dark Knight”, the second installment in Nolan’s Batman trilogy. After two more action pictures, Bale starred in David O. Russell’s “The Fighter” a movie that earned him his first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Bale is set to star in the final Batman movie of the Dark Knight trilogy this year and I can’t wait to see what else.

#4 – GEORGE CLOONEY

Clooney started his career in television and first gained notoriety on the show E.R. But it was Quintin Tarentino and Robert Rodriguez who brought Clooney to the attention of moviegoers in the vampire action flick “From Dusk to Dawn”. After roles in the mediocre romantic comedy “One Fine Day” and the equally mediocre  action thriller “The Peacemaker”, Clooney starred in a film that could have ended many careers, Joel Schumaker’s horrible “Batman and Robin”.  But Clooney’s career began to take form thanks to some well-received roles in films such as “Three Kings”, “Solaris”, and his first collaboration with the Coen Brothers “O’ Brother Where Art Thou?”. “O’ Brother” showed Clooney wasn’t afraid to show his fantastic sense of humor. He would later star is such fun and quirky films as “Leatherheads”, “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”, “Burn After Reading”, and “The Men Who Stare at Goats”. But Clooney also established himself as a force behind the camera in the heavy, political-driven “Good Night and Good Luck”. He also saw himself garnering more critical acclaim that catapulted him into superstardom. He won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in 2005’s “Syriana”. He was nominated for Best Actor Oscars in the wonderful films “Michael Clayton”, “Up in the Air”, and “The Descendents”. Clooney is a bona-fide Hollywood superstar but it’s one of the rare cases where it’s for good reason. He’s a powerful actor who can command the screen and you can expect a quality performance every time.

#3 – LEONARDO DICAPRIO

DiCaprio has been making quality films since he was a kid. In fact it was only recently that I saw him as the brilliant adult actor that he has become. He first captured attention for his remarkable performance as a mentally challenged boy in 1993’s “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”. He was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar and it was here that DiCaprio was recognized as much more than just a child actor. He starred in several other films but it may have been James Cameron’s “Titantic” that really put his name on the map. After working with Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks in “Catch Me If You Can”, DiCaprio starred in a film that would launch a fantastic actor/director relationship. “The Gangs of New York” marked his first film with Director Martin Scorsese. The duo followed it with “The Aviator” and “The Departed” each earning DiCaprio critical praise. He would receive his third Oscar nomination for “Blood Diamond” and then teamed up again with Kate Winslet in “Revolutionary Road”. He then got back with Scorsese to make the underrated psychological thriller “Shutter Island” which was followed by the starring role in Christopher Nolan’s phenomenal “Inception”. 2012 looks to be an even better year for DiCaprio. He has two intriguing films coming out, “The Great Gatsby” and Quintin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained”. What’s amazing is that DiCaprio is still only 37-years old. It’s fun to imagine what he still has in store for us.

#2 – DANIEL DAY-LEWIS

Daniel Day-Lewis would probably be #1 on this list if he had a bigger body of work to talk about. On the flip side of that, his limited body of work contains some of the greatest performances in modern cinema. Day-Lewis isn’t an actor who constantly stays busy and he’s very selective in choosing his roles.  Another reason Day-Lewis is so good as that he immerses himself into each role. He’s known to stay in his character both on and off-screen throughout the entire shoot and his comfort levels with his characters are evident. Day-Lewis started his acting career in theatre and television but quickly gained attention on the big screen. His most recognized early film work was in 1985’s “A Room with a View”. But it was 1989’s “My Left Foot” that really brought him critical acclaim and eventually the Academy Award for Best Actor. In 1992 he starred in Michael Mann’s amazing adaptation of “The Last of the Mohicans”. Quality performances followed in movies such as “The Age of Innocence”, “The Boxer”, and “In the Name of the Father”, a film that earned another Best Actor Oscar nomination. After taking a few years off, Day-Lewis returned for his memorable performance in Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York”, a performance that earned him yet another Best Actor Oscar nomination. But it was his work in 2007’s “There Will Be Blood” that won just about every acting award available including his second Best Actor Oscar. His performance as Daniel Plainview is mesmerizing and I have no problem calling it one of my favorite performances in movie history. Up next for Day-Lewis is the role of Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln”. I can only imagine what Day-Lewis will bring to the character and he’s one actor I can’t miss.

#1 – RUSSELL CROWE

Russell Crowe could be seen as a rugged “man’s man” actor. He’s starred in an assortment of gritty period films and crime dramas. But Crowe has also showed a sharp range and an intense dedication to putting everything into his characters. Crowe is a far cry from the “pretty boy” image that many actors embrace. He brings a natural and authentic quality to his performances and that’s a big reason why he’s able to excel in such a wide variety of movies. His acting career started in Australia but he soon shifted to American films. He starred as the villain opposite Denzel Washington in the goofy sci-fi action flick “Virtuosity”. But the quality of his films quickly rose with “L.A. Confidential”, a critical success that gave Crowe’s career a boost. After several smaller roles, Crowe starred alongside Al Pacino in Michael Mann’s “The Insider”. He received high marks for his performance and even received his first Oscar nomination. But it was his work in 2000’s “Gladiator” that brought him to the forefront of motion pictures. He won the Best Actor Oscar in what is one of my personal favorite films. The following year Crowe starred in “A Beautiful Mind”, a remarkable movie that was drastically different from “Gladiator”. He received another Best Actor Oscar nomination for his performance that he should have won. In 2003 he starred in “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World”, a gripping historical epic that didn’t garner him an Oscar nomination but it certainly should have. Crowe’s range was again made evident through a run of high quality movies including the boxing film “Cinderella Man” , a fantastic western “3:10 to Yuma”, a crime drama “American Gangster”, a spy picture “Body of Lies”, and a political thriller “State of Play”. In 2010 Crowe made his fifth film with director Ridley Scott, “Robin Hood”. And while I found it to be a another strong film from Crowe, it was received with mixed reviews. Crowe is currently working on two films, “Broken City” and “Superman: Man of Steel”. At age 47, Crowe still has a lot of good movies to make. He’s a natural talent that can carry the movie and whenever I see his name attached, I’m automatically interested.

See an actor that I missed. Disagree with my choices? Leave a comment and share your five favorite modern-day actors.