Nicole Kidman has generally picked her film roles by balancing commerical potential with quality content. Often she’s managed to bag an award or seen her films become box office monsters, rarely having to go red faced with embarrassment at the results. Sadly for Kidman, The Paperboy is a misstep which manages to feature at least two of her most excruciatingly bad scenes ever captured on camera and few of her illustrious co-stars escape potential for ridicule. Oscar-nominated director Lee Daniels (Precious) clearly had the trust of Zac Efron, Matthew McConaughey and John Cusack, but his adaptation of the Peter Dexter novel lets them all down.
The challenge for the three directors of Cloud Atlas is to keep audiences engaged as six storylines set across more than 500 years are thrown at them at will, rarely pausing in the same period for more than a few minutes. The mosaic approach to reproducing David Mitchell’s novel on screen is admirable, particularly as the Wachowski siblings and Tykwer differ in styles, but divide the storylines between them. The effect is a genre-blending movie which flits almost randomly from one setting to another, yet is all the more arresting for it.
In 1949, Los Angeles was under the corrupt control of Mickey Cohen. As he plans to expand his influence across the west coast, a covert squad of LAPD officers team up to end his reign of terror once and for all. That’s the story driving Gangster Squad in UK cinemas Thursday, January 10th and billed as the gangster film for a new generation. It has a predigree cast with Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Josh Brolin and, as the iconic mob boss Mickey Cohen, Oscar-winning actor Sean Penn too. Ahead of its release, we look at 10 of the best gangster performances over the years.
The dog kidnapping business goes horribly wrong for Billy (Sam Rockwell) and Hans (Christopher Walken) when they kidnap the dog of a psychopathic local mafia boss. Unusually for a Mafia boss (played by Woody Harrelson), he has a cute, fluffy Shi Tzu, is incredibly attached to it, and will stop at nothing to get it back. This does not bode well for Billy and Hans, nor does it fill Colin Farrell’s alcoholic writer, Marty, with joy, when he is sucked into their predicament.
Six year old Hush Puppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) has a lot to deal with for a girl of her age. Her dad is prone to mood-swings exacerbated by his dependence on alcohol. Her home in an area known as the Bathtub, a fictitious fishing community based in southern Louisiana is threatened by rising waters, which are being caused by melting polar ice caps. All the tiny but worldly-wise girl wants is balance in the universe, which will allow her and dad, and all their animals to get on with living.
Sadly for Jason Biggs, it’s going to be a while before he’s not known to most of the world as that guy who had sex with an apple pie. But if he keeps plugging away with quirky political comedies like Grassroots, he could one day shake off the mantle of warm desert enthusiast. (And if he stops appearing in American Pie sequels, that would undoubtedly help too).
It goes without saying that some clowns are a bit evil. Some of us spot this early on as children, and some of us are oblivious until we get a bit older and look again at the grotesque make-up and demented laugh, and then it clicks. For Stitches the Clown (Ross Noble), evil doesn’t become part of his job description until he is the victim of an unfortunate accident at a ten year old’s birthday party, in which his head is impaled on a knife.
Charlize Theron is considered one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood and regularly tops “sexiest” polls around the globe. Labelled a Hollywood beauty, Charlize’s choice of roles have often disguised her stunning features or turned her appearance into a curse, the latter of which was used to full effect in her latest film Snow White and the Huntsman.
Stallone, Statham, Li and the action heroes who should have settled nicely into retirement by now are back together for more guns, explosions and bank balance top ups in Expendables 2, an inevitable sequel to the moderate success of the first film. That had cameos from Arnie and Bruce Willis to build the hype which turned out to be little more than walk-on roles, so writer/director/star Stallone had to up the ante to come close to matching the clamour for action fans to get to cinemas. By handing the director’s chair to Con Air and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider helmer Simon West, bringing back Arnie and Willis in expanded roles then adding Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme to the mix seemed enough on paper to guarantee interest, but does it add up to a worthy film?
Whenever a film is set in California, all the characters are all ridiculously attractive, glowing, and healthy looking. The supporting cast, people they pass by on the beach or stand next to at a bar are all beautiful. Now, this begs the question, is California really full of such sun-drenched specimens of human perfection, or is it a con of some kind to get us all to visit? Well, in the world of Oliver Stone’s Savages, that is probably not something that concerns them too much, as they have a Mexican drug cartel to deal with.
Cockneys vs. Zombies comes to cinemas this Friday (August 31st) showcasing the best of both old and new talent from the East End, including Alan Ford – one of the most recognizable cockney actors of the gangster genre.
It’s fair to say that there are already a lot of zombie films about. And this is no bad thing, for zombies are highly entertaining in all their slow walking, face falling off, flesh-hungry moaning glory. So now you have to do something a bit special with the genre, like Nazi zombies in Dead Snow or zombie sheep in Black Sheep. Well, now we have zombies running amok in the East end of London, traditional home of the cockney. And more cockneys trying to escape them, without letting zombies sink their Hampstead Heath into their Gregory Peck’s. If you know what I mean. This is Cockneys vs Zombies.
A little while ago we had the pleasure of getting a preview of the batch of five action releases made by producer Joel Silver in conjunction with After Dark Films, the guys behind the After Dark Horrorfest in the states, and the After Dark Originals label, both over there and here in the UK. Like how each of the After Dark Originals offered different subgenres of horror (vampire, scarecrow, sci-fi etc) these releases all tackle a different form of action film.
Hollywood loves a remake. Seemingly more than ever at the moment. Yeah, they’ll call it a reboot or a re-imagining, but we’re wise to their ways. A lightly whipped arrangement of crushed potatoes with butter, and tubes of pork drizzled in a beefy ‘jus’ is still bangers and mash, after all.
Spider-man is back on the big screen just five years since Sam Raimi concluded his trilogy of movies about the web-slinger, a fact you might assume would lead to a radical rethink in the way the character is portrayed. Sadly not. Andrew Garfield takes over from Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker while the aptly-named Marc Webb gets in the director’s chair to take us back to where it all began. Again. The 2002 origins story in Spider-man gets rewritten here with Emma Stone as high school love interest Gwen Stacy, Rhys Ifans as one-armed genetic scientist Dr. Curt Connors, Martin Sheen at Uncle Ben and Sally Field as Aunt May. Kicking off with a short insight into how Parker came to be in the care with his aunt and uncle before his parents died, we’re quickly fast forwarding to our hero as an awkward student in need of some help with bullies and getting his words out around the ladies.
Hyped up and ready for action, The Raid was hailed as a game-changer of an action flick packed full of martial arts and gunplay like no other long before release. Welsh-born writer-director Gareth Evans and the Indonesian martial artist he discovered Iko Uwais had already won plaudits for Merantau Warrior so they needed to show their fans another installment just as mouth-watering. Thankfully they’ve nailed it thanks to another star turn from national Silat champion Uwais and a frenetic assault on a gangster’s tower block by a woefully under-prepared SWAT team. Much like a Die Hard if Bruce Willis was Bruce Lee or, more accurately, Uwais, The Raid is not just break-neck but also full of bullets through the head and devastating finishing moves. Yet for all the excitement for action junkies, the attempts to add family drama to proceedings makes for unnecessary plot development that won’t be appreciated by those frustrated by a slow down in the pace and will seem tacked on to those who want more of a story to their battles.
The Cabin in the Woods was made back in 2009, before star Chris Hemworth had become a comic book action hero in Thor, then shelved. Choosing to release the movie on both sides of the Atlantic now could be seen as a deliberate ploy to give Hemsworth a bump in popularity ahead of his reprisal of Thunder God Thor in blockbuster Avengers Assemble in the summer, but to even consider that would be to overlook the smart thinking behind The Cabin in the Woods. This self-aware movie is written by long-time collaborative duo Drew Goddard and Joss Wheadon, with the former taking on directing duties, who use a very obvious love for cult shocker The Evil Dead trilogy as the basis for a postmodern, Truman Show style horror.
The Muppets were last seen on the big screen in Muppets from Space – a commercial flop in 1999 that meant the popular puppets were downgraded to TV movies until now. A revival of Jim Henson’s creations was hardly demanded by eager fans and might have been seen as a mis-step by Disney with 3-D CGI animation all the rage for children’s movies. Could anyone make a Muppet film that re-created the original television show’s charm while also providing a spin on the characters that got people paying to see Kermit, Miss Piggy and the crew? Thankfully yes – How I Met You Mother’s Jason Segel co-writes and stars in this fresh, vibrant and remarkably poignant resurrection of the family favourites.
A love-letter to the bygone silent era, The Artist is a charming film that reflects on cinema’s formative years while also relighting the fires of interest in a style of filmmaking that was once considered consigned to the history books forever. To see it back on the big screen at a time when two of the longest-running Hollywood studios, Universal and Paramount, are celebrating 100 years in business, is almost poetic. It’s already picked up numerous awards and looks set for Oscar glory to add to the romanticism, but the gushing praise for The Artist is well-deserved.
All four Mission: Impossible movies have carried their director’s distinct style to varying degrees of success. De Palma kicked off the movie franchise effectively then John Woo went so OTT on action that the brooding intelligence of the first was lost. JJ Abrams offered a solid reboot of sorts which played up teamwork rather than one-man-army Cruise. Abrams drew on his experience working on television series, but it looked like the A-list actor would struggle to find a mass audience again when the box office take of his recent films went downhill. For this fourth edition Pixar director Brad Bird has made his first foray into live action cinema following hits with The Incredibles, The Iron Giant and Ratatouille. To make a success of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Bird would have to strike a balance of the insatiable Cruise star power and giving screen time to more than just his elaborate stunts. That might be considered an impossible mission itself, but he’s performed admirably to ensure all of Ethan’s team get a chance to shine.
Journalist and adventurer Tintin arrives on the big screen with a CGI-makeover that goes three dimensional. Sewing together three 1940s stories The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure, this big budget re-imaging of Herve’s classic is a thrill ride of set pieces, yet lacking the classic Spielberg story weaving of his live action equivalent Indiana Jones.
Tim Burton’s update of The Planet of the Apes 10 years ago, dressing up A-list actors in hairy costumes and a preposterous ending put paid to a reboot to the much-loved franchise. Burton’s movie lacked the dark overtones the director was renowned for and had none of the camp charm of the original, leaving a soulless Hollywood blockbuster. But nothing is normally more soulless than a Hollywood prequel, usually full of by-the-numbers plotting and characterisation as it plods towards a pre-determined end with a few winks along the way. Incredibly, Rise of the Planet of the Apes isn’t one of them: helmer Rupert Wyatt brings us a well-acted, engaging origins story with genuine emotion behind all the CGI apes and creative action scenes.
Hollywood has often granted hotshot directors creative freedom after they’ve proved themselves a top talent. Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate in the 1980s almost brought down a studio under the weight of the director’s ambition and, more recently, Kurt Wimmer and Kerry Conran showed that putting too much faith in the hands of the director can result in poor returns. Zack Snyder’s efforts remaking Dawn of the Dead and then bringing graphic novels 300 and Watchmen to the big screen earned him free reign for his live action follow up Sucker Punch. An action/drama spectacular drenched in fantasy, Snyder’s computer game-esque sequences see a group of girls battling all manner of enemies to escape a brothel that is used as symbolism for a girl’s entrapment in a mental asylum. This premise gives Snyder plenty of opportunity to flex his creative muscle, but this original effort exposes his shortcomings as a writer.
“The late, great Ayton Senna” is how possibly the finest Formula One commentator Murray Walker used to describe the legendary driver on air before he retired, and possibly still does. This documentary follows Senna from his karting days through his conflicts with F1 rival Alain Prost to his untimely death at Italy’s Imola circuit in 1994. It’s an emotional journey that puts the hero of the piece on a pedestal as a Brazilian and sporting icon, but paints a one-dimensional view of the legend.
Iconic comedy Two and a Half Men returns with season eight released on DVD on Monday (August 8th). The defining season of the American comedy sees Charlie Sheen back in his role as Charlie Harper for the last time – soon to be replaced by Ashton Kutcher. Time will tell if his partnership with Jon Cryer will be as winning but while we await the new takes on themes of women, sex, dating, divorce, mothers, single parenthood, sibling relations, surrogate families, money and love, you can pick up the new series here.