Who are the top 20 most intense actors of recent times?

charlie bronson

I do like an intense character and performance when I’m watching a film. Someone who literally rivets and welds you to the screen, look away at your peril. Some people probably like their films bright and breezy. I don’t mind those too, but there’s something about intensity that leaves a lasting impression. You remember those performances.

As such I thought I’d offer a couple of lists of actors and actresses that have had me mesmerised, entranced and – at times – a little frightened. I’ve most likely left off a lot of vintage performances and characters, but this is MY list so I’m allowed. Let me know your thoughts. Who would you have liked to have seen included?

In these lists I’ve put links to clips from some performances you might not have seen before, or maybe just want to revisit. Remember though, best not watch alone though, these lot are intense!

The guys

  1. charlie bronsonDaniel Day Lewis (Bill ‘the Butcher’ Cutting, Gangs of New York; Daniel Plainview, There will be Blood)
  2. Heath Ledger (The Joker, The Dark Knight)
  3. Tom Hardy (Charles Bronson, Bronson)
  4. Christian Bale (Patrick Bateman, American Psycho; Batman, The Batman Trilogy)
  5. Kevin Spacey (John Doe, Seven)
  6. Christopher Walken (Vicenzo Carcotti, True Romance; Frank White, King of New York)
  7. Javier Bardem (Anton Chigurh, No Country for Old Men)
  8. Christopher Waltz (Col. Hans Landa, Inglourious Basterds)
  9. Vincent Cassel (Jacques Mesrine, Mesrine)
  10. Liam Neeson (Bryan Mills, Taken)
  11. Jeremy Renner (Sergeant William James, The Hurt Locker; Jem Coughlin, The Town)
  12. Gary Oldman (Drexel, True Romance)

The gals

  1. helena bonham carter harry potterHelena Bonham Carter (Red Queen, Alice in Wonderland; Bellatrix Lestrange, Harry Potter)
  2. Cate Blanchett (Galadriel, Lord of the Rings)
  3. Marion Cotillard (Mal, Inception)
  4. Angelina Jolie (Lisa Rowe, Girl, Interrupted)
  5. Melanie Laurent (Shosanna Dreyfus, Inglourious Basterds)
  6. Charlize Theron (Aileen Wuornos, Monster)
  7. Famke Janssen (Xena Onotopp, Goldeneye; Jean Grey, Xmen: The Last Stand)
  8. Noomi Rapace (Lisbeth Salander, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)

So, there’s my list. You’ll notice there’s more men than women, I’m not sure why. I think, perhaps, there’s a tendency – particularly in Hollywood – for studios to shy away from films with intense, female leads. I wonder if they are more of a risk commercially? I don’t think that’s the case. I think it’s more to do with a lack of decent scripts for women, ones that don’t play to stereotypes.

One thing I’ve noticed is how top actors portray intensity – for me – it’s in the eyes. I think it’s what separates great actors and actresses from the rest. If you allow yourself to be drawn into their gaze, there’s so much depth there. Depending on the character they’re playing, it can be equally exciting, captivating and terrifying. Watch Pacino in The Godfather, making the decision to kill with his eyes. A lesson in intensity.

Right, I need to go watch some comedy now to level out. It’s all got too much. I’ll finish with artwork of Marion Cotillard, not because it’s intense, but because it’s simply beautiful – and that’s all the reason you need.

Marion Cotillard artwork

Damn, parkour is a tough sport!

parkour injuryWill I ever be any good at parkour/freerunning? I found myself asking this question last night as I sat in a London hospital with – yet another – injury. This time quite a bad one, a deep gash in my shin that needed two stitches.

Let’s rewind for a second. For those not familiar, parkour is essentially a type of movement used to overcome obstacles by way of vaulting, leaping, climbing, rolling etc. It’s done outdoors and – in London – often around housing estates, where there are lots of walls, rails, playgrounds. Ideal places to practice.

Still reading? Well, there’s an organisation called Parkour Generations that do lessons all around London. Well worth a go if you’re looking for a new sport. I realise, from my opening paragraph, I’ve probably completely put off you if you were considering it, apologies! To be honest, you can get injured in so many ways on a day-to-day basis. Crossing the road, preparing dinner etc.

The way I see it, I have no time for the gym, it’s such a static, sterile environment. It’s nice to train your overall body outside, doing something different, challenging, exciting. Injuries are bound to happen in any sport if you’re pushing yourself. You just need to know where your limits are. I was fully aware of mine but ignored the signs, hence the injury.

The video below was taken in the area I was training. None of the guys in the video are me by the way, I am nowhere near their level of skill, but it’s what I aim for. Well, except the flips, I’ll give those a miss!

Plus, these days, parkour has moved much more into the mainstream. No longer a niche, extreme sport, its influence can be seen all over the place, particularly in film over the last few years.

There’s a French film called District 13 which features one of the founders of the sport, David Belle. Well worth a watch if you’ve got the time. Good as a film as well as a showcase for the sport. Also, in Casino Royale there’s a scene featuring Sebastien Foucan, another parkour founding father. Watch the building site chase here, very cool.

So, back to my latest predicament. As I sat there cursing my stupidity at failing to admit my body’s limitations, it occurred to me that – in order to improve – that’s sort of the point. You have to push yourself. Dig deep, double your efforts, whatever it takes really. Cue 80s montage…

Bourne again? Jeremy Renner and his green pills – Tony Gilroy’s legacy

Does it strike you as funny that of two films that are currently out at the cinema – one a remake, one a sequel of sorts – both are to do with memory loss?

I am, of course, talking about the Total Recall and the Bourne Legacy, the latter of which I saw recently and want to discuss.

First things first, I am a fan of Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz, the former for the Hurt Locker and The Town, and the latter for just being Mrs Daniel Craig. Seriously, there’s a lot of films which were significantly lifted by her presence; About a Boy, The Fountain, Enemy at the Gates, Runaway Jury and, yes, even The Mummy (seriously, she makes Brendan Fraser bearable).

In terms of the Bourne Legacy, Renner was solid as a spy, you believed he could do the things he did. Particularly his Alaska section, which reminded me slightly of Into the Wild, with Emile Hirsch, just with more explosions and less depressing deaths.  He fought like Bourne and was just as resourceful, however he just didn’t seem as accessible as Damon. Maybe it’s easier to identify with a man trying to regain his memory and make sense of his situation, whereas Renner’s Aaron Cross is in full possession of his memory, and is primarily trying to shake his dependency on drugs (which we’ll discuss more in a bit).

Perhaps in contrast to Cross’s cold, calm nature, Weisz is the emotional warmth of the film. Beautiful, intelligent, and a Doctor – I once read an article where she was voted the woman that men would most like to marry – too bad James Bond beat us to it!

As far as the link between this film and the preceding trilogy, the last two of which Paul Greengrass directed, you can see how they’ve tried to expand the world of shady goverment agencies with ‘assets’ placed across the globe in multiple, sinister programmes/experiments. It’s a nice link, but I don’t think it goes far enough.

jeremy renner and ed norton bournePerhaps too much time was spent on Renner’s character hanging out the in the wilderness, then racing across from the US to Manila in search of medication. I wonder if there would have been more mileage in exploring how Aaron Cross came to be in the programme? Treadstone or Blackbriar or whichever one he was in. This was touched on in the film, but it would have been very interesting to explore further.

There was a scene where he was all beaten up, with cuts all over his face, talking to some figure out of shot. Did he go through the same process as Bourne? Sticking with the memory theme could have been intriguing. The trick is to keep it grounded in the real world. Paul Greengrass did an excellent job of this, particularly with stunts and fight scenes.  I think, perhaps, Tony Gilroy let it become too ‘Hollywood’ and too detached. You got a sense that Bourne was always vulnerable. In contrast, Aaron Cross seemed too ‘action man’, holding his guns up to his chest, shooting round corners etc – too showy – like he could do almost anything, up to the point when he gets shot, then finally seems human. Let’s not forget, in the original trilogy Bourne kills someone with a biro, that’s realism!

I suppose what frustrated me was Bourne had a solid cause – recover his memory and expose Treadstone. Cross just didn’t seem to have a clear plan beyond wanting off his medication. There’s even a scene where says to Weisz’s character that if she doesnt know what to do next, he’ll find the next guy that does and ask him. It almost felt like script meetings Gilroy and his team must have had. Does someone know where this story is going beyond Cross getting off his medication? Will he go after Treadstone and the rest? Will he settle down with Weisz somewhere in Asia, only rousing himself to exact revenge after she gets murdered? No, wait, that’s the plot of the second film. Will the audience stick with us whilst we compare notes?

Perhaps I am being too harsh. Greengrass and Damon set the bar extremely high with Ultimatum and Supremacy. So much so that you only notice when the next Director comes along and tries to pick up the baton. In some ways I hope they get another crack at it, but it really needs a firm direction and killer script. Now Cross is off his medication, what next? Would it be the ultimate if Greengrass and Damon returned and teamed up with Renner? The ultimate Ultimatum if you will. Is that Gilroy’s hope? Like an Avengers film, but set in the Bourne world, hmmm.

Anyway, I’ve written more than I intended and my imagination is getting carried away as usual. What do you guys think of Bourne Legacy? Is it worthy of a follow up film? Or two? Should Gilroy try and get Greengrass back in the driving seat? Would Damon and Renner make a good team? So many questions. Right, where did I put my green pills…

Mickey Rourke: A Rumble Fish born in the wrong century

rumble fish bar scene

For this post I’d like to offer my thoughts on Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish and how Mickey Rourke seems to be ‘born in the wrong time period’, no matter what film he’s in.

matt dillon francis ford coppola

Released in 1983 and filmed largely in black and white, it tells the story of Matt Dillon’s ‘Rusty James’, a young hot-headed wannabe gang leader, killing time at home waiting for ‘something to happen’ and trying to fill his brother’s shoes, Mickey Rourke’s ‘Motorcycle Boy’.

That’s largely it in terms of plot and story as far as I could tell. What the film does offer, is art and style. Indeed, it is incredibly stylised, Coppola’s aim at the time was to make ‘an art film for young people’, an interesting notion. Something with artistic merit rather than commercial. It does have a wonderful dreamlike quality, beautiful to look at, but perhaps not for everyone.

What stood out for me?
Firstly, the opportunity to see up-and-coming actors before they became A-list: Matt Dillon (he has never looked cooler, his most impressive role to date?), Nic Cage (bit wooden, but then it helps if you’re related to the Director), Chris Penn and Laurence Fishburne (both underused), Diane Lane (to be seen as Martha Kent in Zack Snyder’s forthcoming Superman film, Man of Steel), and last but not least, Mickey Rourke.

Which brings me on to my second point, the mystery that is Mickey Rourke. Ah Mickey, you were so pretty back then, why turn to boxing? Until now, I’ve only ever seen him during his renaissance ‘post-boxing’ period, films such as Spun, The Wrestler and Sin City.  His character in Rumble Fish – Motorcycle Boy – is mesmerising. Softly spoken (you can barely hear him at times), wise beyond his years, a dreamer. His relationship with Dillon’s Rusty James is complex. You really feel for Rusty James, wanting his brother’s approval, following him around like a lost puppy. Watch the clip below to get an idea of the dynamic between the two.

Watching this film, I was struck by the DNA it shares with Sin City in terms of style. Use of colour, shots from different angles and perspectives. Obviously there’s a 22 year gap between the two, but my point stands. Particularly at the end, where Motorcycle Boy wants to set the fish free in the river.

Born in the wrong century
Almost sounds like a Springsteen song doesn’t it? I am of course, referring to the title of this post – I get there in the end! There’s a great scene between Dennis Hopper’s ‘Father’ and his sons, Rusty James and Motorcyle Boy.

rumble fish bar scene

Hopper describes Motorcycle Boy in the following way, ‘And neither, contrary to popular belief, is your brother crazy. He’s merely miscast in a play. He was born in the wrong era, on the wrong side of the river… with the ability to be able to do anything that he wants to do and findin’ nothin’ that he wants to do…’

A similar thing occurs in Sin City, Clive Owen’s character, Dwight, describes Rourke’s character, Marv, in much the same way, ‘Most people think Marv is crazy. He just had the rotten luck of being born in the wrong century. He’d be right at home on some ancient battlefield swinging an axe into somebody’s face. Or in a Roman arena, taking his sword to other gladiators like him…’

Maybe Mickey just likes to play rough and ready characters. Those with inner anger, tightly coiled rage, hidden depths, big hulking brutes with a heart of gold. Who knows. Either way, I am glad I saw Rumble Fish and some of his early work.

More to come from him in the future I hope. Until next time…

The Warriors: Director’s cut – can you dig it?

the warriors

Ok, it’s a film that first came out in 1979. Why on earth am I reviewing it? Well, I picked up the Director’s Cut version and had this vague, misty memory of watching parts of the original when I was a little lad. I remember Cyrus (the gang leader) and his monologue. It defines the film so it’s hard to forget. Here’s a snippet from IMDb, I couldn’t resist!

Cyrus: [yelling] Can you count, suckers? I say, the future is ours… if you can count!
[a couple of soldiers cheer for Cyrus]
Cyrus: Now, look what we have here before us. We got the Saracens sitting next to the Jones Street Boys. We’ve got the Moonrunners right by the Van Cortlandt Rangers. Nobody is wasting nobody. That… is a miracle. And miracles is the way things ought to be.
[Few more soldiers cheering for Cyrus]
Cyrus: You’re standing right now with nine delegates from 100 gangs. And there’s over a hundred more. That’s 20,000 hardcore members. Forty-thousand, counting affiliates, and twenty-thousand more, not organized, but ready to fight: 60,000 soldiers! Now, there ain’t but 20,000 police in the whole town. Can you dig it?
Gang Members: Yeah.
the warriors film 1979
Cyrus: Can you dig it?
Gang Members: Yeah!
Cyrus: Can you dig it?
Gang Members: YEAH!

So what’s it all about?
I vaguely remember the premise, a gang racing back across town to Coney Island whilst all the other gangs across the city are out to get them, falsely blaming the Warriors for the death of their city leader, Cyrus. Other than that I can’t remember much about it. So it’s pretty much with fresh, adult eyes that I viewed Walter Hill’s Director’s Cut.

It starts with an intro from Walter Hill, discussing why he is generally against Directors revisiting their past work. All the claims that they ‘didn’t have the budget/time/script they wanted’ to really tell the story as they intended he addresses. He then gives a fairly detailed explanation of why he felt he wanted to give the film more of a graphic novel aesthetic. You wonder if this is entirely true, but throughout the film it freeze frames and shots of the characters became like graphic drawings, before moving into the next scene, then morphing back into the real world again. It’s a nice touch and you feel the time was taken to make this look slick, but still fit the tone of the film.

You also get the sense that, given the popularity of films adapted from graphic novels these days, it could be argued the Director and/or Studio are trying to cash in? I don’t buy that, I think Walter Hill loved the story and characters and just wanted to present the version he originally intended. And these days, with HD TVs and Blu-ray, there hasn’t been a better time to do it.

the warriorsSpeaking of tone, it’s also worth mentioning date. This was released in 1979, yet still feels effortlessly cool and not particularly dated (other than perhaps some of the hairstyles). There isn’t too much in the way of story, yet the film has strong characters you can identify with, even their steely leader Swan.

The gangs they face as they race across town are almost comical, yet some fit into the Warriors’ world – The Orphans, Baseball Furies, Turnbull ACs, Lizzie’s, Punks, Rogues and Riffs. Check them out here, they all have their own logos and brand identity, it’s fantastic.

Anyway, as usual I’m rambling along, let’s sum up. It may be a cult film, a classic, it may be from the tail end of the 70s, but it’s definitely worth a watch. Whether you remember the original or not, it’s just a pretty cool world to embrace.

The question is – you know where this is going – can you dig it?

Sin City 2: Angie, where are you?

angelina jolie

Ok, I know the release date for Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For is scheduled for October 2013, but I’ve had something playing on my mind. Namely, Mrs Pitt (sounds strange calling her that). Ok, Angie or Miss Jolie – NEVER Brangelina (damn tabloids).

angelina jolieWill she, won’t she be in this film?
A quick search turned up a poster a fanboy knocked up. It’s such an enticing prospect. Some of the actresses in the first Sin City positively smouldered in every scene, namely Rosario Dawson and Brittany Murphy. They were perfect for Frank Miller’s world, but can you imagine how Angie would take it to another level?

I suppose there is always some truth in rumour. However a positive one such as this can have the opposite effect and end up pushing her away, as expectation has been built up far too much – for her or any actress – to deliver. As well as Angie, rumours are swirling around a number of the existing cast and new additions. Even IMDb isn’t sure, putting “rumoured” after various names in its cast list.

If Angie does play a part in A Dame to Kill For, I hope it is key to one of the three story arcs Robert Rodriguez has hinted at. She could bring a great mix of intensity, vulnerability and sexuality, as only she can.

Angelina JolieFilms such as: Gia (one of her early – and most captivating – characters to date), Girl, Interrupted, Beowulf (although she was annoyingly computer generated), Salt, Mr and Mrs Smith (to a degree), really makes me excited at the prospect. However, I am getting carried away. Something tells me the chances of her being in this film are quite slim, but we can hope!

There’s a blog that suggests that maybe she’s moved on, family commitments and all that. Check out the movie blog here. Let’s hope it’s not true. Watch this space!

Blur, the Specials, New Order – Olympic closing concert, a tender affair

On Sunday night I was lucky enough to go to the closing concert of the London 2012 olympics. Not the one in the stadium, but the one on Hyde park. The one where Blur played their possibly last ever gig.

For me,  the day started about mid afternoon with New Order. Their gig was good, but took a little while to get going. It began with a downbeat, Joy Division flavour. The brooding, introspective music perhaps at odds with the sunny afternoon. They got into the groove with their up tempo dance numbers, rolling out the favourites, ‘Blue Monday’ etc. I have to say, they didn’t exactly light up the stage to start with, but grew in presence as their gig progressed.

So from New Order, next came the Specials. They showed a lot more energy, bouncing around the stage, getting the crowd going. Ska music has to be the easiest in the world to dance to, even the classic ‘dad dancing at a wedding’ dance is perfectly acceptable, probably even encouraged. It was great music to be leaping around to on a Sunday, with the sun slanting through the trees in a central London park.

And then came Blur. Around a 2 hour set, starting in the light and playing through into the darkness. The atmosphere was electric right from the start. Looking round, it was hard to gauge just how many people were in the sea of fans (80,000 I heard afterwards). It was like a happy, sun-kissed tide of 20 and 30-somethings reliving the naughties and Britpop.

I was on a mini trip down memory lane, recalling Blur songs I hadn’t listened to for about 10 years, much the same as a lot of the crowd I imagine. Tunes like ‘Coffee and TV’ and ‘Beetlebum’ were great to hear. As were expected crowd pleasers, ‘Song 2’ and ‘Parklife’. The standout was ‘Tender’. A beautiful, beautiful track for live gigs, prompting 80,000 people to sing along as soon as the first few chords started.

They rounded off the gig with a new track, ‘Under the Westway’, a great showcase of  Damon Albarn’s vocal talents, and a beautifully reflective, heartfelt piece. The look on Albarn’s face at the end of the final song of the night, ‘The Universal’ summed it up. He stared deep out into the crowd with shiny eyes, clearly holding back tears. Then thumped a fist to his chest and rose it skyward, no words were needed. A seriously special night.

The end of Blur? Not a chance, they’re just maturing like a fine wine – or a cheese Alex James might say – long may they continue!

Awesome leinil yu artwork!

Pastrami Nation


The Hulk will smash!

Yes, that line above is wrong on purpose. In an interview with Marvel.com, writer Mark Waid and artist Leinil Yu talk about the new Indestructible Hulk book, which hits this November. Waid is a legend in the comic book world, with my personal favorites being Irredeemable and Daredevil, and now he tackles the green goliath for the first time. Yu is no stranger to the Hulk, having the Ultimate Hulk Vs Wolverine already under his belt. So what is in store for Banner now?

A smart hulk, who will be working with S.H.I.E.L.D and working back to becoming one of the most brilliant minds in the Marvel Universe. A slightly different look is in store for the Hulk includes a haircut, which gives him a less menacing, non-savage look. Check out the full article on Marvel.com: http://marvel.com/news/story/19195/marvel_now_qa_indestructible_hulk

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Clooney and Lake Como – the lacklustre American

George ClooneyFor this post I’d like to review a film I watched recently that’s been on DVD for a little while, The American, starring George Clooney. Nothing new you might say, but I like to think my take on it is fresh, or at least personal to me, so here goes.

Question: you’re an up and coming director (Anton Corbijn), how do you get a A-list actor to appear in your film? Answer: show him the script (where not a great deal happens) and explain the film takes place a stone’s throw from his Italian home at Lake Como. Seal the deal by introducing him to the actress he’ll be opposite for much of the film, the achingly beautiful Violante Placido. Then you’re in business!

Ok, maybe I am being a little cynical. I am sure the fact the film was set in Italy didn’t influence Clooney one bit. That said, the sort of minimalist, gritty, European feel to the film was a good way to set the tone. It was a sort of brooding, reflective version of a Bourne film, i.e. an assassin type laying low trying to figure out who is trying to kill him, versus assassin type running around Europe trying to get his memory back, whilst trying to figure out who is trying to kill him.

The AmericanMake no mistake, I am not saying The American compares to the Bourne films in any way, other than a similarity in terms of setting the scene and the European feel. It also shares similar DNA with Hanna, the Joe Wright directed piece that was a sort of modern version of Leon. Actually, come to think of it, a lot of films have followed where Bourne has led, in terms of European setting with short, sharp Krav-maga esque fight sequences. Taken, with Liam Neeson is another example. Although I am moving off the point here, back to The American.

Did Clooney convince as an assassin who had lost his edge? I would say on occasion. Maybe he was let down by the script. In general, just not much happened, it was all fairly slow paced. Maybe that was the idea.  Keep it slow and sleepy then hit the audience with bursts of action, like Clooney chasing an assassin who has caught up with him on a moped – you cannot get more Italian than that!

I suppose, even for a film where an assassin was meant to be in hiding/laying low, most of us want to see more ruthless, assassin type behaviour. The aforementioned scene with the moped chase was short but sweet in that respect. Clooney chasing a hitman who has failed to whack him, shooting out his tyres forcing him to crash, then throttling him. It was quite bad-ass and reminded me of a scene in Out of Sight, where he has to prove he can handle himself in prison, smacking Don Cheadle’s heavy enforcer in the face with a book. ClooneySimilarly, Dusk till Dawn, one of his breakout films, introduced him with more edge, moving away from any heartthrob ER days, less Ocean’s Eleven smugness, more tattoos up his neck and tough attitude.

So, to sum up, I think The American is worth a watch if you’ve got a spare evening, but it’s not vintage Clooney, and it’s not a vintage assassin film either. Maybe a solid 3 out 5 stars. Watchable, but just not that engaging. If you want shots of pretty, picturesque Italian towns and the super sexy Violante Placido, then it’s worth a viewing!