Christopher Walken – oh what, wow, he’s the greatest dancer!

chris-walkenAs an actor, Christopher Walken is unique. From his voice and delivery of lines to his undeniable screen presence and quirky nature, when he’s on form there’s something hypnotic, vulnerable and somewhat frightening about him.

Indeed, he’s given some mesmerising performances over the years, sometimes for the whole film, sometimes just for a scene or two. And like the cinephiles we are we’ll take what we can get, because on his day, full-on Walken is a sight to behold.

Here’s my pick of performances I’ll cherish as classic Walken:

  • King of New York (1990)
    Frank White, a drug lord fresh from prison looking to rebuild his empire, was one of the first Walken performances I saw as a youngster and it got me hooked. Playful menace doesn’t come much better in the Abel Ferrara directed crime thriller.
  • True Romance (1993)
    One of my all-time favourite scenes. Walken is astonishing as Sicilian gangster Vicenzo Coccotti. ‘You tell the angels in heaven you never saw evil so singularly personified in the face of the man who killed you.’ If there was ever a spin-off to be made with Vicenzo hunting down Clarence and Alabama again, I’d be first in line at the cinema.
  • Pulp Fiction (1994)
    One scene comprising of a monologue about a gold watch. That is all. Ok, a little more. From his off-kilter delivery of lines and wavering voice through to intelligent menace and perfect dramatic and comedic timing, this scene has it all, and provides a crash course in his appeal.
  • Catch Me If You Can (2002)
    God, which scene do you pick? From ‘Two little mice’ to ‘Where you going Frank?’, Walken’s star shines oh so bright in this film and he practically steals each scene, overshadowing DiCaprio with a twinkle in his eye. A raw, tender performance to be cherished.
  • Seven Psychopaths (2012)
    Back to his best? After years of languishing in mediocre films – particularly god-awful comedies – he pulls this out the bag. Going toe-to-toe with Woody Harrelson’s gangster, Walken just grins and turns on the malevolent menace, with some juicy lines delivered with typical gusto ‘dream sequences are for fags but…we all gotta dream don’t we?’

So there we go. Where’s The Deer Hunter you ask? Or even his sexy dance in Wayne’s World 2? Whilst the former is clearly a career-high, it felt out of keeping with the rest of my list in some ways. I suppose I just prefer Walken in playful menace mode – far more appealing. As such, I’d like to finish with this ‘motivational’ scene from Poolhall Junkies

Seven Psychopaths – one psycho too many?

seven-psychopaths streetFours years has passed since Writer/Director Martin McDonagh gave us the critically-acclaimed In Bruges – a film where two hitmen lie low in Belgium after a job goes awry.

The pairing of Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell as gangsters with mismatched feelings at being stuck in aforesaid town provide some brilliantly scripted, darkly comic scenes. With Seven Psychopaths I expected more of the same. Whilst McDonagh does indeed show much magic, he doesn’t quite hit the heights of his feature-length debut. I’ll explain why, but first, the plot.

Out in sunny LA, Irish screenwriter Marty (Colin Farrell) is trying to finish a script entitled Seven Psychopaths. His friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) offers to help, telling him tales of real psychopaths, including dog-napper Hans (Christopher Walken) and gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson). Things escalate when Billy kidnaps Charlie’s dog for Hans to hold it for ransom.

christopher-walken-seven-psychopathsWhat worked?
McDonagh has an exceptional ear for dialogue – one of the hardest things to achieve as a writer – and uses it in highly inventive and quotable ways. Indeed, he’s been compared to Tarantino in that sense. Plus his efforts here in terms of dialogue are easily as good as In Bruges. Rockwell and Walken in particular, get some juicy lines to sink their teeth into ‘Dream sequences are for fags’ and ‘Gandhi was wrong. Just noone had the balls to say it’.

In terms of great performances Christopher Walken is the most enigmatic and menacing I’ve seen him in ages – perhaps his best since Catch Me If You Can ten years ago – that casual, nonchalant, off-beat delivery of lines, often followed with a psychotic, wolfish grin. Equally scary and funny. Rockwell takes centre-stage as the most wildly unhinged of the group, putting in a commendable performance, but still eclipsed by Walken at his finest.

seven_psychopaths_charlieHarrelson, too, is on top form, veering between menacing gangster and blubbing wreck whenever his dog is concerned. This leaves Farrell to play the straight role, admirably acting with those expansive eyebrows of his – Ronnie Corbett style.

What didn’t?
Whilst Farrell does a fine job, it seems McDonagh has missed the chance to have him flex his comic muscles, as he did so effectively for In Bruges. I assume Sam Rockwell as the obvious funnyman is an easier sell for US audiences, maybe that’s my cynical take.

In some ways, whilst the script is smart and well written, it can come across as too clever for its own good. Almost revelling in self-parody and never missing the chance to have a dig at Hollywood. Whilst this is no bad thing, it can rather quickly get tiresome.

For example, both the film and Marty’s script have little room for female characters, indeed the actresses we do see are highly talented (Abbie Cornish, Gabourey Sidibe) but have next to nothing to do. Something mirrored in Marty’s script, seven-psychopaths-rockwell21which Hans remarks on when suggesting improvements. I’m not sure every time McDonagh becomes aware of a script issue he should resolve it by pointing it out – this might work once but it’s not an eternal ‘get out of jail free’ clause.

I like it. It’s got layers
Those points aside, overall it’s an entertaining, highly quotable, tremendously silly action film that revels in its own shortcomings, as well as being a great vehicle for Walken, Rockwell and Harrelson to flex their psychotic comedy chops. Another to add to your Friday night popcorn list!

Best twenty films of 2012

It’s been an epic year for films across a variety of genres. This list reflects my taste in films so I hope you enjoy. Sorry Twilight, you didn’t make the cut!

  • Skyfall
    skyfall-craigStrangely there are people who don’t like this film and say it’s not classic Bond. I think it’s the closest to Fleming’s Bond since Connery. To celebrate 50 years of Bond, the dream team of Mendes, Craig, Bardem and Dench pulled out the stops to make this film truly special.
  • Argo
    Can’t believe people still give Affleck a hard time for his early career. How many decent films does he need to direct before people will admit he’s a real talent? First Gone Baby Gone and The Town and now this. A proper, intelligent thriller.
  • Moonrise Kingdom
    This film is a great companion piece for The Life Aquatic, my favourite from Wes Anderson. As always, a great cast: Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Ed Norton. Although focus is on the two, young actors who confidently carry the story. A sweet and quirky tale.
  • Looper
    Rian Johnson and Gordon-Levitt are fast becoming a match made in heaven. First Brick and now this time-travelling sci-fi tale of assassins. This film had an interesting mix of futuristic and retro, plus it marked Gordon-Levitt out as a leading man in the making.
  • Silver Linings Playbook
    SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOKForget Hunger Games, this ranks as my favourite Jennifer Lawrence film, just edging Winter’s Bone. She has great chemistry with Bradley Cooper, both of them playing flawed characters in this acerbic, edgy and alternative type of rom-com. Highly recommended.
  • Chronicle
    Earlier this year this film was released and flew somewhat under the radar. Shown in found footage style, the best way to describe the first half is Jackass with telekinetic powers. It then goes darker as it builds to an epic finale. Thoroughly deserving of a place on this list.
  • Dark Knight Rises
    The final instalment of Christopher Nolan’s game-changing bat franchise. Tom Hardy as Bane, Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, Gordon-Levitt as Boy Wonder in the making. This was an emotional, visceral ending to the best set of Batman films of all time.
  • Avengers Assemble
    Despite my last comment regarding Batman, Marvel Studios has firmly staked its claim as the lighter, more upbeat side of the superhero world. Joss Whedon pulling off an incredible trick to balance a film with a host of big characters, letting them all shine equally.
  • Ted
    ted
    Macfarlane knows his comedy. This film was his vision and really paid off. From script and direction through to mo-cap acting, he was the driving force. Mila Kunis and Mark Wahlberg added their dramatic and comedy talent to make this one of the funniest films of the year.
  • Life of Pi  
    Ang Lee’s tale of a young boy shipwrecked at sea with a Bengal tiger called Richard Parker is a visual masterpiece. Taken from a Booker prize-winner novel, it makes you question the nature of belief and how you perceive the world. An uplifting and life-affirming tale.
  • The Raid: Redemption
    Combine the talents of a Welsh Director and up-and-coming action star in Iko Uwais and you get an unexpected, kick-ass treat. Introducing us to pencak silat, an Indonesian form of dance and self defence, it’s breathtaking to watch when used to beat up bad guys.
  • The Hobbit
    Peter Jackson has worked wonders yet again. The dwarves are great and Martin Freeman is the perfect Bilbo. His ‘riddles in the dark’ scene with Gollum is brilliantly scripted. If you’re even a fleeting fantasy fan you won’t want to miss this exhilarating tale.
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
    beasts
    Critically well received, this fantasy film has drawn comparisons with Pan’s Labyrinth and is well worth seeing. It tells the tale of six-year-old girl Hushpuppy who, when looking after her ill and hot-tempered father, must learn the ways of courage and love.
  • Rust and Bone
    It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Marion Cotillard – there’s a permanent picture of her on my blog. Here she beautifully plays a killer whale trainer who forms an unlikely romance with a bouncer. Jacques Audiard directs this passionate and moving love story.
  • The Master
    Possibly a career-best film from Paul Thomas Anderson and performance from Joaquin Phoenix? Ultimately, this film is about the fascinating interplay between war veteran Freddie (Phoenix) and movement leader Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
  • Seven Psychopaths
    seven-psychopaths_07
    From the Director of darkly comic film In Bruges, this tale of kidnapped dogs and gangsters is hilariously scripted and brilliantly acted. With a cast including Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Colin Farrell and Woody Harrelson.
  • End of Watch
    Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena put in the hours with cops on the beat in South Central LA to form a real bond prior to filming. The results paid off, as this thriller cop movie has real believability and chemistry between the two leads.
  • Magic Mike
    Ladies of Tampa‘, croons Matthew McConaughey, before he smashes his guitar and strips in front of a horde of screaming ladies. This film, though, belongs to Channing Tatum. Before acting he was a stripper – this film gives an intriguing glimpse of life back stage in that world.
  • The Grey
    It’s Liam Neeson, he’s cold, he’s angry, wolves are trying to kill him. In a minute he’s going to get really mad – what’s not to like? This bleak adventure sees a bunch of oil workers stranded in the Alaskan wilderness after a plane crash – in the middle of a wolf kill zone.
  • 21 Jump Street
    21 jump street
    Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill team up in this cop buddy comedy remake. Tatum is – surprisingly – very funny, with great comic timing. Jokes are often set up and don’t pan out how you might expect, which is a good thing. Also, Johnny Depp has an outstanding cameo.

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