Legend: Hardy gives us both barrels

Ronnie and Reggie. They almost sound sweet don’t they? Like Bill and Ben the flower pot men. But they’re not. Far from it. Ronald and Reginald Kray were possibly the scariest two brothers you could hope to meet (or pray not to meet) in London in the ’50s and ’60s. Born identical twins in 1933, they worked their way up the organised crime ladder to become owners of nightclubs and casinos, rubbing shoulders with celebrities, politicans and high society types alike.

Quite a story you might say, it would make a good film. Well, it’s been done before. In 1990 Gary and Martin Kemp (of Spandau Ballet) had a crack at it and did ok, receiving mildly positive acclaim. Yet they never quite had the cajones or screen presence to really do these two guys justice.

Fast forward fifteen years and we get a much slicker production, bigger budget, better cast and, most importantly, a lead that is nothing but menace and screen presence, Tom Hardy. As an actor Hardy had had a few decent parts for a few years until Nicholas Winding Refn cast him as Charles Bronson in Bronson. A towering, menacing performance that not only put him on the map, but showed the world that right here is an actor with real swagger, real menace, and intensity in buckets.

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And so the parts kept coming: an unhinged MMA fighter in Warrior, Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, Max Rockatansky in Mad Max: Fury Road… yet he still hadn’t really fully opened the taps. He still hadn’t showed us what he could do.

With Legend, now he has. Most actors would relish the opportunity to play a legendary gangster, but two? Well, now you’re just being too nice. Not that being too nice is something you could associate with the Krays, but if it was just ‘a hard man’ you were after you may as well call Vinnie Jones. What Hardy has done so masterfully with this film is provide depth and likeability to both Ronnie and Reggie.

You root for them (sort of). Now that’s a hard task, and a hard ask of an actor. You need endless charisma and screen presence, and you need to pull off a convincing double role (acting opposite yourself, or a stand-in or a broom or something, it must be confusing).

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In terms of story this film is based on a book by John Pearson, The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins. It was written and directed by Brian Helgeland (of L.A. Confidential fame) and focuses on Reggie and his relationship with his wife Frances (Emily Browning) and how he dealt with his increasingly volatile brother Ron.

We cover a fair amount of ground, from the start of the Krays’ rise in power to their involvement with the American mafia and British Lords and politicians. At times Helgeland veers slightly into black humour territory, particularly as Hardy gives us that wild-eyed psychotic stare that made Ron seem so menacing, channelling more than a good dollop of Bronson in the process. With Reggie he had a harder job, showing a sweet side as he wooed Frances, then turning quite frighteningly on a dime to show intense menace if something displeased him.

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In both performances he utterly convinces, sucking you in, compelling you to watch what – as either Ronnie or Reggie – he’s going to do next. The rest of the cast (David Thewlis, Paul Bettany, briefly) do a fine job, but ultimately this is the Tom Hardy show and there’s barely a second of screen time in which he doesn’t dominate.

And as far as British gangster films go, this has to be up there with the greats such as The Long Good Friday, Get Carter and Layer Cake (underrated in my book). Even if you take the British bit out, this is still a gangster film worthy of that title alongside other classics from around the world. It may be a touch long and the story may lack a bit of punch (despite much punching going on) and momentum, but one cannot argue with the committed intensity of Hardy’s two performances. They’re a fair few months off but, Oscar anyone?

(Oh, and Hollywood, offer Tom more parts like this please.)

Avengers: Age of Ultron review

And so, Marvel’s quest for domination of box office dollars and moviegoer’s time continues. This may sound like I’m starting cynical but I’d like to point out I’m a fan and did enjoy Avengers: Age of Ultron immensely. But… I am starting to feel blockbuster burnout.

First though, the good stuff.

It’s great to have another Avengers movie and the gang back together, they’ve got an easy chemistry and work well as a unit. The story kicks off almost immediately with a slow-mo money shot of them attacking a Hydra base – one to get the fanboys screaming. There’s wisecracking all round and Hulk smashing stuff, yay.

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The team are after Loki’s sceptre which carries a great deal of power. Once retrieved, Stark and Banner think they can use it to create artificial intelligence to put in a robot that will protect the earth so the Avengers can effectively retire. With Captain America the strongest opposed to this plan (more on that later) it backfires producing a rather hateful and sociopathic Ultron (voiced with verve and menace by James Spader).

And so the team have a new foe to face, typically one they created themselves – but let’s not get into that. For those that haven’t been living under a rock the past decade you should all know these characters by now – and no time is wasted picking up where they left off in the first film (and indeed all the other individual films they’ve been in).

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Moving things along a bit director Joss Whedon does provide some nice character moments, in particular Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff and Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner developing as a couple and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye showing another side as a family man.

There’s also new characters.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Quicksilver and Elisabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch make an intriguing pair – and it’s nice that their loyalties are torn during the film rather than them being clean cut heroes throughout. In terms of powers (his, speed; hers, telekinesis and mind control) they’re brought to life effectively, although hers does mean that we veer pretty closely to X-Men territory. (There’s lots of crossover in the comic book world but on the silver screen I’m not sure I’d like the Avengers and X-Men to meet/fight/team up really, but that’s another discussion.)

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Where this film falls over a little is down to the fact we’ve seen it all before. And before. And before. The film’s final third is yet another battle in the skies, which now seems to happen in every Marvel film. Also, even though we do want to see the team smash bad guys to bits it doesn’t feel like there’s ever much at stake. Maybe I’m starting to care less about the characters, or maybe I know that they’ll never kill off any of the major ones, but it just makes it all seem a little too… safe and pedestrian. Which is ridiculous given all the explosions and fights and whatnot.

Also, it never seems to take that much effort to outwit the bad guy. Well, mental effort. Physical effort the team have aplenty. Making a clumsy comparison to The Dark Knight for a second, the Joker laughs at Batman as he pounds him saying he has nothing to threaten him with. It feels like that here. Other than brute force to solve problems it never feels like the Avengers have any other way of doing things. Is avenging just different ways of punching someone? Maybe their enemies will get more complex in the future, who knows. The teaser (spoiler, ish) at the end of the film suggests Marvel are drawing all the strands of their portfolio together, perhaps for forthcoming Civil War where we see the differences of opinion of Captain America and Tony Stark (on how to protect the masses) come to a head in a monumental scrap.

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Back to Age of Ultron though. Despite what I’ve just said, all in all it’s a lot of fun. There’s lots of meat for the geeks and comic book fans to chow down on, we get a bit more character development and a lot more smashy smashy bad guys but – and it’s a big but – are we reaching saturation point? Are audiences getting tired of these characters? I am a little. Still love them, but I’m getting a little jaded.

Maybe less smashy more talky is the order of the day. There’s a section in Age of Ultron where Scarlet Witch pretty much floors the team with her mind control skills. That was intriguing. More of that please. Same goes for Paul Bettany’s The Vision – another nice addition, and a more thoughtful one to boot. Perhaps my ponderings are immaterial as, from the film’s final scenes, it looks like they’re trying to move the world onto other characters, which is good. I love the old gang as much as the next fanboy, but maybe it’s time to call time on them?

Anyway… I could go on and on but you get the idea. Go watch it and judge for yourself. Do you feel the same way?

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Will the real Gary Oldman please stand up?

drexl-spivey-true-romanceGary Oldman isn’t the original bad boy. That title would probably go to James Dean or someone similar. But, at least in terms of myself growing up, I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for good old Gary in concentrated psycho mode. Obviously there’s Leon, but specifically I’m thinking Drexl in True Romance – sheer scene stealing brilliance.

And I imagine most of the guys I’ve listed below look up to Oldman, wishing their careers would follow a similar path. Indeed, Tom Hardy openly said so in interviews when he was just starting out. So, if Gary was in the room right now he’d probably graciously tilt his head to young chaps following in his mad and intense footsteps. At least, I like to think so. Either that or he’d throw his Chinese food at them and launch an insane attack in their direction. God bless him.

Here are the guys I think deserve that subtle Oldman head tilt:

James Franco as Alien (Spring Breakers)
Definitely mainlining pure essence of Drexl in Harmony Korine’s vacuous offering. Described by The Huffington Post as Scarface meets Britney Spears, Franco’s take on a wannabe rapper-cum-gangster is the film’s only redeeming quality. And that’s saying something when you’ve got Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson in bikinis for most of the movie.


Tom Hardy as Charlie Bronson
(Bronson)
Fearsome and frightening, even more so when naked and covered in white paint. Hardy is probably one of the best out there at the moment when it comes to intensity. A phenomenal and unrelenting performance as one of Britain’s most notorious criminals in Nicholas Winding Refn’s excellent (and somewhat underrated) film.


Sharlto Copley as Kruger
(Elysium)
Up to now he’s been the everyman trying to survive (District 9) and the funny man (The A-Team), so who knew Copley could do creepy and sadistic quite so well. In Neill Blomkamp’s follow up to 2009’s District 9, here Copley goes into full menace mode as mercenary agent hitman chappie, facing off against Matt Damon.


Paul Bettany as Young Gangster
(Gangster No. 1)
He does intense well, does old Paul. This film – which went largely under the radar in 2000 – had an impressive cast: David Thewlis, Eddie Marsan, Saffron Burrows and Malcolm McDowell. And don’t think ‘Young Gangster’ means his was a minor part, he drove the movie.


Vincent Cassell as Mesrine
(Mesrine: Killer Instinct/Public Enemy No. 1)
Arguably a career-best performance from Vincent Cassel in this two-part film that came out in 2008, charting the life of one of France’s most notorious criminals, Jacques Mesrine. Over both films Cassel’s portrayal of Mesrine was both charismatic and unnerving in its ferocity.


Michael Shannon as Curtis
(Take Shelter)
To be honest, you can take pretty much anything from Shannon’s filmography: Boardwalk Empire, Man Of Steel, The Iceman – over the last few years he’s been building his reputation as Hollywood’s go-to guy for unpredictable and explosive rage.


Obviously there’s others out there that perhaps deserve that special Oldman head tilt, but that’ll do for now – enough intensity for one evening. Now… who’s for some Disney?