Trailer park: Victor Frankenstein, Joy, The Revenant

Good tidings we bring to you and your, er, fellow cinema fans. Here’s my latest ‘trailer park’ entry, highlighting a few that have caught my eye for films coming up soon.

Victor Frankenstein
Seemingly stealing the style straight from Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock films, here we have James McAvoy’s Dr Frankenstein and Daniel Radcliffe’s Igor in a sort of irreverent buddy movie – with monsters. And Andrew Scott, naturally.

Joy
David O. Russell reunites the dream team of Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert de Niro (after Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle) once again for this hugely obvious Oscar grab. That said, it looks really good, and Lawrence looks to be on fine form.

The Revenant
In this film DiCaprio plays a fur trapper left for dead by his hunting party and then hunts them down seeking revenge. With credible Oscar talk this could be DiCaprio’s time to win one. And with Tom Hardy as the bad guy and Alejandro G. Iñárritu directing this promises to be an epic Western survival yarn.

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.)

Mad Max: Is it Furiosa enough?

Mel Gibson made his name with the Max Max films and, in Max Rockatansky, he created a character that demanded your attention. He might not say much verbally, but you understood his intent, and indeed his intensity of purpose.

Stepping into his shoes three decades later is a man who’s already made his name in intense roles elsewhere, Tom Hardy. Great casting. And with the director of the original films, George Miller, on board you feel this new version is in safe hands.

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Not that you want safe from a Mad Max film, but you get the idea. With very little setup we’re straight into Max being captured by a gang of white-skinned, deformed ‘War Boys’ led by Predator look-alike Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). They take him back to their base of operations and, through a series of events, he meets Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), fleeing the gang with Joe’s prized possessions in tow, his ‘breeders’/wives/concubines, adorned in flowing robes and all stunningly beautiful women (including supermodels Rosie Huntingdon-Whiteley and Abbie Lee Kershaw), standing out like shining lights in this apocalyptic and desolate desert world.

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They flee here and they flee there. And that’s about it as far as the plot goes. But plot isn’t really what you want from a Mad Max film. You want excess, depravity, modified cars, huge explosions, deranged gangs, and a sense of a world gone to hell.

Well… You get all that and then some.

Miller looks like he’s had quite a few ideas brewing the past few decades as there’s so many detailed touches and insane concepts on the screen that you don’t quite know where to look half the time, or what to think. From large, busty women hooked up to milking machines to War Boys spraying their lips with chrome paint and getting high off Max’s blood, it’s like a shot of flaming sambuca straight in your face whilst you’re hooked up to an electric torture chair. And you’ll love it for that.

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The action set pieces (of which there are many) are done with as little CGI as possible and they’re truly awe-inspiring. Filmed largely in the desert in Namibia, it must have been a nightmare for the cast and crew. Happily, their suffering was not in vain as this is one epic thrill ride. It has downtime too (although not much), so you don’t get burnout from all the mayhem.

Character wise, Theron as Furiosa is inspired. Missing half an arm and covered in black grease, she’s learnt to survive in this world and past horrors are alluded to. She gives Furiosa depth and vulnerability with a nice steely side, providing a welcome contrast to Hardy’s Max, who says very little but speaks volumes when he does.

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If I had a criticism it would be that I felt Max could be a little more furious and unhinged. Even in the most dire circumstances he seems fairly calm and collected. There’s a few moments which nod to a past where he failed to protect his loved ones – and this is done in a manner which suggests he’s losing his grip on reality. More of that would have been welcomed, as we know Hardy can do method and he can definitely do madness (see Bronson), but here he seems restrained. Miller should have let him off the leash – as he did for almost everyone else on the cast.

Overall though, this is hugely entertaining, edge-of-your-seat stuff. Team this with the recently released John Wick and you’ll have one crazy night ahead of you, cinematically speaking.

Trailer park: Focus, Mad Max, Ex Machina

As 2014 draws to a close I thought a quick look ahead to three rather exciting films out next year wouldn’t be amiss. (Obviously, there’s lots more, but for these little trailer park breakdowns, three is the magic number.)

Focus (In cinemas February 2015)
Will Smith and Margot Robbie (her from The Wolf of Wall Street) star in this rom-com-con, as it’s a film about a con artist who falls for his hot protégé. Based on the trailer, Robbie looks to be giving Amber Heard a run for her money in the old school Hollywood glamour stakes.

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Ex Machina (In cinemas April 2015)
Written and directed by Alex Garland (making his debut as a director) this films tells the story of a computer coder (Domhnall Gleeson) who thinks he’s won a chance to stay at the house of his CEO for a week, but is actually participating in an experiment involving artificial intelligence (namely, Alicia Vikander’s character).

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Mad Max: Fury Road (In cinemas May 2015)
Make no mistake, this film is part of a franchise. And there’s been a gap of 30 years between the last film and this one. Originally starring Mel Gibson, we now have Hollywood’s go-to guy for intensity as the lead, Tom Hardy. Charlize Theron is also thrown in for good measure, as the fantastically named Imperator Furiosa.

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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?

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

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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

Bane vs Catwoman – scene stealers!

Ok, for my very first blog I thought I’d offer my take on the latest Batman film. For the purposes of this blog I’ll assume that you, the reader, has a fair idea what the film is about and the films that have gone before it. I am going to assume a certain level of knowledge on your part in terms of film history, the Batman franchise and so on. Got that? Good.

Now we’re on the same page, lets chat Bat! From the title of this post, you’ll have noticed I want to focus my comments on the new characters. Or at least, in the case of Catwoman, the new actress playing the part. For Bane, he’s new to the Nolan Bat universe, so we’ll deal with him second.

Firstly, Ms Hathaway, did she steal the show? I would say yes and no. Perhaps a cop out of an answer but there it is. I think she was a great take on the character. I am a fan of her anyway so it wasn’t a hard sell for me. She brought across the vulnerability that she showed in Love and Other Drugs (which is well worth a watch if you’ve not seen it – aptly described by some as a rom-com guys would want to watch). She also had that sexy, confident quality demonstrated in the latter half of Devil Wears Prada.

In many ways I would have liked to have seen more of her sparking off of Bale’s Batman, especially if he was channeling his inner Patrick Bateman, something he did in Begins when he kicked guests out of his party. I suppose though, it would not have been appropriate in this film, where Bruce Wayne was more the wounded soul. I remember reading that Nolan was unsure how Catwoman would fit into his version of Batman. I can understand that. I think they managed this issue well however, and I say this as a fan of Hathaway, did they really need her character in the film? Did she really add to the story or was she just another character to entice the audience in to see the film? Cynical perhaps, but just something I thought I should raise.

So, on to Bane. Hardy was awesome, inasmuch as you can be when you’re acting with some sort of Predator-esque mask on. If you want a crash course on intense Hardy, go watch Bronson. I really hope he gets to work with Nicholas Winding Refn again. Considering his love affair with the 80s, particularly synth music during key scenes, it would be great to see them team up again. Perhaps even with Gosling on board, now that would be special. Anyway, I digress.

Bane, in some ways, was a funny character. His opening scene in the plane, was outstanding. It was reminiscent of Dark Knight’s opening bank robbery scene, introducing the new villain, setting the standard, how ruthless he is etc. What I could not get to grips with was his voice. I suppose the cultured thespian lends intelligence and gravitas, to what otherwise could have seemed brute-ish. Thinking about it though, it was not a million miles off Brian Blessed, which would have thrown the film’s tone out entirely! I wonder how much input Nolan had in terms of voices of the Joker and Bane, or was the voice driven by the actor? I remember reading that Heath Ledger spent a fair while perfecting his Joker voice, which was spot on. I can see what they were trying to do with Bane’s voice, but I wonder, was it menacing enough?

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In terms of Bane’s character, as the plot develops, you begin to feel sympathy for him and his plight. Or at least I did. It was good that Nolan added layers to Bane in the final act of the film, he could have otherwise seemed a touch one-dimensional. That said, even if he was shown to be just as much as blunt instrument as an intelligent bad guy, his two, major fight scenes with Batman were outstanding and perfectly pitched. Did he steal the film? I would say he stole a lot of scenes he was in, and rightly so. Even a scene where Batman and Catwoman realise they are outnumbered and have to flee via The Bat (Batman’s flying machine), Bane’s entrance to that scene is mesmerising. He doesn’t do much other than saunter towards them, almost bemused. Hats off to Tom Hardy for infusing him with such as threatening presence.

Anyway, to round off my first post as it’s getting late, I think both Bane and Catwoman stole most of the scenes they were in, leaving poor old Batman to scrap for the rest, despite the focus of the story being on him. That said, I think they were both strong characters and complemented Batman’s journey well. I want to discuss other characters that also stole the film in their own way, but I’ll leave that for another post.

So, there’s my first post! I hope it made sense and you found it informative, perhaps even witty and thought-provoking? To be fair, that’s going too far. I just hope you enjoyed it and there will be more to come.

All the best

Mikey P