Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Ah, January. A month of cold, slush, snow, sleet and general shit that signifies the beginning of the end to winter. A month of perpetual monotony and crushing boredom that toys with our sanity on a daily basis as we are forced to remain locked up in our homes, protected from the terrible weather that howls and threatens us outside. We survive this long and brutal month with a carefully chosen supply of beer, movies, books and video games, relishing every new moment that manages to squeeze through the repetition, and cursing the ones we miss out on.
Yes, January is a cruel month devoid of any redeeming qualities whatsoever.
It is also the month when the Oscar nominations are announced.
A joyous time for filmmakers and film fans alike (but mostly for the filmmakers), this years nominations are a fairly predictable, but no less deserving, lot. However, as with any awards year, one can still wonder about the movies that didn’t make it – the good movies that apparently just weren’t “good enough” as it were. Deserving of an Academy Award? Perhaps not. But that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve any kind of recognition.
Here then, are a few movies that could have (and in some cases should have) been considered in this years Oscar race. (And a few I’m genuinely surprised didn’t make it).
Ben Affleck’s crime opus “The Town,” despite receiving rave reviews across the board (currently holding steady at 94% on Rotten Tomatoes) was pretty much universally snubbed come Oscar time. Sure, Jeremy Renner received a nod for Supporting Actor (and thank Xenu for that, I guess) but otherwise, nothing. While a nomination for Best Director might have been a stretch (though with this, and “Gone Baby Gone,” Affleck has shown that he is unequivocally a much better director than he is an actor, and will hopefully one day Kevin Costner himself a trophy) I was genuinely surprised that it was left out of the Best Picture category – especially considering the recent addition of five more spots. Sure, it’s not “True Grit” or “Winter’s Bone” good, but it’s at least on the level of “The Kids Are Alright,” “Toy Story 3” or the much over-hyped “The Fighter.”
Tron: Legacy/Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
Let’s get one thing out of the way right off the bat in regards to “Tron: Legacy.” “Tron: Legacy” is by no means a good film. It is, in fact, a quite terrible film. However, that doesn’t necessarily take away from its technical achievements. The special effects are quite good throughout the film (including the de-ageifying of Jeff Bridges) and hold up with the effects on display in any of the other nominees. Ditto “Scott Pilgrim” a movie that benefits from not only having original and intriguing special effects, but by also being good. I was also amazed that neither film made any impact in the musical categories. “Pilgrim’s” songs, while perhaps the weakest part of the film, were no worse than anything else nominated this year, and "Tron's" Daft Punk enhanced score was also quite excellent. But, hey...at least "Tangled" got nominated for something, right?
“Monsters” is an odd choice, I know. I honestly can’t think of any category where it really belongs. While it is somewhat similar to last year’s dark horse best picture nominee “District 9”, it’s not nearly on the same level as that film – or any film nominated this year for that matter. And, with a budget of under $500,000, the special effects aren’t remotely Oscar worthy, especially when compared to such visual juggernauts as Inception or Harry Potter. Still, it’s hard not to root for such a great little flick, especially one with such a small budget and little to no fanfare or support surrounding it. Was there a place for it in this year’s Oscar race? Probably not, but few people would have complained if it had slipped in, and any sort of recognition for an original, independent production is always welcome - especially during this reboot and sequel happy era of film-making.
The Ghost Writer
Despite being hailed by many critics as Roman Polanski’s best film in years (and, despite his questionable legal troubles, the man does shoot a good picture), “The Ghost Writer” didn’t really make much of an impact when it was released. Thrillers aren’t normal Oscar fodder for sure, and as such “The Ghost Writer’s” genre may have been it’s eventual undoing. Still, there’s a lot to like here. Polanski’s assured direction is the main attraction, but it’s Pierce Brosnan’s portrayal of a Tony Blair-esque prime minister that’s really underrated. With this film, Brosnan has shown that he’s a more capable actor than most people normally give him credit for, shedding his James Bond image to deliver a fine performance that could have been Oscar worthy. While I have no complaints with the actual supporting actor nominations this year, it’s nice to see that Brosnan may get recognition in the future, as he capably enters the twilight of his career.
I Am Love
This might be the most mind-boggling omission on the nominations list. While it was nominated fore best costume design (a worthy nomination) it was inconceivably left of the best foreign film ballot, a nomination that many thought it was a lock for. While it’s snub for best foreign film is fairly ridiculous, I was also surprised that there was no recognition for Tilda Swinton’s performance. Her performance in this and 2008’s “Julia” are both magnificently acted, and were both worthy of best actress accolades. Perhaps the film’s low distribution did it in; regardless, Swinton remains one of the most brave actresses working today, and deserves to be recognized as such.
Apparently "Inception" directed and edited itself. If there was one category where this film should have been nominated, it was film editing. That snub, combined with Nolan not be recognized as one of the best directors of the year, suggest that the only reason it was nominated for best picture in the first place was to please the general public, and hope that they actually tune in this year. If you thought Nolan was robbed when "The Dark Knight" was shut out, you ain't seen nothing yet.
So, there you have it. When you’re frantically trying to catch up on all of the major nominees this year in preparation for the Academy Awards telecast in February, throw a few of these into the mix as well. They may not be Oscar material, but that doesn’t mean they should be forgotten.
(For the record, I expect “The King’s Speech” to clean up this year – and deservedly so).
Monday, January 17, 2011
In the pantheon of great movie stereotypes, truly only one can reign supreme. You have your heroes; you have your damsels in distress; you have your power hungry villains, your tough talking, ass-kicking chicks, your wise old African-American mentors, and of course, your comic relief sidekicks. All are excellent tropes to rely on when you're either too bored, uncreative or stupid to create a truly original three-dimensional character. But none are nearly as awesome or as ripe with limitless potential as the cream of the one-dimensional crop.
I am talking about, of course, the badasses.
Actor's aren't normally known for being badasses in real life. They're artists and poets, which, while cool, doesn't really strike fear into anyone's hearts. Thus, while many actors have played badasses onscreen, few have completely managed to embody such roles with the fervor and realism that such roles require.
As the saying goes, if you want something done right, you must do it yourself. Or, in this case, if you want a badass onscreen, get a badass in real life to play him.
Here then are five Hollywood actors whose dastardly, violent, and all around badass roles in the cinema, are nothing compared to their real life experiences. Serious. Real. Badass.
Danny Trejo, perhaps best known for his role as the scariest looking man in any movie he ever appears in, ever, is a badass.
Plus, he has wicked formal wear.
Born in Los Angeles in 1944, Trejo spent the majority of his childhood roaming the streets of his city with his uncle, committing petty crimes, scaring the general populace, and getting addicted to heroin. While this isn't generally acceptable behavior (Trejo himself will attest to that now), it still isn't the type of childhood you normally attribute to a Hollywood actor.
Eventually, Trejo seemed to grow tired of the thug life he was leading, (as well as his numerous arrests) and decided to try his hand at boxing - a reasonable enough career change, I suppose. Unfortunately, said career changed was momentarily sidelined when he was invited to San Quentin State Prison to serve a lengthy sentence. I say "momentarily" of course, because Danny Trejo wasn't going to let anything as small as being sent to state prison stand in the way of his dreams.
What's more badass than being a boxer with enough talent, skill and toughness to take on opponents in the real world? How about being a boxer who only fights hardened state criminals? How about being a boxer who only fights hardened state criminals, and routinely wins?
You can't really tell, but he's also sharpening a machete here.
And "routinely" might be a bit of an understatement. Trejo not only continued to excel at boxing in the rumble tumble arena known as prison, but was also crowned the California State Prison champion in both the lightweight and welterweight divisions. He accomplished this while serving his time and simultaneously attending a twelve-step program, which helped him, overcome his drug addiction - which in itself is pretty badass.
Nowadays, Danny Trejo can be found badassing it up in countless films and television shows, playing anti-heroes, sidekicks, villains and general no-goodniks. While he seems to excel at these roles, his real passion lies in talking to kids and schools about avoiding the mistakes that he made as a kid - saving troubled young teens from the pitfalls and bad decisions of his childhood.
Currently he can be seen in the direct-to-DVD action epic "Death Race 2", portraying Luke Goss's sidekick. There's a pretty sweet online contest for the movie as well - you can learn to death race yourself. It won't make you nearly as badass as Danny Trejo, but it's a start.
One need only look at the disfigured mass of pulpy red flesh, gross scar tissue and vein-y lumpiness that Mickey Rourke calls a face to come to the conclusion that he is, in fact, a badass.
Also, any actor who can emote that well without the use of his face - badass.
Raised in Schenectady, New York, Rourke, like Danny Trejo, initially took to boxing as a possible career choice - winning his very first match at the tender age of 12. (For the record, that was about the same age I was when I won my first match in "Goldeneye").
Rourke's boxing career was short, though, as he kept suffering form concussions. In 1972, he temporarily retired after compiling 20 wins - 17 by knockout. Not too shabby, that.
Then came his movie career which was fun, I guess, and garnered him much praise and accolades and whatever. All very standard stuff. Luckily, we are not dealing with a standard man, and it didn't take Mr. Rourke long to decide that his real passion was boxing, not acting. Fearing that he was self-destructing, Rourke decided to take a break from acting and allow others to help destruct him. He returned to boxing in 1991, going undefeated for his first eight fights. (Though his face certainly tells a different story). Oh, and he was trained by a former Hell's Angel.
Rourke was raised as a Roman Catholic, and still practices his faith to this day. He attributes that faith, as well as his love of dogs and his relationship with some therapist he calls "Steve" as being the things that saved him, and eventually allowed him to re-enter society after a lengthy, face-smashing hiatus. Not necessarily badass, that, but after seeing just what got him there, you gotta give the guy some credit.
Most recently, Rourke was seen hamming it up as the villain in "Iron Man 2" alongside Robert Downey Jr. Not bad for a guy who most people had completely written off by about 1993.
Lee Marvin, who once starred in a Western romantic comedy musical with Clint Eastwood, is a badass.
Anyone who can still look threatening wearing that outfit...badass.
Like most ultimate badasses, Lee Marvin started young. As a strapping young teen, Marvin used to hunt deer, wild turkey, bobwhite (which is some kind of adorable bird) and fucking pumas in the (then completely uncharted) Florida everglades. (For the record, I once got lost in my own backyard and had my wallet stolen by a toad. This guy was in dangerous swamplands, hunting pumas - presumably for the hell of it).
Not content to just shoot wild and dangerous animals in Florida, Marvin eventually joined the United States Marine Corps, serving as a (you guessed it) sniper. During the WWII Battle of Saipan, most of his platoon were killed – Marvin himself was injured after being shot in the ass. With a machine gun. For this he would earn the purple heart, and perhaps even more notably, inspire the events of Forrest Gump. (I’m just guessing at that last one).
Marvin would later go on to star in countless films, usually as a tough and grizzled cowboy, cop, veteran, or general badass. Perhaps his most famous role was in the classic The Dirty Dozen – though, one can not discount his appearance in "Paint Your Wagon" where he received billing over Clint Eastwood. He also sang a lot in that one, without a hint of self-consciousness. Bad. Ass.
Sadly, Marvin suffered a heart attack and died in 1987, at the age of 63. He is interred at Arlington National Cemetary.
Dolph Lundgren, star of "Masters of the Universe", "Rocky IV" and "Universal Soldier", is a bad ass, though perhaps not quite as bad ass as everyone else on this list. But he's close, and it gives me an excuse to post what is quite possibly the greatest video of all time, so I'll let it slide.
While not a complete badass like Danny Trejo or Audie Murphy, Dolph does still sport some considerable credentials. He is apparently trained in judo, Goju-ryu and Kyokushin karate, which other than the word "judo" and "karate" are things that I don't understand. He even holds the rank of 3rd black belt in Kyokushin, and won the European championships in 1980 and 1981. He also won a heavyweight tornament in Australia, and was the captain of the Swedish Kyokushin karate team. What this all means in layman's terms, is that Dolph could pretty easily kick your ass - and probably the asses of everyone else on this list. Perhaps he's not such a lightweight badass after all.
Ah, but there's more to Dolph than his ass-kicking abilities! The man has a brain as well - and a considerable one at that. Not content to just be perfect in the body, Dolph has focused on increasing his mind's ass-kicking prowess as well. Lundgren possesses a master's degree in chemical engineering from the University of Sydney and was awarded a scholarship to MIT in 1983 - but quit to pursue acting. While I'm sure he's more than happy with his career choices, one has to wonder if missing out on a chance to go to one of the most prestigious schools in the world was really worth a starring role in "Red Scorpion".
Clearly, it was.
All of this mind and body stuff is fine and dandy, sure. But it is Dolph Lundgren's soul that pushes him over the edge and into clear cut badassedry. He may be smart; he may be buff; but can he sing and dance while busting out karate moves and wicked drum solos? I mean, after all, that's the real test, isn't it?
Well played, Lundgren.
AUDIE "Goddamn" MURPHY
All of the above actors are, indeed, badass. But none of them even come close to the glorious badass-capades that encompassed Audie "Goddamn" Murphy. Sure, Danny Trejo and Mickey Rourke can box. Sure Lee Marvin hunted pumas in his free time (I'm speculating here, but probably with his bare hands) and sure Dolph Lundgren can righteously kick your ass while reciting the periodic tables.
But none of these feats hold a candle to Audie "Goddamn" Murphy.
Why, he's adorable!
He is known as the most decorated soldier in the US military, having compiled a list of military accomplishments that is as mind-boggling as it is badass - perhaps his most incredible feat of of holy-shitness being when he single fucking handedly fought a German squad for nearly an hour, utilizing the machine gun on an abandoned (and on fire) tank to hold them at bay.
The fact that he accomplished this at all is incredible. But when you take into account that both his age and his size (about 5'5") nearly kept him out of action to begin with (he had to lie about his age and overcome his size) really drives the point home.
Murphy eventually wrote an autobiography about his time at war (appropriately titled "To Hell and Back") which was made into a movie in 1955. When it came time to cast Murphy in the film, the filmmakers were hard pressed to find any actor who could effectively portray Murphy's rampant levels of badass onscreen.
So, obviously, they cast Murphy. And the movie became Universal Pictures highest grossing film of all time - a record it held until 1975, when "Jaws" was released. That's right. The only thing Hollywood could come up with in twenty years that could possibly unseat Audie Murphy as the ultimate badass, was a giant killer shark.
Which Audie Murphy probably would have destroyed, with his teeth, within the film's first five minutes.