Discuss: McQueen calls Fassbender “most influential actor of his generation.”

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In a recent interview for press on 12 Years a Slave, director Steve McQueen had some kind words for his go-to actor Michael Fassbender:

[H]e’s the most influential actor of his generation. He’s like a Mickey Rourke or a Gary Oldman. Other actors want to work with him and people want to hang out with him — people want to be an actor because of him. That’s how influential Michael is an an actor.

Discuss.

Survey: Anna Faris

Reading this NYMAG article on Anna Faris reminded me just how much I like this particularly fearless comedienne. As the focus is on mainstream appeal, I believe the author fails to register that Faris is very much a cult item, even if she is best known as the lead from the Weinstein Brothers’ self-cannibalizing Scary Movie Franchise; itself a parody of Scream Franchise, both released by Dimension, and both I suspect, went a few too many entries too far. But I digress. Having only seen the first Scary Movie franchise, with Faris hardly registering, I will give you the run down of why I like the rather chameleon starlett and why I do not want her (as Kyle Buchanan and Claude Brodesser-Akner say) to be this generations Goldie Hawn. I would rather her be somewhere in the wide middle-ground between this generations Frances McDormand and Michelle Pfeiffer.

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Jean Harlow: The Original Smart Blonde

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If Hollywood luminaries’ lives lasted a length commensurate with the brightness of their stars, Jean Harlow would have been blowing out her own candles for her 100th birthday yesterday. As it is, the opposite is often true, and Harlow died much before her time at the age of 26, leaving behind a timeless legacy in her brief nine years as a Hollywood actress, comedienne, and sex symbol. That legacy is being celebrated by a blogathon sponsored by The Kitty Packard Pictorial, named after Harlow’s memorable character from Dinner at Eight. The blogathan has already been going on all week, and I’ve been avidly reading the entries thus far, most of which are by people far more knowledgeable about Harlow and her films than I. So I recommend checking those out (all are linked from the Kitty Packard Pictorial), but I wanted to throw in my two cents as well for the original Blonde Bombshell, the prototype for Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Brigitte Bardot, Madonna, and many others.

The first Harlow movie I remember seeing was Red Dust (1932), a pre-Code affair with Harlow’s frequent costar Clark Gable, so for a long while to me she symbolized pre-Code sensuality and naughtiness. Set in the jungles of Indochina, the film stars Gable as the boss of a rubber plantation and Harlow as the vaguely bad girl who turns up and stays a while. The ostensible main plot concerns Gable’s relationship with Mary Astor, the high-classed wife of one of his workers, but Harlow has pretty much all the really memorable moments. Set up in contrast to Astor’s refined character, Harlow is the kind of girl who travels from place to place because she keeps getting into “a spot of trouble” everywhere she goes. Gable treats her like a whore, carrying on a relationship with her in the early part of the film (before Astor’s arrival), then paying her off when she leaves, temporarily as it turns out. When she soon returns, the comparisons between her and the recently arrived Astor abound, jean harlow red dust 7.jpgnone more obviously or humorously as when Astor insists on a curtain for the bathing area but Harlow shamelessly bathes with the curtains up, teasing Gable every inch of the way.

Yet though Harlow is set up as the “bad girl” in the film, she’s far nobler and more self-sacrificial in her love for Gable than Astor turns out to be, and her combination of frankness about her desires and self-deprecating willingness to let Astor have the upper hand (for a while at least) is quite refreshing. Plus she was already coming to her own as a wise-cracking comedienne. Only a year before this, in 1932’s Platinum Blonde, filmmakers weren’t quite sure what to do with her, even filmmakers as good as Frank Capra. In Platinum Blonde, Harlow is cast as the upper-class society girl that reporter Robert Williams falls for, though she’s ultimately less suited to him than his girl Friday Loretta Young. Though the film has its moments, Harlow seems imminently uncomfortable in the role of a refined society lady – though it was obvious that she had SOMETHING, an allure that led to the picture being renamed during production to highlight her character rather than Young’s, even though Williams and Young are the real leads. By Red Dust, it was becoming clear that her strength lay in playing brassy dames with smart mouths and more depth than you’d initially expect.

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A Tribute to Peter Dinklage

“Peter’s a quintessential leading man,” director Thomas McCarthy once said of actor Peter Dinklage. “He’s cool, he’s funny, he’s modest, he’s self-deprecating, and it makes the audience want to follow him through a film.”

McCarthy, of course, directed Dinklage in the beautifully unsentimental The Station Agent (as well as the upcoming pilot for the HBO series Game of Thrones), the masterful comedy-drama about loneliness and pent-up anger that won the Audience Award at Sundance and put Dinklage on the map with his brilliant performance, where he channeled his inner cantankerous Clint Eastwood.

Afterwards, he would go on to star alongside Gary Oldman in the dreadful post-production disaster Tiptoes (in which he was the highlight), steal scenes in the likes of Elf, Find Me Guilty, Penelope, and Death at a Funeral (both the British original and the American remake) and even make a name for himself in the television world with recurring roles on Nip/Tuck and the short-lived Threshold. Throughout, he’s shown his range, both as a dramatic actor and one with impeccable comedic timing, wit, and charm – all which were evident in his hilarious first role back in 1995 alongside Steve Buscemi and Catherine Keener in Living in Oblivion.

So, here’s to Peter Dinklage and may we have many more years to see him on the big screen – and one can only hope as a leading man more often.

Shout Out: Ray Winstone and 44 Inch Chest

Despite all of the negative reviews and a lousy 6.0/10 on IMDb, there was no way in hell I was going to miss 44 Inch Chest. When I first heard about it, I almost didn’t believe it. Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Ian McShane, and Tom Wilkinson all starring in a movie written by the two guys that wrote Sexy Beast, the brutally awesome gangster flick that also starred Winstone and McShane and nabbed Ben Kingsley an Oscar nomination.

I’m a huge believer in Ray Winstone. I think the man is brilliant. He’s one of the finest actors in the business and I’m not sure why so many people seem to overlook the man. It’s not as though he’s new to the business. His first work of brilliance came in 1997 when he starred in the Gary Oldman directed (and also criminally overlooked) Nil by Mouth, where he gave a shockingly powerful performance that nabbed him some BAFTA love, but little more in the public eye. [Note: Go 4:30 seconds in this clip for one of my favorite movie monologues] Maybe Americans couldn’t get over the heavy cockney accent, I’m not sure, but everyone I’ve loaned my copy of it to has loved it (even if one admitted to having to turn the subtitles on to understand them).

The next few years, he took on some bit parts and appeared in many smaller British films. In 2000 he starred in the aforementioned Sexy Beast, where again his performance was stellar, but people continued to overlook him and he continued on in mostly smaller British films (including another overlooked gem, Last Orders, with Michael Caine, Bob Hoskins, and Helen Mirren) and some leads in a British TV miniseries or two and some smaller supporting work in Hollywood in the likes of Cold Mountain and King Arthur. Then in 2005, he gave what may have been his most complex and layered performance yet in one of my favorites of the decade, The Proposition, as the British lawman stationed in Australia that is neither hero nor villain who wants nothing more than to “civilize this land.”

Martin Scorsese took notice and gave him a supporting role in The Departed and Hollywood has been calling since, giving him the chance to star as the title character in Zemeckis’s interesting motion-captured Beowulf, Indiana Jones’s new sidekick in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and as the antagonist in Mel Gibson’s latest Edge of Darkness. Unfortunately, despite what most would consider a successful and varied career so far, when I name drop him at the bar amongst friends, I still only receive blank looks. I’m just trying to figure out why that is.

That was a needlessly long way of saying that I really like the guy and I just finished watching 44 Inch Chest, which many people and critics have had a negative reaction to – but I am saying that if you like these actors, snappy dialogue, and long monologues, do not overlook this movie. It’s the story of a man named Colin (Winstone) who breaks down after learning of his wife’s affair. His friends decide to take action, kidnapping the wife’s lover and holding him prisoner in an abandoned building so that Colin can enact his revenge. The film mostly takes place in this one room and what follows is reminiscent of 12 Angry Men meets Glengarry Glen Ross, except with a lot more uses of “fuck.” As the wife’s lover sits awaiting his fate, as IMDb describes it, Colin “wrestles with revenge, remorse, grief and self pity, all the while egged on by his motley crew of friends.”

It’s ambitious and sometimes bizarre and the story may not progress traditionally and the only real conflict in the film is internal, but this is a movie that you watch for a lesson on acting. Winstone is remarkable and while I’m sure it won’t happen, mostly because nobody seems to have watched this movie, this is a performance worthy of awards. The others, especially John Hurt, are at the top of their game, and all of the characters are beautifully diverse, each bringing a unique perspective to the situation – even if all besides Colin are more or less one-dimensional. It’s not a movie that will make any best of the year lists. It’s not even a powerful movie. But it’s a movie I felt compelled to recommend when it’s being forgotten, as it reaffirmed why I love Ray Winstone – and hell, all of these actors – so much. I’m looking forward to watching it again.

The Life and Times of Ben Affleck

There was a time when Ben Affleck was the joke of Hollywood. From his tabloid-heavy relationship with Jennifer Lopez (we all remember Bennifer, right?), to a long string of laughably bad movies and hokey performances while his buddy Matt Damon’s career took a more successful route, it seemed like the guy couldn’t catch a break and to many, the blame was all his own.

Just today, I watched State of Play, a movie that despite its star-powered cast and good reviews has garnered very little attention this year. I was reflecting on it while the credits rolled and began to think about Affleck and his career. I have a strange sense of sympathy for Affleck. He’s certainly remained low-key and out of the spotlight as he has tried to revive his career into something that is not a punchline to a late night television joke. Not an easy task, considering his filmography includes the likes of the universally despised Pearl Harbor, as well as Gigli, Jersey Girl, Surviving Christmas, Daredevil, Bounce, Phantoms, and Reindeer Games.

Still, he’s done a pretty good job lately. My [perhaps irrational] hate for Affleck began to sway after watching Hollywoodland back in 2006, where he gave a great turn as TV Superman George Reeves, a role that managed to snag him a Golden Globe nomination. The following year, he surprised me again, although this time it was not in front of the camera, but with his directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, which starred his much more talented little brother. The film blew me away on first viewing and it still ranks among my favorite of that year. I remember coming out of the theater and commenting how big brother Affleck needed to stay behind the camera more often.

Watching State of Play today though and after seeing his scene-stealing role in Extract this year, I’m not so sure that having him in front of the camera is a bad thing like I had once said. I’m not convinced that he can carry a movie on his shoulders like little brother Affleck – we’ll see if he changes my mind with the upcoming The Company Men and The Town – but in the right role, he can be more than competent. You can see it in his interviews and when he speaks: he has a lot of regrets about his career and he’s aware that he was considered a joke for a long while. I do think if Ben continues to pick his roles wisely and keeps his face out of the tabloids, the days of trashing him may come to an end. Because to many people, he’s still a punchline (some people may never be able to get over Pearl Harbor) – but I think he’s better than that.

A Change of Face for the Leading Man?

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With Hollywood’s once fresh, young faces aging with wisdom, experience and (for the most part) honorable careers, it’s safe to say there are limits to the roles Leo Dicaprio, Matt Damon, Ethan Hawke, Ben Affleck, Tobey Maguire and their seasoned comrades of this attractive graduating class will be able to snag. This inevitable ‘passing of the torch’ has been in effect since the start.  Would you like to know more…?

Zoë Bell in “Angel of Death”

So I suppose right off the bat I should admit I haven’t actually watched this entire first episode of “Angel of Death.” But let’s be honest; does it really matter? I promise I’m going to; based solely on the cast. One of the biggest surprises from Quentin Tarantino’s 2007 Grindhouse film, Death Proof, was the charming and energetic presence of then unknown, Zoë Zoë Bell in Angel of DeathBell. Zoë (Kiwi Goddess) worked as a stunt double on many a motion picture over the past decade, including some of Tarantino’s work. Her persona on screen showcased her ability of a fiery female with her veins burning gasoline.

Zoë showed up here and there over the past 18 months, but I’m frankly a little surprised she hasn’t been tapped by Hollywood to play in some more up-scale action films. With that charming New Zealand accent, I could see her doing remarkably well in almost anything a screen writer can dish her way.

Enter “Angel of Death.” Thanks to Dale from Digital Doodles (and our own “After the Credits” podcast), I was made aware of a new web series created by Paul Etheredge (Buried Alive) and starring Ms. Bell as some sort of bad ass assassin. As I mentioned, I haven’t watched the entire episode yet (I plan to remedy that in the next 12 hours), but I’d like to hear from readers on whether or not this show is worth the watch (I believe it is about 8 minutes long). You can get more information directly from the show’s web site; otherwise, I’ve embedded episode one under the seats. Apparently a new episode will be featured every day over at Crackle.com (through 10 episodes?) and is available in full-screen HD.

The show co-stars Lucy Lawless (Xena), Doug Jones (yes, that Doug Jones) and Ted Raimi. Definitely check these out and let us know if it’s worth the watch and also how is Bell? Hopefully she’s just as daring, outlandish and strong as her Death Proof, “Ship’s Mast” role. The world needs more female action stars and I can’t think of anyone more capable of trail-blazing that desire as Zoë Bell.

see the show under the seats…
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