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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Douglas’

As I listened to the radio on my drive to work on Monday a news story got me thinking. Reporting on the previous nights Primetime Emmys the main topic of conversation was the lack of British success. Those expecting a Downton Abbey landslide were disappointed, personally I was more disappointed at the lack of recognition for Luther (that received four nominations in 2012) but that’s a different conversation. The thing that interested me was two of the winning programs:Downton Abbey

American political drama House of Cards is based on the BBC miniseries of the same name from the early 90’s famous for introducing the phrase: “You might very well think that; I couldn’t possibly comment.” Like the original series has been described as examining issues of ambition, power, and corruption in the vein of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Richard III. Unlike the original that was made screened on the BBC, the American version was made by independent production company MRC (Media Rights Capital) and most interestingly premiered on Netflix after outbidding HBO, Showtime and AMC. It is also available via Apple’s iTunes and Apple TV services.House of Cards

It has been reported that Steven Soderbergh and Michael Douglas had first discussed a Liberace Biopic as far back as 2000 during the production of Traffic. When they finally came up with an angle for the story they struggled to secure funding, Soderbergh claiming Hollywood studios found it “too gay.” Eventually they HBO Films stumped up $23million and Behind the Candelabra was made. While it received a UK cinema release in America it premiered on HBO.Behind the Candelabra

These programs may not seem that significant in the greater scheme of film and television, but when you think about it they represent the biggest change in the media’s for a long time. What they boil down to, is a film premiering on TV and a TV show premiering online. Made for television movies are nothing new, but with A list stars and directors it has a different feel to it. As for the online world Amazon/Lovefilm have already got in on the act with their own programs. In future are companies like these going to use TV shows rather than their film content to win customers?

 I would still rather watch movies on the big screen of the cinema and a laptop computer is the only device I have capable of streaming TV and films. This is why I am not the main target audience for either of these changes, but I will still be watching them with interest.

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Skyfall and The Dark Knight Rises are amongst my favourite movies of the year, but between them they cost the best part of the unimaginable sum of half a billion dollars. What can be done with a lower budget? All of the ten films listed below were made for less than $25million and are all the better for the invention and creativity that comes with limitations of a small budget. In a B movie tradition I have discarded indie drama’s in favour of genre movies: action, gangsters, sci-fi and horror.  The other notable thing, is that despite their B credentials they all received a UK cinema release.

Haywire
Budget: $23,000,000 (estimated)
Legend has it that Steven Soderbergh was sat at home late one night channel surfing when he came across a Mixed Martial Arts contest (a cage fight). He was so enthralled with one of the contestants Gina Carano that he diced to write a movie for her. Having never acted before it was a big risk, but we are talking about the director who cast porn star Sasha Grey in The Girlfriend Experience. Taking a different approach for haywire, he filled the supporting roles with talented actors (Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton and Ewan McGregor), but it is the action that really sets the film apart. Forgoing the post Bourne trend of ultra close-ups and staccato editing in favour of long takes and mid length shots with lots of depth of field. It all helps show off Carano’s fighting talents. A love it or hate it film, it has received mixed reviews, personally I love it.

Killer Joe
Budget: $10,000,000 (estimated)
Back in 2006 William Friedkin made a criminally overlooked gem called Bug, it was based on a play by Tracy Letts who also wrote the screenplay. The pair re-teamed to adapt a play Letts wrote twenty years ago. Set around a criminally stupid dysfunctional Texas family it is a violent and repugnant tale. Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church and Gina Gershon are all brilliant but are in the shadow of the real star Matthew McConaughey. Often funny but the humour is truly jet black, this is a seriously fucked up film that many people will hate, again, I love it.

The Raid
Budget: $1,100,000 (estimated)
Welshman Gareth Evans is the unlikely director of this film that highlights Indonesian martial art, pencak silat. Set in a Jakarta tower block controlled by a crime lord a swat team have to fight for their lives as the story of why they are there gradually unfolds. A brutal and violent film that isn’t actually that originally but still manages to feel fresh and new. It isn’t as good, inventive or as memorable as Die Hard but it cost less than £1million, in other words less than the coffee budget from Lord of the Rings.

Wild Bill
Budget: no idea but its British so it won’t be much!
Dexter Fletcher has always been a decent and likeable actor, although never a great one, therefore it many come as a surprise, but his debut feature as a director is brilliant. Given his association with British gangster movies it is natural that Wild Bill would be set in London’s underworld. What’s great about the movie is that it avoids the usual storylines associated with this type of movie in recent years and concentrates on more personal story of an ex con who returns home from prison to find his two young sons abandoned my their mother. Being a farther is the last thing on his mind but something compels him to do the right thing. Fletcher also avoids the pitfall of casting himself instead opting for a whose who of British TV and genre movies.

Killing Them Softly
$18,000,000 (estimated)
This gritty tale of low level mobsters and hit men could have been a disaster. Not a great deal happens, it is filled with scenes of men talking around the issues of the movie. The social and political commentary have earned the movie its greatest praise and largest criticism. Directed by Andrew Dominik and starring Brad Pitt, the pair worked together on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and are both on top form again. And like all great genre movies, it clocks in at less than 100 minutes.

Lockout
$20,000,000 (estimated)
Based on an “original idea” by Luc Besson, I’m not sure there is an original idea in the whole movie and don’t think Luc Besson has actually had an original idea in a long time, but that really doesn’t matter, the movie is great. Its silly and its fun and that’s all it ever intended or indeed needed to be. The plot involves a shady but honest spy type character who is forced to rescue the president’s daughter who is held hostage on a prison in space. So basically its Die Hard meets Escape from New York, in space. The CGI is terrible and the plot is thin but none of this matters, the action is good and the dialogue is often funny. The real appeal is a surprisingly good Maggie Grace and the always brilliant Guy Pearce.

Chronicle
$12,000,000 (estimated)
The surprise low budget hit from the early part of the year. A Sci-fi movie reminiscent of Push (2009) and the TV show Misfits. I’m not a fan of the found footage genre but they get away with on the whole here. It loses its way in the final act but overall it is still an enjoyable movie. The unknown cast are good and the fact they are unknown often works in the movies favour.

Storage 24
Budget: again no idea but its British so will be well within the $25million limit.
I have suggested in the past that Noel Clarke is the most important person in the British film industry at the moment. Actor, writer, director and producer, awarded the Orange Rising Star Award at the 2009 BAFTA’s, he is the writer and star of Storage 24. Ultimately it is an alien invasion movie but without the grandeur of Hollywood movies and scaling it back to a small intimate and personal story. It plays out like a haunted house movie with a great blend of horror, comedy and action. Remembering the golden rule the creature is kept hidden for a long time and when we see it, its pretty good for a low budget movie. Criminally overlooked and underrated.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation (aka Get the Gringo)
$20,000,000 (estimated)
Sadly under seen thanks to Mel Gibson’s personal problems and the lack of a cinema release in America. First time director Adrian Gruenberg worked for Gibson as assistant director on Apocalypto, the pair give us an old fashioned story of a getaway driver who finds himself in trouble south of the border. There is a scene towards the end of the movie where Gibson impersonates Clint Eastwood but long before that the film starts to resemble A Fistful of Dollars (1964)/Yojimbo (1961) and is all the better for it. Full of both the action and the dry whit you would expect from Mel Gibson of old. Ultimately it is the story of a flawed character looking for redemption, just like Gibson himself.

The Grey
$25,000,000 (estimated)
A horrible and inaccurate portrayal of grey wolves but a haunting and entertaining movie. Liam Neeson has always walked the line between serious actor and action star, originally leaning more towards actor but more recently falling on the action side of the line. When a plane carrying oil drillers crashes in the freezing wastes of Alaska the survivors are hunted by killer wolves. A metaphor for the destruction of the environment and the power of nature or just a survival thriller. Whatever you get from the movie it is well made and largely enjoyable.

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After a successful assignment in Barcelona freelance security contractor Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) is ready for a holiday but her employer, Kenneth (Ewan McGregor) has other ideas. A simple job that should have been a “paid holiday” in Dublin goes wrong when she is double crossed. She goes looking for answers and revenge.

In 2009 Steven Soderbergh cast porn star Sasha Grey as a high-end Manhattan call girl in The Girlfriend Experience, it is no surprise then that when he set out to make an action movie he would hire a Mixed Martial Arts fighter, Gina Carano. Legend has it that Soderbergh came across Carano while channel surfing cable TV. Prior to this chance encounter the star and director had never heard of each other. I’m not sure if he saw her fighting or on the American version of the TV Gladiators where she had a stint.

The big question here that will result in the success or failure of the movie should be can Gina Carano act, but strangely it isn’t. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Predator and The Running Man (both 1987) Carano’s presence and charisma is enough to carry the movie despite the fact she isn’t a great actress. Had the movie not been as well directed, surrounding Carano with talented actors (Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton and Ewan McGregor) could have emphasise her acting deficiencies, it actually works the other way. The end result is a slick and enjoyable movie where the most distracting and detracting thing turns out to be Ewan McGregor’s terrible accent.

The way the film is shot is interesting. Using long takes, still cameras and short lenses giving lots of depth of field, takes the movie back to a pre Bourne time for action movies. It actually works well showing off Gina Carano’s fighting talents and letting us see what is going on unlike in other modern action movies. This simplicity and transparency extends to the plot that despite a nonlinear structure is simple and easy to follow, coupled with a brisk 93 minute runtime makes the movie easy to watch and enjoy. It all boils down to a simple revenge/payback thriller, but is actually the best I have seen since Kill Bill (2003/04). I don’t see Gina Carano having a great career as an actress but she is the first new credible female action star to come along in a long time and like Vinnie Jones and Dwayne Johnson she has enough going for her to suggest she could carve a niche in action movies. The only reel criticism I can throw at the film is that it does sometimes feel cold and clinical, something I have thought about some of the directors previous work. I also wonder how well it will be received by female audiences, outside the main character, women are largely overlooked within the cast. 

Whether the movie was a chance for Steven Soderbergh to tick off another genre on his cinematic CV or a genuine attempt to do something different, I don’t know but do feel it is a successful movie either way.  Like its star, it is a movie that will divide opinions, despite a few flaws my opinion is very positive. 

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With just two more movies to see this year: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (making a total of 108 movies seen at the cinema this year) I am already looking forward to the new year. I am led to believe the early part of the year can be a bit of a barren time for American cinema goers but here in the UK the new year is often the time to see the Oscar bait movies that week get a few months later.

With two academy awards from sixteen nominations, nothing says Oscar like Meryl Streep. The Iron Lady tells the story of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. From the clips and trailers I have seen, it looks interesting, the only doubt, the directors, Phyllida Lloyd’s only other feature appears to be Mamma Mia!

I have heard nothing but good things about Shame despite the unusual and controversial subject matter, sex addiction. After the excellent Hunger (2008), the re-teaming of director Steve McQueen and actor Michael Fassbender must be a good thing. The addition of co star Carey Mulligan and I am really looking forward to this one.

Clearly Ralph Fiennes’ doesn’t believe in making life easy for himself, making his directorial debut with an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. The updated setting is reminiscent of Richard Loncraine’s Richard III (1995), looks interesting.

I understand J,Edgar has had mixed reviews on the other side of the Atlantic but with Clint Eastwood in the directors chair and Leonardo DiCaprio in the starring role it has to be worth seeing.

There is already Oscar talk about George Clooney in The Descendants, directed by Alexander Payne (Election 1999 & Sideways 2004). I don’t know much about it but Clooney on good form remains a watchable movie star reminiscent of the stars from the golden age of cinema, I’m in!

Bizarrely, the two films I am most looking forward to aren’t going to feature at the Oscars, they are more what is (condescendingly) referred to as “genre movies”. As one of the few people who liked The Girlfriend Experience I am always interested in Steven Soderbergh’s more experimental ideas. Like with The Girlfriend Experience Soderbergh has gone for an unexpected lead actress for the action movie Haywire, former Mixed martial arts fighter Gina Carano. He has surrounded her with an impressive supporting cast including: Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas and Bill Paxton. As I said it won’t win Oscars but it looks like its going to be fun.

There are two real guilty pleasure franchises around at the moment, we have to wait until later in the year for the next Resident Evil movie, but Underworld Awakening is out in January. Nearly a decade after the first Underworld movie Kate Beckinsale is back in her most iconic role (and costume). From the trailer it looks as dumb as the previous movies, but I really don’t care, I can’t wait!

Other movies coming out in January include: War Horse. Thanks to a really cheesy trailer, I can honestly say I have never been less excited by a new Steven Spielberg movie. I know nothing about The Darkest Hour other than what I have seen in the trailer but with director Chris Gorak who impressed with his debut Right at Your Door (2006) and Timur Bekmambetov credited as a produce I will give it a go. Another movie I now nothing about other than the trailer is Man on Ledge. The trailer makes it look a lot like Spike Lee’s Inside Man (2006), that isn’t a bad thing.

Check back on the 1st of February to find out what I actually saw and what I thought of them.

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