Way back in September 2015 I wrote an article listing some great ensemble film casts. Please feel free to read it here at this link.
If you can’t be bothered to read it the list of films are as follows:
12 ANGRY MEN (1957) AVENGERS ASSEMBLE (2012) GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014) INCEPTION (2010) LA CONFIDENTIAL (1997) THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960) MAGNOLIA (1999) MEANTIME (1984) THE OUTSIDERS (1983) PULP FICTION (1994) SHORT CUTS (1993) TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY (2011)
Never one to worry about originality, I have decided to follow up this article with another list of great ensemble film casts.
The challenge second time round though is to EXCLUDE the films of directors or franchises ALREADY LISTED.
For those who may have lazy-read this I WILL REPEAT!!!
NO DIRECTOR’S OR FRANCHISE WORK FROM LIST ONE WILL BE ON LIST TWO!!!
It would be so easy to include all of Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino’s or the Marvel films. So I am not going to do that. Anyway, here are another TEN films with great ensemble casts (in alphabetical order).
Me and my son Rhys have a Christmas tradition (well of the last 3 years) which involves going to the cinema to watch an action-packed if overlong adaptation of J.R.R Tolkien’s classic novel The Hobbit. After all watching Elves, Men, Women, Wizard, Eagles, Dwarves etc., slaying Orcs are what Christmas is all about! And while I munch on my popcorn and slurp my diabetes inducing soda my son falls asleep. It’s a comforting bonding experience between father and son and I just don’t know what I’m going to do NEXT year! Oh wait, the new new new Star Wars: A Force Awakens (2015) comes out. Problem solved!
Peter Jackson is one of my directorial heroes because made his own way up the cinematic ladder. On zero budgets he made cult classics such as: Bad Taste (1987), Meet the Feebles (1989) and one of the best films ever made Braindead (1992). He then made the exquisite Heavenly Creatures (1994) which also introduced us to the ample talents of one Kate Winslet. Following the under-rated ghoulish horror-action-comedy The Frighteners (1996) he immersed himself in the world of Tolkien and delivered a brilliant vision of the classic Lord of the Rings trilogy reaching a peak as a director of epic proportions. Of course he has now returned to the king of fantasy in the last few years with The Hobbit trilogy and I’ll be honest there was absolutely no need, in terms of story, to make THREE films out of the book. But hey, he’s done it and the final film is arguably the best of the lot.
If Lord of The Ring’s was Tolkien’s allegory for World War II then The Hobbit is clearly his response to the first ‘Great’ war; and not a chocolate bar or game of football in sight. Because the rise of Sauron echoes the rise of Fascism and the battle at Lonely Mountain — following Smaug the Dragon’s desolation of Laketown — mirrors the ruling classes battle over land rights (amongst other complex issues) which led to the disgusting loss of life during World War I. Thus, with Thorin Oakenshield holding the mountain Dwarves, Elves, Men and Monsters congregate for one hell of a battle.
While it took a while to get there with two half-decent films afore Peter Jackson’s Battle of the Five Armies is a tremendous, staunch and bruising finale to Tolkien’s amazing vision. There is not much plot but rather incredible action and great visual storytelling. The images created showing Thorin’s descent into gold madness as he battles his addiction and greed were most memorable for me; especially at this time of ultra-consumerism. Moreover, the final battle sequences involving Thorin, Legolas, Kili and Tauriel were incredibly exciting and I had my heart in my mouth at moments. Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) once again plays his part attempting to make peace and stop the folly of war plus the romance between Kili the Dwarf and beautiful Elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lily) added some unexpected pathos.
Overall this is a film to watch on the biggest screen you can find. Take your brain out, sit back and watch as Peter Jackson commandeers his units and soldiers from one lusty death blow to another. There was absolutely NO need to make three films out of Tolkien’s adventure but in a way I’m glad he did because there’s nothing I like more that to watch a great piece of orchestrated action at the cinema. At the end I turned to my son and found him snoring in the seat next to me and thought yes: Christmas is here!
“Hey – Paul! Do you want to see Book of Mormon? It’s a musical!”
“Oh – I can’t stand musicals! Apart from Grease maybe. Or a Sondheim one I can’t remember the name of.”
“But it’s made by the guys who did South Park!”
“Really? I love South Park. How much are tickets?”
So on a cheaper Wednesday matinee showing myself and a friend ventured to the Prince of Wales Theatre to see Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s wonderfully irreverent and offensive (depending on your point-of-view) musical The Book Of Mormon. And a great time was had by all. It was funny, energetic and warm and of course very rude but strangely uplifting and like all great art (high or low) it got me thinking about my own values and spirituality.
I have never been what you would call a religious person. I am not a believer or associate myself with a particular faith. In fact since I was young I always held a staunch antagonism toward doctrines which remove free-thinking in the individual from birth. Furthermore much of the world’s conflicts over history have been caused in the name of religion; that and greed and money and power.
Having said that over the years my approach to religion has matured and I have become less didactic in my thoughts. Because you know what: religion or faith can be a positive thing and give people a true set of values with which to live their life. It’s not God’s fault that human beings use his or her name to commit acts of war and spread intolerance. In fact, in recent times the move toward Atheistic and Scientific Fundamentalism (led by the Grand Wizard Richard Hawkins) itself has also caused intolerance to rear its ugly head too.
I prefer to believe in nothing; not a void as such but no particular deity or belief system. They provide great comfort for many but it’s not something I feel I need. I believe in freedom of choice and speech and the basic human principle of just be tolerant of, and good to others. Because as the song says: “Religion don’t kill people – humans do!” Of course I just made that lyric up for humorous effect and that is precisely what occurs in the wonderful, hilarious and uplifting theatrical musical Book of Mormon.
The backstory tells us of Joseph Smith who “found” the sacred eponymous text on the gold plates of Nephi. After which he gave birth to a new religion in 1830 which went viral, spreading quicker than a dancing cat video on YouTube. Flash forward loads of years and the Church of Latter Day Saints is one of the World’s largest cults; sorry, organised religions. And this is the starting point for the story.
Our two main protagonists are Elder Price (Billy Harrigan Tighe) — a handsome, young go-getter — and Elder Cunningham (A.J. Holmes) who is, of course, his nerdier, less confident and insecure counterpart. Cunningham is also a compulsive liar which gives the story an essential characteristic and running theme. Together they are sent from the Missionary Training Centre in Utah to of all places, Uganda to spread the word of Mormon. But Uganda is a godless place full of famine, disease and war and hardship so religion is a hard thing to see to those with no hope.
Humour is mined from the clashes between the two wildly different cultures as the songs compare the upbeat door-knocking optimism of the Mormons with the downtrodden, hungry, maggot-balled, AIDS-ridden, clitoris-castrated Africans; who are war-lorded over by hilariously named General Butt-Fucking Naked. As with South Park the writers use all manner of stereotypes with which to cram as many offensive jokes in as possible.
However, there is heart to the story too as it is revealed that Elder Cunningham has joined the Mormons to try and fit in and find his place in the world and most importantly: friends. He is particularly taken with the preening narcissistic Elder Price despite the latter’s obvious discouragement and dislike of Cunningham. It’s no surprise then that while Price is clearly the more talented “salesperson” yet it is Cunningham who becomes a hit with the natives. Having said that he does so having “made-up” loads of stories from the Book of Mormon incorporating tales from Star Wars, Star Trek and Lord Of The Rings. From his distortions from the text plus bravery in standing up to the General Cunningham becomes a beacon of hope in the village.
Stories and faith are at the core of the satire here as Book of Mormon both lampoons and deep-down admires the Missionaries. While what Elder Cunningham says seems completely stupid and ridiculous it gives the villagers hope and faith for the future. Overall, the word of Joseph Smith is arguably “fictional” yet the message is a positive one with togetherness being the way forward. The show asks us: if something gives hope in a hopeless world does it matter if it’s real or not?
I have no frame of reference with regard to musicals. The only one I’ve seen outside the movies was Fame – The Musical starring ‘H’ from Steps. But this was an absolute joy with an incredible cast and songs to boot. My personal favourites were: Two By Two, Making Thing’s Up Again and Spooky Mormon Hell Dream. The shifting of sets, movement and pace were fast yet controlled and the show was clearly the result of a culmination of an incredible amount of creativity, rehearsal and hard work. As a dynamite new season of South Park currently runs on Comedy Central – I can certainly say Matt Stone and Trey Parker have another work of genius to add to their incredibly offensive yet hilarious CV. Thank God, Allah, Ganesh, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Nephi, Joseph Smith et al for them I say!