Following my tribute to Ryan Gosling a while ago the second in my little paeans to cinematic people I admire is the wonderful Julianne Moore. Here I pick out seven memorable performances which make me fall in love with her over and over again.
SHORT CUTS (1993)
Moore is a versatile actor who, along with appearing in some cinematic classics, has been in some right old tosh over the years. However, SHE is ALWAYS great in EVERYTHING! She can do vulnerable. She can do funny. She can do romance. She can do sexy. She can do sweet. She can do evil. And boy can she do neurosis! My earliest memory of her was from Robert Altman’s fractured ensemble classic Short Cuts where she spends a lot of time naked from the waist down. It certainly took er… balls for Moore to take on such a role and she is a stand-out as an artist on the edge of a nervous breakdown.
BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997)
I still think this is Paul Thomas Anderson’s best film. Well, it’s my favourite of his brilliant oeuvre. I mean it takes some kind of genius to make a film about the porn industry and imbue it with heart, humour, sexuality, Oedipal tragedy and humanity without poking fun and merely relying on smut or underlying sleaziness. Moore portrays “Amber Waves” the tragic mother-figure of the porn “family” who, estranged from her own young son, provides emotional support to the young porn actors such as Rollergirl and Dirk Diggler. She is wonderful as a pained addict trying but failing to achieve a conventional lifestyle, instead finding comfort and solace with Burt Reynolds’ led dysfunctional troupe of sex actors.
THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998)
Much has been made of Jeff Bridges wonderfully comic and laconic i.e. stoned-off-his-nut performance in the Coen Brothers’ much-adored cult classic The Big Lebowski, but the many idiosyncratic supporting characters deserve praise too. The film is a delightful patchwork of eccentricity and none more so than Moore’s Maud Lebowski – a privileged, upper class artist who seduces The Dude in a strange side-story to already hyper-convoluted kidnapping-gone-wrong-right plot. The Coens’ satirise rich artistic types via Maud as she too as uses The Dude to her own ends. Moore dominates the screen with her witty portrayal and even ends up in one of The Dude’s hallucinogenic dreams as a Viking goddess of some sort.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s does Altman’s Short Cuts up to eleven with a modern mosaic of human dysfunction, loneliness and tragedy. It’s a difficult but compelling watch as Anderson removes the humour palette, so richly used in Boogie Nights, to present a cross-section of characters each struggling with existential and familial estrangement. Moore role is a risky one inasmuch as she is a self-confessed adulterer who married for money and only now — with her elderly husband (Jason Robards) about to die — does she feel any kind of remorse. It’s a complex character who you feel little sympathy for — even when she attempts suicide — but as car-crash humanity and drama go it’s difficult not to be drawn in by her incredible performance.
END OF THE AFFAIR (1999)
An amazing feat of literature from Graham Greene is adapted into a heart-cracking film by Neil Jordan; full of eroticism, stellar cast, lingering looks, exquisite photography and elegant Michael Nyman score. I watch a lot of films and am not often moved emotionally but the doomed love affair between Moore and Ralph Fiennes really gets my tear ducts on the go. Love is very difficult thing to get right on the silver screen but the intensity of the acting really is a thing of beauty. There’s been some amazing love stories set during wartime down the years but this has to be one of the most memorable. Moore was deservedly nominated for an Oscar but lost out to Hilary Swank.
FAR FROM HEAVEN (2002)
Todd Haynes pristine Sirkian melodrama is a honourable pastiche of 1950s films in both form, setting and content. It sees Moore wearing the skin of Cathy, a neglected American rose, who ventures into a forbidden love affair with local gardener Raymond Deagen, (Dennis Haysbert). Once again, Moore is drawn to a character who is pushed to the outside of society, her character becoming a victim of gossip and recrimination within a closely knit bigoted community. American small-town attitudes to race and sexuality are critiqued with director Todd Haynes beautifully designed colour palette and cinematography contrasting the dark subtext at work. Moore was rightly nominated for another Oscar but lost out to Nicole Kidman’s prosthetic nose.
THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT (2010)
This was a laidback, fun kind of movie which found Julianne Moore in a relationship with Annette Bening’s obstetrician. It’s a lower-budget independent gem with a fine cast including: Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson. The story finds Moore and Bening’s sperm donee children searching for their father (Ruffalo) and the ensuing first world drama and “chaos” this brings. Moore’s budding landscape gardener plays a relatively sane character as she argues with the children and the more dominant Bening, before falling into bed with the more Bohemianesque character of Ruffalo. Moore ‘s character suffers a minor mid-life crisis compared to other cinematic meltdowns in her oeuvre. Nonetheless, her kind, natural, earth-mother performance is very enjoyable. Fear not though it would appear in her latest film — David Cronenberg’s Map to the Stars (2014) — finds her back on full neurotic alert as an actress flailing in the age-conscious, superficial Hollywood system.
As a balding man I felt it my duty to raise my concerns about the desperately poor wig-work that has occurred down the years in the movies. The wigs, actors chosen suck because they are so appalling and the filmmakers should have let the actor go natural to avoid discriminatory practices against baldies.
Obviously, for sci-fi, historical, and comedy films wigs are used in context and for humorous purposes so I have generally avoided picking on those but for the examples used there is NO EXCUSE! They are a travesty and deeply hurtful to the bald community. As Larry David says: Baldism is a proper thing.
10. IT LOOKS STUPID!
Okay, I understand certain characters require wigs especially if they wore them in real life like Phil Spector as played recently by Al Pacino but generally Movie Wigs look dumb. It’s fine if it’s in the context of the character such as American Hustle (2013) where Bale’s character was shown to be vain but when an actor has what looks like a ferret stapled to his or her head then I’m thinking less of the movie as I’m too busy laughing at it.
9. IT’S DISCRIMINATION!
I started watching the decent-enough movie TransSiberian (2008) on Netflix and Woody Harrelson’s character is wearing an obvious wig. Harrelson has played some fine bald heroes in his time most notably in the brilliant Zombieland (2009) but he’s let us right down in this movie. His character was a nice guy in it so by giving him a syrup and spectacles are they saying that bald people cannot be pleasant and easy-going. Either cast an actor with hair or don’t. It’s baldist! Come on Woody – you SHOULD know better.
8. WHAT HAPPENED TO TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENT?
So I was watching a very disappointing blockbuster film about a massive lizard and I was so disconnected with the lack of characterisation or suspense I got distracted by the usually brilliant Bryan Cranston and his appalling wig! Why not allow let the character have a natural hairstyle of the actor? Are they saying a character with a receding hairline or a bald character is less sympathetic? All that money spent on special effects and incredible looking giant monsters in Godzilla (2014) and his hair-piece was so unconvincing I was embarrassed. Mind you not as unconvincing as the script.
7. KING OF THE WIGS – NICOLAS CAGE
I can’t stand wigs and plastic surgery and Cage seems to have had his fair share of both. It’s vanity gone mad. Unless of course you have a tragic disfigurement or burns I see no reason to alter your body or face in ANY way via artificial means! If you need to lose weight go on a diet don’t use liposuction. If you are bald don’t get a rat transplant on your bonce just deal with it. The worst hair-cut he ever had was arguably in the terrific prison-escape blockbuster Con Air (1997). While the mullet had a certain magnetic quality it, in my opinion, it was laughable and took the piss really.
Anyway, Cage — on his day — is an outstanding actor but he has been in some really sorry old tosh like Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011). Here’s a guy who could be a hero to all baldies everywhere with his receding locks so why not allow his characters have Cage’s natural barnet. His lack of locks worked well in Adaptation (2002) as it added to low-status nature of one of the brothers but this was an exception to the rule. 6. BALD PEOPLE DEHUMANIZED AS THE BAD GUY!
Look all the villains over the years who have been bald: Lex Luthor, Voldemort, Ming The Merciless, John Doe (from Se7en), Bane, Gru, Don Logan, Darth Maul, The Baldies from The Wanderers (1979) and many more. Choosing someone who is follicly-challenged is an easy shorthand and detrimental to the humanization of bald people all over the world. We are not villains. We are humans – just because we don’t have hair it doesn’t make us bad people. We have feelings you know.
5. THE BALD UNTRUTH! – JOHN TRAVOLTA
Why use wigs? Why can’t the character be bald – does it make them any less of a human being?! At the very least why collude in the fact the character has real hair. Try and be inventive with the syrups. John Travolta has worn some horrific fringes in his time but at no stage does he send this part of his being up or make it part of the characterisation. In Wild Hogs (2007) — a film about mid-life crises he spends most of it in a bandana rather than embracing his lack of hair. Fair play in the dreadful From Paris With Love (2010) he is bald but he still has a compensatory goatee to take the bald sheen away from the role.
4. UNINTENTIONAL HUMOUR
I’m just going to say one word: Surrogates (2009). This Bruce Willis sci-fi thriller is a dog of a film and the syrups are hilarious. Humans are essentially lock-ins and rarely go out. Instead they live their lives through virtual reality surrogates. It’s not a bad idea and contains a reasonable social comment on technology displacing actual physical and emotional contact. The problem I have with the film is the human version of Willis is bald whereas the computer version has hair. So basically, Willis’ preferred setting is having hair. Why couldn’t it be the other way round!! Plus the haircut is an absolute joke; much like the film as a whole. Bruce Willis is a flag-bearing hero to all bald men and he has worn some dodgy wigs in his time but this is the most monstrous blot on his career.
3. BAD HAIRPIECES DEVALUE THE PRODUCTION
Films are SO expensive to make you would think they could spend a bit more of an effort to make the hairpieces more realistic. Some films — even historical dramas like Lincoln (2013) — have incredible sets, amazing actors and a cast of thousands but when it comes to the syrups the whole thing falls down. I found Lincoln a tough watch anyway as it was SO boring. Has anyone actually watched this film and enjoyed it? Anyway, despite a ponderous story the incredible production is let down by wigs so ridiculous they act as a Brechtian distanciation device and consistently remind us we are watching a movie. I realise that movie God Spielberg may have been going for authenticity but it backfires in Lincoln and the wigs are an embarrassment.
2. IF THEY HAVE HAIR – WHY ARE THEY WEARING A SYRUP?
The worst thing is when the actor actually has hair and they STILL put a hair-piece on them. It’s a travesty really because they could have cast a bald person in the role and given them a leg up in the vanity-led industry that is Hollywood. Or at the very least use the actors real hair and style it accordingly. If the film covers a number of years then for additional realism they should shoot the film in order as the hair grows. The biggest culprit for this is Oliver Stone. He has made some magnificent films but his career is littered with crimes against bald people. Just have a gander at these monstrosities:
1. HAIL THE BALD HEROES!
We shall fight them in the barbers, the make-up chairs and film & sets. Hail the heroes carrying the fight against the vain, unreal and plastic harbingers of doom! Stand proud the hairless and bald! Fight the good fight to the last strand!
Well, this was fun. Having enjoyed the X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011) movie immensely I was looking forward to this one despite Bryan Singer’s mildly wonky recent directorial releases VALKYRIE (2008) and the okay Jack and the Beanstalk CGI-fest JACK THE GIANT SLAYER (2013). Of course, Singer’s technical ability is second-to-none and his skill in creating a memorable action set-piece has never been in question but I found his recent films uninvolving and strangely undramatic; especially Valkyrie. But perhaps that was because we knew the mission to kill Hitler was doomed thus suspense was lacking in that particular narrative.
Anyway, no such concerns here with this sparkling time-travel, past-and-present fusion of historical and future events story. I was genuinely gripped from the brilliant opening scene which establishes a set of all-conquering villainous machines called The Sentinels which — in the future — have taken over the earth and are wiping out both mutants and humans alike. Cue Wolverine being sent back in time by Magneto and Professor X to convince the two respective younger versions of them to change the events which caused the Sentinels to rise to power.
If it seems a bit Terminatoresque it’s because it is completely the same story with some Back to the Future nods thrown in too. But Simon Kinberg’s screenplay (from Matthew Vaughan/Jane Goldman’s story in turn inspired by 1981 Uncanny X-Men comic book narrative by Chris Claremont and John Byrne) wears it’s influences proudly and gets us into the story so quickly that the time travel element becomes more structural rather than thematic. For me, Hollywood blockbusters are like rollercoasters and I’m looking for a thrill ride. From the get-go this ride was awesome and just did not stop!
One may even describe the structure as like Citizen Kane meets Magnificent Seven as our conduit Wolverine must assemble his team that include the now desperate junkie figure of Xavier (James McAvoy) and his faithful pet/assistant Beast/Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult). Xavier has essentially given up and Wolverine must persuade him to join the cause thus giving Jackman a chance to show his “sensitive” and persuasive side before unleashing those bulging muscles on his foes once again. I wanted a bit more time with X the Junkie because McAvoy is a likeable and commanding actor as shown by his recent stirring performance as good, bad, mad and ugly cop Bruce Robertson in disturbing black comedy Filth (2013). But to no avail as we then rapidly move onto the getting Magneto (the always brilliant Michael Fassbender) into the plot.
This is where the film goes all Mission Impossible as Magneto is being held a mile underground at the Pentagon penitentiary. Enter my favourite character of the whole film Quicksilver (Eric Peters) as his speedy skills are used brilliantly in the quest to set Magneto free. The rescue scene gives rise to probably the best set-piece I’ve seen in the cinema all year and like the Captain America fight scene in the lift it is full of surprises and humour. The use of slow motion, special effects, sight jokes, music by Jim Croce etc. had my heart in my mouth and adrenalin rushing through my body – although that could have been the vat of coffee I drank that day. Nonetheless this sequence typifies why I go to the cinema and that is for maximum big screen impact in moments like this. Shame on you if you watched this on illegal download via your laptop. Dear filmmakers – thank you! Please take a bow!!
With the team assembled they must then take down the ever gorgeous Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) who is waging a one-mutant campaign against unscrupulous arms dealer, mutant-hater, and wonderfully named Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage). As typified by Mystique’s arc the whole film gives some great little moments of depth and motivation to the characters without losing pace in the plot and action overall. In fact, it’s perfect storm of a movie with plot, action, effects and so many fine actors at the height of their star working perfectly with established cast members of the older X-Men films such as Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen.
This is grandstand genre filmmaking at its’ finest taking all the best elements from the previous films and throwing them into a potent and heady cinematic mix. I love time-travel narratives as well as the melding of actual historical events and figures such as the appearance of President Nixon and references to the Kennedy assassination. The final set-piece at the White House brings all the plots and subplots together in an outstanding action-packed denouement. For sheer entertainment value and for all X-Men and comic-book fans this is definitely recommended. So watch this on a big screen as that’s what it deserves. I recommend the Vue Cinema Westfield Screen 6 or Wimbledon Odeon Screen 4.
This is an 8/10 movie but 9/10 on the big screen!!
Now, I probably should explain that my rule for this blog is to review EVERY film I see at the CINEMA! So, why did I go to see this ridiculous excuse for a film at the picture house? Well, mainly because I am an addict and I was getting cold turkey because I hadn’t been to the cinema in a while (10 days) and needed a fix. But rather than getting the good gear I ended up with a pale shadow of a hit from D-movie BRICK MANSIONS.
It’s my own fault I was tired and chose something that wouldn’t test my intelligence too much. And while it’s a well-edited, pacy film with some okay plot twists throughout there is no way I could recommend this to anyone with one-tenth of a brain and still retain the incredible respect my fans have for me.
It’s a remake of an earlier Luc Besson written/produced movie called District 13 (2004); the kind of unpretentious, slickly crafted and brainless film Besson’s production arm has been churning out with regular abandon for years. Arguably the best of these are The Transporter and Taken series which rely on the ample talents of Jason Statham and Liam Neeson to propel the action and narratives. Paul Walker, alas, is no Statham as he doesn’t have the former diver’s brutish personality or scrapping skills and neither does he have Neeson’s actorial stature, style or power for smashing up generic bad guys.
Ultimately Paul Walker is such a generic an actor the best way to describe him would be like that of a poor man’s Paul Walker. My favourite film of his was a fun Tarantino knock-off called Running Scared (2006). I urge you to see Running Scared as it is a brilliant twisty-turny, explosive GTA-esque little thriller also starring under-rated Vera Farmiga. Of course, Walker’s star shines well in the American movie version of Top Gear; the cash-making-franchise-behemoth-Fast-and-Furious series.
Having said that Walker is/was very likeable, good looking and while lacking in personality his bright blue-eyes carry Brick Mansions along at but overall fail to mask the execrable direction, embarrassing dialogue over-dubs and dreadful acting of his co-stars, notably the RZA who is so wooden his next role should be <insert wooden furniture based pun/analogy here>. The film does have a plot which is pretty much lifted from Escape From New York (1981). But it’s nowhere nearly as good as the Carpenter classic although it does feature some fine parkouring skills from master of the physical art David Belle;here playing a nippy career criminal at odds with the RZA’s ridiculous mob boss. These various characters fight, jump over, run, get handcuffed and strap bombs to each other in the deprived, urine-soaked hell-hole called Brick Mansions; a segregated part of Detroit which homes just criminals and lower-runged members of American society. There’s a piss-poor attempt at social commentary and critique of corrupt officials and politicians but basically it’s laughable.
Walker plays another in a long line of maverick cops but what lets this film down is he has no code or specific set of skills (like Statham/Neeson) or even characterisation and it’s left to the parkour-man Belle to give the action some oomph. I mean it’s entertaining enough, has some crunching violence and fun fight scenes but I was laughing unintentionally at times especially when the RZA was trying to play the tough guy. The film’s biggest crime is it has no suspense or defined look and the whole thing had all the visual flair of a daytime soap opera. It would have benefited (like Escape From New York) from some stylish noir night scenes but alas there are little or none
As epitaphs go to the sadly departed Paul Walker, Brick Mansions, is a desperately poor excuse for a movie. Thankfully the James Wan-helmed Fast and Furious 7 will somehow repair Walker’s mixed-bag of a CV. Which probably tells you how bad Brick Mansions is.
I started in comedy in 2008 not with any grand designs of being famous or having a career but just to try a different creative experience. Plus, having come from a screenwriting background I wanted to try performing in some way. And I thought it might be a bit of a laugh. I’ve had ups and downs but it has been great fun and I’ve met some brilliant people on the comedy road. Now I’m doing my first Fringe Festival show in Brighton with guitar hero Gwilum Argos!
Our show is called ROCK N DROLL. It takes place at the Laughing Horse, Hobgoblin, 31 York Place, Brighton and kicks off at 10.30pm.
For a laugh we’ve done some lo-fi promotional videos and here they are!
LIFE’S A BEACH
Paul and Gwilum went to Brighton to check out the sights.
PAUL AND GWILUM GET REJECTED
Gwilum and Paul tried to get Previews for their Brighton Shows
GWILUM AND PAUL DISCUSS THE SHOW
Paul and Gwilum discuss the merits of doing a show in Brighton.
Getting on stage and making a room full of strangers laugh spontaneously through a joke, impression, improvisation, song etc. is arguably one of the mightiest challenges facing a performer. But for many successful stand-up comedians the thrill of reducing a room to shakes of laughter is not enough; hence why so many have attempted to transfer their undoubted comic and acting artistry to the silver screen. Plus there’s more dough involved in making movies. As a massive fan of both cinema and stand-up comedy I thought it interesting to look at some of the best dramatic performances committed to celluloid by stand-up comics.
Eddie Murphy – 48 Hours (1982)
Before Eddie Murphy single-handedly set about making his very own list of the worst movies ever made he took his raw, rap, crack and pop stand-up persona and committed to screen great performances in Trading Places (1983) Beverley Hills Cop (1984) and Walter Hill’s rock hard-boiled 48Hours (1982). Buddied-up with Nick Nolte’s life-frazzled cop, Murphy was perfectly cast as cool convict Reggie Hammond. Murphy is tough, uncompromising and funny: spitting out classic dialogue such as “I’ve been in prison for three years. My dick gets hard if the wind blows” – with a verve that is sorely missing from virtually all his film output of the last 15 years.
Woody Allen – Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989)
Arguably, Allen’s recent movies have not been up to the quality of his earlier “funnier” films but I like them nonetheless as he has consistently produced work rich with great lines, ideas and characters. In the 1980’s Allen’s films matured and more often than not centred around familial, human and sexual relationships. As well as writing and directing Allen also acted in most of his films using his Jewish, neurotic, angsty persona to comic and dramatic effect. In Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989) he delivers another fine performance drawing out pathos, empathy and pain as a documentary filmmaker who is trying to make sense of life and why we are on this planet. The film is multi-stranded with a wonderful ensemble cast including Alan Alda and Martin Landau on particularly great form.
Whoopi Goldberg – The Color Purple (1985)
Multi-talented Emmy, Oscar, Tony winner Goldberg is one of the most versatile comedian/actors to grace the stage and screen. She developed her abilities at the Blake Street Hawkeyes Comedy troupe where her work and would then be cast in Spielberg’s adaptation of Pulitzer Prize winning The Color Purple (1985). While Goldberg would earn an Oscar for her over-the-top turn in potter’s-wheel-ten-hankie-weepie Ghost (1990), but it is her first ever screen appearance which will stay in the memory. Goldberg’s Celie Johnson is a character battered and beaten by life but whom amidst the misery and abuse retains a strength and desire to not let life destroy her. Goldberg brings a tremendous innocence, fortitude and compassion to the part; and considering it is her first ever movie role it is an amazing achievement.
Will Ferrell – Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
Ferrell cut his comedy fangs in The Groundlings, an LA improv group, and would later take his comic creations onto Saturday Night Live. Hilarious turns as hick racing driver Ricky Bobby in Talledega Nights (2006) and more famously as Ron Burgundy – the king of unreconstructed male chauvinist stupidity – in Anchorman (2004) would cement Ferrell’s success as a movie actor. Famous for stupid haircuts, overcharged yelling and screen-mugging Ferrell toned it down as tax inspector Harold Crick in Marc Forster’s moving dramedy, Stranger Than Fiction (2006). Ferrell’s Crick is a lonely individual, a man of routine and commonplace whose life is turned topside down when he hears his every move being narrated by Emma Thompson’s meta-omnipotent author. As he struggles to find ‘the voice’ Crick begins to question his whole existence and this gives Ferrell the opportunity to live a character with depth and emotion hitherto unseen in his previous screen caricatures.
Jamie Foxx – Ray (2004)
While Chris Rock arguably takes the stand-up comic kudos between these two graduates of influential American sketch show, In Living Color, Foxx’s film career has flourished with a series of fantastic movie performances. But it was playing Ray Charles in Ray (2004) that Foxx left Rock’s movie career, in comparison, eating the proverbial dust sandwich. Of course it won him the Oscar but it was more than just an impression of Charles as Foxx gave this musical genius a flawed humanity and pain that moved both the audience and the Academy. Foxx threw himself into the role with abandon musically and dramatically, showing Charles’ darker addictive side as well as his magnetism, humour and incredible drive. Unsurprisingly, the same year, Foxx was also nominated for his sterling work in Mann’s urban noir Collateral losing out in that category to the king-of-expositional-voiceover Morgan Freeman.
Robin Williams – One Hour Photo (2002)
A running trope in this list finds many of the acts turning their manic comedic persona on its’ head and internalizing the mania or psychosis with understated performances. Indeed, I have read articles which link certain mental states with the comedic mind and in Robin Williams you could not get a more manic, fevered, out-of-this-world performer. After a slow start cinematic success would arrive eventually and I could have chosen Good Will Hunting (1997) or Good Morning Vietnam (1987) or Dead Poet’s Society (1989)as these were great roles for Williams. But in 2002 he took a couple of darker turns in Nolan’s pre-Batman thriller Insomnia and a lower-budget thriller called One Hour Photo. The latter found Williams playing a solitary Photo Technician who takes an unhealthy interest in one particular family. Yet Williams’ character is no ordinary psycho but rather a pained individual longing to be part of a family unit. The actor terrifies the audience with his obsessive nature but at the end the performance humanizes the character rather than making him a one-dimensional lunatic he could so easily of been.
Jim Carrey – Man On The Moon (1998)
Carrey is an absolute force of nature as a stage and sketch performer and brought that dynamic physicality, silly voices and zany gurning to great effect in films such as: Dumb and Dumber (1994) and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994). As he gained further success he would stretch his acting muscles with more dramatic and riskier roles. He was ideally cast as Intergender Wrestling Champion of the world Andy Kaufmann and (best known for his role in U.S. sitcom Taxi) and also doubled-up by playing Kaufmann’s alter-ego Tony Clifton (with Paul Giamatti.) Kaufmann was arguably the very first anti-comedian; gaining laughs or at the very least trying to get laughs from being deliberately unfunny and antagonistic. Carrey takes on all the incarnations with much skill and humour and rather than be just a very good impression he zones his usual mania, creating a complex character whose life was tragically cut short by cancer. The film was criticized by some for taking liberties with Kaufmann’s life and it was a relative failure at the box office, but Carrey deservedly won many awards and nominations for his diverse performance.
Billy Connolly – The Debt Collector (1997)
Connolly’s performance in Mrs Brown would be the most obvious choice for Scotland’s imperious stand-up comedy legend, however, I’m not a fan of films about the Royal Family and the brutal Debt Collector is more to my taste. The Big Yin is compelling in this grim, gritty thriller inspired by career criminal turned artist/novelist, Jimmy Boyle. Connolly’s working class and artistic background also resonates in the Nicky Dryden character trying to go straight; only to be pursued relentlessly by Ken Stott’s obsessive cop. Connolly’s raconteurial, larger-than-life stand-up style is in complete contrast to the serious character of Dryden who having escaped the mean streets of snooker halls of Glasgow is now a feted figure on the art scene. Stott’s vindictive cop cannot abide Dryden’s success and sets about bringing Dryden down. The scenes between Connolly and Stott are the stand-out in this dark, violent tale which is unflinching in tone and certainly darker than anything Connolly has been in before or since.
Richard Pryor – Blue Collar (1980)
Paul Schrader wrote existential urban Western Taxi Driver (1976) but also directed some compelling dramas. Blue Collar is probably his best film and it is my favourite Richard Pryor performance. Pryor had reinvented himself as a stand-up comedian shifting his persona from likeable TV friendly gag-man to a snarling, coked-up, angry social satirist. He would roughen out the edges of this act to become the slick, effervescent and honest performer who turned the dramas and stories of his life into comedy gold. Pryor would be a natural comic force on silver screen and formed a fine double act with Gene Wilder. However, Blue Collar is the best film I saw him in as it combines the humour, drama and social commentary that Pryor himself included in his act. Set in Detroit it highlights the hypocritical machinations of Union practices at a car plant. Pryor provided some humour but his character shows an anger and energy throughout which may or may not have been fuelled by his Olympic coke-taking. Egos clashed among cast (including Yaphet Kotto and Harvey Keitel) and crew and it shows on screen in a fiery examination of the working class man and his lot.
Jerry Lewis – The King Of Comedy (1983)
To be able to steal the acting honours from Robert DeNiro at the height of his golden acting period takes some beating. But that is what old-school-crazed-slapstick-movie-mad-man Jerry Lewis did in Scorcese’s dramedy about obsessives. DeNiro is funny, embarrassing and tragic as the bottom-runged comedian but Lewis’ performance as hangdog, lonely and jaded chat-show host Jerry Langford stole the show. Langford, a successful TV presenter, remains at the height of his career but lives a seemingly lonely life with just his work for company. On the surface a decent guy but underneath he’s a jaded workaholic. DeNiro’s Pupkin enthusiastic, aspirational, hero-worshipping comic stalks him and becomes Langford’s own worst nightmare. There are so many painful scenes of toe-curling embarrassment in this movie notably when deluded Pupkin invites himself to Langford’s country retreat. When Langford is left at the mercy of Sandra Bernhard’s unhinged harpy Lewis’ performance is one of raging deadpan as he simmers with rage until he bursts like a pustule on escape and leaps down the road with tape around his ankles like bicycle clips. A truly under-rated gem of a performance and film.
Eric Bana – Chopper (2000)
Australian actor Bana started off in stand-up and TV sketch shows and was a novice dramatically speaking when cast as violent-criminal-turned-best-selling-novelist Marc Brandon Read. Given his comedic background Bana’s rendition is very funny but ultimately there is a dark drama and bloody violence too in the representations of this powerhouse of the Melbourne underworld. His creation is a paranoid, angsty, neurotic monster capable of terrific rage one moment then over-powering guilt the next. It’s a rounded version of a split-personality both interested in robbing drug dealers but also with his own myth, persona and media representation. There’s some terrific dialogue and Aussie banter between Chopper and the various low-lifes he encounters; and some visceral violence, notably when Chopper gets his ears cut off to navigate a route out of jail. The film holds a mirror up to a twisted society which creates celebrities out of killers and those who act outside of the law and it is to Bana’s credit that he makes this monster funny and likeable despite his actions deserving the contrary.
Mo’Nique – Precious (2009)
I wasn’t aware of Mo’Nique’s background as a stand-up comedian when I first saw this heartwrenching drama, but after witnessing her incredible performance I did some research and found she worked her way up from the open-mic circuit of Baltimore to the lofty heights of Best Supporting Actress. Her character Mary Lee Johnson is an emotionally-damaged-dysfunctional-car-crash-human-bully who puts her daughter Precious (equally brilliant Gabourey Sidibe) through all manner of abuse and neglect. As horror after horror befalls the story’s heroine her mother sits on the sofa barking, castigating, demanding; making her life a living hell. It’s a monstrous creation but one which is not without compassion as shown in one of the final scenes in the film where Mary Lee Johnson, in tears, asks, “Who was gonna love me?” And the strength of the performance is that we almost feel bad for this woman. Almost.
Steve Martin – The Spanish Prisoner (1997)
Steve Martin’s film career is quite similar to Eddie Murphy’s inasmuch as his early films matched the brilliance and energy of his stand-up career only to find him moving later to more sub-par-Hollywood-generic-remakes like Bilko. But you can’t blame a performer wanting to make a living and Martin is one of the great Renaissance Men. He also wrote of one of the greatest books I’ve read about comedy: Born Standing Up. As an actor he’s always really funny playing downtrodden man-children or idiots happy to send himself up gaining laughs from crazed anger while remaining totally unthreatening; e.g. Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987). In David Mamet’s The Spanish Prisoner he played against type with a sinister turn in this cold, twisting thriller. Martin underplays throughout with intelligence and handles Mamet’s crisp dialogue with aplomb. It’s a fine film and performance utilising his linguistic skills expertly and I have no Clouseau why he didn’t go darker more often.
There are many, many different kinds of films and filmmakers who come from innumerable backgrounds, places and cultures. They have also had a variety of paths to making films such as: film school, television, scriptwriting, novels, plays, stand-up or sketch comedy, being rich or even working in a video-shop. Certain filmmakers have a distinctive visual and thematic style and if using the historical parlance one may call them auteurs. Such a list may include: Hitchcock, Scorcese, Godard, Coppola, DePalma, Spielberg, Kurosawa, Hawks, Lee, Campion, Cronenberg, Kubrik, Coen Brothers, Lean, Lynch, Almodovar, Allen, McQueen, Ramsay, Polanski, Ray, Chaplin, Wilder, and Michael Bay. That last one is a joke by the way.
These greats would make some of the greatest films of our times – some formalistic and artistic masterpieces others emotional and heartrending character pieces and others comedic. They’ve also made great films which maybe I didn’t enjoy first time round or didn’t understand but later come to love or appreciate. Of course, you’re asking yourself: what has this got to do with John Michael McDonagh’s dramatic film CALVARY (2014) – I’m not sure to be honest. What I would say is that this film has received much critical acclaim according to the posters I saw and I’m sure reviews will be very good, but, on first watch I didn’t enjoy it that much. It’s billed as dark comedic drama but I didn’t find it funny enough or dramatic enough and while it was a great opening the plot wasn’t enough to sustain a feature film.
Calvary – named after a site immediately outside Jerusalem’s walls where Jesus was crucified – opens brilliantly when Father James Lavelle (acting behemoth Brendan Gleeson’s) is taking confession. He is then threatened by an unknown parishioner and informed he is going to be murdered in just over a week’s time. This sets in motion a potentially interesting “whodunnit” plot with which to structure the story and introduce an ever-increasing set of quirky and troubled rural characters. Gleeson’s Priest is not externally bothered by the threat and even admits to his superior he may know who it is. Thus, any suspense is rendered redundant throughout really.
Over the next week with Judgment Day approaching Father Lavelle comes into contact with a brilliant ensemble cast including: Dylan Moran (Black Books), Aiden Gillen (Game of Thrones), M. Emmet Walsh (Bladerunner, Blood Simple), Chris O’Dowd (IT Crowd, Crimson and the Petal, Bridesmaids), Domnhall Gleeson (Harry Potter, Judge Dredd), Isaach De Bankole (Casino Royale) and the always memorable Pat Shortt (Garage) etc. Each character could potentially be a suspect but there’s no real narrative urgency as, while very well performed, the ‘suspects’ don’t really do very much dramatically. Don’t get me wrong there are some wonderful one-liners in the script and Aiden Gillen’s cynical Doctor impressed me. But even his character was aware of his own redundancy in the piece during a verbally erudite and metatextual joust with Father Lavelle. Throw into the mix Kelly Reilly – as Lavelle’s suicidal daughter – and you get another character on the edge of a nervous breakdown that you don’t really care about.
I really enjoyed John Michael McDonagh’s first film THE GUARD (2011), also starring Gleeson with Don Cheadle and another motley crew of quirky characters. But that had more heart and humour than Calvary which almost collapses under the weight of its’ own pretensions. Perhaps, because I’m not Catholic or Irish I did not get many of the cultural and religious references. However, I certainly got the themes of guilt, death, revenge, existential detachment and I also understood the severity of the historical crimes perpetrated by Catholic Priests against children and Irish citizens. Indeed, the film quite rightly deals with this sensitively giving a voice to the victims of these heinous crimes. Even the ending — which is superbly staged — left me slightly confused and desiring more of a surprise or narrative reversal.
Ultimately, this was a superbly written and acted piece rather than a fully-fledged satisfactory storytelling experience. The quality of the writer’s ideas, dialogue and themes outweighed the humour, drama and suspense. Good use is made of a terrific cast and beautiful Irish coastal landscapes but overall I felt detached from the characters due to the over-authorial nature of the film. I felt like I was watching a film rather than a proper story and could hear the writer speaking rather than the characters. But, I have been wrong about other great films and filmmakers in the past and have come to appreciate them more on second or third viewings. Calvary could just be one of those films.