Tomorrow is Jamie Bell’s 30th birthday. The clip above is from BBC’s The Frank Skinner Show where Bell is interviewed in 2000 at the age of 14, the same year as he had his breakthrough in Billy Elliott. An entertaining clip, and Bell is working his teenage charm.
Many childhood actors go on to do something entirely different when they grow up. But Jamie Bell chose to continue in this profession, finding increasingly interesting work over the years. He turned out to be a good choice for the lead role in the 2011 Adventures of Tintin; we never really saw his face in that movie, but the mo-cap guaranteed that he would have to turn in a real, very physical performance nonetheless.
He’s also grown up in other ways and learned a few hard lessons. He met Evan Rachel Wood in 2005 while making a Green Day video; they had a fling but broke up the following year. After getting back together years later, they wed in 2012 and had a son. But they separated in 2014.
Bell has done a lot of thrillers and action movies lately and his upcoming film 6 Days, opposite Mark Strong, is another one. It’s not impossible that we’ll also see him in a Tintin sequel, but that project looks pretty dead right now.
Still, Bell’s career as an actor looks solid these days. Happy 30th!
In the middle of an assassination attempt, two British brothers are suddenly reunited for the first time since they were kids – one of them a suave, deadly secret agent, the other a moronic, soccer-loving working-class father of nine. Another Sacha Baron Cohen comedy in the same vein as The Dictator(2012) – unbelievably crass, but more childish than genuinely provocative. Cohen creates a new outrageous character and it’s fun watching him team up with an admirably straight-faced Mark Strong as the agent, but too many jokes just fall flat.
2016-Britain. 83 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Louis Leterrier. Screenplay: Sacha Baron Cohen, Phil Johnston, Peter Baynham. Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen (Norman “Nobby” Grimsby), Mark Strong (Sebastian Graves), Rebel Wilson (Dawn), Isla Fisher, Penélope Cruz, Ian McShane… Gabourey Sidibe.
When an agent working for a top-secret intelligence agency is killed, his colleague (Colin Firth) enlists a troublesome teenager (Taron Egerton) to join a group of candidates who will be trained to fill the vacancy. In Matthew Vaughn’s view spy movies were getting a bit too serious, which is why he made this very violent but stylish and lighthearted adventure, not unlike his earlier Kick-Ass (2010). Very British, and so cartoonishly absurd that CGI is a must in many of the fight scenes, the film gets a boost from Firth’s effort as a new kind of John Steed. Would have been more fun though if the one-note story wasn’t so protracted.
2015-Britain-U.S. 129 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Comic Book: Mark Millar, Dave Gibbons (“The Secret Service”). Cast: Taron Egerton (Gary “Eggsy” Unwin), Colin Firth (Harry Hart/Galahad), Samuel L. Jackson (Richmond Valentine), Mark Strong, Michael Caine, Sophie Cookson… Mark Hamill.
Trivia: Followed by Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017).
Quote: “I’m a Catholic whore, currently enjoying congress out of wedlock with my black Jewish boyfriend who works at a military abortion clinic. So, hail Satan, and have a lovely afternoon, madam.” (Firth to a Westboro Baptist-style churchgoer)
During World War II, a group of Gulag prisoners escape from the camp, but soon learn that the wilderness is the biggest obstacle to freedom. After Master and Commander (2003), director Peter Weir made another historical epic where a group of men face challenges in harsh locations. This story was inspired by actual (though disputed) events where we follow the prisoners as they make their way through such punishing places as the forests of Siberia and the Gobi Desert. Grand, with a good cast, the film makes one’s imagination fly, but we never get very close to the characters, and the ending is flat.
2011-U.S.-Abu Dhabi-Poland-India. 133 min. Color. Directed by Peter Weir. Book: Slawomir Rawicz (“The Long Walk”). Cinematography: Russell Boyd. Cast: Jim Sturgess (Janusz Wieszczek), Ed Harris (Mr. Smith), Colin Farrell (Valka), Saoirse Ronan, Dragos Bucur, Mark Strong… Gustaf Skarsgård.
THE DESTINY OF A SOLDIER. THE HONOR OF A SLAVE. THE FATE OF AN EMPIRE.
Twenty years after the whole Roman Ninth Legion disappeared somewhere in northern Britannia, its commander’s son (Channing Tatum) arrives hoping to restore the honor of his family’s name. Inspired by the actual disappearance of a Roman legion in AD 120, this film throws a Roman centurion and his accidental young slave into an adventure where their loyalties and convictions are tested as they face hostile tribes north of Hadrian’s Wall. Tatum is a bit too low-key in the lead, but the film is well shot in Scotland and the story exciting in spite of its formula; it’s obvious that Kevin Macdonald had ambitions.
2011-U.S. 114 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Kevin Macdonald. Novel: Rosemary Sutcliff (“The Eagle of the Ninth”). Cast: Channing Tatum (Marcus Flavius Aquila), Jamie Bell (Esca), Mark Strong (Guern), Donald Sutherland, Tahar Rahim, Denis O’Hare.
Trivia: The novel was previously filmed as a British miniseries in 1977.
The title refers to a paper that the brilliant mathematician Alan Turing wrote in 1950 where he introduced his now-famous test of a machine’s ability to imitate a human being’s intelligent behavior. The test is performed only through text, with questions and answers, and if the judge of the test cannot tell the machine from the human based on the replies the machine wins. Over the years, the merits of the test have been heavily debated. Naturally, the title of this film also refers to Turing himself who made an effort, just like many other homosexuals or people who in other ways were “deviants”, to imitate normalcy at a time when you were supposed to never step out of the box. This film focuses both on Turing’s historic achievements and the man himself and his issues.
At the outbreak of World War II, the Allies are desperately trying to break the German Enigma machine, a device for enciphering and deciphering secret messages between the high command and various military entities. In Britain, this task is being performed by MI6 at Bletchley Park and they are desperately looking for potential brilliant codebreakers. When the young Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) joins them, his arrogance and social ineptitude is off-putting to his colleagues and superiors. After a confrontation that even gets Prime Minister Winston Churchill involved, Turing takes charge of a team whose work hopefully will result in a new machine that will crack Enigma. He also becomes close to Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), a woman who is forced to work clandestinely on the team…
Never treated as a hero The Enigma was a beautifully designed invention, which makes Turing’s accomplishment even greater. As illustrated in the film, his new machine paved the way for computers and is estimated to have helped shorten the war by several years, saving millions of lives. Alan Turing is a true British war hero, but he was never treated as one. Partly because his work had to be kept from the public, partly because he was gay, convicted in 1952 for indecency and subjected to hormonal treatment to reduce libido. This is obviously a shameful part of British history, but the film doesn’t resort to sermonizing. Flashbacks to Alan’s childhood provides an emotional background in the form of a tender infatuation with another boy, and his Bletchley Park connection to Joan, another person who has to pretend in order to live the way she wants to because of the damaging morals of the day, mirrors that part of his personality in clever ways. It is an emotional drama, but not overwhelmingly sentimental; director Morten Tyldum (who made the Norwegian Headhunters (2011) such an enjoyable ride) turns the story of how Turing fought for his machine into a pre-eminent thriller, complete with a secret spy and moral repercussions. Writer Graham Moore has been roundly criticized for many historical inaccuracies. But, as in so many other great films based on real events, the quality of the moviemaking trumps the need for dry reporting on the facts. Alexandre Desplat’s music, reminiscent of James Horner’s score for another film about a genius, A Beautiful Mind(2001), ingeniously sounds as if it is illustrating the ingenious calculations inside Turing’s mind. The scientist is extraordinarily well played by Cumberbatch, who takes the quirks of his detective on Sherlock and makes them far more relatable and human.
Alan Turing received an official posthumous apology from the British government in 2009 and four years later Queen Elizabeth signed a royal pardon. A triumph of reason and compassion over ignorance.
The Imitation Game 2014-Britain-U.S. 114 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky, Teddy Schwarzman. Directed by Morten Tyldum. Screenplay:Graham Moore. Book: Andrew Hodges (“Alan Turing: The Enigma”). Music: Alexandre Desplat. Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch (Alan Turing), Keira Knightley (Joan Clarke), Matthew Goode (Hugh Alexander), Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard… Charles Dance, Mark Strong.
Trivia: The story was also told in the TV movie Breaking the Code (1996).
Oscar: Best Adapted Screenplay.
Last word: “Benedict transforms, he doesn’t act. He becomes Turing. I put aside three weeks of rehearsal — which is now getting rarer and rarer to actually have that — and we were able to really explore these characters and really find the voice of Alan Turing and try to create him. Because there’s no recordings of him — nobody knows how he talks, nobody knows how he moves, there’s only … descriptions of him. So we had to sort of, like, piece him together. And I really think [Cumberbatch] makes Alan Turing come to life. And Alan Turing’s family was there when we opened the [BFI London] Film Festival. They were very complimentary about how it is, so that was a good feeling.” (Tyldum, NPR)
Edgar Rice Burroughs (Daryl Sabara) comes across John Carter’s (Taylor Kitsch) personal diary of how he was transported from 19th century Arizona to Mars where he became involved in a war. Andrew Stanton’s live-action directing debut came with a price tag so hefty it almost put Disney in jeopardy. That paid for stunning visual effects and 3D renderings of adventures on Mars, as well as an engaging cast. The movie has promising bits and pieces, but as a whole it is largely void of tension (goes for the battles as well) and looks like a lumbering spectacle.
2012-U.S. 132 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Andrew Stanton. Novel: “A Princess of Mars” (Edgar Rice Burroughs). Cast: Taylor Kitsch (John Carter), Lynn Collins (Dejah Thoris), Samantha Morton (Sola), Willem Dafoe, Thomas Haden Church, Mark Strong… Ciarán Hinds, Dominic West, Bryan Cranston, Jon Favreau, David Schwimmer.
Trivia:Robert Zemeckis was allegedly considered for directing duties. The first time the novel was planned for a movie adaptation was in the 1930s.
Last year, I wrote a blog entry highlighting the Super Bowl ads that featured Hollywood stars. After all, I have no interest in neither the game itself nor the halftime show if it’s going to feature performers like Bruno Mars and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Admittedly the ad that raised the most interest this year was one for Coca Cola that celebrated American diversity, which made every racist in the country grab their pitchfork. As expected, the outrage was excused by certain conservative commentators eager to capitalize on racism. Shameful.
Here’s a look at those that featured Hollywood stars:
John C. Reilly enthusiastically explains what TurboTax is all about. Far from memorable.
Don Cheadle and a llama show up in a Bud Light ad that celebrates the allure of getting completely wasted. Best part: Arnold Schwarzenegger and a pingpong table.
Ellen DeGeneres gets to dance, as expected, in a weird ad for Beats Music.
Apparently, all it takes for Wonderful Pistachios to fall for a sales pitch is to say two words: “Stephen. Colbert.” Well, that’s the first impression, anyway. The ad was followed by more inventive material.
Toyota was banking on the Muppets and Terry Crews in this ad. I can totally sympathize, and the ad is fun… but does it really sell cars?
So, this is what Jerry Seinfeld and Jason Alexander were up to a few weeks ago. This was described as not a Super Bowl ad and not another episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee… and Seinfeld was kind of right. Watching the two of them is strangely fascinating, and although it’s good enough it makes you realize that we don’t really need more than the six minutes we’re getting on Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. There’s a time for everything.
Another car ad, this time for Kia, featuring Laurence Fishburne in a nod to The Matrix (1999). Very silly.
More cars, this time Honda. In an ad promoting safety, Bruce Willis and Fred Armisen team up. Perfectly huggable.
Apparently, Chrysler wanted to outdo themselves after their 2012 Clint Eastwood ad, but went over the top a bit. Bob Dylan may be another leathery American icon, but this ad is far less memorable than Clint’s.
In this amusing ad for Jaguar, Ben Kingsley, Tom Hiddleston and Mark Strong play the traditional Hollywood villain in the best British style possible.
I love how John Stamos, Bob Saget and Dave Coulier are having fun with their Full House characters in this Dannon Oikos ad that’s both funny and a bit creepy.
This is the SodaStream ad that stirred the most controversy prior to its airing. The clip above is the uncensored version of it, featuring digs at Coke and Pepsi. Scarlett Johansson plays on her sensuality.
Today we say happy birthday to two actors who turn 50 years old. Both of them are tough guys onscreen.
Michael Chiklis was first known as The Commish in the early 1990s, a friendly role that won him an audience but hardly much attention. That’s ironic, because when we saw him later on The Shield as the opposite, a murderously corrupt cop, it may have been a shock at first but we already knew that Chiklis was a talented actor. And he certainly pulled it off. Comic book fans may know him best as The Thing in two Fantastic Four movies, but TV has been his most successful venue, winning an Emmy and a Golden Globe for The Shield. Lately, he’s struggled a bit as his two latest TV shows, No Ordinary Family and Vegas, have been canceled in spite of their intriguing premises. That’s the thing, those shows may not have been top-notch but Chiklis does not feel like he’s going through the motions. He’s a hard-working actor, and I hope he finds new worthy projects in the future.
The clip above shows him performing with his band and the Boston Pops, performing a song called “Till I Come Home” on July 4th, dedicated to the troops overseas.
One thing Mark Strong has in common with Michael Chiklis is that they often appear with shaved heads. The British actor has also appeared in bands in his youth, but eventually chose acting. British audiences got to know him on Prime Suspect opposite Helen Mirren and several other TV shows; from 2006 to 2012, he also narrated Who Do You Think YouAre?. American audiences began to notice him in movies like Syriana (2005), Sunshine (2007) and RocknRolla(2008). Last fall he appeared in Zero Dark Thirty. Strong’s swarthy looks apparently makes him perfect for various villainous parts, but he always brings depth and intensity to those performances. His next most intriguing project is Mindscape, set to be released either later this year or early next year, where Strong plays a detective who’s able to enter people’s memories.
In the clip above, Strong appears on a BBC radio show where he discusses the controversies of Zero Dark Thirty.
The portrayal of torture in Zero Dark Thirty has sparked a fierce debate, but those Academy members who are boycotting the film tread on thin ice. Perhaps they should reserve their ire for a movie that is clearly guilty of the accusation? Kathryn Bigelow has definitely come out against torture, and as another liberal icon, Michael Moore, pointed out recently it was above all excellent detective work that produced the info on Osama bin Laden that finally killed him. Still, the consequences of torture as shown in the movie certainly offers reason for a frank discussion.
In 2003, a young CIA operative called Maya (Jessica Chastain) is transferred to the U.S. embassy in Pakistan where she gets to know Dan (Jason Clarke), a colleague who is using enhanced interrogation techniques against terror suspects at CIA black sites. Uncomfortable at first, Maya soon finds her role alongside Dan and they patiently wait for their potentially most valuable suspect, Ammar, to break. Eventually he gives them a name, Abu Ahmed, a man who could be working as Osama bin Laden’s personal courier. After having other suspects tortured in Pakistan, Maya begins to realize that she’s really on to something.
In the following years, even as Dan has enough and goes back to Washington for a comfortable desk job, Maya becomes a veteran CIA officer who survives terror attacks and develops an obsession with finding bin Laden – but then she learns that Abu Ahmed could actually be dead.
Believable and levelheaded Controversy followed the making of this movie from the start. In the beginning, Republicans jumped on the notion that Obama Administration officials might have given Bigelow illegal access to secrets in order to help her make a propaganda movie. What is real and not about this movie is impossible to say at this point. Was there a real Maya? Yes, apparently, to some extent, but her identity is classified. Did torture play a major role in the hunt for bin Laden? Not clear, but we do know that the CIA used methods illustrated in the film under George W. Bush’s presidency; how much they helped kill bin Laden, or if the same intel could have been found in other ways, we don’t know.
What matters is that the film is believable and levelheaded, making us understand why Dan is using those methods, and the same attitude is also present in the rest of the film, coolly noting the shifting sentiments as a new president takes power and torture becomes a less valuable instrument than good old-fashioned intelligence in combination with modern spycraft tools. In fact, much of it makes you feel like you’re watching an unusually privileged documentary, even taking us along for the Navy SEAL mission in Abbottabad that took out bin Laden.
The final 45 minutes are so tense they make you hold your breath; the preceding two hours have a few lulls but are still gripping as we follow the CIA’s work and get a vivid reminder of all the horrible bombings that dominated the news in those days. The cast is uniformly fine, but Chastain stands out as Maya, a woman in a very male world whose struggle against those who view bin Laden as a deadend case wins her few friends.
This is a major achievement for Bigelow, who reteamed with her partner from The Hurt Locker (2009), Mark Boal, for another technically superb but also intellectually challenging and emotional tour de force from a war zone. They may not get every detail right, but they know how to see the big picture in the way that matters the most, stay true to those on the frontline, and milk every last drop of tension out of the battlefield drama.
Zero Dark Thirty 2012-U.S. 157 min. Color. Produced by Megan Ellison, Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow. Screenplay: Mark Boal. Music: Alexandre Desplat. Editing: William Goldenberg, Dylan Tichenor. Cast: Jessica Chastain (Maya), Jason Clarke (Dan), Joel Edgerton (Patrick), Mark Strong, Kyle Chandler, Édgar Ramírez…. Fares Fares, James Gandolfini, Chris Pratt.
Trivia:Rooney Mara was allegedly first considered for the part of Maya.
Oscar: Best Sound Editing. Golden Globe: Best Actress (Chastain).
Last word:“On a personal level, [the torture scenes] were really hard to do. The audience wants to look away but knows they shouldn’t. It’s wrenching and difficult, and that is acknowledged in the cues we see in Jessica Chastain. She looks away; she covers her mouth. That is how many people in the audience react, or how they would react if they were in that room. It’s the kind of thing we instinctively rebel against. That says something about the larger issue here, too, which is that it’s easier to turn away from it than face it. It paints an honest picture of what was happening, and we are only beginning to come to terms with it.” (Bigelow, TIME)
Test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is “chosen” by a ring brought to Earth by an alien to become a Green Lantern, an intergalactic “cop” with superpowers. This 3D adventure took a long time to get off the ground, cost a lot of money and was generally considered a failure. Its main problem is blandness; nothing in it is exceptional and the basic concept is largely silly and uninvolving. That said, Reynolds is OK as the irresponsible pilot, and it’s clear that the budget was spent on lavish special effects.
2011-U.S. 105 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Martin Campbell. Comic Book: John Broome, Gil Kane. Cast: Ryan Reynolds (Hal Jordan), Blake Lively (Carol Ferris), Peter Sarsgaard (Hector Hammond), Mark Strong, Angela Bassett, Tim Robbins. Voices of Geoffrey Rush, Michael Clarke Duncan.
Trivia: Sam Worthington and Chris Pine were allegedly considered for the lead.
New York teenager Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) buys a bodysuit and turns himself into a superhero; his first attempts at creating justice are pitiful, but he eventually gets caught up in a battle between a crime boss and an 11-year-old avenger. A story that is partly grounded in reality as it deals with a teenager’s quest to find his place in the world, partly in a very violent comic-book fantasy. Many found this approach offensive – uneven is what I would call it, but brazen and very entertaining. Mark Strong is fun as the mob boss and Chloë Grace Moretz got her breakthrough as the lethal Hit Girl.
2010-Britain-U.S. 113 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Comic Book: Mark Millar, John S. Romita, Jr.. Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Dave Lizewski), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Chris D’Amico), Nicolas Cage (Damon Macready), Mark Strong, Chloë Grace Moretz, Omari Hardwick.
Trivia: Daniel Craig and Mark Wahlberg were allegedly considered for Cage’s role. Followed by Kick-Ass 2(2013).
In the late 1830s, young Princess Victoria (Emily Blunt) is preparing to assume the British throne, but faces constant manipulation from her mother and her uncle, the King of Belgium. Or, How Queen Victoria found her groove. This project, which came about after a meeting between the Duchess of York and producer Graham King, has an engaging script that pays close attention to detail and sets and costumes that match this dedicated approach. Very interesting to follow Victoria’s political progress, and the complicated romance between her and Albert is convincingly portrayed. Good cast; Jim Broadbent is very amusing.
2009-U.S. 104 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Sarah Ferguson, Tim Headington, Graham King, Martin Scorsese. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée. Screenplay: Julian Fellowes. Costume Design: Sandy Powell. Cast: Emily Blunt (Victoria), Rupert Friend (Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha), Paul Bettany (Lord Melbourne), Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent, Thomas Kretschmann… Mark Strong, Jesper Christensen, Julian Glover.
Trivia: Ferguson’s daughter, Princess Beatrice, the great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Victoria, has a small role.
Oscar: Best Costume Design. BAFTA: Best Costume Design, Makeup & Hair.
Last word:“Fifteen years ago, I decided to make a movie of Victoria’s love life – her wonderful love together with Albert. I took it to Hollywood and the script that was given to me was more like Victoria’s Secret than Victoria. (laughs) I tore it up because you have to be true to history. This is the greatest untold love story of all time, and it’s true. You can’t make it up or make it more juicy. It is juicy. It’s the most beautiful story ever. So 5 years ago, I decided to go back to my friend Tim Headington, and say to Tim, ‘Tim, I need to do this.’ I just felt it in my heart. I had to. Something was driving me and it was so important to me that I fought hard for the world to see Victoria as I read in the diaries and what I loved. Tim Headington introduced to me to Graham King and Graham King said, ‘I’ll make the movie.’ That was the greatest moment of my life.” (Ferguson, Movies Online)