So what, exactly, is Billy Bob Thornton these days? A washed-up has-been? A still-great icon just biding time before his next great exploit? A cult sensation simmering with grandeur inches below the radar? What feelings are meant to be conjured up at the utterance of his multitude of names? The actor, who hasn't done much in the vein of memorable cinema lately, is vying for a place on the small screen with his old friends the Coen Bros in the television adaptation of Fargo. On the show, as reported by Deadline, Thornton will play the manipulative antagonist Lorne Malvo, who serves as the slithering sorcerer to the FX limited series' small town good guy hero.
Thornton should have quite a good deal of fun with a sadistic Coen creation, drawing upon his The Man Who Wasn't there days as the ruthless, desperate Ed Crane. But the original film Fargo, as we remember it, had quite the different sort of villain: as Carl Showalter, Steve Buscemi was an anxious weasel. His associate Peter Stormare was dead-eyed, closed-mouthed, and cold-blooded. Ed had a steady hand but no dearth of flowing color, and it sounds like Thornton's new character is closer to this outline than to either of Fargo's big screen baddies.
Stylized as a snake in the Garden of Eden, Thornton seems to be operating with the upper hand and with a uniquely evil sensibility based on his character summation alone. On the other hand, Buscemi and Stormare felt like crooked splinters in a large plank of rotting wood that was North Dakota's frozen hellhole. So what will that make of the Fargo TV show? Something altogether different from the bizarre and bleak fan favorite movie, but not absent of the Coen Bros style. The Man Who Wasn't There might not have championed the cult fervor that Fargo has, but it stands as an excellent piece of work with a lead character worthy of our cinematic memories. So to see him reinvented, to some degree, on the small screen? We're on board.
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“My dick is going to get so wet tonight ” declares Costa the foul-mouthed ringleader of a trio of sex-starved teens in the opening moments of Project X the new “found-footage” comedy from director Nima Nourizadeh and producer Todd Phillips (The Hangover). Believe it or not this qualifies as one of his more charming moments in the film. All of 17 but blessed with an obnoxiousness lesser men would take decades to cultivate Costa (Oliver Cooper) is the perfect mascot for a film that makes no bones of its mostly prurient intentions proffering what is essentially a succession of debaucherous montages intermingled with uneven attempts at comedy and held together by the slimmest pretense of a plot.
Caustic as he is Costa at least exhibits something of a recognizable personality; the same cannot be said of his two cohorts the tubby dweeb J.B. (Jonathan Daniel Brown) and the earnest blank Thomas (Thomas Mann). None of them seem to enjoy much in the way of popularity at their high school located in the fictional suburb of North Pasadena but Costa has a plan to fix that. On the occasion of his 17th birthday Thomas whose parents have conveniently departed for the weekend reluctantly agrees to host a party that Costa promises will be a “game-changer” for their lowly social status.
Hardly a game-changer is Project X’s script co-written by Matt Drake and Michael Bacall which mostly treads a predictable teen-comedy path. At its outset the party appears to be a bust. Soon however hordes of eager revelers descend upon Thomas’ house and the event swiftly devolves into a festival of wanton hedonism that would impress Charlie Sheen. The orgy of booze drugs and sex is captured by Nourizadeh in one impressively slick sequence after another set to a vibrant soundtrack.
To maintain the guise of an actual movie – and to occupy us between shots of topless beauties downing tequila and frolicking in the pool – Project X tosses in a few familiar tropes to push its story along: an unstable drug-dealer bent on revenge a buzzkilling neighbor seeking to end the night’s festivities prematurely a budding but hesitant attraction between Thomas and his childhood friend Kirby (Kirby Bliss Blanton). But the scenes are so hollow and contrived that you get the sense even the filmmakers don’t buy them and only added them to the film in a transparent ploy to forestall allegations of complete and utter vapidity. The efforts serve only to add a dash of the banal to the proceedings.
Project X’s natural forebears – R-rated teen comedies Superbad and American Pie – tempered their crudity and outrageousness with a surprising degree of depth and sincerity. Moreover they were actually funny. Project X is a shallow affair to be sure but a dearth of laughs is what ultimately dooms it. A belligerent little person who goes on a crotch-kicking spree after being tossed in an oven amounts to the film’s most sophisticated attempt at humor. More often it relies on recycled gags from previous films (including Phillips’ own library from Road Trip to The Hangover Part II) and Jackass-inspired mishaps.
The found-footage approach has proven to be a potent (if overused) tool in horror films but its utility in the service of comedy at least in the hands of Nourizadeh is limited. It mostly comes across as a needless gimmick good for marketing purposes but little else. Perhaps acknowledging as much Project X’s backup plan calls for an incessant raising of the stakes. As the once-innocuous gathering metastasizes into a fully-fledged riot one so dangerous that even the police dare not intervene the specter of parental disapproval gives way to the threat of incarceration and finally to the potential incineration of the entire neighborhood. The scale of the destruction is impressive – especially for such a (presumably) low-budget film – but like much of what precedes it almost entirely pointless.
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Relatively speaking, there is quite a dearth of female-led or -centric action movies out there; fortunately, though, that trend appears to be coming to an end. Look no further than this week, which boasts not one but two such movies, Underworld: Awakening and Haywire. Here’s hoping they can hold their own against our picks for the best female action movies of all time…
The Long Kiss Goodnight
Toward the end of Geena Davis’ (and writer Shane Black’s) heyday, she kicked ass and, uh, forgot names as an amnesiac named Samantha … and Charly. Davis turns in essentially two superb performances and – surprisingly at the time – makes quite the action heroine, especially considering that she performed most of her own stunts.
Leave it to Quentin Tarantino to make a modern East-meets-West revenge masterpiece wherein the Hattori Hanzo sword-wielding GIRL is dishing revenge to the GUY. Kill Bill Vols. 1 & 2 are a welcome “f**k you” to the established rules of today that insist only males are capable of carrying an action movie. Also ...
Resident Evil Franchise
There’s no denying that this videogame-turned-movie franchise has been hit-or-miss (and seems to get “misser” with each new installment), but if nothing else, they’ve been a lot of fun – thanks largely to our amnesia-suffering, gun-toting, martial arts-adept, zombie-killing heroine, Alice (Milla Jovovich). Oh, and the special effects.
The whole franchise (not including its recent reboot, but hopefully including Prometheus) is perhaps a little more sci-fi than straightforward action, but there’s no way to exclude Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley from a list like this. In fact, it’s fair to say that a lot of subsequent female-action roles might not exist – or be the same – without the integral alien-slaying character.
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
Angelina Jolie ushered in a new breed of female action movies (and her own superstardom) with Lara Croft: the videogame, or videogame-like, action heroine … with curves. It wasn’t perfect, by any stretch, but Tomb Raider was innocuous fun for the casual action fan and a wet dream come true for gamers and puberty-stricken boys (yes, we know that’s somewhat redundant).
La Femme Nikita
Luc Besson knows a thing or two about crafting strong female characters with a proclivity for action, and this 1990 film – which has spawned subpar American TV-series/miniseries versions, the decent theatrical attempt Point of No Return, and more – is probably the best example.
We all know by now that Tarantino has a penchant for ass-kickin’ ladies (and their feet) – as was the case with his half of this underrated homage to grindhouse cinema in which Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms and, especially, stuntwoman Zoe Bell outrace a sadistic Kurt Russell and then proceed to beat the life out of him. But Robert Rodriguez’s offering, Planet Terror, features an undead-killing Rose McGowan, who has one of those machine-gun legs. ‘Nuff said.
Speak of the devil! Kate Beckinsale has only appeared in two of the three Underworld films thus far – she’s back for the fourth, as most people know – but the ones she has headlined have been more than passable vampire-action films. Of course, Beckinsale’s beauty, coupled with her character ’s penchant for all-leather attire, hasn't hurt.