January 14, 2013 4:31am EST
Los Angeles, 1949. The streets of this post-war paradise hum with the din of a thousand nefarious deeds and are soaked with liters of regret and heavy-handed film noir metaphors. This is the world in which Ruben Fleischer has set his latest film Gangster Squad. The movie is a largely dramatized account of the LAPD’s attempt to bring down west coast mob boss Mickey Cohen. Fleischer has crafted an ultraviolent throwback to the stiff fedora brims, and stiffer drinks, of the classic gangster films of the 1930s, while also nodding to the movies of the' 90s equally reverent toward that era; namely The Untouchables. This gave us the idea to assemble our own gangster squad... that is, our favorite obscure gangster movies. Here are the hoods and heavies we’d enlist.
The Last Man Standing
If you are looking for something almost exactly as kill-crazed and kinetic as Gangster Squad, with bad guys equally as exaggerated, look no further than Walter Hill’s The Last Man Standing. Essentially a re-imagining of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, Bruce Willis plays a gun-toting stranger who breezes into a Prohibition-era ghost town in West Texas. The town is run by two rival gangs, and Willis proceeds to play one off the other for his own profit. Last Man Standing is a dusty, bloody, noirsploitation, but Hill’s well-struck action sequences, coupled with the staggering cast of outstanding character actors, sets this one apart.
It would behoove you to abandon the notion that the U.S. has the market cornered on great gangster films. From the late 50s to the early 70s, French director Jean-Pierre Melville was one of the hardest hitting figures in crime cinema. Le Samourai stars frequent Melville collaborator Alain Delon as a mob assassin who accidentally leaves a witness after killing a nightclub owner. The quiet French noir is uniquely compelling from the first frame. What gives the movie its true voice, as well as its title, is the fascinating crossover of samurai culture--the rituals, the extremely modest lifestyle, and most importantly the “armor” comprised of trench coat and fedora—with familiar gangster conventions.
1948’s Key Largo is not as violent as Gangster Squad, point of fact it’s not even as bullet happy as its gangster cinema contemporaries. This film noir stars perennial tough guy Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson, one of the most prevalent actors of the golden age of Warner Gangster flicks. Robinson was born to be a heavy; his face locked in permanent scowl. The prologue makes a point of noting that Key Largo is the largest of the Florida Keys, which nicely juxtaposes the claustrophobic atmosphere of being trapped in that tropical hotel with menacing mobster Johnny Rocco during a hurricane. That claustrophobia also plays into the movie’s phenomenal climax on that tiny boat. Key Largo is powerful, calculating, and sweltering with tension.
The Long Good Friday
The mustering of sympathy for the devil is a core component to scores of organized crime films. We are often asked to pledge our allegiance to protagonists who are objectively reprehensible. Scorsese’s Goodfellas is full of these compelling antiheroes. That innate ability to root for the bad guy was possibly never more strongly challenged than in 1980’s The Long Good Friday. British gangland boss Harold Shand has his turf bombed by competing thugs and he will not rest until he identifies them. Bob Hoskins plays Shand with such bitter, bile-spewing viciousness as to appear rabid. The scene of him interrogating enemy footsoldiers while they hang upside down is encapsulating of his character as a whole. Hoskins’ performance, the whodunit nature of the plot, and the stellar score are what make this film so fantastic. Watch out for a young Pierce Brosnan as a not-so-loquacious hitman.
A Colt is My Passport
It’s interesting to see how different cultures have their own gangster societies. The Japanese Yakuza have an entire branch of cinema unto themselves, just as does the Italian Cosa Nostra, and one of the best in this category is 1967’s A Colt is My Passport. The story centers on a pair of killers making their escape after an especially high-profile hit. Produced by then-thriving action studio Nikkatsu, A Colt is My Passport infuses elements of the great American westerns to create a distinctive and captivating journey for its two leads. Jo Shishido is cast as the Japanese take on the Gary Cooper strong silent hero, and his climactic showdown with a car full of enemies is spectacular.
The Coen Brothers aren’t exactly obscure filmmakers. In addition to their Academy acclaim, they have directed a plethora of films that have been inducted into pop culture canon. That being said, their 1990 crime comedy Miller’s Crossing is criminally underseen. Gabriel Byrne plays a mob lieutenant who is constantly trying to keep the peace between his boss and a rival gang. The Coen’s outrageous farce is well woven into this mafia parable and the score and cinematography are operating on otherworldly levels. Of all the sensational talent assembled here, it is John Turturro’s performance as the uber slimy Bernie Bernbaum that steals the show.
[Photo Credit: Warner Bros.]
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September 14, 2012 9:39am EST
If we think hard enough, we can remember the old Mandy Patinkin: the one we knew before the days of Claire Danes-enabling and fluffy beardom. The actor's last television stint before Homeland was the CBS crime procedural Criminal Minds, on which he starred for two seasons between 2005 and '07. Patinkin's leave from the show was abrupt, as the actor has affirmed a distaste for the content of the program. A recent New York Magazine interview has Patinkin delving deeper into his issues with the show. The actor goes so far as to say, "The biggest public mistake I ever made was that I chose to do Criminal Minds in the first place."
Patinkin joined Criminal Minds with ideas about what the show might be, but apparently wound up starkly disappointed: "I thought it was something very different. I never thought they were going to kill and rape all these women every night, every day, week after week, year after year. It was very destructive to my soul and my personality." He adds, "After that, I didn’t think I would get to work in television again."
This isn't a sentiment he resigns to Criminal Minds alone, but to the crime procedural genre in general: "I’m not making a judgment on the taste [of people who watch crime procedurals]. But I’m concerned about the effect it has. Audiences all over the world use this programming as their bedtime story. This isn’t what you need to be dreaming about."
But Patinkin has some very different feelings about his current job on his critically acclaimed Showtime drama: :A show like Homeland is the antidote. It asks why there’s a need for violence in the first place."
And although Patinkin might have distance himself from the forces behind Criminal Minds with these statements, he joins the revered community of actors who hate the stuff they've been in. And he's in pretty good company:
Katherine Heigl and Knocked Up
Not only has Heigl declined Emmy nominations for Grey's Anatomy in light of the show's writing not meeting her standards of quality, but she has also gone on record against the 2007 comedy Knocked Up, taking particular issue with writer/director Judd Apatow's female characters. In an '07 interview with Vanity Fair,Heigl called the movie "sexist," and said, "It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys."
Bob Hoskins and Super Mario Bros.
There aren't too many Super Mario Bros movie apologists out there who are going to take issue with Hoskins' lack of affinity for the film. In a 2011 interview with The Guardian, Hoskins was asked the following three questions: "What is the worst job you've done?," "What has been your biggest disappointment?," and "If you could edit your past, what would you change?" To these, the actor replied, "Super Mario Brothers," "Super Mario Brothers," and "I wouldn't do Super Mario Brothers," respectively.
Mark Wahlberg and The Happening
And then of course there is Marky Mark's tirade against his 2008 M. Night Shyamalan endeavor The Happening. During a press conference, Wahlberg eloquently illustrated his fervent distaste for the film's ultimate reveal: "F***ing trees, man. The plants. F*** it."
Bill Murray and Garfield
Here's a personal favorite: comic genius Murray admitted that the only reason he signed on for the 2004 film adaptation of Garfield in the first place was due to a case of mistaken identity. In a 2010 interview with GQ, Murray revealed the truth behind his
"I looked at the script, and it said, 'So-and-so and Joel Coen.' And I thought: Christ, well, I love those Coens! They're funny. So I sorta read a few pages of it and thought, Yeah, I'd like to do that ... So I worked all day and kept going, "That's the line? Well, I can't say that." And you sit there and go, What can I say that will make this funny? And make it make sense? And I worked. I was exhausted, soaked with sweat, and the lines got worse and worse. And I said, "Okay, you better show me the whole rest of the movie, so we can see what we're dealing with." So I sat down and watched the whole thing, and I kept saying, "Who the hell cut this thing? Who did this? What the fuck was Coen thinking?" And then they explained it to me: It wasn't written by that Joel Coen."While Murray presumed the screenwriter of Garfield to be the famed Joel Coen who co-wrote and -directed critically acclaimed movies like The Big Lebowski, Fargo, and No Country for Old Men, the Joel Cohen behind his film was in fact the writer of Toy Story, Cheaper By the Dozen, and Evan Almighty. Topping this off, Murray made a tongue-in-cheek jab about Garfield while playing himself in the 2010 horror comedy Zombieland. As Murray lay dying in the film, he is asked by stars Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson about his biggest regret, to which he shrugs and surmises, "Garfield, maybe."
Alec Guinness and Star Wars
And finally, the Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi, who grew a strong distaste for the iconic film Star Wars after its fandom began to grow well past the levels he felt appropriate. In Guinness' memoir A Positively Final Appearance, published in 1999, the actor shares an anecdote about a run-in with a 12-year-old die hard devotee of the film, who admitted that he had seen Star Wars over one hundred times. Guinness agreed to supply the young boy an autograph if he would grant him one request: never watch Star Wars again. The actor remarks in his book, "I shrivel inside each time [the movie] is mentioned."
[Photo Credit: Ronen Akerman/Showtime]
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August 09, 2012 10:38am EST
Sad news has graced the set of the A&E's Network's reality program Paranormal State: 30-year-old star Ryan Buell has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
People reports the news, following a slew of well wishes from fans on Buell's Facebook page, as well as a few updates about Buell's health. Included among the more recent of these posts (which are accredited to a source named "Cereza, PRS Staff") is an update about Buell's brief hospitalization on Monday due to "complications with his kidneys," followed by an announcement on Tuesday that Buell "continues to get some rest."
There have been no explicit updates since, but Buell's Facebook page continues to display encouraging images of the Paranormal State star engaging in retreats, taking photographs with fans, and spreading the philosophies for which his fans adore him so much.
Buell is a paranormal investigator who founded Pennsylvania State University's Paranormal Research Society (featured on the show) during his own college years. Buell's memoir, Paranormal State: My Journey into the Unknown, was published in 2010.
[Photo Credit: WENN]
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August 08, 2012 11:25am EST
Bob Hoskins, the English actor likely known best for his roles in the films Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Hook, has announced that he will be retiring from acting, following a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease. "Bob is now looking forward to his retirement with his family, and would greatly appreciate that his privacy be respected at this time ..." Hoskins agent said in a statement according to BBC. "He wishes to thank all the great and brilliant people he has worked with over the years, and all of his fans who have supported him during a wonderful career."
Although Hoskins' performing career dates back to the early 1970s, including classic pieces like Pink Floyd's The Wall and Brazil, modern audiences are likely most familiar with the actor for his starring role in 1988's groundbreaking melding of live action and animation, Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Hoskins played gruff, embittered, toon-hating detective Eddie Valiant, who turns over a new leaf when he teams up with the titular cartoon character to solve a murder mystery. Hoskins was also a fan favorite in the '91 Peter Pan flick Hook, taking on the lovable, oafish pirate sidekick Smee.
Some of Hoskins' other cinematic roles in the past two decades include the video game hero in the goofy Super Mario Bros. '93 movie, J. Edgar Hoover in '95's Nixon, and Nikita Khrushchev in 2001's Enemy at the Gates. Hoskins also appeared in the 2002 rom-com Maid in Manhattan and the 2005 surreal thriller Stay. Most recently, Hoskins played the role of Muir, one of the princess' dwarf allies in the Kristen Stewart picture Snow White and the Huntsman.
[Photo Credit: David Edwards/Daily Celeb]
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August 08, 2012 10:15am EST
The 69 year old's representative announced the news on Wednesday (08Aug12), revealing the actor was diagnosed with the same degenerative condition as Back to the Future star Michael J. Fox last year (11).
A statement issued by his publicist reads: "Bob Hoskins wishes to announce that he will be retiring from acting, following his diagnosis of Parkinson's disease last autumn.
"He wishes to thank all the great and brilliant people he has worked with over the years, and all of his fans who have supported him during a wonderful career. Bob is now looking forward to his retirement with his family, and would greatly appreciate that his privacy be respected at this time."
Hoskins began his screen career in the late 1960s and became known for his performances in 1980's The Long Good Friday, which won him a Best Actor Oscar nomination, and Mona Lisa in 1986.
He also gained critical acclaim for his turn in 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit, in addition to appearances in Mermaids (1990) and the Peter Pan tale Hook (1991).
June 08, 2012 5:00am EST
Campaigners at The Little People of America organisation have this week (beg04Jun12) voiced their anger after actors including Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone and Nick Frost were cast as the famous fairytale characters and digitally altered to appear shorter.
Los Angeles-based dwarf theatre group Beacher's Madhouse threatened to stage a "100-midget march" to the offices of Universal Pictures in protest against "injustice and prejudice".
British actor Davis has now spoken out about the dispute and urged movie bosses not to cut smaller actors out of their castings.
He tells E! Online, "Considering the vast experience of many short actors working in the film industry today, I think it inexcusable that in casting for Snow White & the Huntsman, producers did not utilise this pool of talent. My colleague Peter Dinklage won an Emmy for his performance in Game of Thrones, proving that short actors need roles that will not only challenge them, but allow them to express themselves as actors in their own right.
"It is not acceptable to 'black up' as a white actor, so why should it be acceptable to 'shrink' an actor to play a dwarf?"
A spokesman for the Universal Pictures studio called the move "a casting decision, not a body-type decision," adding, "They (the actors playing the dwarves) came with pedigrees and recognisability."
June 06, 2012 10:15am EST
The Seinfeld star, who was born with dwarfism, was outraged to learn that regular-sized British actors Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins and Nick Frost were among those who had been chosen to play key roles alongside Stewart, Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron, with producers using computer technology to superimpose their faces on to smaller bodies.
Woodburn insists the move is an insult to real dwarves, likening the switch to white actors painting their faces to depict Africans.
And he blasts the casting bosses for not using real dwarf actors - because there are already so few acting parts available for little people.
He tells the New York Post, "This is akin to black face."
Ironically, Woodburn, who starred in Julia Roberts' rival Snow White production Mirror, Mirror, was accidentally sent a copy of the Snow White and the Huntsman script, and while he doesn't have a problem with the "fabulous" talents of McShane, Hoskins and Frost, he's not happy with the use of computer trickery.
He adds, "That kind of manipulation for the sake of art doesn't sit well with me."
A representative for the film's studio, Universal Pictures, has defended the choice of stars, stating: "It was a casting decision, not a body-type decision. They (actors in the dwarf roles) came with pedigrees and recognisability."
Snow White & The Huntsman was a big hit when it opened in U.S. cinemas last weekend (01-03Jun12) - it debuted with an impressive $56.1 million (£35 million) three-day take on Sunday (03Jun12).
June 04, 2012 8:50am EST
The relationship between video games and movies has always been rather intimate. Not only have film adaptations been crafted of different titles over the years, but the games themselves are adopting more and more cinematic storytelling devices. Watch any given video game trailer these days — it’s hard to differentiate it from those of big Hollywood blockbusters. In honor of this intertwined relationship, and in celebration of the commencement of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), we thought we’d take a look at some video game movies to see where their strengths and weaknesses lie. Unfortunately, more often than not, the latter far exceeds the former.
Super Mario Brothers (1993)
Where It Scored Points: Bob Hoskins is a great choice for the role of gaming’s favorite plumber-turned-adventurer. The cross-dimensional story device also adds an interesting, if wholly unnecessary, sci-fi angle to the proceedings. Plus, (and I mean this without any trace of irony), any film featuring Fisher Stevens is worth checking out at least once.
Where It Needs a Power-Up: Unfortunately, nearly everything else about Super Mario Brothers is far from super. Where are the colorful, fantastical landscapes that defined the games? Instead we are subjected to the bleak, dirty aesthetic of a post-apocalyptic nightmare. What is up with the tiny-headed baddies? And would somebody please tell the writers that Dennis Hopper making pizza jokes for an hour is not the same as being menacing?
Mortal Kombat (1995)
Where It Scored Points: Basing a movie on a fighting game is particularly tricky. Ultimately, your plot is going to be largely limited to arranging characters into one-on-one brawls. In that regard, Paul WS Anderson’s Mortal Kombat is a success. The story is as forgettable as its cast, but it does accomplish random battle pairings reminiscent of playing an exceedingly brainless round of the game. It also incorporates many of the familiar moves and catchphrases from the characters in the game.
Where It Needs a Power-Up: I’m willing to forgive the woefully bad acting here (seriously, Christopher Lambert, could you care less that you’re in this?) as well as the special effects that challenge the validity of both those words. My biggest gripe with Mortal Kombat is its soundtrack. It’s not enough that the techno dance battle white noise became the anthem of every middle school JV basketball game, but you have to hand it to a theme song that states the name of the movie seconds after you hit play. You know, just in case you didn’t know you were watching MORTAL KOMBAAAAAAT!
Where It Scored Points: The only thing I imagine has to be more difficult than making a movie based on an arcade fighting game is making one based on a first-person shooter. Undaunted by this challenge, Polish director Andrzej Bartkowiak brought us Doom in 2005. What I really like about Doom is the Sarge character played by The Rock. There’s a meta approach to the fact that The Rock was becoming a popular cinematic presence often known for playing heroes. The line, “I’m not supposed to die” makes the movie for me.
Where It Needs a Power-Up: Overall, Doom is pretty lukewarm in terms of its action sequences and its story fails to hold your attention. But its biggest flaw is actually born of its overzealous nodding to its source material. At one point the film utilizes a first person perspective to imitate the experience of playing the game. The thing is, if we are forced to view everything through this perspective, we want to be able to control the character; otherwise it’s as frustrating as…sitting through Doom the movie.
Street Fighter (1994)
Where It Scored Points: Here again, we have a film based on an arcade fighting game, and here again there are plenty of scattershot character fight combos. I actually think that, as silly as the plot is, there’s a certain sound logic to the good/evil/random rogue assignments bestowed upon the various characters. But let’s face it; the main reason to watch Street Fighter is Raul Julia as General Bison. He’s completely over-the-top and cartoonishly evil in the best possible way.
Where It Needs a Power-Up: Street Fighter’splot flatlines early on, and the preponderance of painfully bad jokes will have you squirming in your chair. But easily Street Fighter’s biggest, and most hilariously terrible flaw is the casting of Jean-Claude Van Damme as Guile. You can flash that enormous American flag tattoo on your equally enormous bicep all you want, Jean-Claude, your accent betrays your supposed Yankee origins.
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
Where It Scored Points: Angelina Jolie looks the part, and in that regard her casting as the formerly polygonal adventurer was apt. And how can you not enjoy a gun-toting female doing battle with a robot? Also, the first Lara Croft movie features an entertaining turn by current James Bond himself Daniel Craig.
Where It Needs a Power-Up: There’s a bit too much emphasis put on Lara’s bod that makes the movie seem exploitative. Yes, I know there were elements of this in the game, but the movie took advantage of Jolie’s, um, natural assets. Some of the action sequences feel like rejected Matrix fodder that fail to excite us as much as its thumping soundtrack would fool us into believing.
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May 31, 2012 9:26am EST
Maintaining the fantastical but dropping any semblance of whimsy Snow White and the Huntsman transforms the classic fairy tale into a bleak Lord of the Rings-esque hero's tale full of sword fights monsters and forces of evil bent on wiping out humanity. Instead of creating a unique world or conflict for its revamped characters to explore SWATH plays it safe and sticks to the familiar beats coming off like an amalgamation of every fantasy film that's ever graced the silver screen. Director Rupert Sanders sticks to flashy special effects (some of which are truly stunning) over his greatest asset: the charismatic cast. Kristen Stewart Charlize Theron Chris Hemsworth and eight familiar-faced dwarves try their best to elevate the thin material on display but the film is under a sleeping spell — and no one steps in to wake it up.
Once again an evil queen manipulates her way into the castle and heart of a widower king only to cut his throat and throw his beautiful young daughter Snow into the tower to rot. Years later a magic mirror reveals to the wicked Ravenna (Theron) that the now-of-age Snow White (Stewart) is the answer to her waning magic and wrinkly skin. But as Ravenna's slimy brother Finn comes knocking at Snow's door the imprisoned princess pulls a fast one escaping and opening the door for a large-scale adventure through the forests mountains and swamps of the mystical kingdom.
SWATH's action feel particularly shoehorned in each set piece drifting by without any weight or purpose. After fleeing the tower Snow takes shelter in The Dark Forest (there wasn't a better name? or a name at all?) where she's tracked by the Queen's freelancer The Huntsman (Hemsworth). A few fleeting character moments later the two are on the run together duking it out with otherworldly trolls and joining forces with a group of pint-sized ex-gold miners who believe Snow White is "the one." The epic speak commonplace in fantasy films plagues SWATH — without any details as to how or why the world works the way it does most of the dialogue amounts to characters screaming about "destiny." The lack of specifics filters into the journey too: at one point Snow White stumbles upon a forbidden forest bustling with fairies moss-covered turtles and an antlered creature that's never been seen by humans. The beast is a sign that Snow is savior of their world. Why? Anyone's guess.
The generic quality brings down the talent on screen namely Theron's delightfully wicked Ravenna who goes full on Joan Crawford/Mommie Dearest as she pulls strings to entrap Snow White. Naysayers of Kristen Stewart will have plenty of fuel after SWATH but it's the material that fails to serve the actress in this case. The actors in the film barely get to smile — the drab overcast look of the movie clouding even the performances — but the moments when Stewart's Snow brightens up things suddenly come alive. Hemsworth lightens the mood too showing off a sliver of his comedic prowess from Thor. Between the movie's instance for doom and gloom the patchwork script and Sanders' overuse of up-close-and-personal shakycam there's rarely a moment for the actors to do their thing. It's barely worth mentioning the handful of British character actors who pop up as the Dwarves who hobble around mumbling unintelligible quips. They quickly form a bond with Snow White — or so the movie strong-arms us into believing.
Snow White and the Huntsman is stuffed with imaginative spectacle but the artistry is lost on a hollow story. Crystalline mirror shard warriors the Queen's youth-sucking powers or landscapes that look like live-action Miyazaki animation — it all looks amazing but they're never more than spiffy special effects. The movie wants to be above the visuals teasing a smart tough Snow White but the potential is squandered by never allowing the heroine to stride beyond the conventional world. If Snow White's tale is a shiny red apple then modern tropes of fantasy are the poison.
April 09, 2012 12:49pm EST
The action genre has long been deemed the realm of the “guy movie.” But there are some filmmakers who have devoted themselves to bringing the artistry and universal appeal back to the genre. One such filmmaker is Luc Besson, who has directed, written, and/or produced some of the most interesting, exciting and visually stunning action films of the last twenty years. With the sci-fi actioner Lockout hitting theaters this week, a film for which Besson again served as producer and co-writer, we thought we’d offer a few of his past films as evidence of his mastery of action cinema.
In 1994, Natalie Portman was not an Oscar winner. In fact, she wasn’t even old enough to drive a car. However, tween-age Portman turned in what I still consider to be one of the finest performances of her career, in the Besson-directed/written The Professional.
In the film, she plays a young girl whose family is murdered, forcing her into the care of a softhearted hitman played by Jean Reno. Shot like a visual poem, and featuring a dynamite turn by Gary Oldman as one of filmdom’s most insane killers, The Professional boasts some phenomenal gunplay. One particularly operatic shootout spellbounds during each and every rewatch.
By now it seems most people are familiar with parkour, as it has been used in a number of action films over the last few years. This combination of acrobatics and perfect weight distribution is designed to eliminate all obstacles and therefore make forward progress as perpetual as possible. In 2004, the Besson-produced and co-written District B13 made a cinematic science out of what was previously merely an Internet phenomenon.
The story of a hard-hitting, nimble police officer sent into a Paris ghetto to defuse a nuclear weapon, District B13 has arguably one of the most impressive and mind-boggling opening sequences of any action film ever made. If nothing else, it’ll have you contemplating the most creative method of navigating through every building you enter from that point forward.
The Fifth Element
There are those who contend that the worth of any given sci-fi film is predicated upon the scope and detail of the world it creates for itself. To wit, 1997’s The Fifth Element is a rousing success for the genre. Starring Bruce Willis as a futuristic cabbie forced into the center of a centuries-old struggle for the universe’s ultimate weapon, Besson’s The Fifth Element, for which he also wrote the screenplay, is a bizarre tapestry of flying cars, monsters, and intergalactic politics. Once again featuring a rather off the wall performance from the immensely talented Gary Oldman, The Fifth Element combines techno shootouts, martial arts, and one spectacular hovercar chase that neatly punctuates this odd, wonderful sci-fi opus.
Jet Li is an international action sensation, so it was only a matter of time before he and Luc Besson crossed paths. In 2005, Besson produced and wrote Louis Leterrier’s Unleashed starring Li and the incomparable Bob Hoskins. The story revolves around a young man trained in the deadly martial arts, and who basically lives as a dog. He wears a collar that keeps him docile. But the moment his master, a ruthless gangster, removes the collar, he becomes an unstoppable killing machine. It is true that the fight sequences in this film are brutal and will leave you gasping for breath, but it’s the gripping story and Li’s amazing performance that sets it apart and makes it a film you simply cannot miss.
Before 2009’s Taken, many people knew who Liam Neeson was, and probably were familiar with his prestigious body of work. And yet his starring role as a former secret agent whose daughter is kidnapped by human traffickers in Taken reintroduced us to the ass-kicking, name-taking action hero and rejuvenated his entire career. What is so spectacular about Taken, for which Besson served as a producer and co-writer, is how incredibly streamlined it is. Not only do we see Neeson beating a path of retributive pain and destruction through the Paris underworld, but there is also not an ounce of fat on the entire film. Neeson’s character is a force of nature that will not be the slightest bit deterred from his quest, so the action does not let up until the credits roll.