It’s interesting how appropriate a movie title can be, even beyond encapsulating the central conceit or touching upon some important plot point. Take for example Jee-woon Kim’s The Last Stand. On the surface, the title may only appear to reference that the story revolves around a sheriff whose small border town is the last line of defense against a marauding escaped convict. But there is another connotation: this actioner stars sixty-five-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnie has enjoyed a long, celebrated career of cinematic action heroism, but has reached the point where each new film feels like a last stand, a potential final note of glory for his expansive catalog.
Despite the harsh physical demands imposed by the genre in which he has become a staple, Arnold has managed the remarkable feat of continuing making action films well past his peak. Hollywood has long had a reputation of being a world suited for the young; where age is an insidious enemy. And yet a few special performers have managed to jump into the acting game well into their 30s and beyond with profound success. Others simply didn’t get their big break until they were more mature. We thought we’d take a look at some of our favorites and discuss why it took so long for them to achieve success.
Thanks to the Harry Potter films, Alan Rickman is more popular now than ever, but it was a certain skyscraping action classic that put him on the map back in 1988. Rickman was forty-two when Die Hard, his first film, was released. Like many British actors, he got his start on the stage, but he didn’t even enroll in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts until he was twenty-six. So what delayed him from tackling acting sooner? Believe it or not, it was a successful graphic design business, which Rickman ran with his friends. Is it too much to hope for that those friends were the other dastardly thieves on the Nakatomi heist? Regardless of his previous occupation, his maturity upon entering acting school, coupled with the stage roles prior to Die Hard, is precisely what allowed for Rickman’s dazzling film debut.
Harrison Ford has become one of the most recognizable figures in cinema. His resume reads like a who’s who of superlatively iconic film characters. He’s Indiana Jones, he’s Deckard from Blade Runner, and, possibly most renowned, Han Solo from the original Star Wars trilogy. When Ford beat out the likes of Nick Nolte, Kurt Russell, Jack Nicholson, and Christopher Walken, among many others, for the role of Solo, he was thirty-five-years-old. With such raw talent and magnetism, why did Ford wait so long to give performing a whirl? It turns out he had tried acting once before, even got signed to a contract with Universal after he dropped out of college. But after becoming frustrated with his stagnating career, he decided to go into carpentry. It wasn’t until he met George Lucas and worked on American Graffiti that he got back into the movie star game. Thankfully, his rugged good looks only improved with age.
There have been a great many film stars who began their careers on TV before making the leap to film. However, in the case of Steve Carell, he has jumped back and forth between the mediums with great success. But even if we go back to his seminal gig on The Daily Show, where he was a favorite correspondent, he was already thirty-seven. The first film role that would bring him notice was as the slimy anchorman Evan Baxter in 2003’s Bruce Almighty. A couple more film victories later, he landed the role of Michael Scott in the American version of The Office; Carell now forty-three. Once again, when it comes to burgeoning talent, comedy proves to be a genre without age restrictions.
Dame Judi Dench
When scanning back through all the actors who either began their career or got their big break later in life, one thing that becomes exceedingly clear is that there are far more men in that category than women. It seems the proverbial system is not as accepting of aged female performers as it is their male counterparts. We could postulate in-depth about the superficiality and sexual double standards of showbiz all day, but one thing is for certain, Dame Judi Dench is a force of nature on the screen whose age has not at all slowed her down. Like Rickman, she too got her start on the stage, but won her first major acclaim on British TV, just as she entered her late 40s. Of course, it was her casting as the James Bond franchise’s first female M in 1995’s GoldenEye that broadened her appeal stateside. She was sixty-one. Talent, real talent, has no expiration date, and Dench serves as a fantastic testament to that.
Transitioning from one entertainment arena into cinematic fame becomes a common theme the more we examine these late-in-life movie stars. In the case of Rodney Dangerfield, he developed a name for himself as a standup comedian long before his first foray into film came in 1980, when he was just shy of sixty-years-old. His role as the outlandish millionaire Al Czervik in Caddyshack launched him into the filmic comedy stratosphere and made him a fixture of the 1980s. There is something to be said for comedy being more accommodating for this sort of post-mature transition. Comedy does not tend to present the same physical demands as do action films, nor are the standards of beauty as lofty. No disrespect intended, Rodney.
[Photo Credit: Lionsgate; Columbia; Warner Bros Pictures(2)]
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If there is one thing everybody loves, it’s a great monster film. And if there is one sort of person I can’t stand, it’s someone who doesn’t love great monster films.
But if you aren’t someone who watches movies all day every day, like me, you may be operating under the misconception that America has the market cornered on spectacular creature features. As it turns out, the firmament of world cinema is littered with shining monsters of all shapes and sizes. Thanks to Netflix’s Watch Instantly service, you can expose yourself to nearly the entire international gamut of monster movies. We hope you’ll consider one such foreign monster movie: Korea’s The Host from 2006.
Who Made It: The Host was directed Bong Joon-ho. Along with this fantastic creature feature, Bong Joon-ho also gave us a deeply moving serial killer thriller in 2003’s Memories of Murder. He is also apparently directing a sequel to The Host, which is currently in some phase of production.
Who’s In It: I won’t delve into the entire cast, mostly because I would be in danger of multiple, multiple spelling errors with their names. But I do want to mention the star of the film Kang-ho Song. This guy’s resume reads like a Must See List of some of the best Korean cinema has had to offer over the last decade. He’s been featured in Park Chan-wook’s Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Lady Vengeance, and Thirst as well as Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder and Jee-woon Kim’s The Good, the Bad, the Weird. All films exceedingly worthy of your time.
What’s It About: A batch of long-expired formaldehyde dumped into Seoul’s water supply gives birth to a mutated amphibious create that wreaks havoc upon those living alongside the Han River. When the creature abducts a young girl, her family, (who at first believed her to be dead) sets out on a dangerous mission to bring her home.
Why You Should Watch It:
The Host is an exemplary monster movie on a number of levels, not the least of which being the design of the monster itself. The decision to make it amphibian as opposed to a simply water-dwelling beast immediately ratchets up the terror. It’s one thing to create a reason not to go in the water, but it’s an entirely new ball game when you are no longer safe on dry land. What we end up with is something sort of like a giant salamander/fish hybrid with more appendages than we can count and a prehensile tail, and yet it moves like a great cat when on land. Its eyes are nearly impossible to identify, something that always creates a sense of dread, and its mouth seems to harbor endless compartments of sharp teeth. Basically, not at all something you would want to see tooling around your neighborhood.
The catalytic scene, in which the presence of the beast is revealed, is one of the most jaw-dropping sequences in all of horrordom. Spectators gather to observe a mysterious pod hanging from under a bridge. The pod them drops into the water and what follows is a symphony of carnage and death. The way Bong Joon-ho shoots the sequence, largely from our hero’s point of view as he flees for his life, creates some stunning imagery that serves the dual purpose of creating tension and withholding enough direct exposure to not allow the computer-generated graphics to be so overt. This sequence powerfully asserts the film’s tone and serves as an appetizer for its boldness—even innocent people are torn to shreds.
Despite all the terror, the violent thrashing of claws and gnashing of teeth, The Host’s true power is in its undeniable amount of heart. The pain and anguish of the family of the stolen girl is deeply affecting and yields to a measured amount of bittersweet comedy as they struggle valiantly against their own monster-hunting ineptitude to reclaim her. The relationship between that little girl and an even younger boy she meets in the monster’s lair not only makes for some edge-of-your-seat plot devices, but also furthers the tear-jerking sense of sentimentality and the film’s overall message of love’s ability to conquer all.
Director Jason Reitman made a very smart decision when approaching his new film Young Adult. His past two successes Juno and Up in the Air were stylized dramedies one with colorful dialogue and production design flourishes the other with precision camera work his director's hand evident at every turn. In his latest he pulls way back letting his lead character—a vile destructive former high school prom queen named Mavis (Charlize Theron)—do the talking. And talk she does—every word a stinging insult disillusioned wish holier-than-thou gripe or embarrassing truth. Reitman unleashes an unfiltered Theron and the results are gut-wrenching hilarious and powerful.
While working on her latest Sweet Valley High-esque book Mavis receives a mass e-mail from her high school boyfriend Buddy (Patrick Wilson) announcing that he and his wife are expecting their first child. This sets a fire under Mavis' ass and after chugging a 2-Liter of Diet Coke and throwing on a Hello Kitty tee she hits the road to take back the man that's rightfully hers. Mavis shacks up in a drab hotel located in the heart of her small Minnesota hometown and immediately proceeds to the bar to indulge in her favorite pastime: pounding back whiskey. There she runs in to one of her forgettable high school classmates Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt) who she only recalls after being reminded of a horrendous gay bashing that left both his legs crippled ("And I'm not even gay."). The two form an unlikely friendship—Matt being enamored by Mavis' pathetic quest Mavis needing an ear to talk off.
Young Adult's simple premise allows writer Diablo Cody (Juno The United States of Tara) to move Mavis from depressing suburban local to depressing suburban local with ease creating a playground of homogenized perfection for Theron's foul behavior. Whether she open-mouth chewing on fried chicken at the local KFC/Taco Bell covering up last night's hangover with a fresh facial or seducing Buddy at the Applebee's-esque restaurant Mavis never falters always looking down at her surroundings finding excuses for why she's not the source of her own problems.
Theron's performance is fearless one of the few crass female performances shaded with human complexity and empathy. Young Adult is a very funny film that works because of its star's ability to teeter the edge of comical and truly unlikable. Oswalt and Wilson amplify the main performance embodying their own grounded characters to properly riff with the vulgar Mavis. Matt is a very Patton-y character to begin with but between is jokey back-and-forths with Mavis is an inherent sadness one Oswalt surfaces with a contrasting subtly. Unlike Mavis Matt has the ability to rise above is own plight and change. His new friend is tragically a lost cause. At times the film's story feels too narrow never allowing us to really explore Mavis' other relationships but it's hard to naysay for wanting more.
Few movies attempt to mine comedy out of the bleakness of everyday life; even fewer do so while twisting storytelling conventions. You watch Young Adult with hopes for Mavis but Reitman and Cody aren't ready to indulge you. In Theron they've found one of the few actresses in town who can simultaneously look like a conventionally gorgeous blonde bombshell and complete make-up-caked crap a woman with the balls to take a character who relishes in schadenfreude. They don't squander that talent. From the first to the umpteenth Teenage Fanclub sound cue Mavis is delusional caught up in her own fantasy and willing to execute it at any cost. It's a truly cringe-worthy mission but it works because sadly we all know someone like that.
September 22, 2010 12:10pm EST
On the hit television show The Secret Life of the American Teenager protagonist Amy Juergens has to deal with high school drama boy troubles the needs of her young child and more making her days at Ulysses S. Grant High School far from ideal. In reality the lives of youngsters are even more complicated as all of the above in addition to peer pressure academic competition and the age-old quest to be cool can overwhelm the most focused individual.
Writers-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson) both dramatize and make light of the plight of pubescents in their sweet new film It’s Kind of a Funny Story. Based on Ned Vizzini’s novel which chronicles a lonesome teen’s brief stay at an adult psychiatric ward it is a very funny story but the filmmakers keep it levelheaded with melancholy supporting characters and a message about the affliction of our society’s medicated youth.
Keir Gilchrist (The United States of Tara) plays Craig a chronically depressed Brooklyn teen who checks in for treatment after contemplating suicide. An over-achiever caught up in the rat race that is the American Dream Craig’s pessimism and depression stem from neglectful parents more concerned with him gaining acceptance into an elite school than following his passions. His anxiety is aggravated by the dreadful current events of our time notably the wars and financial meltdown that have crippled the aspirations of much of our country’s youth. Though he is a bit over-dramatic Craig’s ailment does raise notable points about paternal priorities and an entire generation of disheartened dreamers.
But surrounded by the hospital’s eccentric group of patients including Emma Roberts’ damaged love interest Noelle and Zach Galifianakis’ emotionally guarded Bobby Craig makes a psychological breakthrough. Gilchrist is like the love child of Justin Long and Jay Baruchel but isn’t nearly as fun to watch as either of those hot-at-the-moment performers save for one Flight of the Conchords moment in the middle of the movie. It’s not that he’s unconvincing; he’s just dull. Luckily Galifianakis steals the show at every turn giving his first ever three-dimensional performance and earning all the attention he’s been getting lately.
Had its story been laid out ordinarily It’s Kind of a Funny Story wouldn’t have been nearly as affecting as it is. But a series of funky flashbacks quirky cut-scenes and animated sequences make the film’s otherwise predictable narrative abstract original and refreshing.
Like the depression-era brass-and-bass pop hits that its wiry protagonist covets Meet Monica Velour is a pleasant little ditty that plays smoothly and entertains from start to finish. Anchored by a refreshing turn from Kim Cattrall as the title character Keith Bearden’s feature debut is a firm freshman effort one that will undoubtedly grant the film journalist-turned-filmmaker a crack at something bigger.
A high-concept coming-of-age story with a significant social message the movie centers on seventeen-year-old Tobe Hulbert (Dustin Ingram) – an innocent and awkward recent high school graduate on the verge of a breakdown from boredom. The only solace he finds in his mundane existence comes from collecting assorted pop-culture items: vintage records from the 1930s comic books from the ‘40s and most interestingly pornography from the late ‘70s and ‘80s. When he hears about a rare appearance by his lifelong porn star crush at a sleazy strip club four states away Tobe leaves his drunken grandfather’s home and heads to Indiana to finally meet Monica Velour.
Of course after thirty years of professional wear and tear and marital and substance abuse Ms. Velour is nothing more than a decaying façade of the glimmering beauty she once was. Spiteful and world-weary Cattrall shines through the runny make-up and cheap outfits her character has become accustomed to and delivers an authentic portrayal of a woman who walked on the wild side and came through a marvelous mess. Her performance along with the nostalgic reminiscence of porno’s home-video heyday offers a loving nod to the skin-flick industry while poking fun at its ludicrous unnecessary plot lines and C-rate production values.
While Ms. Cattrall will help sell tickets young Dustin Ingram steals the show as the nebbish Tobe. Looking and acting like the bastard child of Napoleon Dynamite and Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka the twenty-year-old actor taps into the misery of America’s disaffected youth and turns it into enjoyably wry comedy that shares its tone with the picture as a whole. Writer/director Bearden brightens his character’s bleak outlook on life with vibrant colors that convey the magic of Americana that fuels the film as well as his protagonist’s quest.
Though the movie may be likened to popular teen comedies like The Girl Next Door Porky’s or Fast Times at Ridgemont High underneath the crude humor and sex jokes is a poignant story of an unlikely friendship between a faded star and her number one fan. There is a great deal of emotional depth to both the characters and the narrative and though the relationship between Monica and Tobe is mostly comedic Bearden allows the mold to be broken at times to reveal a genuine connection between these two lost souls. Furthermore the picture attacks the hegemonic perspective of the aging woman in a society that worships youth and beauty and is quick to dispose of one who is past her prime. It has more in common with Juno and Little Miss Sunshine than the aforementioned mainstream studio movies and like both of those critical darlings deserves to be picked up for wide distribution where it will surely prosper.