20th Century Fox via Everett Collection
There was a time in the early '90s when Liam Neeson had developed into an actor of great repute. Roles in films like Schindler's List, Nell, Michael Collins, and Rob Roy showed him to be a powerful performer, capable of infusing characters with tenderness without sacrificing their manly characteristics.
As all actors do, Neeson branched out and diversified his roles, going from the fantastical in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace to comedy in Love, Actually to comic books in Batman Begins. But then there was the surprising success of Taken, a film with only modest expectations that ended up grossing $145 million in the U.S. alone.
Since then, Neeson has reprised his Taken role as Bryan Mills, retired CIA agent who is a bad guy's worst nightmare, in one sequel and presently filming another. Now he's starring in another action yarn: Non-Stop, in which he plays an air marshall on a quest to stop a killer on a plane. Neeson has found a groove and new level of fame playing tough guys that kick butt and take names… but the Irish actor should consider dialing back the action hero bit. In simplest terms, there doesn't need to be a Taken 4.
It isn't as though Neeson was ever too far from a fight scene; even in some of his Oscar-worthy work his characters were fighters. Neeson is a big guy so it's not hard to imagine casting him in roles that let him put his physical attributes to good use. But, we also don't want Neeson turn into Bruce Willis either. Willis can be a capable actor if he wants to be, but too often he smirks his way through a role as though his inner-John McClane might spring out at any moment. That's exactly what Neeson has to guard against: playing every role with just a twinge of Taken's Bryan Mills in it.
Not one to be completely pigeonholed, Neeson has continued doing a variety of roles, including lending his voice to the Bad Cop/Good Cop character in the blockbuster The Lego Movie and playing a Western bad guy in Seth MacFarlane's upcoming comedy A Million Ways to Die in the West, as well as reportedly filming a cameo in the Entourage movie. Taking diverse parts is one way to keep from getting stuck in an action rut, but it's not everything.
The actor recently signed on to reteam with his Gangs of New York director Martin Scorsese in Silence, where he'll play a Jesuit priest trying to bring Christianity to feudal Japan… and that's a good start. Continuing to work with A-List directors in challenging roles should always be a regular part of Neeson's career.
Neeson is such a likable actor and person that we're willing to forgive him missteps like Battleship and The A-Team, but we also want to see more of him being the actor that was nominated for an Academy Award for playing Oskar Schindler. He doesn't owe that to his audience; he owes that to himself.
Admit it. At some point recently, as you've been scanning the TV listings, a particular show's title has jumped out at you. It isn't just that the name of TLC's Sex Sent Me to the ER is eye-catching... it's that it's so, well, direct. If you haven't taken the plunge and actually tuned in for an episode, what you've been missing is the ultimate guilty pleasure.The show features actors reenacting the sexual circumstances that led up to an ER visit, with commentary sometimes provided by the real people and sometimes by real doctors. Far less gruesome than the network's Untold Stories of the ER, it rates high on both the intentional and unintentional comedy scales. Of course, the real draw is the situations themselves. Having to go to the emergency room and admit that you were hurt during sex has to rank extremely high on the embarrassment meter. On the opposite end of the spectrum, getting to sit at home and watch others suffer through the indignity — even if it is just bad actors portraying the events — is cathartic. It's okay to laugh at someone else's pain in this case because even the people involved realize that a sex related injury is funny… even if it was extremely painful.
The circumstances go from curious to cringe-inducing. There's the woman that had an orgasm that wouldn’t stop for three hours. The guy that broke his manhood during a threesome and the ensuing catfight that broke out in the ER over it. The 400-pound man that accidentally knocked his girlfriend's head through a wall and rendered her unconscious during his first sexual encounter. The list goes on and on.
Part of the fun, in the segments where the real people help tell their own story, is getting to compare whether the actors that are cast were actually a good fit. It can range from pretty close to not even a little, but the opportunity to second guess a casting director makes for an added bonus. On the same token, the acting itself is about what you would expect... but what makes it hilarious is watching the actors/extras on the periphery trying to keep a straight face at the sheer ridiculousness of it all. The facial expressions across the board are priceless.
TLC just ordered an additional 35 episodes of Sex Sent Me to the ER, and based on the show's message boards, there's no shortage of people waiting to share their story of being injured during sex. In fact, most of them just pitch their story right there. Sure, TLC tries to interject some actual knowledge by using pop-up balloons to dispense facts and figures related to the injuries or conditions, but anyone gaining any true medical insight from the show is completely secondary. Laughing at other people's sexual misfortune is pretty good medicine in and of itself.
CBS Broadcasting Inc.
Friends With Better Lives, former Friends producer Dana Klein's show about people who think their pals have it better than they do, took a circuitous path into CBS' schedule. The show was originally ordered last pilot season but never showed up on the schedule. Now, the sitcom will get its premiere after the How I Met Your Mother finale on March 31.
Spring is not traditionally when successful network shows are launched, but FWBL does have a few things going for it. First off, Klein's experience with juggling multiple characters. Another is the built in audience that series star James Van Der Beek brings with him. Plus, there's a swimsuit model in the cast, which probably doesn't hurt anything. Still, for the show to succeed, there are some questions that it will have to answer.
What did Van Der Beek learn from Don't Trust the B—?
Van Der Beek finally broke free from his teen idol image by playing a version of himself on the now canceled ABC comedy Don't Trust the B— in Apartment 23. With Friends with Better Lives, Van Der Beek gets another chance at sitcom success. The former Dawson's Creek star hopefully remembers that audiences enjoyed seeing him play against type as a self-involved dim bulb and maintains the same level of fun now that he had on Don’t Trust the B— and during his HIMYM appearances (as Robin's ex-boyfriend). On FWBL, he plays the divorced group member still in love with his ex-wife. Hopefully, Van Der Beek won't just be a better looking version of Friends' Ross, or worse, stare off longingly across the water and call his ex "Joey."
Do they have a plan for Brooklyn Decker?
Swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker has experience with comedy after starring with Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston in Just Go With It, but chances are FWBL won't be able to keep finding excuses for her to be in a bikini or in the shower the way that Sandler did. She's going to need to be funny on her own. Decker is playing the friend that just got engaged, so expect to see her playing off of the bubbly bride-to-be stereotypes… and if ratings sag, to see her trying on low-cut wedding gowns.
What's with the single?
Zoe Lister-Jones plays the single woman in the group, and that's tricky. She's supposed to be a successful business executive who isn't good at dating and is jealous of her newly engaged friend. Play that one wrong and she risks becoming a dangerously regressive character. Lister-Jones has to be funny, confident, and insecure all at once, and convincingly. Good luck with that.
Can you ignore the baby?
Friends was deft at having the characters experience parenthood without having that become the sole focus of their lives. In FWBL, Kevin Connolly and Majandra Delfino are the married couple that has kids and are envious of their childless friends more freewheeling lifestyle. Keeping the focus on the couple's relationship with their friends and not on their relationship with their kids is a must if the show is to keep from sliding into According to Jim territory.
In Divergent, Kate Winslet's icy glare is enough to send a shiver down the spine of even the most hardened moviegoer. Her character, Jeanine Matthews, is a power hungry politician from the dystopian story's Erudite faction, where knowledge is supposed to be valued above all else. Brilliant and manipulative, Matthews will stop at nothing to gain control of the five Chicago factions.Winslet's Matthews might be a formidable foe for Shailene Woodley's Tris, but how does she stack against other similar movie villains?
President Snow/President Coin, The Hunger Games
In The Hunger Games, Donald Sutherland's President Coriolanus Snow is already firmly entrenched as the country's ruthless leader. He intimidates people into submission, threatening their families if they don't comply… and wastes little time acting on those threats. President Alma Coin hasn't come into play in the films yet (Julianne Moore will play her in the upcoming Mockingjay: Parts I and 2), but she is the more obvious comparison to Matthews. Like the Divergent villain, Coin pretends to be assuming power for the greater good… only to be revealed to be viscous and self-serving. Matthews developed serums to control her people, Snow and Coin just need the force of their personalities. They're the bad guys that Matthews aspires to be.
Aro, The Twilight Saga
The de facto leader of the ruling Volturi vampires Aro, played by Michael Sheen, likes to consolidate his power by recruiting the best and brightest vampires to join him. Along with seemingly everyone else in the Twilight universe, he's not a fan of Kristen Stewart's Bella or her daughter. Like Matthews, he's big on controlling anyone that might have greater powers than him. Unlike Matthews, he has a vision of what might happen if he causes a winner-take-all battle and decides to back down (as evilly as possible, of course).
Lord Voldemort, Harry Potter
In Divergent, people are separated out into groups largely based on their personality types, not unlike the various houses of Harry Potter's Hogwarts. Voldemort, brought to menacing life by Ralph Fiennes in the movies, manages to scare the bejeezus out of everyone even when he doesn't have a body. Like Voldemort, Matthews has the ability to manipulates people's prejudices and fears to get them to act on her behalf. What she doesn't have is any magic to help her out in a pinch… but she does have a young protagonist in Beatrice "Tris" Prior, who annoys her every bit as much as Harry does He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
Michael Corleone, The Godfather
Sure, The Godfather movies are about as far removed from the world of Divergent as you can get, but Al Pacino's Michael shared a vision with Matthews on how to eliminate the competition. Matthews' first act of her takeover of the five factions is an attempt to eliminate the political leadership, all of which (except her) are part of the selfless Abnegation. In The Godfather, when Michael takes over he eliminates the heads of the Mob's other Five Families in a tightly choreographed series of assassinations. Since Divergent takes place in a future Chicago, maybe Matthews should have dug up an old copy of The Godfather to see how it's supposed to be done.
Divergent hits theaters March 21. You can check showtimes and purchase advanced tickets here.
Who is Harry Connick Jr.? Well, he's a Grammy award-winning jazz pianist who became famous for providing the soundtrack to When Harry Met Sally. He's also an accomplished actor with projects as varied as Independence Day and Will & Grace on his resume. Plus, he does a killer Jeff Goldblum impression on request. Oh yeah, he also might be the coolest judge that American Idol has ever had.
Simon Cowell became a cultural icon for his abrasive belittling of contestants; Randy Jackson made "dawg" a part of the national lexicon. AI would never have become the phenomenon that it did without them. Still, calling them cool is a bit of a stretch.
Connick, with his loose-limbed charm, doesn't have to work at being cool. What the singer has provided for AI is the same thing that Blake Shelton and Adam Levine give to The Voice: a level of genuine self-confidence that isn't threatened by the cameras, the audience, or the contestants. Connick doesn't have to worry about his image or his credibility. He gives the impression that if his fame faded away and he had to spend the rest of his life playing clubs in his native New Orleans, he'd be perfectly content with that. When a series of young auditioning singers had no idea who he was, Connick turned it into a series of self-deprecating jokes… including introducing himself to one contestant as Chris Isaak.
While some contestants took to calling him "Harsh Harry," in reality, his criticisms come across as being honest assessments. He might be the funniest judge the show has ever had, but he has no problem telling contestants what he really thinks of their performances. During Hollywood week he told the assembled group that he hates it when singers complain about not feeling well and warning them not to expect any sympathy from him if they try it. Hearing a performer acknowledge that a paying crowd really doesn't care if a performer is sick — that they paid to see a show and they expect to see one — was both refreshing and a healthy dose of practical advice for the would-be stars. As sincere as he is, Connick is not afraid to get goofy. Case in point: when he started dancing during contestant C.J. Jones audition (that is, if you can call doing the robot dancing).
Off the show, Connick has also been a boon for the Fox marketing department as he continuously entertains reporters and talk show hosts alike. He's equally adept at breaking into song or offering up fake answers to banal queries, such as telling Entertainment Weekly that Keith Urban is really from Brooklyn and "mistakenly" referring to Jennifer Lopez as Jennifer Lawrence.
So, who is Harry Connick Jr.? In the end, he's the guy that's making American Idol relevant again.
If Divergent is right, residents of Chicago might want to get out and enjoy the sites while they can. In Veronica Roth's books, Tris Prior's Windy City is described as a fenced in community, split into five sections, that sits next to the giant marsh that was once Lake Michigan.
The film was shot entirely on location in Chicago, both throughout the city and at Cinespace Studios. The production even made a set of fake El tracks, since in the books Chicago's trains are the citizens' main mode of transportation. Apparently the Chicago Transit Authority balked at the idea of having people jumping on and off of the moving trains as they do in Divergent's future.
A number of the city's landmarks are mentioned throughout the book; based on the trailer, Chicago will play a vital role in the film as well. Featured prominently in the early clips was Navy Pier, which in the story is abandoned but still has its trademark Ferris wheel standing, as Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) climb the structure to get a better look of the city. The real Ferris wheel was given a make-over for the scenes so that it could appear rusty in the film.
Similarly, the book decribes the John Hancock Building in the city's famed shopping disctrict on Michigan Avenue as being empty and in poor repair, with Tris and her compatriots using it for ziplining. The film shot some of its exteriors on the real Michigan Ave.
The tallest structure in Chicago, the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower), remains a central part of life in Divergent, as Roth describes it as being the location of the all-important "choosing ceremony" where 16-year-olds must decide which of the city's five factions they'll live with. Reportedly, the production used the Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist as a stand-in for the futuristic interior of the Willis.
The Erudite faction, home to Divergent's villian Jeanine Matthews, is described as controling the area surrounding downtown's Millennium Park, since one of the park's most famous sculptures The Cloud Gate (more commonly known as "The Bean") serves as a meeting place between Tris and her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort).
Tris' home faction of Abnegation isn't pinpointed in the book, but the production used the Wells Street area in South Chicago for the exteriors. It seems fitting that a faction that values selflessness would elect to take up the city's much maligned South Side as its home.
While not being familiar with Chicago won't interfere with the audiences enjoyment of the movie, those with connnections to the city will have a fun time watching what the filmmakers have done with its landmarks. Just as long as the dystopian changes remain in the distant future, since having Lake Michigan turn into a marsh would not do many favors to lake shore property values.
Divergent hits theaters March 21. You can check showtimes and purchase advanced tickets here.
Who would have thought, back when Elton John was writing the music for Disney's The Lion King, that 20 years later he'd be giving the House of Mouse a run for its money?
John's Rocket Films recently announced plans to make an animated version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The musician's company already scored an international hit in 2011 with Gnomeo & Juliet, and has a sequel to it in the works called Sherlock Gnomes. In addition, the company has another project by the Gnomeo director Kelly Asbury called Will Gallows and the Snake Bellied Troll in the pipeline and is developing an animated version of the Michael Buckley N.E.R.D.S. books.
Back in the '70s and '80s, it would've seemed unfathomable that the singer would become one of the leading animation producers in the world… despite his occasional on-stage antics in a Donald Duck suit. That was before The Lion King.
John, who worked with Rice on the film, provided a different sound for the Disney effort, mixing in world beats with pop sensibility and cheeky humor to arrive at something fresh and exciting. The film won John an Academy Award for "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" and grossed nearly a billion dollars in international box office (and added another billion as a Broadway show).
The funny part of John's subsequent success is that he originally tried to continue working with Disney. Gnomeo & Juliet started out as a Disney production, with John even appearing at industry functions in support of it. When the company's animation division merged with Pixar, however, the project was abandoned. Disney did eventually have a hand in the distribution of the film after it was completed, releasing it on the company's nearly defunct Touchstone Pictures imprint… a decision that John made no bones about being upset with.
Now John gets to bring Joseph, one of the most enduring stage shows in history, to the big screen with the full blessing and cooperation of Webber and Rice. Another success along the lines of Gnomeo and Disney might soon regret not working harder to continue its relationship with a man who helped launch one of the company's biggest hits… if it doesn't already.
Betting against the Rocket Man to deliver animated fare that audiences want to see would seem to be a billion dollar mistake.
Television could use some more Stephen King. The best-selling author's work is already the basis for Under the Dome, which is back in production on its second season. Presently, Universal is shopping a pilot from his short-story Ayana, about a blind girl that can seemingly perform miracles. While King's material has been used as film fodder for nearly 40 years (starting with the original Carrie all the way back in 1976), his work has largely been underutilized on TV, mostly popping up now and then in miniseries form. Given the output from the prolific writer over the years, however, there's plenty more of King's stories that would work as an actual series. Here are five that are just screaming for a spot on someone's schedule.
The Dark Tower
For years, people have been trying to develop movies based on King's bleak Dark Tower series, which follows a mysterious gunslinger named Roland on a quest through an odd world that's part Old West and part sci-fi. Instead of trying to give the story the same treatment as J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of The Rings books, the guide should be George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones, which has thrived on cable. At one point, Warner Bros. considered doing both a movie and TV show (for sister company HBO) from the books, but ultimately passed. With a complex story that has its own mythology and language spread over eight books and multiple side stories, The Dark Tower could run on HBO or Showtime for a long time.
The novel, about an Ohio town terrorized by gun-toting thugs that are taking direction from a possessed autistic boy, built an impressive group of subsidiary characters not unlike Under the Dome. The Regulators was a companion piece to King's Desperation, which was already made into a TV movie. Following the strange happenings in a Midwestern town, which already has a built-in parallel universe thanks to the books, the story could provide plenty of material for a number of seasons.
The Running Man
Yes, it already got the big screen treatment starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, but there's a whole lot about the novel's set-up that could be mined for a series. The story, set in a not-too-distant dystopian America, is about a gameshow where contestants are given a head start to go anywhere in the world before they are hunted down and killed on television. Run for 30 days without being killed and you win. Taking elements from reality shows like Survivor and The Amazing Race that audiences have become accustomed to, and elevating them to a strange extreme, would make for some exciting (and darkly funny) serialized viewing.
The Ten O'Clock People
In King's short story, a smoker trying to quit can suddenly see through the disguises of any number of people, including the Vice President, and discovers that they're really monsters. The smoking angle wouldn't work any more, but it's an easy fix to come up with another explanation of why certain people can see through the disguises. Having a resistance group trying to convince people that there are monsters among us would make for a nice mythology story in the same vein of Lost or Fringe.
The story of a teenager manipulated into killing by his neighbor, who turns out to be a Nazi war criminal, was already the basis of a movie with Ian McKellen and Brad Renfro. Change the older character from a Nazi to a terrorist living a hidden life in a California suburb, however, and you could have a show that is a combination of Breaking Bad and The Americans. Who wouldn't want to see Walter White as a terrorist?
As he was participating in a Q&A after winning an award at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Jared Leto was confronted by an angry woman. She wanted to know how he, as a non-transgender person, deserved to play the role of the transgender, HIV-positive Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club that earned Leto an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Instead of going on the offense, Leto engaged her in a thought-provoking conversation about acting and, when there wasn't enough time, invited the woman backstage to continue the dialogue. There's one word for that: cool.
Leto, who rose to prominence initially as a brooding teen idol on My So Called Life, has long marched to the beat of his own drum and in the process has become one of the coolest people in Hollywood. So dedicated was the actor to playing the transgender role in Dallas Buyers Club that he showed up the first day already dressed as a woman.
Instead of playing on his good looks, Leto seems only to take roles that interest him. When he's needed to, he's dropped to skin and bones to play Rayon or a heroin addict in Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream, and has put on weight to play John Lennon's killer Mark David Chapman in Chapter 27. Tired of the physical toll that the extremes of changing his body to fit a role have taken, Leto has decided to stop doing it. When you're cool, you don't let the past control the future.
Besides his acting prowess, Leto has managed to put together a critically acclaimed music career with his band Thirty Seconds to Mars, which also features his brother Shannon Leto. The band has sold millions of albums and toured around the world. When acting offers conflict with his music, Leto usually picks music... because he can.
Leto doesn't just restrict his efforts to acting and music, but spreads himself around by lending his time and talents to numerous charitable organizations. The actor has been an outspoken advocate for everything from gay marriage to stopping animal cruelty. Instead of just lending his name, he frequently shows up at events and participates. Because when you're cool, you don't fake involvement, you actually become involved.
There's a good chance that Leto will be taking home an Oscar at this year's awards ceremony after already scoring wins at the Golden Globes and SAG Awards. It's also a pretty safe bet that his acceptance speech will be heartfelt and honest... and there's nothing cooler than that.
Up until now, model Kate Upton's acting career has largely consisted of making cameos in films like Tower Heist and The Three Stooges(where the Farrelly Brothers managed to have her in a nun's habit and a skimpy swimsuit at the same time). That will change this spring with the release of The Other Woman, where Upton has an above-the-credits role alongside Cameron Diaz.
Upton is the latest in a long line of supermodels that has made the transition to acting… or as Zoolander once labeled it, becoming a "slashie" (model-slash-actor). We know from her photo shoots that she can make a bikini look good even in zero-G, but can she convincingly deliver a line? Those who have preceded her show just how hard it is to get an audience to accept a supermodel as more than just a looker. Who's done it well and who's fallen on her heavily insured face? These five models-slash-actresses all have had their chances at thespian stardom.
Decker was the swimsuit model du jour just before Upton, and showed some skill as Adam Sandler's object of distraction in Just Go With It, as a pregnant trophy wife in What To Expect When You're Expecting, and on board the laughably bad Battleship. Now she's trying her hand as a series regular on the CBS sitcom Friends with Better Lives. Not a bad start to a career for any actress, supermodel or not.
MacPherson's most memorable acting gig might have been her story arc as Joey's temporary roommate on Friends. But the Australian cover girl has had her share of big screen roles, including playing Anthony Hopkins' wife (a woman worth killing Alec Baldwin for) in The Edge and as one of Sirens' temptresses. Her acting style mostly consists of employing her Down Under accent to enhance her natural beauty.
Banks is best known for her hosting duties on America's Next Top Model and her own talk show, but she started acting early in her modeling career, including playing a love interest to Will Smith on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. She's had high-profile big screen roles in films like John Singleton's Higher Learning and Coyote Ugly and pops up regularly in guest spots on TV shows. She's kind of funny and a little bit scary, whether she's doing a character or just playing herself.
Crawford might be the most financially successful model ever, but she always appeared more comfortable hawking products in infomercials than trying to act. That said, her spectacularly bad performance opposite Billy Baldwin in Fair Game has now reached the status of camp classic. Any time they want to make a sequel, we're on board.
Brinkley recently celebrated her 60th birthday by donning a swimsuit for the cover of People, proving that she's still got it. The former Mrs. Billy Joel doesn't act very often, most recently popping up on Parks and Recreation for a couple of episodes, but she only needed one role to cement her cinematic legacy: her turn as the flirtatious driver to Chevy Chase's stammering Clark Griswold in National Lampoon's Vacation has set her up as a timeless embodiment of the male fantasy. The teenagers that lusted after her initially are now middle aged men… who still lust after her, much more creepily. Brinkley mostly just smiles as opposed to attempting to act, but there's something to be said for playing to your strengths.