At first, it seemed like a fluke. No actor from “overseas” was going to displace the American thesp as the leading cinematic staple in films. After all, we had Bogart and Cagney, Nicholson and Newman. But slowly, over time, the English have retaken their colonial territory, if only in the Cineplex sense. It began back when a certain Sir Lawrence introduced the Bard and his bad boy, Hamlet, to unsuspecting ‘40s audiences. Throughout the rest of the century, the UK produced one amazing male actor after another (though the ladies found their fortunes earlier—more on that next time). By the time the ‘80s rolled around, there was even a bit of a backlash among American performers, arguing that, every year it seemed, another English newcomer was walking away with the praise (and prizes).
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Over the many months leading up to this week’s release of Baz Luhrmann’s hotly-anticipated literary adaptation of The Great Gatsby, much has been made about the anticipated accommodations, additions, and outright alterations to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic story. Has Mr. Luhrmann’s obsession with modernization gone awry, or is he aptly adjusting an 88-year-old book (and a 39-year-old film) for the very different expectations of today’s audiences? We won’t know for sure until Friday, but here’s why at least one writer thinks he’s the perfect man for the job.
A few weeks back, we found ourselves lamenting the apparent fact that 2013 was starting out with a whimper, not a box office/blockbuster bang. We even speculated that, unless something came along to salvage said season, the annual cinematic dumping ground of January through April would be one of the worst ever. Let’s just say that we were wrong. Wrong. 100% WRONG. In that piece, we speculated on the titles we thought had the potential to come along and possibly, maybe save the Spring, and again, we were off base. Sure, we mentioned some of the movies below, but for the most part, we talked about things—Oz the Great and Powerful, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Olympus Has Fallen, The Host—that either ended up being good (the first film listed) or glorified crap. Even more interestingly, we hit a few of April’s offerings right on the head.
For a long time, those in the know only referenced Sir Run Run and Runme Shaw as the kingpins of Hong Kong and Taiwanese filmmaking. No matter the poorly dubbed and obscenely edited examples of the brothers’ work, Shaw studios became the bellwether for an entire home video revolution. Think about it. Before the advent of the VCR and specialist distribution companies, the works of artists like Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, and Gordon Liu were left to dingy drive-ins and The Late Late Show, if they were shown at all. With cable and the sell through title came a market desperate for product and companies willing to release anything to make a profit. Thus, the martial arts movie came into its own. Today, it’s considered the standard bearer for action, adventure, period piece polish, and good old fashioned ass-kicking.
For live action features, there is no city like Paris. The bistros. The sidewalk cafes. The bakeries filled with baguettes and croissant. The nightclubs with their exotic can-can dancers. Every cliche in the cinematic book. Fimmakers from Woody Allen to innumerable French auteurs like Renoir and Chabrol love the gorgeous city of light. It exudes elegance and romance. It offers stunning locations and famous landmarks. It’s a backdrop with a bounty of available angles and approaches. It’s also an easy symbol, shortcut for emotions otherwise needing explanation or examination. Of course, not every genre finds the town as tantalizing. While cartoons occasionally visit the banks of the River Seine (it’s the home to Pepe Le Pew, after all), most pen and ink offerings avoid the city.