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Hidden Netflix Gems – The Grand

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

While most sports movies tend to take themselves very seriously, with triumphant underdogs and platitude-filled speeches in their third acts, some sports just inherently lend themselves to comedy. Bowling is a great example of this, as evidenced by the success of films like the Farrelly brothers’ Kingpin and the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski. Poker is another, though the game itself is so relatively inactive that it’s debatable whether it should even be called a sport, and Zak Penn‘s underrated improvisational comedy The Grand takes full advantage of a poker tournament’s many humorous possibilities.

Similar to the revered work of Christopher Guest and his regular ensemble of actors in films like Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show, Penn assembles a talented ensemble cast and gives them direction on who their characters are, then leaves the dialogue and the development of situations largely up to them. In fact, the poker tournament at the center of the film is a real tournament, and its outcome was undetermined in the script; the winner at the end of the film actually just beat the other actors, regardless of narrative expectations. This approach gives the film extra vitality and excitement, and with so much room to breathe, the cast creates lively, hilarious characters that often riff on and expand their real public personae.

Woody Harrelson stars as “One Eyed” Jack Faro, the owner of The Rabbit’s Foot casino, which he hopes to save by winning an annual tournament called The Grand. Of course, it is the drug-addled, 74-time divorcée Jack’s own bad investments and reckless behavior that has jeopardized his ownership of the casino in the first place, but despite his many vices, Jack is a charming and lovable rogue worth rooting for. His main competition in the tournament includes the Schwartzman twins, Larry (David Cross, who had a good real-life run on Celebrity Poker Showdown) and Lainie (Cheryl Hines); the Rain Man-like genius Harold Melvin (Chris Parnell, best known as 30 Rock‘s incompetent Dr. Leo Spaceman); and oblivious newcomer Andy Andrews (Richard Kind).

As funny and well-developed as all these primary characters are, however, it is the bit parts that really shine in The Grand. Legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog brings a deadpan menace to his character, “The German,” a ruthless cheat who brings a small menagerie of animals with him to the casino’s hotel because, as he says, “To feel alive and to get this energy, it is essential for me to kill something each day.” Dennis Farina is also particularly memorable as LBJ “Deuce” Fairbanks, a Las Vegas veteran nostalgic for a less family-friendly time in the city’s history; as he fondly remembers it, “It was a place where the Jews and the blacks had to enter the casinos through rear entrances. By the way, on this corner right here, I stabbed a bum.” Though barely released in theaters and largely ignored, The Grand is a consistently funny, anarchistic good time for poker fans and novices alike.

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A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop

Zhang Yimou is perhaps one of the most well-respected directors in international cinema, and yet you wouldn’t know it from the amount of flack he’s received for his Chinese-language remake of “Blood Simple.” I don’t count myself among the many admirers of the Coen brothers’ 1984 neo-noir – it’s a great debut film, though hardly one of their best – but Yimou obviously does, so it’s strange that his love letter to the film has been met with so much hostility. With the exception of a few tonal changes, his version remains surprisingly faithful, with the story transported to 19th century China and revolving around a noodle shop owner who hires a policeman to kill his cheating wife and her lover when he learns of the affair, only for things go horribly wrong for everyone involved.

Though Yimou’s attempts at including a little screwball comedy to the proceedings fails miserably, the film still works as a slow-burning crime thriller, with Sun Honglei delivering a killer performance (no pun intended) as the quiet assassin. The movie also looks incredible (from the colorful costumes to the gorgeous cinematography), and though it’s never going to replace the original, “A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop” is still a mostly interesting interpretation that I’d actually like to see done more often.

Click to buy “A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop”

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Remakes going forward to yesterday

Remakes are in the movie news as usual. There’s not much more to say than a new iteration of John Woo’s classic international breakthrough, “The Killer,” and the fun but entirely non-classic caper flick “Gambit” are on the way.

The news on the latter is that this time the players are, in a switch from usual remake practice, a bit more mature than in the original. Cameron Diaz, who really needs to shine in something, and habitual award nominee Colin Firth, who’s doing just fine, will star. The twisty-turny tale is going forward with a years-old screenplay by the Coen Brothers, no less.

Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine in The setting has also been switched from Hong Kong to Texas and everyone will presumably be playing more or less their own ethnicity. The original had the very Anglo Shirley MacLaine playing a Eurasian woman of mystery and even more Anglo, as in actually British, character actor Herbert Lom as an Indian gazillionaire; Michael Caine who gets mentioned here on what seems like a daily basis, actually played an Englishman in it.

Regarding “The Killer,” before you Woo fans (and I’m certainly one) decry a crime against cinema, be aware that Woo himself is producing with his usual partner, Terrance Chang. Korean superstar Jung-Woo Sung will be making his English language debut with Korean-American helmer John H. Lee (the Korean-language love story, “A Moment to Remember”) directing and a screenplay by the previously unknown Josh Campbell. Oh, it’ll be in 3D.

I’ve written many times that I think complaints about remakes of classics are somewhat silly. If they’re bad or mediocre, they’ll be quickly forgotten. If they’re good, someone will complain about the remake of that one. Regardless, the originals aren’t going away any time soon. Below the flip are two samples of those originals. Try to see them both before the new versions come out for maximum compare-and-contrast fun.

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Weekend box office: “True Grit” tops slow weekend

There’s really not all that much to say about the box office this weekend other than that it was down a worrisome 29% over last year, so I’ll keep things brief as we peruse the Box Office Mojo weekend chart together. No huge surprises, though fans of westerns have a reason to celebrate.

Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon in

As seemed likely back on Thursday night, the Coen Brothers “True Grit” edged out the star-laden filmed deal, “Little Fockers,” earning an estimate $15 million for Paramount as opposed to $13.7 for the Universal comedy. That makes for a total of roughly $110 million in three weeks for the western as opposed to $123 for “Fockers.” However, considering that the budget for “True Grit” was more than 60% lower and with a probable buoyant life on DVD, I think it may be the likely profitability winner over the long haul. In any case, this is good news for the Coen’s fans, which includes myself, as it means that they’ll have greater latitude to do something really weird next time, if that’s what they feel like doing.

Nicolas Cage contemplates the eternal box office void in This week’s unloved new releases managed to avoid complete disaster. The lackluster and horribly reviewed action-horror flick, “Season of the Witch,” underperformed even modest expectations that it might hit $12 million. However, it managed to earn double-digits for Relativity Media, newcomers to the releasing game, and didn’t come in too shy of the lowered mark. The Nicolas Cage/Ron Perlman swash-chiller earned what may be approximately $10.7 million in third place.

Released in only 1,400 theaters or so, the musical drama for country fans, “Country Strong,” managed to earn a reasonable per-screen average of $5,126 for an estimated total of $7.3 million in 7th place. It follows “Tron: Legacy” and the sleeper-esque “Black Swan.”

Oscar contenders “The Fighter” from Paramount and “The King’s Speech” from the Weinstein Company remain strong several weeks into their release. The two films, about very different personal battles, made estimates of $7 million and $6.8 million in 7th and 8th place, respectively.

Colin Firth & Helana Bonham Carter contemplate a sticky wicket in

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Weekend box office: “Little Fockers” and “True Grit” face off as the movies have a worrisome New Year’s (updated)

It’s hard to know what Marshall Rooster Cogburn and stern young Mattie Ross would make of a little or big Focker. However, this weekend turned out to be a surprisingly close competition over a weekend that won’t be giving studio executives any particular excuses to party like it’s 2009 and they’ve just released “Avatar“.

Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller in

As Anne Thompson reminds us, this is a weekend when, unlike the usual rather steep decline of ongoing films, we’ll see very small drops or, especially for family films, significant increases. The Box Office Mojo weekend chart, bears that out.

With no major new releases, “Little Fockers” suffered a 14.7% decline, which would be fantastic almost any other weekend, netting an estimated $26.3 million for Universal. That would be somewhat more impressive had the film not cost a ridiculous $100 million. On the other hand, after two weeks, it’s earned back that amount plus some change. Not bad for a movie that probably has the worst reviews of any recent major hit. (Among “top critics,” only funny guy Glenn Kenny failed to drub the movie with a review that double-damns with the faintest possible praise.)

Nipping at its heels, and perhaps very likely to be the more profitable film over time, was the Coen Brothers’ typically excellent first true-western, “True Grit.” Nikki Finke points out that Friday, New Year’s Eve, “Grit” actually earned a bit more than “Fockers.” I guess we can attribute that to the superior movie-going taste of the nation’s wallflowers. (What night did we see this again?) Still, the total estimated take was $24.5 million for Paramount. On the other hand, the price tag was a mere $38 million.Add to all of that a probable slate of Oscar nominations (though I doubt more than one or two wins) good word of mouth — the second week drop was a beyond miniscule 1.7% — and the proven ability of the Coens’ to make films that people continue watching decades later, and you’ve got one case of a studio being amply rewarded for taking a chance on an old school western. Westerns are, of course, deader than a doornail. The exception is when somebody makes a good one.

UPDATE: I failed to mention previously that, at over $86 million already generated by “True Grit,” this is also apparently by far the most successful Coen Brothers films so far by quite a lot. For comparison, “No Country for Old Men” made $76 million and change for its entire run, including a “Best Picture” Oscar win. Better yet, “True Grit” has an ending that won’t leave a significant portion of the audience angry or dissatisfied, so this film should have really significant legs. I doubt they’ll make another western any time soon, but if the Coens want to make “Truly Grittier,” no studio head would stop them.

Jeff Bridges with CGI botox and some new guy in Another Jeff Bridges showpiece, “Tron: Legacy,” held on fairly well in week 3 with a small 4.4% drop and a weekend estimated total of $18.3 million for Disney. It’s still about $30 million shy of making back its $170 budget, though I’m sure that’s just a week or two away. Still, this is no unalloyed coup. Guess I’m not the only person who wonders why the original “Tron” is even discussed today as anything other than a technological advance.

The New Year’s weekend was an overall bummer. It was down 26% compared to New Year’s 20010, and the year as a whole saw movie receipts declining very slightly. Anne Thompson says it went from $10.6 million to $10.5 million. She added that the real issue is not that seemingly tiny increase. It’s obscured by increasing ticket prices for 3D and other films, but that overall attendance declined by a “whopping” 5%, according to Thompson. I think we can attribute that to a stagnant economy, improving home entertainment options, and the inability of the industry to bring back the long-lost ability to turn movies into events worth getting out of the house for. Call me a complete and utter lunatic, but avoiding the insanely obviously cookie-cutter storylines and characterizations of most movies today might also help slightly.

Still, there was good news this week for a number of family films and Oscar hopefuls too numerous to mention. It also wasn’t bad for the two limited releases which came out last Wednesday. Both were rather downbeat films dealing with relationships unhappy, happy, and non-existent. “Blue Valentine,” with Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as a married couple on their way to a break-up, emerged victorious from it’s battle to avoid a bookings-killing NC-17 with an R-rating and scored the best per-screen average of the holiday weekend, $45,000 in four theaters for a weekend estimated total of $180,000.

Meanwhile, “Another Year,” which I’ve been covering, started the New Year in, I’m guessing, reasonably OK fashion with $20,000 in six theaters for a total of $120,000. A film about a happy couple and they’re incredibly miserable friends and family members, a likely and definitely well-deserved Oscar nomination for Lesley Manville is the very low budget’s film’s hope for real profitability.

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Weekend box office: Coal in Hollywood’s stocking as “Little Fockers” underperforms and bloated tentpoles tank; Santa smiles on the Coens

Misguided movie populists who say that critics are somehow less relevant than they were 20 years ago and that their reaction in no way tracks the reaction of other human beings should really take a close look at this weekend’s results. It’s an eternal truth that audiences and critics often differ — seeing a lot of movies does tend to make a person somewhat harder to please — but to say that there’s zero correlation between what most critics hate or love and what most audiences members hate or love is not the case. It is true that critics hated, hated, hated this weekend’s #1 film, but that clearly isn’t the entire story.

Robert De Niro and Blythe Danner don't look happyAs I recounted prior to the start of the long Christmas holiday frame last Tuesday, the oracles of the box office were predicting a reaction to “Little Fockers” somewhat in line with the 2004 performance of “Meet the Fockers.” Specifically, the numbers being bandied about were in the $60 or $70 million range for the entire five day period. The total gross instead appears to be roughly $48.3 million for Universal. That is only a couple of million higher than what “Meet the Fockers” earned over a three day period on its Christmas opening in 2004. Remember, movie ticket prices have gone up a few bucks since ’04.

Nikki Finke recounts how the megastar-laden film’s difficult and expensive $100 million production, helmed by the currently luck-challenged Chris Weitz, provided a windfall for Dustin Hoffman and, I understand, allowed him to almost literally phone-in large portions of his performance. Finke estimates that the lastest “Fockers” movie is earning only about 75% of what the prior comedy made. As for the critics, while “Meet the Fockers” left critics unhappy — as opposed to the very well reviewed original smash-hit, “Meet the Parents” — it was a regular success d’estime compared to the woeful reviews of the third film in what critics are praying will remain a trilogy. Strangely enough, this seems to correlate with diminishing returns for the series.

Overall, things weren’t any better, with Sony’s two expensive, poorly reviewed, star-laden turkeys  — “How Do You Know” and “The Tourist — being slaughtered in their second and third weeks, respectively. (To be fair, since it stars literally the two most famous people in the world right now not named “Obama” or “Oprah” or “Palin” or “Assange,” “The Tourist” is doing significantly better than the latest from James Brooks, but both films are money losers right now.) The extremely un-promising and critically derided “Gulliver’s Travels” was all but thrown to the wolves by Fox and its release was delayed until Friday. It opened in 7th place for the weekend with a Lilliputian estimate of $7.2 million.

Anne Thompson notes that this three-day weekend at the movies was 44% lower than last year, and had some choice words on the drop:

Little Fockers repped the widest-appeal offering among the weakest bunch of holiday releases in recent memory. At a time when studios usually try to maximize returns on their strongest pictures, they instead offered audiences a menu of costly, tame, MOR fare—and moviegoers stayed away in droves.

Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon happily calculate their back-end deals in

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Box Office Preview: “Little Fockers” to top “Tron: Legacy” and “Gulliver’s Travels” opens, but, come on, “True Grit” is here. Yee-haw and Merry Xmas.

I could almost end this pre-Christmas Weekend box office preview with the overlong headline above. Nevertheless, I’ll fill in the blanks a little.

Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller face off over

For reasons known only to the masses of this nation’s moviegoers and the strange gods they pray to, the third film in the saga of Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) and his oh-so-hilariously quirky family and in-laws, is expected to top the weekend handily. That seems especially so in the wake of the soft opening last weekend of “Tron: Legacy.”

The nation’s critics, however, will not be pleased. My esteemed colleague/boss, the usually gentle and kindly Will Harris, lost all his holiday cheer and did not spare the rod on “Little Fockers.” He’s hardly alone. Especially for a film with some of the biggest stars of the last forty years in supporting roles, it’s getting absolutely abysmal reviews. A rare exception among the Rotten Tomatoes pull quotes is one of my favorite critics and cinephile bloggers, Glenn Kenny. Glenn admits to having very low expectations and laughing a few times. He went on to rave that the film is “not particularly excruciating” and only 90 minutes long.

As for the cash predictions, it’s not Christmas without jolly Carl DiOrio, who I assume is vacationing this week while Pamela McClintock is pulling b.o. oracle duty at The Hollywood Reporter. She tells us that the magic number over the long holiday weekend is $60 million for the “Little Fockers.” With Ben Fritz of the L.A Times also taking some time off it appears, Daniel Frankel of The Wrap adds that “Fockers” could make as much as $70 million for still somewhat beleaguered Universal. With this many stars, I guess it’s possible people will be fooled persuaded into paying $10 or more a head to see it. And, with the diversity of ages, it should prove that folks from 1 to 92 apparently can’t get enough of poop jokes.

Jeff Bridges takes aim at the box office in Vastly higher up the cinema chain of being, if vastly lower on budget and with only two megastars in tow, “True Grit” will do its best to restore the box office luster of the classic western to our movie screens. It’s apparently an unusually straightforward film for the Coen Brothers, who re-adapted the poignant and funny novel by Charles Portis that was previously filmed back in ’69 by Henry Hathaway with a certain former Marion Mitchell Morrison in the role of irascible, trigger happy Rooster Cogburn. Since it’s the Coens, naturally, the reviews are as rapturous as those for “Fockers” reviews are heinous. Our own Jason Zingale’s sincere but qualified praise seems almost a pan by comparison.

There seems to be a consensus that $20 million for Paramount will be the weekend take for the tale of retribution in the badlands. That’s not bad for a film that cost a relatively modest $38 million (“Fockers” is another $100 million comedy.) Still, can’t hope rooting for a Western to do even better.

Apparently wishing to avoid getting completely ignored in the wake of the other two openers, the  Jack Black vehicle, “Gulliver’s Travels,” will be opening Friday, not Wednesday, to modest expectations. Considering the film allegedly somehow connected to a literary classic by Jonathan Swift had one of the worst trailers I’ve ever seen, that seems fair.

Those wanting to flee the loudness and crudeness of mainstream cinema this weekend may check out “The King’s Speech,” which is expanding into 600 theaters on much Oscar buzz as is the way of the Weinsteins. Or, if they live in a very big city indeed, the debut in limited release of the latest from the arty and gentle Sofia Coppola and Focus Features, “Somewhere.” As in “somewhere there’s a movie about family won’t rely primarily on scatological humor.”

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The Golden Globes nominations — gee whiz

Okay, so we know the Golden Globes are strange.

Nikki Finke will give you a vision of low-rent corruption that, for all I know, is entirely true. It sure seems to match the often bizarre-to-inexplicable nominations and awards at times. One thing is sure, few of us will ever let the Globes live down that infamous 1982 award to Pia Zadora when she won “New Star of the Year in a Motion Picture” award for a movie called “Butterfly.” People make fun of the fact that the less than superb actress won the award, but it’s a lot more shocking when you consider that her competition was probably two of the more exciting movie performances of the entire 1980s, Howard E. Rollins in “Ragtime” and, more famously, Tim Hutton in “Ordinary People.” I guess they split the pro-talent vote. The category was dead within two years.

Meanwhile back here in 2010, the dramatic “Best Picture” list is mostly in line with the movies that are generally getting a lot of awards and nominations, though I’m sure people will have the usual disagreements. (I know I do). Also, no big surprise, “The Social Network” and “The King’s Speech” did very well in the nominations. “The Fighter” and “Inception” also got a bit of a boost that might Academy voters keep them in mind as Oscar dark horses.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in

This year’s “Comedy or Musical” Best Picture category is, however, a real doozy. It really looks like the foreign press thinks that comedies don’t really have to be good to be nominated; it’s a sort of twisted semi-reverse snobbery. I know reviews and awards are not the same, but the critically drubbed “The Tourist” got a “Fresh” rating of 07% from “Top Critics” and 20% from critics overall at Rotten Tomatoes. Could the reactions of Hollywood Foreign Press members be that different from domestic press?

I know there’s been some quibbling about whether it qualifies as a “Comedy.” That doesn’t really bother me. I’m sure it’s trying to be funny and probably has a happy ending. That makes it a comedy in my book, though not necessarily a good one. Also, I have nothing against contrarians who laud movies others deride, but the Hollywood Foreign Press isn’t some group of freethinking cinephiles in the tradition of Pauline Kael and Manny Farber.

Cher and Stanley Tucci dish about awards in As for the other films in the category, only “The Kids Are All Right” has been generating the kind of overall appreciation that makes it awards material. “RED” is a reasonably well-liked, successful film, but this will probably be it’s only award nomination outside of genre-specific groups. “Alice in Wonderland” did very well but got a “meh” critical reaction overall and will probably get some technical Oscar nominations. “Burlesque” is a movie that people barely liked as a sort of guilty pleasure and pretty clearly is only on the list because the Golden Globes people really want Cher and Christina Aguilera to drop by.

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More midweek movie news — it bleeds so, alas, it leads

* It’s probably just the aftermath of a quiet holiday week or two, but there’s been an awful lot of movie news I haven’t mentioned this week. Tonight, however, all of the usual casting tidbits and what not are being overshadowed by an extremely dramatic new development in the murder or Ronnie Chasen. Chasen, you’ll recall, was the highly respected and well-liked industry publicist who was shot five times in her car with hollow point bullets in a murder that seemed senseless, yet not random. Tonight, the big news if you turn on any local news station out here is that police went to serve a search warrant, one of a few, on a “person of interest” in the case but before they could talk to the man, he committed suicide with a handgun. Not surprisingly, Nikki Finke has the latest on what has to be the strangest and saddest Hollywood story of the year.

* Speaking of Finke, she claimed another “toldja” tonight. Channing Tatum will be Jonah Hill‘s costar in the upcoming comedy rendering of “21 Jump Street” written by Hill and Michael Bacall.

* A ballet comedy with Chloe Moretz, Kristen Bell and Jackie Earle Haley? Works for me. Moretz makes a lot of sense here. As we discussed when I interviewed her last summer, she has a background in ballet. She was also fairly gaga over the portions of “The Black Swan” she’d been able to see.

* A sweet tribute to the late Leslie Nielsen by David Zucker.

Leslie-Nielsen-in-the-Nak-006

* Anne Thompson has a rundown of the selections for this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which is just about six or seven weeks away already, if you can believe it.

* Speaking of Anne Thompson, she posted an early review of the Coen Brothers new version of “True Grit” tonight. She was very positive about the movie herself but seemed to feel  that younger viewers don’t “get” westerns because they happened a long time ago. (Does that mean they dislike all films taking place more than a hundred years in the past? I find that a sad thought.) She also said the response at the screening she went to was “mixed.”

Well, at least so far it’s not so mixed with the geek elements of the film blogosphere because Drew McWeeney, Harry Knowles (who, yes, tends to be excitably positive), and Eric Eisenberg of CinemaBlend posted flat-out raves. This fan of Westerns, who recently read the Charles Portis novel and is looking forward to reacquainting himself with the 1969 version really soon, is excited. Only blogo-blowhard Jeffrey Welles has labeled it a “misfire” in what I’ve read so far, and I can’t help but consider the source. At least he didn’t spend the review calling Jeff Bridges fat or something. It seems like every time I read Welles, he’s criticizing someone for being overweight.

* Left over from last night. Christopher Nolan makes sense and tells us to embrace the ambiguity. Actually, the deliberate little bit of doubt at the ending was one of the few things I liked unreservedly about “Inception” which, overall, was a big, cold, glittering disappointment for me.

* Michael Douglas is apparently doing well in the health department and, from a totally selfish point of view, the best part is that it really does look like the Soderbergh Liberace movie is going forward.

* Whedonesque reveals a non-story as Entertainment Weekly manufactures a dubious scoop on the Joss Whedon-less “Buffy” movie.

* I’m sure Peter Jackson knows exactly what he’s doing, but it blows me away that a big scale fantasy epic like “The Hobbit” is going to be shot with RED Epic digital cameras. I know I have huge retro tendencies, but somehow, I’d feel better if he were using those massive old 3-strip Technicolor cameras.

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A Chat with director Patrick Hughes and actor Ryan Kwanten of “Red Hill”

Patrick Hughes and Ryan Kwanten of First-time feature directors — especially when they’re essentially financing their films — tend to make low-key stories without much in the way of action. Often, they are offbeat romances or perhaps something about a bunch of guys in their teens or late twenties avoiding the responsibilities of adulthood. Directors who emerge from the world of commercials often wind-up making movies that rely on flashy visuals and employ the worst kind of ADHD editorial approach. To his everlasting credit, Patrick Hughes, a first-time self-financing feature director with a background in commercials, did none of those things in his first feature, “Red Hill,” an often violent suspense tale with elements of classic westerns, monster films, and a strong sense of its Australian heritage.

Its star, Ryan Kwanten, is by far best known as Jason Stackhouse of “True Blood,” an occasionally likable dim-bulb of a character who would pretty much be nothing if it weren’t for his athletic good looks and sexual prowess. But Kwanten as an actor is certainly no mere boy-toy, even if he remains a favorite of young female fans and looks about a decade younger than his actual age (he’ll be 34 later this month). As the rather archly named Shane Cooper, the earnest, violence-averse policeman hero of “Red Hill,” he must be believable dealing with the rampage of revenge waged by an Aboriginal escaped convict (Tommy Lewis) while protecting his loving and pregnant wife (Claire van der Boom), dealing with the barbs of his taskmaster of a new boss (Steve Bisley), and spending a good chunk of the movie marinating in his own blood and believably fighting on. If that isn’t proof that Kwanten is, you know, a real actor, his next non-”True Blood” role appears to be as Charles Manson.

I met with voluble writer-director Hughes and actor Kwanten – who, as befits this film’s low budget provenance, come across as remarkably down-to-earth in person – during a press day held at Strand Releasing’s east Culver City office. A short time later, Kwanten would be chatting telephonically for a solo interview with my colleague, Will Harris, who’d be concentrating on his career, definitely including “True Blood.” No prima dona, and you’ll see just what I mean by that later in the interview, he was fine with surrendering some of the spotlight to director Hughes, who kind of dominates the discussion during the first half of this interview. However, do not fear, Kwantenites: we do hear from the very talented actor starting just past this interview’s halfway point, as he discusses crucial matters of blood, guts, and pig poo.

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