We love tearing down celebrities here in the UK. No sooner have we championed someone and placed them atop a gold plated pedestal, we are swinging axes at the foot of the plinth to bring our supremo back down to earth. How dare they aim to be better than us? The footballing brilliance of David Beckham, the comedic talent of Ricky Gervais, the "acting genius” of Lindsey Lohan, none of that mattered once the media had decided these stars had outstayed their welcome. Kick them to the gutter with cruel words and intrusive photography we must, the tabloids cried. And where the tabloids lead the brain-dead general public follow. Posters and t-shirts are urinated upon, pitch forks are set alight, effigies are lovingly crafted then blown to smithereens with home made C4. Our celebrities don’t help themselves a lot of the time though. What most of them forget is that our love for them is built upon a very thin crust of bitterness, envy, and resentment. We sit in a stuffy office pretending to be busy all day, barely able to conceal the crushing sorrow of realisation that our life is wilting away to nothing. And what do we get from those minted celebs who need never worry about money, fulfilment or security ever again? Woe-is-me sob stories about depression, addiction, artistic integrity and a myriad of other hollow worries that boil the bile of us mere mortals. If only we could afford a heavy-duty dependency on $500 dollar tins of caviar. The most we can manage is a mild breakfast cereal habit. Ungrateful bastards; who paid for their fame, who forked out on overpriced cinema tickets to sit through their latest rollercoaster ride blockbuster? So our cinematic heroes are levelled, raised to the ground like a sixties tower block. But from the ashes and rebar some have crawled their way back into our hearts. Wiser, weather beaten and wholly more likeable they climb the pedestal ladder again. Here are ten films that gave a much needed leg up.
– GET SHORTY (1995)
If anyone was in need of a career pick-me-up in 1995 it was John Travolta. Actually, a pick-me-up is to put it mildly; the one time megastar needed a life saving operation. After the twin mega hits of Saturday Night Fever (1977) and Grease (1978) much was expected of Travolta. But the eighties were a miserable decade for the man, as flop (Two of a Kind (1983)) followed flop (Perfect (1985)). The Look Who’s Talking (1989-1993) pictures may have pulled in the box office dollars at the turn of the decade but critics and Travolta fans were unimpressed. Then the casting wheel gave JT a nod of good fortune. Michael Madsen was unable to reprise his Reservoir Dogs (1992) Vic Vega role in Quentin Tarantino’s follow-up feature, so the director created another Vega brother. Producer Harvey Weinstein pushed for Daniel Day Lewis but Tarantino, continuing his pattern of curious casting choices, went for the struggling Travolta. The actor turned his career around becoming an instant icon of cool in the process. JT then proved that a whole movie could rest on his renewed shoulders with an impressive showing a year later in Barry Sonnefeld’s adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s Get Shorty. The part-time airline pilot builds on his Pulp Fiction (1994) kick-start as Chili Palmer, a loan shark embroiled in a twisting Hollywood centric plot. There was little Travolta had to do to craft Palmer’s cool veneer other than show up on set. But the actor did not rest on his laurels, turning in a performance that was the equal of his starry supporting cast, Gene Hackman, Rene Russo and Danny DeVito, and good enough to reinvent him as a onscreen tough guy in the Robert Mitchum mould. Travolta returned for the sequel Be Cool (2005) ten years later, reuniting with his Pulp Fiction co-star Uma Thurman. Post Shorty Travolta’s career caught a second wind strong enough to survive even the car crash that was Battlefield Earth (2000).
Tasty Morsel – DeVito was Sonnenfeld’s first choice to play Palmer, but he had to accept the smaller part of Martin Weir due to other commitments.
– THE WEDDING SINGER (1998)
If you were a young starlet from the eighties chances are you were going to stumble into trouble once the nineties came around. The list of eighties A-listers who came off the rails at the end of the twentieth century reads like the attendance register of a Brat Pack house party; Charlie Sheen, Rob Lowe, Judd Nelson. And no one raised more hell than Drew Barrymore. A world away from her cherub faced debut in E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982) Barrymore had a taste of chaos in Firestarter (1984) and carried the mayhem on once the cameras stopped rolling, her mum stuffing her into rehab at the tender age of thirteen. By the late nineties she was a forgotten talent. Then she landed the role of lovable girl next door Julia Sullivan in Frank Coraci’s The Wedding Singer (1998). A love letter to the decade that taste forgot, the film follows rock star wannabe and local wedding crooner Robbie Hart (Adam Sandler). Dumped at the alter by his fiancée, Hart is helped out of his funk by wedding waitress Julia. But Julia is set to marry the pig-headed Glenn (Matthew Glave). Coraci’s film hinged on the audience believing Julia to be the naïve girl next door that could mend Robbie’s heart. Choosing self proclaimed party animal Barrymore was a massive gamble, but the actress placed her wild side in dry dock and transformed herself into the ultimate good natured lass. All dimpled cheeks and girly giggles Barrymore was a perfect match for Sandler’s slacker kook. Wrapped around the couples elongated romance was a wonderful soundtrack of forgotten eighties classics and comedic pieces sung with gusto by Sandler, Jon Lovitz and Steve Buscemi. Coraci also poked good natured fun at other eighties idioms, from the garish fashions and haircuts to the right-on slang. He even managed to squeeze in a Billy Idol cameo despite the fact the rocker was fifteen years older than his "White Wedding” heydays. Barrymore cashed in on her reinvention to great effect in the coming years with Never Been Kissed (1999), Charlie’s Angels (2000) and a wonderful reunion with Sandler in 50 First Dates (2004).
Tasty Morsel – A Broadway version of the film ran at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre in 2006 for over 250 performances.
- BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997)
There was a time when Burt Reynolds was the biggest movie star on the planet, when his cheeky smirk and seventies porn star moustache could have sold tea to China and any film to any market. The string of box office triumphs, Smokey and the Bandit (1977), The Cannonball Run (1981), irritated critics but charmed audiences. But once the ‘tache began to develop the greys of middle age Burt was muscled out by the eighties steroid ridden action heroes. Reynolds was happy to enjoy his millions and pop up for the odd cameo (The Player (1992), Striptease (1996)). But then the offer of playing aging porn director Jack Homer in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights (1997) landed in his lap. Burt said yes, and then fired his agent after seeing a rough cut of the film. The actor should not have been so hasty; his performance in the finished film earned him a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination. The story was an extended version of a short film Anderson made years before, called The Dirk Diggler Story (1988), a mockumentary about the porn industry. The director renamed the project Boogie Nights and delivered one of the best movies of the year. We follow Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) as he goes from washing dishes in a nightclub to becoming a famous porn star after Homer discovers him and gives him the moniker Dirk Diggler. Wahlberg finally broke away from his "Marky Mark” rapper past and got the big break his considerable acting talent deserved. Reynolds was catapulted back into the public consciousness, and cashed in on his now silver haired, elder Hollywood statesman status. Cheeky cameos and larger roles followed, Driven (2001), Without A Paddle (2004), The Longest Yard (2005), The Dukes of Hazzard (2005) but it was his performance as Homer that stood as a reminder that behind the mischievous Reynolds smile was an actor of great capability.
Tasty Morsel – Relax lads. The massive schlong that Diggler shows off in the mirror at the end of the film was a prosthetic device made specifically for Wahlberg.
– SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999)
Sir Christopher Lee is a bona fide legend. Not only has the great man acted in more films than most people have had hot meals, he fought in World War II, has sung opera with the greats, guest hosted Saturday Night Live and is the living embodiment of comic book villain Bullseye, being able to throw and hit any target with almost any small object (just ask the stunned crew of The Lord of the Rings for confirmation of that; prop knife plus dartboard plus Lee equals awesomeness). But by the nineties his movie career had been reduced to small roles in oddball films such as Police Academy: Mission to Moscow (1994) and The Stupids (1996). Fortunately, eccentric movie maker Tim Burton had a plumb cameo role for Lee in his latest project, a big screen adaptation of Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow tale. Lee filled the shoes of the Burgomaster who tasks Johnny Depp’s Ichabod Crane with travelling to the woodland village of Sleepy Hollow to investigate a number of murders by beheading. Burton found the perfect story in which to engage all his gothic foibles. Trees are bare and pointy, vistas are misty, pumpkins are aplenty, and scenes are eerily lit. A top notch cast including Christina Ricci, Michael Gambon and Christopher Walken joined Burton regular Depp in crafting a perfect Halloween feature. Critics were wooed and patrons voted with their feet, venturing to cinemas in great number. But out of the creepy set pieces stood one notable truth. The big screen had missed Lee’s towering presence and effortless menace. Other directors took note and off the back of this cameo Lee landed two of the biggest villainous roles in cinema history, Lord Saruman in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus in the Star Wars prequels.
Tasty Morsel – Ever the gentleman, Depp adopted Goldeneye, the horse that played his steed in the film, after he learnt he was to be put down post filming.
– REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000)
Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream (2000) is famous for two things. First, the Clint Mansell soundtrack which has been used in more films, trailers and adverts than the entire Moby back catalogue combined. Second, more than any other movie Requiem will leave you with so emotionally devastated you’ll be sharpening uneaten popcorn kernels in a desperate attempt to slice open every available vein and artery come the closing credits. It’s a crushingly depressing film. But despite this, thanks to the entrancing performances of its central cast, the film remains a gripping watch. Two of the leads were filled by actresses whose careers had seemingly come and gone. Ellen Burstyn was a big name in the seventies, her work in The Exorcist (1973) and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974) among others placing her amongst the acting elite. But the eighties and nineties saw the actress turn increasingly to made-for-television films. Jennifer Connelly shot to fame with her lead role opposite David Bowie in fantasy epic Labyrinth (1986). But a Hollywood conquering career failed to follow. Aronofsky’s Requiem was an adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr’s 1978 novel of the same name. Its twenty two year journey to the big screen is testament to its challenging material. We follow four characters, Sara (Burstyn), Marion (Connelly), Harry (Jared Leto) and Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) who all full victim to serious drug addiction. Sara eager to slim down into a favourite red dress for a TV quiz show appearance that never arrives becomes addicted to amphetamines, resulting in a trip to the nut house. Marion becomes addicted to heroin leading to a life of prostitution. Both actresses give performances of remarkable affection and restraint given the dark material they had to handle. Burstyn gained another Oscar nomination and career resurgence, while Connelly headed for the big time with A Beautiful Mind (2001) and Hulk (2003).
Tasty Morsel – To give Wayans and Leto some idea of what it is like to feel strong cravings Aronofsky asked them to give up sex and sugar for a month.
- AMERICAN PSYCHO (2000)
To some Patrick Bateman is a legend. Bold enough to admit that humans are faceless, selfish creatures and defiant enough to off those that he deems pointless additions to the species, he is the ultimate anti-hero for the disaffected. He has achieved physical and social perfection only to discover that life is still bollocks. To those of us that suspected this all along he is our messiah. He was also a God-send for acting deity in waiting Christian Bale. Welsh born Bale had stunned the world with a rare naturalistic child performance at the age of thirteen in Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun (1987). But the next thirteen years saw Bale struggle in small parts and TV roles. When it was revealed that Bret Easton Ellis’ controversial novel American Psycho would be made into a feature film various directors and actors began circling from Oliver Stone and David Cronenberg to Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt. Helmer Mary Harron eventually landed directorial duties while Bale nudged Leonardo Di Caprio out of the central Bateman role. There was no one better suited to fill the sharp suit of Ellis’ New York yuppie serial killer. Critics were sceptical of the movies release even before it hit theatres. Ellis’ book was so graphic in places it was said to be unfilmable. Whilst Harron failed to include the scene where Bateman smears cheese into a woman’s vagina before inserting a tube housing a starving rat, she did manage to capture all the late eighties trappings, social and humanistic commentary, and dark satire of the original book. The rest was down to Bale, his dry narration a cool veneer over his onscreen portrayal of a man struggling to hold on to reality, even in the most plush of surroundings. From American Psycho (2000) Bale strode from one startling performance to the next, from The Machinist (2004) to The Fighter (2010).
Tasty Morsel – A direct-to-video sequel American Psycho 2 (2002) follows aspiring FBI agent Rachael Newman, who begins her own killing spree by offing Bateman in the films early running.
- SIN CITY (2005)
Mickey Rourke had it all. Gifted acting chops, roguish good looks, and movie type-casting that usually dumped him naked on top of Hollywood’s top female talent. But like a lot of on-form artists a stay at the top of the mountain is often perilously short, and once you start teetering it’s a steep tumble down the other side. Thanks to some poor career choices (Desperate Hours (1990), Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (1991)) and a lively social life Rourke fell out of favour with Tinsel Town. Bizarrely, Rourke took up professional boxing for four years. Despite being a dab hand in the ring, the injuries sustained and the resulting plastic surgery left the actor almost unrecognisable when he decided to return full time to the big screen. Needing to reinvent himself he landed a choice role in Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City (2005). The film was a portmanteau adaptation of Frank Miller’s Sin City comic mini series, three black and white tales neck deep in shady characters and noir settings. Rourke was cast as Marv, a former convict seeking revenge for a murdered prostitute. Even though it was a plumb role Rourke had a battle on his hands to stand out from a massive ensemble cast. The gruff actor managed it though and his thug with a heart saw off impressive performances from Bruce Willis and Clive Owen to be the film’s most memorable character. Marv’s pessimism and weathered appearance was a mirror to Rourke’s own struggles but ever the professional Rourke didn’t rely on audience sympathy alone. Marv was a reminder of how talented a player the New York native is. Rourke’s resurrection was kicked started and he cemented his return with the performance of a lifetime in The Wrestler (2008).
Tasty Morsel - Miller and Rodriguez shared directorial credits, but it was Quentin Tarantino that guest directed the scene between Dwight and Jackie Boy, before Dwight is pulled over by the police.
- ROCKY BALBOA (2006)
Talk about art imitating life. Sylvester Stallone rode the wave of praise poured upon his pet project Rocky (1976) for years afterwards. Sly became one of the premier action stars of the eighties and even made a sizeable dent into the nineties with quality hits such as Cliffhanger (1993) and Demolition Man (1993). But the bubble burst and the muscled action stars fell out of fashion. An underrated stab at "serious” acting with Copland (1997) pleased the critics but not the punters, and the cinematic flops, Get Carter (2000), Driven (2001), D-Tox (2002), began to pile up. Stallone obviously didn’t need the money but he still had the movie making bug. Perhaps resorting to what he felt was safe territory Sly returned to the series that launched his career, strapping on Rocky’s gloves for one last fight. Fans were at least pleased, the series having limped to an end with the awful Rocky V (1990) sixteen years prior. Critics were less enthused wondering what more there was to say in Rocky’s unlikely life story. If the previous escalation of implausible events in the four sequels was to be followed Rocky Balboa (2006) should have seen the Italian Stallion throwing leather with a resurrected Genghis Khan. But sensibly Sly kicked the fantastical into touch and returned to the practical storytelling of Rocky’s first round. Adrian has passed away and Balboa is living off his former sports-star status with a restaurant named after his deceased wife. When the current heavyweight champ, Mason "The Line” Dixon, watches his ass get kicked by a digital Balboa during an ESPN computer simulated "superfight” Rocky is convinced to come out of retirement for one last bout. The subsequent training sequences were rousing without being cheesy and the climatic showdown was the most realistic of all the final scene bouts in the series. More importantly for Stallone the film made a mint at the box office and reinvented him as a cinematic champion.
Tasty Morsel – Critics and punters suitably appeased, Stallone followed Rocky Balboa with the resurrection of his second most popular franchise, Rambo (2008).
- ZODIAC (2007)
Another member of the ill-fated eighties Brat Pack, Robert Downey Jr. has bounced in and out of public favour more times than even he can remember. His undeniable talent always seems to produce the goods when another quality performance is needed to rescue him from self imposed social anguish. Trips in and out of rehab were intersected by stunning work in the likes of Chaplin (1992), Heart and Souls (1993) and One Night Stand (1997). By the new century Downey was circling the fringes of Hollywood with quiet by quality assured work in The Singing Detective (2003) and A Scanner Darkly (2006). It was his work in David Fincher’s Zodiac (2007) that finally woke Hollywood up to Downey’s potential. For the actor it was just another excellent performance, but due to the movies surprise success viewers and critics finally noticed RDJ again. Zodiac tells the true life story of the "Zodiac” murders that plagued San Francisco in the late sixties and early seventies. Downey plays Paul Avery, the San Francisco Chronicle crime reporter who together with Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) the newspapers cartoonist, investigated the murders. Fincher was inspired by the Zodiac story years before on reading Graysmith’s book Zodiac which detailed his quest to discover the identity of the murderer. To dispel much of the myth and hearsay surrounding the case Fincher, producer Brad Fischer and screenwriter James Vanderbilt went to the unusual length of carrying out their own eighteen month investigation. Old police notes and case files were trawled and witnesses re-questioned. Despite the weight of the subject matter, Gyllenhaal and Downey’s performances shine through. Downey in particular depicted the drawn out deflation of Avery over the course of the film’s exhaustive investigation with breathtaking skill. A permanent seat in Hollywood’s golden circle was awarded to Downey afterwards as smash hits such as Iron Man (2008) and Sherlock Holmes (2009) called on his talent.
Tasty Morsel – Graysmith and Avery were not friends in real life and their coming together in the movie is fictionalised.
- THE TOWN (2010)
Ben Affleck had it all; money, fame, talent. Then he added "love” to the list by hooking up with the multi-media faceted Jennifer Lopez. The couple merged into one entity, the hideous "Bennifer”, and went on a rampage of self-satisfaction, smugness and all round get-up-your-noseness. Something had to give, and that something was Affleck’s movie career. Mediocre pictures such as Changing Lanes (2002) and Daredevil (2003) were phoned in before "Bennifer” took to the screen his/herself for the unmitigated tragedy that was Gigli (2003), supposedly named after "Bennifer’s” ample backside. It was a cinematic low no dual entity could survive and "Bennifer” reverted back to J-Lo and Affleck forms. It was going to take an almighty amount of good work to return to the world’s good graces but Affleck got off to a good start with smart showings in Hollywoodland (2006), Smokin’ Aces (2007) and State of Play (2009). Then in 2010 Affleck was welcomed back into the fold of affability with the ultra impressive The Town (2010). Co-scripted by Affleck, the actor also got behind the camera for the first time to direct. Nabbing the best elements from Heat (1995) and The Departed (2006), Affleck grabbed himself the moniker of the new Clint Eastwood. It was a well deserved tag. The Town takes place in the Charlestown district of Boston, supposedly the bank robbery capital of the world. We follow a team of four well schooled criminals, who take down banks and armoured cars in efficient Point Break (1991) style. Affleck is their leader and the one with a heart, so when he is tasked with "seeing to” a key witness from one of their most recent heists he can’t help but fall in love with her. Affleck is helped by two excellent sparring partners, the gorgeously genuine Rebecca Hall, and the increasingly spectacular Jeremy Renner as the quartet’s loose cannon. Once again Hollywood expects big things from Affleck.
Tasty Morsel – The film is an adaptation of the Chuck Hogan novel Prince of Thieves. Affleck’s original first cut of the film was a close rendition of the book but was over four hours long.