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8 items from 2002

Gangs of New York

6 December 2002 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Martin Scorsese's careerlong exploration of the role of violence in American society culminates in "Gangs of New York". The view here is that brutality and corruption played midwives to the American nation, that the American dream of liberty from European despotism, monarchy and aristocratic privilege ran afoul of the New World vices of bigotry and anarchy almost immediately. This is a relentless, pitch-black portrait of New York in 1863 that, while thoroughly rooted in historical fact, is nonetheless painted from limited pigments.

Astonishing and audacious, the film certainly creates a kind of perverse beauty and excitement out of its horrors. Scorsese seems to want the viewer to get a voyeuristic rush from gut-spilling fights featuring knives, cleavers and bats. And just as certainly, "Gangs" poses a major challenge to Miramax's marketing department.

Here is a movie from arguably America's most brilliant filmmaker, yet one so dark and disturbing you might label it a "feel-bad" movie. It's a gangster film, one of cinema's more durable genres, yet mired in arcane history and forgotten political movements. Scorsese's reputation ensures a solid opening here and perhaps even better in Europe. But Miramax will have a hard time recouping the enormous cost of re-creating 19th century New York at Rome's Cinecitta Studios.

Inspired by Herbert Asbury's 1928 classic study, the script by Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian and Kenneth Lonergan embroils the viewer in a now-forgotten district of Lower Manhattan known as Five Points. Here everyone prays to one God or another, but in reality, God does not venture into this satanic terrain.

Ruled by an underworld barbarian known as Bill the Butcher (Daniel Day-Lewis, in his first movie since 1997's "The Boxer"), the area's only business is crime: theft, racketeering, prostitution, gambling, drugs and murder. Bill has made a devil's alliance with Boss Tweed (Jim Broadbent), supplying muscle to the political boss who would rule the city. It is into this cauldron that immigrants, mostly Catholics despised by Nativists, surge on a daily basis.

Unlike Scorsese's previous gangster movies, such as "GoodFellas" or "Casino", there is little complexity to this 1863 underworld. There is a bad guy in Bill the Butcher, who carves up people and pigs with equal enthusiasm. And there is a young hero in an American-born Irish orphan named Amsterdam (Leonardo DiCaprio), determined to avenge Bill's murder of his father, Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson), an Irish immigrant leader, 16 years earlier.

Amsterdam somewhat implausibly worms his way into Bill's Nativist gang and then into his confidence, becoming a son to the chief. The lad gets involved romantically with a beauteous, headstrong pickpocket, Jenny (Cameron Diaz), who has links to Bill as well. Other characters fill out the rogue's gallery: Monk (Brendan Gleeson), a strong-arm enforcer settled into shopkeeping; Happy Jack John C. Reilly), a former gang member-turned-corrupt copper; and Johnny (Henry Thomas), an Amsterdam loyalist with strong instincts for self-preservation.

Against the backdrop of the Civil War -- of President Lincoln's unpopular conscription and coffins arriving daily in the city -- come the political maneuverings of Boss Tweed and a betrayal that alerts Bill to Amsterdam's true intentions. This lead to a climax amid the worst riot in American history, the Draft Riots, where much of Manhattan was destroyed first by immigrant mobs, then by soldiers and Navy guns.

DiCaprio makes the protagonist's thirst for revenge and reclamation of family honor palpable. But he doesn't look the part of a street tough. Nor is the script helpful by insisting that despite 16 long years in a religious "house of refuge," he has lost none of his street smarts.

The film's great performance belongs to Day-Lewis, a sociopath given free reign to spill blood in copious amounts. Here anger -- at politicians, foreign "invaders," high society -- mingles with humor and a sense of detachment. He's illiterate yet understands how power works and how to hold it through terror.

Cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, designer Dante Ferretti and costumer Sandy Powell conspire to bring to life paintings and engravings of Old New York -- its interiors almost monochromatic, the streets filled with smoky colors and nights made sinister by gaslight and flickering fires that dot the landscape.

Yet this 168-minute movie, reportedly cut down from a 195-minute version, never gets you inside the story so you understand how the characters feel about their deeds. Whether or not a longer version would have given the film more texture and dimension, this one presents a blinkered vision of American history, relegated to a few streets and alleys of Lower Manhattan and a few thugs who left no mark except perhaps on the collective unconscious.


Miramax Films

An Alberto Grimaldi production


Director: Martin Scorsese

Screenwriters: Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, Kenneth Lonergan

Story by: Jay Cocks

Producers: Alberto Grimaldi, Harvey Weinstein

Executive producers: Michael Ovitz, Bob Weinstein, Rick Yorn, Michael Hausman, Maurizio Grimaldi

Director of photography: Michael Ballhaus

Production designer: Dante Ferretti

Music: Howard Shore

Costume designer: Sandy Powell

Editor: Thelma Schoonmaker


Amsterdam Vallon: Leonardo DiCaprio

Bill the Butcher: Daniel Day-Lewis

Jenny Everdeane: Cameron Diaz

Boss Tweed: Jim Broadbent

Happy Jack: John C. Reilly

Johnny Sirocco: Henry Thomas

Monk: Brendan Gleeson

Priest Vallon: Liam Neeson

Running time -- 168 minutes

MPAA rating: R


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Neeson's 'Weak-Kneed' Royal Encounter

30 October 2002 | WENN | See recent WENN news »

Liam Neeson has proved even Hollywood heavyweights get nervous when faced with meeting a monarch. The Northern-Irish born Star Wars: Episode One star was summoned to Buckingham Palace in London to pick up an OBE (Order Of The British Empire) honor from Queen Elizabeth II. And after meeting Her Majesty, Neeson confessed the experience left him "weak-kneed." He says, "I've not been so nervous since I met Muhammad Ali. I really was weak-kneed. The Queen asked me if the award was for theatre or films and I said I thought it was for both. She said, 'That's nice'." Neeson's actress wife Natasha Richardson could not be at the ceremony today as she was at the couple's New York home, looking after their two young sons. »

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Skarsgard head spins for 'Exorcist'

30 August 2002 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgard will star in Morgan Creek Prods.' prequel to The Exorcist franchise, titled Exorcist: The Beginning, replacing Liam Neeson, who dropped out of the project because of scheduling conflicts. Paul Schrader is directing the prequel, which begins shooting in November in Morocco before moving to England. Gabriel Mann and Billy Crawford continue to be attached to the project, which traces the story of Father Merrin (Skarsgard) and his first encounter with the devil while doing missionary work in post-World War II Africa. While there, Merrin suffers from the horrors of war and loses his faith. When he meets the devil, he has to fight to save his beliefs. »

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Neeson Recalls Deer Drama

19 July 2002 | WENN | See recent WENN news »

Liam Neeson has spoken about the near-fatal motorcycle accident two years ago that left him with a broken pelvis. The Irish actor, who made his name in Schlindler's List and Michael Collins, hit a deer after going for a ride on his new motorbike to get his actress wife Natasha Richardson and two sons some muffins. Speaking for the first time about his nightmare accident, the star says, "[The deer] tries to jump over me and misses, so she begins to climb over me. I was going 30 miles an hour. It was a pure David Lynch-type moment. The deer gets caught between me and the handlebars. She's hanging over the front of my bike. Her back legs are getting caught in the spokes of the wheels. I'm trying to keep the whole thing balanced and stay out of the traffic's way. My instinct just tells me to get off the road. I run us smack into a tree." The deer died instantly, but Neeson stayed conscious as he was wearing his crash helmet. The star adds, "I felt this intense pain in my mid section and in my foot, and knew I'd have to climb back up the embankment so someone could see me and get me to a hospital. I was so happy that I was alive, happy my head was OK, happy I remembered my name. Somehow I knew that it would just be fine." After being picked up by an old guy in a truck, Neeson was taken to hospital where the prognosis revealed that his pelvis was broken in three places and his heel almost destroyed. Both areas had to be bolted if he was to walk again. Neeson says, "Something like 60 per cent of people die from these sort of pelvic injuries because of the blood clots. I didn't know that was possible so I couldn't worry about it, which was a blessing." »

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Harrison Ford's Submarine Film Attacked by Real-Life Heroes

17 July 2002 | WENN | See recent WENN news »

Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson's new submarine nuclear disaster movie K- 19: The Widowmaker has been attacked by the real-life Russian seamen portrayed in the film. Director Kathryn Bigelow went to great lengths to "pay tribute" to the sailors who lost their lives in a 1961 underwater nuclear catastrophe, but the survivors of the K-19 disaster insist the film portrays them as drunks. The survivors were given initial drafts of the script, so they could add their comments - and they all attacked onboard drinking scenes that still appear in the movie. A spokesman for the veterans says, "The drinking onboard is pure lies - they show the men as a bunch of drunken idiots. You wouldn't let these men in your apartment let alone onto a nuclear submarine." Point Break director Bigelow has toned down many of the drinking scenes and insists when the Russians see the finished film, they will be proud of it. She says, "These were strong, courageous and intelligent men facing an unthinkable situation, and acting in the most heroic way humanly possible." Meanwhile, former Russian submarine communications officer Igor Kolosov, who served as a consultant on the film, urges moviegoers to take the new film seriously - because they'll be watching the men who prevented World War Three by sacrificing themselves rather than causing a nuclear explosion off the coast of America. He says, "If there had been a nuclear explosion, who knows what could have happened." »

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K-19: The Widowmaker

15 July 2002 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

"K-19: The Widowmaker" is an impressive achievement all around. At once a story about human folly and heroism, a historical near-miss, political and military brinksmanship and men displaying grace under pressure, this submarine drama earns the right to be favorably compared to "Das Boot", arguably the greatest of all submarine movies. The film provides juicy roles for top-billed Harrison Ford (who executive produces) and Liam Neeson. There is brilliant film craftsmanship in every frame. And, finally, director Kathryn Bigelow gets a chance to show what she can do with a first-class script.

"K-19"'s appeal skews heavily male without any female role. Nevertheless, good reviews and a strong marketing push could turn this Paramount/Intermedia production into a top summer movie at the boxoffice.

Desperate to counter the psychological damage and military imbalance created during the Cold War when the United States sent its first Polaris missile subs on patrol in 1960, the Soviet leadership rushes its own ballistic missile sub into service the following year. The early scenes emphasizes how unready that boat, the K-19, is. Leaks are everywhere. Wiring is substandard. And the crew is unfamiliar with the sub. After 10 men die building the K-19, a champagne bottle used to dedicate the ship fails to break. "We are cursed", moans a superstitious crew member.

Troubling the crew further is a bizarre change in command. Capt. Alexei Vostrikov (Ford), a politically connected skipper, takes over for Capt. Mikhail Polenin (Neeson), who becomes second in command. Once under way, Alexei subjects the sub and its crew to grueling tests, culminating in a dive to "crush depth" and a fast resurface that sends the K-19 crashing through the Arctic ice shelf.

After the successful launch of a test missile, Moscow orders the sub to patrol waters off the U.S. coastline. Here, the reactor cooling system springs a leak, raising its core temperature close to meltdown. An eruption could set off missile warheads near a NATO base and trigger World War III.

In the film's key sequence, crew members take turns entering the reactor compartment to try to stabilize the temperature, exposing each to huge doses of radiation. The doctor on board, a last-minute replacement, knows nothing about radiation poisoning. The men emerge like characters in a cheesy horror film, staggering and vomiting as reddened skin slides from their bodies.

It's hard to know how much of the narrative in Christopher Kyle's script (based on Louis Nowra's story) derives from actual events. Much of the conflict and incidents could come from any number of military movies: Clashes between the two main officers escalate to the point of mutiny. The kid with a gal back home stands little chance of surviving the mission. Men exchange brave talk they only half believe.

The highly conventional approach of Kyle's script does smooth over the unfamiliarity of watching a peacetime submarine story in which the battle is as much emotional as physical. The main conflict also undergoes a curious switch midstream that is meant to take an audience by surprise but does so by not fully disclosing all factors.

Ford is the personification of military steel, a hard-headed captain focused single-mindedly on his mission. Neeson, as the more crew-friendly captain, is his counterpart, roiling beneath Ford's command with undisguised disdain for his willingness to jeopardize everyone's safety. Among 50-odd roles, another standout is Peter Sarsgaard's Vadim, the rookie reactor officer who must prove his valor.

Bigelow gracefully choreographs the shipwide action without ever losing focus. Her effort is greatly enhanced by Jeff Cronenweth's fluid camera, Walter Murch's sharp editing and Karl Juliusson and Michael Novotny's military-gray design. A major plus is Klaus Badelt's score, shifting from ominous rumbles beneath the action to full-throated shouts of alarm and, in the core reactor sequence, choral music.


Paramount Pictures

Paramount and Intermedia Films present a National Geographic/Palomar Pictures/First Light/IMF production


Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Screenwriter: Christopher Kyle

Story by: Louis Nowra

Producers: Kathryn Bigelow, Joni Sighvatsson, Christine Whitaker, Edward S. Feldman

Executive producers: Harrison Ford, Nigel Sinclair, Moritz Borman, Guy East

Director of photography: Jeff Cronenweth

Production designers: Karl Juliusson, Michael Novotny

Music: Klaus Badelt

Co-producers: Steven-Charles Jaffe, Basil Iwanyk, Brent O'Connor, Mark Wolfe, Mary Montiforte

Costume designer: Marit Allen

Editor: Walter Murch


Capt. Alexei Vostrikov: Harrison Ford

Capt. Mikhail Polenin: Liam Neeson

Vadim Radtchenko: Peter Sarsgaard

Pavel Loktev: Christian Camargo

Demichev: Steve Nicolson

Suslov: Ravil Isyanov

Running time -- 138 minutes

MPAA rating PG-13


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Laura Linney's Macbeth Mayhem

6 March 2002 | WENN | See recent WENN news »

Superstitious actress Laura Linney marched a naive reporter out of New York's Virginia Theater after he blurted out 'MacBeth' during a backstage interview. Linney is currently performing in The Crucible alongside Liam Neeson at the theatre, and she'll do whatever she can to avoid cursing her play. She says, "He said MacBeth, which in the theatre you do not say. You say 'the Scottish play' or 'the Scottish king.' It's a tried and true suspicion that I swear happens. If someone says the `M' word backstage, that night something will go wrong. There's a thing you can do very quickly to erase it - you take the person who said it out of the building, they have to turn around three times, spit over their left shoulder, knock on the door and then you let them back in. I made this reporter do that. I'm not like wacky that way but that is one thing that I'm serious about. Sure enough, despite my best efforts, something went wrong that night." »

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Ryan Takes On The Devil In Exorcist Prequel

24 January 2002 | WENN | See recent WENN news »

Ryan Phillippe is to don clerical garb to star in the as-yet untitled Exorcist prequel. The young actor admits he's thrilled to be offered the role alongside Liam Neeson - as an idealistic priest forced to come face-to-face with the devil - and is particularly happy to be working with director John Frankenheimer. He says, "I remember being a kid and watching Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate and being affected by the direction. It was the first movie that really opened up my eyes to direction." »

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