7 items from 2016
Movies set in luminescent casinos conjure up evocative mental images of bright lights or dark rooms filled with blackjack tables, roulette wheels and rolls of the dice. Just think of the Ocean's Eleven franchise, the Edward Norton and Matt Damon-starring Rounders or (of course) Martin Scorsese's Casino. Gambling movies can be like sports movies in the sense that it can be hard to convey on screen the sheer thrill of the game or give a sense of the rules in most cases - but they're not all like that. Here are a few that stand out for unique reasons of their own. While there's a strong possibility that you may have heard of at least some of these films, it's likely you haven't seen all of them. So, here's an introduction for the uninitiated.
- CineVue UK
For television writers striving for Emmy attention, our age of peak TV adds a new level of trial and tribulation to an already gladiatorial environment.
Nevertheless, a number of freshman contenders could make this year’s writing category a particularly interesting race with their takes on subjects that, in previous seasons, may never have made it out of the pitch phase.
Series such as “Underground,” “Marvel’s Jessica Jones,” “UnReal,” “Mr. Robot,” “Billions,” and others all have strong shots at Emmy noms. Different though they all may be, many of the ideas guiding their showrunners come from similar motivations.
Melissa Rosenberg, showrunner for Netflix’s widely acclaimed “Jessica Jones,” made a point of urging her staff to go against standard operating procedure when writing the Peabody Award-winning series.
“There’s always that mark where we say, ‘Oh well, it works,’ ” she says. “ ‘It works’ is what you would do on network. … If it wasn’t something we loved and that all of us were excited to write, we would say, ‘Let’s just explore. Can we do better?’ ”
The result: a comic book-inspired drama that defies the superhero label, featuring a flawed heroine whose backstory placed struggling with Ptsd, the aftermath of rape and abortion — issues network television has vehemently shunned — at the center of its first season’s narrative.
The 2015-16 season also saw Wgn America launch its slavery thriller “Underground,” which took a subject usually handled with absolute solemnity and instead set scenes to a modern soundtrack featuring hip-hop and pop music tracks, injecting subplots with soap- opera elements.
“We said we wanted to be bold storytelling-wise, visually, and with the music,” says Misha Green, who co-created the series with writing partner Joe Pokaski. “We also had the advantage, when we started researching the Underground Railroad, that this amazing story had never been told.”
“‘It works’ is what you would do on network. … If it wasn’t something we loved and that all of us were excited to write, we would say, ‘Let’s just explore. Can we do better?’ ” Melissa Rosenberg
“People talk about world-creation a lot when they’re talking about sci-fi movies,” says Koppelman, who, with Levien, came to TV after writing a number of film scripts starting with 1998’s “Rounders.” “But for us … the world of hedge funds and the world of United States attorneys are each worlds that lend themselves to that kind of cinematic treatment, because you’re dealing with people who consider themselves larger than life.”
USA Network also bet on the story of an outsized character who may not be all that he appears — and landed a serious awards contender in doing so. To date, “Mr. Robot,” a mind-warping tale of hacker culture, has already won a Golden Globe for best TV drama, as well as a Peabody.
Series creator Sam Esmail credits part of “Mr. Robot’s” success to it having been initially conceived as a film; the show’s first season mirrors the plan for his movie’s first act. His writers’ room reflects that. “It’s mostly feature [film] writers and not television writers, and we’re looking at it as, how do we efficiently and economically get to that satisfying conclusion,” Esmail says.
Jessica Goldberg, creator of “The Path”, approached her Hulu series from her experience as a playwright. “What people are compelled to do comes from whatever their emotional life happens to be,” she says.
Marti Noxon, showrunner for Lifetime’s “UnReal,” believes her show’s exploration of the psychology of reality television was key to connecting with the audience for her dark drama that goes behind the scenes of a fictional romantic competition series.
“This show is just trying to be a mirror, not only of why the characters are the way they are, but of why our culture is the way it is now,” Noxon says. “What does it do to us, when we try to have our cake and eat it too? I think in the end, everyone ends up hungry and sad.”
- Melanie McFarland
We check out the John Travolta films that have been bypassing cinemas over the past few years...
In the days leading up to writing this article, which will cover a recent period in which he’s made a bunch of films that have quickly drifted to DVD or VOD, I had to stop and ask myself a genuine question: how do I actually feel about John Travolta?
The answer that rose from the depths of my coal-black, hell-bound soul was weirdly surprising. Brushing aside his personal life – which is not worth getting into here – I found I had nothing but good feelings surrounding his work as an actor.
I grew up with Carrie, Grease, Look Who’s Talking and perhaps his best film, Brian De Palma’s Blow Out. I also grew up with some of his clunkers, like the Look Who’s Talking sequels and 80s concept comedy The Experts. He’s been acting since before I was born, so he’s always been in the background of my pop culture landscape – working solidly for more than 40 years.
Over those decades, his catalogue has defied explanation. He seems to unapologetically pick whatever he feels moved to be a part of regardless of criticism and, goddamn it, there’s something inherently admirable about that. Unlike, say, Bruce Willis, he doesn’t seem happy with doing just a couple of days work on a shoot in a smaller part; more often he will choose to be the star, or at least have equal-ish screen time – even if the project isn’t boasting a huge budget or a big name director. When Pulp Fiction thrust him back into the mainstream, he was still picking up stuff like Phenomenon and Michael in the following years.
I can confidently say that I’ve never seen the man actively 'phone in' a performance and even when he’s overcooked it, there’s usually a decent reason. I mean, if you find yourself on the set of Face/Off going up against The Cage, you’re gonna need to fight fire with fire. Even in Battlefield Earth, he was at least trying.
But in the last half decade we’ve found ourselves in a deeper Travolta trough than we’ve ever been in before. His films aren’t quite cutting the mustard in the industry like they used to and, after a run of flops that have seen him drift back into television with an impressive turn as Robert Shapiro in The People V. O.J. Simpson, I find myself wondering 'will Travolta ever be big business again?'
So, I took a look at four of the films that Travolta’s worked on in the last few years - each of which has effectively gone straight to DVD (save for a few days in a cinema) - to see if anything’s slipped under our radar that needs a boost…
The Forger (2014)
Rotten Tomatoes Score – 7% IMDb Rating – 5.7/10
In The Forger, John Travolta is a man serving a prison sentence who makes a call to get out of it early so he can spend more time with his dying son. In exchange for help with bribing the judge to release him early, John’s expected to help forge a Monet for his erstwhile crime boss, played by Hell On Wheels’ Anson Mount.
As the film casually flits between the forge/heist story and the bonding relationship between John and his son, it’s a testament to director Philip Martin - who comes from a TV background where he’s learnt his trade by helping to bring Prime Suspect and Wallander crime stories to life – that it isn’t a complete disaster. In someone else’s hands, it very well could have been.
Instead, The Forger has a delicate touch and a lot of the shots are interesting and unexpected without being jarring. It flows very smoothly and there’s an undercurrent of genuine love stemming from Travolta’s performance. After losing his own son, making a film about losing a son might have been cathartic and definitely quite close to the bone. I don’t want to read too much into Travolta’s choices, because that way madness lies, but it does really come across as though he cared about this one.
The Forger’s family scenes - with Travolta’s son Tye Sheridan and father Christopher Plummer - play really well, and while the tone of these scenes doesn’t gel with the heist elements of the plot, there’s good stuff here.
Overall, there’s not quite enough substance to sail the whole thing smoothly down the river, but it’s not bad by any stretch and the reviews have been a little harsh on what is actually a perfectly average film. No, you won’t watch it again, but neither will you probably regret watching it in the first place.
Criminal Activities (2015)
Rotten Tomatoes Score – 47% IMDb Rating – 5.8/10
Hoo boy, that title. That’s the worst title. I can’t imagine anyone involved could have wanted it. It’s maybe the most generic title I’ve ever seen. It’s so bad that even when I picked up the DVD, looked at the cover and saw that Michael Pitt (Hannibal, Boardwalk Empire) and Dan Stevens (The Guest, The Guest, The Guest) were Travolta’s co-stars in this, I still felt like I was drowning in the beigeness of it.
The film itself - Jackie Earle Haley's directorial debut - is an unfortunate mess. The plot, such as it is, involves Michael, Dan and the rest of the lads from their childhood gang borrowing money from a mob boss (Travolta) to invest in some sure-fire stocks that immediately collapse, leaving them out of pocket and in John’s. To pay off the debt, he wants them to kidnap a guy, because that guy’s friend kidnapped someone else. It’s convoluted and makes little sense, due to the fact that there’s a big twist coming at the end which will clarify most, if not all of it.
The actors are doing wayyy too much in the film - directed by an actor who clearly wants the actors to have room to act - and therein lies the fundamental problem. Apart from a great turn by Edi Gathegi (Gone Baby Gone, X-Men: First Class, Crank) it’s impossible to point a finger at anyone else in the cast and say 'yep, you, good job' because there’s just too much going on.
The twist is actually decent, but everything leading up to it is a headache. Working on a low budget, most of the scenes are dialogue-heavy, arduous and reliant on excessive coverage – so what you end up with is a film where a load of dudes sit in a room together and shout and swear at each other a lot. I wanted to take that final twist aside, buy it a drink, hug it, and reassure it that it deserved better.
I’m afraid to say there’s not much here to recommend, which is ironic given that it’s had the most positive reviews of the bunch.
I Am Wrath (2016)
Rotten Tomatoes Score – 13% IMDb Rating – 5.2/10
I Am Wrath is the worst film of these four by a long chalk.
Here, John stars as a man who decides payback is needed when his wife (Rebecca de Mornay) is killed before his eyes. That’s really all there is, plot-wise. See, it turns out he’s a man with a very particular set of skills and yada yada yada off he goes.
The script - written by Paul 'nope, nothing you’ve heard of' Sloan - is so very, very bad. I am going to tell you how bad it is, so you don’t think I’m just whistlin’ Dixie here:
During his wife’s funeral, John tells the priest that he’s an atheist after the priest gives him a bible in his time of need. Later, Travolta flings this bible across the room angrily. He then stops, pulls a full Joey Tribbiani 'smell-the-fart', slowly approaches the discarded bible, picks it up and reads a line about wrath with the dumbest revelatory expression on his face as the music builds. He sees this as a sign that he should become wrath, despite his earlier insistence that he thinks religion is total garbage.
Later, when asked who he is, Travolta looks determinedly into a mirror and says “I am wrath” – he said the name of the movie you guys! Holy shit. Honestly, I could not believe how hackneyed the whole thing was, not to mention bizarre - the film regularly abandons its serious 'violence begets violence' tone whenever John’s Bff Christopher Meloni turns up, suddenly becoming a jokey buddy comedy.
This was hard to get through. Please avoid it at all costs, for there is nothing here to keep you warm at night.
Killing Season (2013)
Rotten Tomatoes Score – 11% IMDb Rating – 5.4/10
De Niro and Travolta – together at last?
Well, the opening sequence gives us a bit of background on the reason we’re all here. Something bad happened during the Bosnian War that will bring our two main dudes together for some serious vengeance. The sequence is sepia, because past, and ohhhhh god, here comes the present…
It’s at this point that we discover that John is going to attempt an Eastern European accent. It is Not Good. It is not John Malkovich in Rounders, but it is Not Good and we are stuck with it for the duration.
His facial hair during this first scene is also completely ridiculous. I can’t adequately describe how bonkers it is, but try to imagine a werewolf that can only grow stubble carefully shaving a circle into its face. It’s a relief to find that they decided to tone this down for the rest of the film - he looks more like he’s wearing a black chinstrap from then on.
Despite the accent and the questionable chin beard, it’s a lot easier to buy Travolta as a man on a mission of vengeance during Killing Season than it was during I Am Wrath. He’s obviously jazzed to be working with De Niro and he’s knuckled down to bounce off him, keeping it low-key and making an effort not to overdo it.
As a result of this equilibrium, we also get a glimpse of a pre-Meet The Parents De Niro - which is very much welcomed, sweet lord - and the two men head into the second act ready to take each other on, hunt each other down and resolve those Bosnian sins of the past in the most violent way possible.
The script - by proposed Tomb Raider reboot scribe Evan Daugherty - occasionally stumbles, but is solid enough. The direction is fine. It’s fine. It’s probably Mark Steven Johnson’s best film (but when his other major films are Daredevil and Ghost Rider, that’s not exactly a gush) and as the two leads hunt and trap each other, a lot of Predator love oozes out of the frame. Unfortunately, this is not Predator, but you could do worse on an evening than to sit through this instead (if you don’t own Predator).
…Oh my god you guys. We should totally watch Predator right now.
Until next time, and until the next rebirth of Mr Travolta, I bid you adieu.
Next time: the straight to DVD movies of John Cusack
Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.
See related Bruce Willis: examining his recent straight-to-dvd movies DVD & Bluray Feature Movies Kirsten Howard John Travolta 14 Jun 2016 - 05:16 The Forger I Am Wrath Criminal Activities Killing Season »
Casinos are high-octane, high energy environments where almost anything can happen, so it’s no surprise that Hollywood is obsessed with them when it comes to creating exciting, edge-of-the-seat scenes. From comedy to action, the casino has long been a film staple, and here we’re going to take a look at some of the most memorable gambling moments in movie history.
Arguably one of the funniest movies to centre around casinos, The Hangover features an almost perfect scene where Zach Galafinakis’ character consults a blackjack guidebook. Shortly after, we see his chip stake grow and grow before attracting the attention of the casino’s security team and management. At this point, the “wolfpack” decide to make a hasty exit – perhaps he’s been practising at home before the trip and playing Vegas slots online!
In this scene, George Clooney’s men shut down the »
- The Hollywood News
Stan chief executive, Mike Sneesby.
Streaming service Stan has signed a long-term exclusive licensing agreement with CBS to become the official Australian home of Showtime.
The deal will bring all future Showtime series and hundreds of hours of programming to the Australian streaming service.
.It will also provide Stan with an exclusive license to the Showtime brand and trademark.
The agreement kicked off earlier this week with the premiere of Billions in Australia, following its series debut in the Us..
Stan chief executive, Mike Sneesby, said the deal rounded out an amazing first year for Stan, "with more than 1.5 million Australians having used the service across almost 700,000 subscriptions since our launch on Australia Day 2015..
"Showtime is one of the world.s greatest creators of television programming, and we are delighted to enter this long-term partnership, cementing our position as Australia.s leading local Svod service. »
- Staff Writer
The wolves of Wall Street have been an elusive target for television dramatists.
Even the wave of antiheroes unleashed by Tony Soprano has yet to yield a show revolving around the megalomaniacs who rule the financial sector.
Showtime chief David Nevins has long sought a series set in the investment arena, going back more than 15 years to his days as head of development at Fox. Writer-producers Brian Koppelman and David Levien have pursued the same prize on and off for a decade. Andrew Ross Sorkin, the influential New York Times business writer, knew there was great narrative drama to be mined from the world he covers.
The invisible hand of the market — with a little push from CAA — brought those mutual interests together during »
- Cynthia Littleton
For the longest time, I couldn't figure out what to make of "Billions," the new Showtime drama debuting Sunday at 10, starring Damian Lewis as a shady billionaire hedge fund trader and Paul Giamatti as the U.S. attorney looking to bring him down. It has two strong leading men (and did a nice job casting Malin Akerman and Maggie Siff as their respective spouses), and in Brian Koppelman and David Levien (who wrote "Rounders" together) and Andrew Ross Sorkin (who wrote "Too Big to Fail" and knows Wall Street as well as any reporter on the planet), it has a trio of creators who know how to write intimately about both the super-wealthy and gamblers, and the way that the former often have to act like the latter. "Billions" has all the bonafides. Yet as I watched one episode after another, I found myself wondering why I was meant to care about any of it. »
- Alan Sepinwall
7 items from 2016
IMDb.com, Inc. takes no responsibility for the content or accuracy of the above news articles, Tweets, or blog posts. This content is published for the entertainment of our users only. The news articles, Tweets, and blog posts do not represent IMDb's opinions nor can we guarantee that the reporting therein is completely factual. Please visit the source responsible for the item in question to report any concerns you may have regarding content or accuracy.See our NewsDesk partners