I Am Going to Act Your Pants Off

Here’s the thing about superhero movies: masks are terrible.

Yes, I understand, one must protect his or her secret identity at all costs. But if Superman can get away with just taking off his glasses and no one recognizes him, why do all the other übermensch smother themselves in Lycra and old yoga mats and foofaraw?

I hate masks for a good reason: they make it awfully hard to see someone’s face. Most actors (and most people) rely on their face-parts to convey information; we’re talking emotion, language, nostril-tentacle waving, etc.

When we watch a masked actor, it’s like going to the movies wearing mirrored sunglasses: tacky and a waste. Particularly if that mask, I dunno, distorts an actor’s voice. Like Tom Hardy’s Bane mask.

So while I’m glad Tom Hardy is in The Dark Knight Rises, I wish I had more hope that I’d actually get to see him act. Instead of some unrecognizable dude talking through a Brillo pad.

Bane - The Dark Knight Rises

And you thought your headgear was bad.

Picture, if you will, Heath Ledger’s Joker, except he wears the mask he started the movie in, for THE WHOLE MOVIE. Is that performance still stunning? I doubt it. Eyes and the mouth, these are an actor’s tools. Take them away, and you might as well watch cartoons.

I bring this up not because I’m a crank (which I am. get off my lawn.), but because you have homework. After watching Hang ’em High to prepare your mind for the theme of the Dark Knight Rises, you should likewise familiarize yourself with the film’s lead actors. That way, when you watch TDKR, you can compare the performances they give to their best work.

What can Tom Hardy do when he’s at the top of his game? What about Christian Bale? or Michael Caine?

Before next week, let’s all try to watch as many of these films as we can. Then you will all leave lots of interesting comments here about which scenes you found the most impressive.

Christian Bale

The Machinist

This is a man who can act. He can also rant at crew impressively, but we’ve all had bad days, so bygones and all that. While I’m personally quite fond of The Prestigeanother Christopher Nolan film and my favorite of his so far—and American Psycho is so amazingly, startlingly funny and spot on it makes me want to crank some Whitney Houston and do some blow off a very shiny ax, I think to see Christian Bale go banana splits, we need to watch The Machinist.

Now, I haven’t seen The Machinist yet, but just look at these pictures. Bale lost SIXTY-TWO POUNDS for this role. According to the always factual Wikipedia, he had one cup of black coffee and either an apple or a can of tuna each day for four months. He wanted to lose 99 pounds, but he ran out of tuna and the doctors told him to stop the crazy talk. Then? His next role was Batman in Batman Begins.

Christian Bale in the Machinist

I think we can agree that he took his Machinist role seriously. The least we can do is watch the movie.

I also want to mention, in case you’re wavering, that this film is directed by Brad Anderson. Mr. Anderson directed Next Stop, Wonderland, which has the best phone message retrieval scene ever committed to film. You can watch that for extra credit and a second cup of coffee.

Tom Hardy


I am afraid, seriously, that many of you think Tom Hardy is that guy from This Means WarWarriorInception, and RocknRolla. Maybe some of you are saying—oh yes! Tom Hardy! He was fantastic in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (and he was) as Rikki Tarr. And while I’d rather eat nothing but a can of tuna a day for four months than watch This Means War, Hardy was also just fine if fairly unchallenged in Inception.

If you want to see Tom Hardy act, however, and you do, you need to watch Bronson.

Bronson is not a wholly brilliant film. Tom Hardy in it, on the other hand, is exceptional. This is a character that devours entire city blocks. It’s based on the life of a real man, still alive, who changed his name to Charles Bronson. He was and is one of Britain’s most violent criminals.

Tom Hardy Bronson

Shove your mask up your arse.

It’s directed by Nicolas Winding Refn for whom people are currently gaga. (I thought Drive was decent and Valhalla Rising interesting to start but ultimately dull and directionless). Bronson is currently on Netflix streaming so you have no excuse.

You will watch this film and then, like me, scowl when you think about Tom Hardy wearing a FUCKING MASK and acting vicious and crazy. This is a man who does not need a mask to be vicious and crazy. The face he was born with is just fine for that.

Michael Caine

Michael Caine

Sir Maurice Joseph Micklewhite, CBE, or Michael Caine as you’re unable to say without trying to imitate his distinctive voice, is a damn fine actor. He is a damn fine actor who has made some seriously terrible films. Have you seen Jaws: the Revenge?

Nevertheless, he has been acting in films since the 1950s, getting his big break in Zulu. He then got the lead in Alfie, which is of interest, and then there was The Italian Job (yes, that was a movie before Marky Mark somehow became a movie star), and on and on. While his performance in Get Carter is strong, I think if we’re going to pick some classic Micky C to feast on, we really only have one choice: The Man Who Would Be King.

The Man Who Would Be King

Is this his most challenging role? No. I guess not. But when I think about it, Caine’s performances aren’t really all that showy. He has a solidity to him that doesn’t demand antics. He also does well in supporting parts, something many leading actors find distasteful. So, if you make it this far down the list, have a squizz at The Man Who Would Be King. It was a part meant for Bogart, but instead Sean Connery got paired with Caine, under the direction of the great John Huston. The story, if you weren’t aware, is by Rudyard Kipling.

And now that you’re thinking about it, don’t you want to name your next child Rudyard? I thought so. And when you do, you can say his name with your best imitation Michael Caine or Sean Connery accent, depending on whether or not he’s been a good boy.

Extra Credit

I’m going to be challenged to get through the above films before next week, on top of all my other movie watching duties. (Beasts of the Southern Wild: very creative, some exceptionally thrilling imagery, not much of a story, wow can that little girl act! On the whole, I liked it but I’m not putting it on the required list. Digression over.) If you’ve got some extra time, however, or you’re on doctor mandated bed rest, also check out:

Anne HathawayRachel Getting Married

I haven’t seen it. Okay. That’s not totally true. I started to watch it and then my little brother got his arm caught in the microwave and my grandmother dropped acid and she freaked out and hijacked a school bus full of penguins. Anyway, I only saw the beginning. But from what I can suss, it’s Anne Hathaway at her best. Although I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I was looking forward to seeing her in a Catwoman outfit more than watching her act. Or anyone in a Catwoman outfit, I guess. Except Sean.

It’s not that I think she’s a bad actor, it’s just that she hasn’t impressed me much as of yet. Beautiful, definitely. Talented, I’m not sure. Hathaway supporters, feel free to school me.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Brick

Man. I just love me some Brick. Mod-noir sass-talking hardboiled high schoolers. Watch it and then watch it again. Rian Johnson’s second film, The Brothers Bloom is also good—worth watching for Rachel Weisz’s scene on the bridge alone, and his next film, Looper, is something I’ll be seeing opening night.

Gary Oldman: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Trying to pick a Gary Oldman film in which he puts his heart most into the role is like trying to pick your smelliest toe. Theys all smelly, fool! In Tinker Tailor Oldman gets George Smiley. And I don’t mean he got the part, I mean he gets the role. Watch that movie and see if you can spot a wasted motion from Oldman’s corner. It’s a delicate performance that’s all the more impressive if you’ve grown up with Alec Guinness as George Smiley and now, well, Smiley looks like Gary Oldman instead.

I could go on, but I’ve got flowers to type up and a whole mess of blue to categorize. You just watch these here movies and then, with Hingle-tinged magic, you will be full of the smarts.

5 responses on “I Am Going to Act Your Pants Off

  1. Okay, just thinking about masks. Aren’t there some cases where a mask is scarier than an actor, or an actor with a bunch of makeup? I’m thinking of things like Michael Meyers in the Halloween movies, or Jason Voorhees. That Michael Meyers mask is damn scary. And the few times in the Friday the Thirteenth movies when they unmask Jason, it’s always a hilarious letdown–some freaky mongoloid like the guy from The Goonies, and not scary at all. Obviously the difference in these cases would be the level of actors you get for these roles, but I think a mask can be quite scary.

    I would say that if your masked character has a lot of screen time and dialogue, it could get pretty tedious. An exception to that might be Frank Langella as Skeletor in the Masters of the Universe. He tore that shit up with a full face mask on the whole time. Come on, don’t lie, you’ve seen that movie.

    • sure. i agree. masks can be scary. but is that acting?

      i have not seen Masters of the Universe, but Langella is good.

      the only data point i can come up with that’s making me debate my thesis is Andy Serkis. is Gollum a mask? i think i’ve decided: no. it’s more like face paint. i’m still seeing Serkis’ expressions and his face.

  2. I watched Bronson. Yep, Hardy is fantastic. He’s like a live-action cartoon character in a Bugs Bunny short, with exactly the same amount of violence, only it’s all actually bloody and real and horrible. Not sure if the movie itself amounted to a whole lot, but it was impressively arty and odd.

    • certainly so. i liked it better than Drive, though, which was just pulp. good pulp, but pulp. Bronson is a bit of the crazy and Tom Hardy is explosive.

Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man.

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