Mario Puzo (1920 - 1999) is legendary for his novel The Godfather and the film trilogy it spawned. The American author won two Oscars for his screenplays for the first two films, and deservedly so - he not only wrote an epic saga of the American mafia but also played a vital part in helping Francis Ford Coppola adapt and expand it for the screen. Sadly, far fewer people know of the only literary expansion of the Godfather mythos written by Puzo himself - his later novel The Sicilian.
The nominations for the 2017 Oscars were unveiled today. While the 24 categories cover most creative and technical aspects of film-making, there's a conspicuous lack of recognition for stunt co-ordination, choreography, and performance.
Of course, like the domination of La La Land in this year's list, this is no surprise. The Academy's resistance to recognising the men and women who bring action to the screen is stubborn and longstanding. Stunts and action sequences have thrilled audiences almost since the dawn of cinema, but the Academy has never seen fit to reward those who make this possible, even at the risk of life and limb.
Return to Castle Wolfenstein could be called one of the most unheralded first-person shooters of its time. Developed by Gray Matter under the supervision of id Software, the game was released in November 2001 to excellent reviews - but it was ultimately overshadowed by both Medal of Honor: Allied Assault (released just two months later) and its own multiplayer spinoff, Enemy Territory.
Return to Castle Wolfenstein was both a resurrection of id's iconic Wolfenstein 3D (1992), and a thoroughly modern first-person shooter. Remarkably, the developers succeeded in both paying tribute to the "grandfather of first-person shooters" and fully absorbing the lessons from the games that followed in its wake. As a result, RTCW captures the thrill of both old school and modern shooters, and retains tremendous appeal over 15 years later.
The 2008 James Bond film Quantum of Solace is a cruelly misunderstood and underrated entry in the decades-long series. The remarkable product of a difficult production process, Marc Forster's film is a superb and bold follow-up to Martin Campbell's Casino Royale (2006), which reinvigorated 007. Part of the film's strength lies in its basis in a strong theme which informs almost every aspect of the production: revenge.
The Oscar-nominated Steven Seagal vehicle Under Siege hit screens in October 1992. A significant hit, it opened the floodgates for a wave of films which attempted to recreate the magic of John McTiernan's Die Hard, Suddenly, four years after the release of the Bruce Willis classic, every studio was putting a relatable everyman (or sometimes Steven Seagal) up against armed terrorists within a relatively confined space: a ship, a train, an airliner.
Even today, the "Die Hard scenario" remains popular and the films which attempt this approach form an intriguing subgenre. Surprisingly, though, there is one film which very successfully copied the format of Die Hard which isn't too often discussed - and that's the film's very own sequel, Renny Harlin's Die Hard 2.
Renny Harlin's 1996 film The Long Kiss Goodnight is worth taking a look at right now for a few reasons: it was released 20 years ago this year, it's a classic Christmas action film up there with Die Hard, and it's one of the underrated gems of its genre.
Shane Black was paid $4 million for his terrific script, and Harlin had hopes that his then-wife Geena Davis would become a bankable action star. However, Harlin's 1995 flop Cutthroat Island cast a long shadow, and The Long Kiss Goodnight underperformed. Although it has its vocal champions, including Priscilla Page, the film languishes in relative obscurity - but here are five reasons why it deserves a place in any action fan's heart.
Recently I've really been getting into Italian crime fiction in a big way. I began by reading Roberto Saviano's amazing and chilling non-fiction book Gomorrah, then sought out the equally superb TV series. Last night, I watched Suburra, a 2015 crime epic directed by Stefano Sollima, one of Gomorrah's three directors.
Like the TV series, Suburra is an intensely detailed and bleak account of systemic criminal corruption in Italy. As opposed to Naples, where Gomorrah takes place, Suburra is set in Rome - meaning that senior politicians, the Roman mob, and even the Pope are implicated in all the seedy events that take place. It's brilliant, harrowing stuff driven by a great script and a fine ensemble cast. It's quite labyrinthine, so I decided to create this chart showing just some of the complex relationships. You can download a PDF copy below.
Stefano Sollima is the son of Sergio Sollima (1921 - 2015), director of three of the best Italian western films ever made. Right now he's working on Soldado, the sequel to Denis Villeneuve's 2015 film Sicario, which was also a favourite of mine - it's in safe hands. Suburra is also being made into a Netflix series - so there's plenty more Italian crime goodness still to come.
Lethal Weapon may not have launche the buddy-cop genre as such - Walter Hill's 48 Hrs. (1982) was just one of its antecedents - but it definitely helped to cement and popularise this enduringly popular idea. Played by Mel Gibson and Danny Glover respectively, Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh are now the archetypal buddy cops. They reunited for three sequels up until 1998, were parodied in Loaded Weapon 1 (1993), and have been re-imagined and re-cast for a 2016 TV series.
Besides launching the franchise and boosting the buddy-cop subgenre, Lethal Weapon was a trendsetting film for a number of other reasons. It launched Mel Gibson's career in the US, turned Shane Black into a screenwriting superstar, and is even a milestone in the use of martial arts sequences in American action films. The film's commercial success and continued influence are clear enough, but were the product of a very specific set of ingredients combined together by veteran director Donner.
The Accountant (2016) [IMDB]
Directed by Gavin O'Connor
Starring Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal
In 2016, Hollywood has continued to labour under a pall of familiarity. Ever in search of "sure things", the big studios have doubled-down once again on sequels, remakes, reboots, "re-imaginings", and spin-offs. Where something new is promised - as with, say, Doctor Strange - we're often left disappointed. That's where The Accountant comes in: a genuinely somewhat novel, if flawed, thriller which serves as a breath of fresh air.
Hard Target 2 (2016) [IMDB]
Directed by Roel Reine
Starring Scott Adkins, Robert Knepper, Ann Truong, Rhona Mitra
Hard Target 2 is a pale imitation of John Woo's first American film, disguised as a sequel and released direct-to-video 23 years later. It's poorly written and paced, but has enough stunts and thrills to satisfy a lot of action fans. An athletic performance by Scott Adkins provides the bulk of the film's appeal - and Roel Reine's film is the British actor's best starring role since 2013's Ninja: Shadow of a Tear. In these lean times for action fans, we'll take what we can get.