When Celebrities Act Like Normal People

I don’t know much about him, other than his work in Schindler’s List and his hard-ass role in the Taken movies, and his getting to utter the memorable line “Release the Kraken!” in the remake of Clash of the Titans, but I’m guessing that, deep down, Liam Neeson is a pretty nice guy.

uke8zhvWhy?  My admittedly off-the-cuff conclusion is based solely on one recent incident.  Neeson is up in Vancouver, filming a movie called Hard Powder.  Because Neeson’s arrival in town got some local press, the proprietors of the Big Star Sandwich Company put up an outdoor sign that said “Liam Neeson eats here for free” on one side and “Come in and get Taken away by our sandwiches” on the other, and they apparently served up a few sandwiches to the movie’s production crew.  And then, to their surprise, Neeson actually showed up at their little shop, walked up to the counter, and asked the staffer there, in his best gruff, hard-ass voice, “Where’s my free sandwich?”  It was a pretty cool move on his part.

Neeson didn’t actually take a free sandwich due to his schedule, but he did pose for a photo with the happy guys who put up the sign, and as a token of their respect they’ve now named a special sandwich after him — which I have to say looks pretty darned good.  And with the photo with Neeson in their pocket, suddenly their choosing the name Big Star Sandwich Company looks like it was a prescient move.

Normally, the celebrity culture in our modern world makes me sick, with its worshipful treatment of cloistered celebrities who get special treatment everywhere they go and seem to have almost no idea of what the lives of normal people are like.  It’s refreshing when a big film star like Neeson is willing to do something that will make the day of some everyday guys who are trying to make a go of their business.  It says something nice about Neeson that he would do that — and it also reminds you of how many other puffed-up celebs who’ve read too many of their own press clippings just wouldn’t take the time.

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Unknown

Kish and I went to see Unknown on Saturday.  We both like Liam Neeson and were in the mood for an action-adventure film.  Unknown met those requirements — but not much else.

Unknown is a story of a man who is knocked unconscious in an accident, lapses into a coma, and is surprised to learn when he awakens that he has been replaced, in every facet of his life, by another man.  It is the kind of movie that asks audience members to completely suspend their reasoning faculties and tries to maintain such a break-neck pace that you don’t have time to consider the plot holes and implausibilities.  It features a big twist toward the end, and I won’t spoil it for anyone who wants to see the film.  However, it is the kind of twist that renders the overall plot so improbable that I, at least, felt a bit cheated.

With his craggy face and physical size, Liam Neeson is a believable action hero who looks like he could throw a punch and absorb a beating.  His character is helped by an illegal alien taxi driver, played by Diane Kruger, and a former East German spy, played by Bruno Ganz.  (Ganz is an accomplished actor and turned in a fine performance, but as I looked at him I couldn’t help but think of his performance as Adolf Hitler in Downfall.  His depiction of Hitler, as Der Fuehrer is advised that the Russians are closing in, has been turned into countless YouTube parodies in which a subtitled Hitler supposedly reacts to unexpected results in sporting events.  Whenever Ganz was on screen I found myself thinking of Hitler talking about his TO Dallas Cowboys jersey.)

Unknown is no great film, but it’s not an unpleasant way to spend a few hours on a cold and rainy day.

Release The Kraken!

I think being an actor would be an enormous challenge.  To be successful as an artist, you have to understand your character, get into their skin, and faithfully assume their personalities and mannerisms.  Otherwise, it will just look like someone acting.  On the other hand, to put bread on the table, you will need to accept jobs in movies that aren’t exactly artistic triumphs — perhaps a remake of a popular TV show, or a comic book adaptation — often wearing ridiculous get-ups.

When Kish, Russell and I went to watch Shutter Island on Saturday we saw the preview for the remake of Clash of the Titans.  The original dates from the ’80s and was a Ray Harryhausen stop-motion epic starring Harry Hamlin.  The remake features, among other notables, Liam Neeson as Zeus, the King of the Gods.  At one point in the trailer, Zeus says “Release the Kraken,” which is an enormous, large-toothed, screeching, earthen monstrosity.

It must have been tough for Liam Neeson, so memorable in Schindler’s List and recent fare like Taken, to speak that dialogue.  As he does so he is clad in some glowing, shimmering kind of armored breastplate and a cape, with long hair and a long beard.  How do you decide how to say such a line as such a character?  “Release the KRAKEN!”  “RELEASE the Kraken!”  “RELEASE THE KRAKEN!!!!”  Waving hand and shrugging, “Release the Kraken.”  Shatner-like:  “Release . . .  the Kraken.”  (Shatner probably would have been a good Zeus, come to think of it.)

Neeson pulls it off, somehow, speaking the lines with a sense of weariness, indignation, and resignation, as his breastplate glows and his beard hairs flap in the breeze.