Logan: sad, beautiful and final

Film

James Mangold is a compelling director; in that a lot of his work has real emotional depth and nuance, and often benefits from repeat viewing. And he’s kind of underappreciated. I mean, Girl, Interrupted, 3:10 To Yuma and Walk The Line all had him at the helm.

And yes, granted, he’s also got The Wolverine on his filmography, but we’re all allowed a little stumble now and then, right?

And I have to say, with Logan – almost certainly Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart’s last portrayal of the characters – Mangold has finished with superheroes on a high (assuming he’s not coming back to direct again). Because, simply put, this film is poles apart from almost ALL superhero movies (even Deadpool), in that it’s a melancholy love letter to Logan, aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Charles Xavier, aka Professor X (Patrick Stewart), as the two that are heart and soul – and indeed spine – of the X-Men franchise.

Theirs is the father-son dynamic that’s touched on consistently throughout prior films, but is really brought front and centre here. And, structure wise, we’re in somewhat different territory. Because whilst superhero films (these days) are often Westerns half in disguise, Logan wears this badge proudly, with Mangold really playing to his strengths as a director.

In that it’s a muscular, visceral, downtrodden and wistful story. One that’s gritty, painfully real, and lacks any semblance of a Hollywood shine. (I mean, within one scene more F bombs get dropped than the rest of the franchise put together.)

Indeed, Mangold has previously stated his touchpoints were Shane, The Cowboys, Paper Moon, Little Miss Sunshine and The Wrestler. And, for me, the latter two cited really shine through. Whether it’s the road trip structure or the fact Logan shares a lot of common ground with Mickey Rourke’s wrestler, in that he’s a ‘broken down old piece of meat’, you sense these influences keenly.

And, story wise, it also takes its cues from the Old Man Logan series of graphic novels. So within the opening scenes where we meet Logan, he’s a grey-haired, shabby limo driver. He drinks, he’s bleary-eyed, bent, broken and walks with a limp. So he’s oceans away from his body being the temple of earlier films. Now it’s more a urinal. In short, he’s a right mess and borderline suicidal.

Plus the fact he’s got a half-senile Charles to look after; shacked up in a metal bunker in Mexico (described in one scene as a man with the world’s most dangerous brain and a degenerative brain disorder to match. A lethal combination). So gone are the days of the mansion and gone are the days of mutants and the X-Men. Logan and Charles are practically all that’s left. And they’re barely clinging to life as it is.

But… they’re given purpose by the arrival of a young girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), who has certain familiar abilities. And so Logan is tasked – with Charles in tow – to attempt to evade bad guys and get her to the safety of Canada. So we end up with a sort of mismatched family road movie – with Logan as the cantankerous yet caring father, Charles as the doddering yet insightful grandfather, and Laura as the wild, precocious daughter looking for a family and sense of belonging.

And, whilst the whole film has many sweet notes, it’s also immensely sad and surprisingly violent (every Wolverine kill is far bloodier and more gory than ever before).

This is also, without a shadow of a doubt, both Jackman and Stewart’s best performances as these characters. The studio has clearly given Mangold license to do things a bit differently, and it’s really paid off.

The world feels more real. It’s the most emotional ‘superhero’ film yet (in any franchise) and it’s focused in its use of a handful of characters tops, which is really refreshing (the swollen cast of recent X-Men outings was beginning to bore me a bit).

So ultimately, this is a strong contender for the best X-Men movie to date, or at least a firm second place. And you could argue that without all the prior films the weight of emotion wouldn’t ring true here, and that this movie needs to stand fully alone to be considered the best. And that’s valid.

But it’s also worth noting that this movie does FAR more right than it does wrong. Coupled with the fact that more than a handful of scenes are truly heartbreaking.

Now how many X-Men films could you say that about?

Painted ghosts 

Poetry

They drift in and out of my life each day.
Their faces adorned with stark, lurid colours.
Warpaint, as they go about their business.
Are they even real?
These automatons. These androids from outer space.
And whilst their expressions are seemingly blank and impassive, they are also revealing.
There’s a crack or two beneath their cool facade.
But what does it mean?
Are they just lost in thought or, almost imperceptibly, communicating with me?
Do they even see me?
Or am I just grey background? White noise?
Perhaps I’m the ghost and they’re the most tangible thing in this world.
Wearing their warpaint proudly, like armour.
For each day, to them, must surely be a battle against the grey ghosts of patriarchy.
The menfolk who leer and lust, all licentious and salacious with their gaze and their thoughts.
For I am one. I should know.
Maybe as men we should paint our faces, too.
For our own insecurities are buried, perhaps even more so.
Hidden behind layers of bravado and testosterone.
The knowing nod to a fellow male.
The slightest of hugs.
The tough guy handshake.
Beer. Curry.
For we are men.
And we’re out of our caves now.
Our spears have been replaced with smartphones and laptops.
We’re just a few clicks from killing that woolley mammoth. That saber-tooth tiger.
Or ordering some more crap on eBay.
(assuming we can stop watching porn for more than five minutes)
So maybe colour is what we need?
Brush strokes of empathy across our face. The eyeliner of compassion.
The mascara of understanding and acceptance.
God, this is starting to sound like the weirdest fantasy game ever.
But there’s hope in these ramblings.
There must be.
For these painted ghosts and forgotten men.
All trapped in the ether between realities.
Drifting through life with abandonment.

I get headaches 

Poetry

I’m not sure when they started to get worse.
But nowadays, the sly pain of a migraine burns through me quicker than bright flames.
Leaving me looking at life.
And wondering how I might change.
Cos it’s only over the last year that it’s become a problem, you see?
Now I often find my head pounding.
Like I’m smothered, drowning and longing to breathe.
My features vexed and grotesque.
Like the poster boy for a monster retreat.
With the veins in my temples straight up stressful.
As they thump out a rhythm and foster a beat.
I wish this was more of a game, you know?
One with an end-of-level boss to defeat.
Cos battling headaches are a mystery, like smoke and mirrors.
And fighting tends to leave me broke and bitter.
Am I being punished?
I mean, granted, I’m no token sinner.
But to me, this game feels rigged.
So if we changed the rules, I wonder how these votes might differ?
Cos the white noise in my head is just a deluge of distraction.
Honestly, as a headline its caption would be ‘mostly filler’.
So I gotta fight back, Tiger style.
You know, like Wu-Tang and Ghostface Killah.
But first I must breathe.
Lest this pain suffocate me, and then I’m liable to choke way bigger.
But it’s dawn now, and the sun is piercing warm clouds like broken grey glitter.
So if I can be more mindful and avoid my moments that trigger.
Then I’ll stand a chance at this dance.
As I navigate fast down this potent, dark river.

Insomnia, please release me

Poetry

Lately, something’s been bugging me.
Why won’t the Lord of Dreams just come and take me lovingly?
Has he forsaken me suddenly?
Cos I just want a sleep that’s trouble-free.
I mean, he should just let me slip into his warm embrace.
So we can intertwine and fornicate.
Until I all but collapse like a fallen state.
Cos our union needs to happen.
And we need to accept our foolish traits.
So if he wants, he can be shy and coy.
And tease me slow with that lying voice.
But an open mind is all it takes.
And sleep WILL claim me.
But I’m not gonna force this race.
Because a slow seduction is what works best.
I mean, everyone knows it’s what good form dictates.
But right now, insomnia beckons.
As I grudgingly turn my back on the Heavens and stare each night at Hell’s rapidly falling gates.
Cos I know if I beat this, I’ll probably be dubbed one of the lauded greats.
But tonight, I’d love my mind to get just a few seconds swimming in a sea of calm darkness.
Drifting serene in a simple dream.
Through space and time like the Doctor’s Tardis.
Instead, my boat of thought is getting battered by this storm.
So I’m kept awake by whatever wave rocks it largest.
And lying here, in the early hours, I’m amazed at how the mind drifts.
Thoughts pinging like an arcade machine.
Bouncing around in fractured time shifts. 
Striking at will, like an assassin set to kill.
Destroying me softly with hundreds of fine hits. 
But this rough patch won’t break me. 
Mentally, I’m cold fire lately. 
Cooking dishes better than those Rick Stein gives. 
Cos this is war.
So watch me attack in a power stance with a primed fist.
Until I obliterate unwanted thoughts with positivity. 
Hell, I’m going to kill my mind with kindness.

Big Little Lies: the first two episodes

TV

So Sky Atlantic have a new flagship show out, Big Little Lies, written by David E. Kelly and based on a novel of the same name, penned by the wonderfully named Liane Moriarty.

And, as you’d expect, it’s got a formidable cast. One which includes Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, Zoe Kravitz, Alexander Skarsgard and Shailene Woodley. Along with Academy Award nominated director Jean-Marc Vallee at the helm. Perhaps most notable for directing the acclaimed Dallas Buyers Club. But also for directing Witherspoon and Dern in Wild – a rather beautiful and underrated film. So, he’s got game. And as we all know, TV is big game these days. 

Now in terms of the story, I’m only two episodes in, but it’s layered – nay, dripping – with intrigue. You’ll be hooked fast. Indeed, Wikipedia describe it as a dark comedy drama and, whilst this is true, a simpler reference might be to say it’s Broadchurch meets Desperate Housewives, which is reductive, but gives you a rough idea. It’s far more cinematically shot and beautiful to look at than either of those, though. (Just saying.)

So in terms of story, what we have, is a number – for the most part – of highly privileged families that live near the beautiful Californian coastal town of Monterey. And the first scene opens with a crime; one where the details are murky and unknown to us. We’re then introduced – through Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley) who’s new to the town – to the rest of its key players. In particular Madeline MacKenzie (Reese Witherspoon, in excellent form); a mother who specialises in poking her nose into everybody’s business and manipulating most scenarios to her own ends, often leveraging her children in the process. But there’s more to her than you first expect – naturally.

And whilst she drives much of the plot in these first episodes, the rest of the cast, in particular Jane (Woodley), Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and Renata (Laura Dern), have more to them than first seems the case as well. So within a couple of scenes you’ll think you have them nailed as characters, then they subvert expectations – like good actors should. (And Kelly, as writer, no doubt had a hand in this as well.)

As these moments are ultimately where life resides right? In the wrinkles, the gaps between floorboards, the conversations between the sheets, the furtive glances and simmering silences of words left unsaid, or words said but loaded with subtext.

This will get you asking questions upon questions. What’s the crime that took place? What’s Jane’s backstory? Is there more to Celeste’s relationship than on show? Why do Renata and Madeline almost loathe each other? Why does Madeline feel the need to control things so much? Is everyone a suspect? They all seem to want to kill each other. 

And the list goes on…

Furthermore, other than Billions, with Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti (another on Sky Atlantic), a show hasn’t gripped me so quickly in quite the same way in some time. It’s a marvel in that respect, what clever screenwriting.

So in essence, it’s painfully human. It’s got more nuanced, flawed and complex characters than you can shake a stick at – and actors that have us believing in them from the get-go. It’s beautifully shot (hats off to Vallee), and it’s achieved all this in a mere couple of episodes. Plus it’s got an 86% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so I’m not alone in my assessment. 

This also means that if you didn’t catch it there’s still time. So do it. You know you want to.

Moonlight: tough, tender and touching

Film

‘You say it best, when you say nothing at all.’ Now why am I quoting Ronan Keating? Well, it seemed apt for this review. Given that the (now Oscar-winning) film Moonlight, is a tale where words are used sparingly, so they stand out and have weight. And a lack of words have perhaps even more weight. Particularly these days, when so many films are crammed with endless dialogue, an in-your-face score and flashy editing.

So this film feels distinctly different. And it’s a worthy awards winner, not just because it’s a breath of fresh air in terms of showing not telling a story, but it’s beautifully shot and the score doesn’t hammer you over the head dictating what you’re supposed to feel every five seconds, too.

And subject wise, it’s vitally important. As it’s about a young black man growing up in a poor part of Miami and struggling to come to terms with his sexuality. So it’s something you might expect to win at the Oscars, or at least be in the conversation. But, following last year’s #oscarssowhite debacle, if this film hadn’t won, it would’ve lost to one that glorifies Hollywood’s heyday, La La Land. A film in which a white guy educates/mansplains to a white girl about the merits of jazz (historically black music). So Moonlight winning was big news. It really was. It’s the first ever film with an all-black cast, the first LGBT film and the second lowest-grossing one to win Best Picture at the Oscars. And the film’s editor became the first black woman to be nominated, too. So yeah, big news. 

Moreover, if we’re on the subject of talking about subjects on which we’re not an authority, then I’m a prime example. There’s nothing in this film to which I can directly relate. I’m not black or gay and I had a decent upbringing etc. That said, we don’t have to immediately identify with all stories that we see at the cinema, but they have to speak to us in some way and engage us emotionally. And if you’ve ever struggled with identity and loneliness, then this has something for you.

So in terms of the story of this film, plot wise, relative newcomer director Barry Jenkins serves it up in the form of a triptych, visiting the main character, Chiron, at three key points in his life; as a child (Alex Hibbert), teenager (Ashton Sanders), and a man (Trevante Rhodes).

And all are heart-breaking in their own way, filmed in a sort of dream-like, hazy quality, like a nostalgic memory. (I’ve heard someone describe this film as Terence Malick directs an episode of The Wire.) And there’s a grittiness and realism about the whole thing as well, and this extends to the score too, and my Ronan Keating point. Because it’s rare to hear music weaved through a film quite so beautifully and respectfully. In a way that’s not overbearing or intrusive, and in some cases there’s no music at all, which may make you feel uncomfortable, but that’s the point. Some scenes and character moments need that level of discomfort, and Jenkins doesn’t shy away when you might expect him to, letting the camera linger for longer than usual. Which is brave and effective.

He also draws impressive performances from the cast, in particular the three actors that play Chiron are outstanding. Black (Trevante Rhodes) who plays him as a man, really shone, capturing the mannerisms of the two preceding actors astonishingly well. Saying so much with so little. And Naomi Harris as Chiron’s mother also puts in a convincing performance across all three story chapters, squeezing more out of a drug addict role than most actors would manage.

And Mahershala Ali as a father figure to childhood Chiron, adds layers to your standard hardened drug dealer too, breaking down our expectations of masculinity and picking up a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his troubles. (He’s also the first Muslim to win an Oscar.) He sets up the first third of the movie in terms of the feel and tone and his section, and the last, were, to me, the strongest. 

So you’ve really got no excuse. If you haven’t seen this yet. Go see it. It’s important, topical and a vital piece of cinema. It’s also a beautiful story. 

Coming out (as an introvert)

Poetry

For years I’ve harboured a dark secret.
That I’m an extroverted introvert.
This is my confession.
I know it’s a daft weakness.
But I need a good way to convey this to people.
Maybe with a smart leaflet?
Nah, scratch that, I need more passion.
Someone get me a charmed priestess.
One for casting spells and raising hell.
And setting out my manifesto like she’s writing her stark thesis.

I mean, I need something radical.
Because when people say I’m confident I panic.
And find my mind racing but hidden behind calm features.
Maybe it’s because I’m like an IT nerd, focusing on the detail.
Coding my life in a vast sequence.
But for the most part I avoid my flaws.
In general for a host of large reasons.
But none are valid.
Which means this approach I just can’t give credence.

But in reality, the main problem I have is that I wrestle a dichotomy.
My mind torn between outgoing and withdrawn has my head a ripe vessel for lobotomy.
Am I normal, or the next Jekyll and Hyde?
Walling off emotions because my gut heckles inside.
Bending under duress as I’m put to the test.
Like a blacksmith beating at metal that’s fried.
Which is debilitating, and kind of makes it tempting to hide.
Cos even though my mental state is under threat, I’m not done yet inventing these lies.
Using the introvert as an excuse to keep saying I’m shy.
But when I do get out there.
The extrovert gets swollen with pride.
So maybe I should take a step back.
And be at peace with both sides.
Because my mind is a blessing.
One I should really grow and invest in.
I mean we only get one. 
And mine’s a treat in disguise. 

Best bad movie accents

Best Of lists

The dreaded accent. When a casting director calls an agent and asks if their client can do X accent, the answer always has to be, ‘Of course! Are you kidding? They’re a natural!’. It’s either that or the casting director ALREADY KNOWS the actor in question cannot do said accent for love nor money, but they’re a big star and will pull in audiences regardless of whether they drift from American to English cockney to South African, and all things inbetween.

Anyway, here are some of my favourites that – God bless ’em – tried their hardest to pull off something beyond their mother tongue.

Gerard Butler

Ok, recently I watched Olympus Has Fallen and, a week or so later, London Has Fallen, and his American accent is wobbly at best. But then, the whole movie is kind of a joke, so an accent is the least of our worries here.

Jason Statham

Suffers the same fate as old Gerard, in that his American accent is like the weather. Sometimes good sometimes bad, but it’s anyone’s guess what’ll turn up on the day. Maybe it’s just action stars? They’ve never been great at accents, I find.

Don Cheadle

His stab at cockney in the Ocean’s films was truly something. And the problem was it seemed like he was GENUINELY taking it seriously and not some quirk where his character found it amusing to do silly accents.

Natalie Portman

Now it pains me to stick her in this list but her ‘English’ accent in V for Vendetta jarred with me for the entire film. Pity, as she’s SUCH a good actress too. And I bet she’s got a good accent or two in her locker. Just not in this case.

Nic Cage

Not known for immersing in a part his mediocre Southern drawl in Con Air was pretty patchy. And Italian in Captian Corelli’s Mandolin? Hey, forget about it.

Cameron Diaz

Poor Cameron, ever the sun-kissed Californian beach babe. Her go at Irish in Gangs of New York was admirable but it didn’t convince anyone. DiCaprio’s wasn’t a whole lot better, if we’re honest.

Anne Hathaway

Now for Americans, an English accent is tough at the best of times, so what made Anne think she could manage a tricky regional one in One Day? Truly awful.


Then there’s those actors that poke fun at themselves because they KNOW their accent is a big joke. They’re in on the gag.

Brad Pitt

In both Inglorious Basterds and Snatch he revelled in his shoddy accent, either put on for a scene or two (the former) or the entire film (the latter). Although he’s also come a cropper attempting a serious Irish accent in The Devil’s Own.

Kevin Costner

It’s funny, in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves Costner didn’t attempt an accent at all and just used his own. Weirdly, it didn’t bother me at the time. But it still makes this list. Hooray for Carey Elwes calling him out on it years later, though.

Sean Connery

What’s great about Highlander is Connery was meant to be Spanish and he simply didn’t bother AT ALL. Already a huge star he probably felt turning up was enough. He was probably right too. Given Christophe Lambert’s ‘Scottish’ was even worse.

Has Wes Anderson lost his way?

On my mind

Sorry all, it’s time for a little rant. I tried to bottle it up but it’s going to make its way out eventually. So let’s have it and start with exhibit A, The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Now I haven’t seen it since release, but I rewatched it the other night and have to say, I thought much the same the other night as I did a few years ago… in that it’s just too much. As Hall & Oates say, I can’t go for that.

And here’s why.

Ten years ago I was a big Wes Anderson fan. Huge. But I admit, I came late to the party and didn’t really discover his work until The Life Aquatic (2004). However, this STILL remains my favourite from his filmography. I love it.

Simply put: because it has indie quirk (just enough), emotion (quite a lot, actually) and a wonderful soundtrack (Seu Jorge covering David Bowie). Plus I engaged with the characters, particularly the central pairing of Bill Murray and Owen Wilson. In short, I thought it was cool. Really cool. Like Quentin Tarantino giving us Vincent Vega on the dancefloor kind of cool.

And regarding his other films, I also enjoyed The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) and The Darjeeling Limited (2007), although not to the same level. But whatever, we were still in positive, Wes Anderson-is-great-land at this point. So that was ok.

Then he had a go at stop motion with Fantastic Mr Fox (2009). And, yeah, it was what you’d kind of expect from him dipping a toe into this type of filmmaking, in that it was genius. His style (at this time) was a perfect fit. He’d even got Jarvis Cocker in there, what a legend.

Then came Moonrise Kingdom (2012). Now this was a film I enjoyed, but found that little concerns were starting to creep into the back of my mind. For starters, the cast had grown. A lot. And it seemed Wes was becoming a magnet for them; where every actor from his past projects were like iron filings and getting inexorably dragged into his orbit for every new project. Regardless as to whether they were a good fit or not.

He has also cranked up the quirk factor too. So that now we had every character posing bang in the centre of each shot. With their movements clipped, precise, and oh so Wes Anderson. His signature style – used maybe sparingly a decade ago – was now fully locked down and his de facto approach to directing. It was like discovering sugar and wanting more, and more, and more. Or heroin. Yeah, Wes had become a junkie, shooting up on his own style. The bastard.

In short, whilst I quite liked this film, I was becoming concerned. Was it time for an intervention? Could Wes be saved? Not by me, but whatever. There was more to come…

… in the form ofThe Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). And the nagging feeling flooded back. But this time it was no longer at the back of my mind, but noticeably front and centre and tasted bitter.

Add to that the fact that we’d also entered the Twilight Zone in terms of aspect ratios. So I was now trapped in some perfectly square shot, one which had been cropped by the twee police for the Instagram generation. All complete with saturated colours galore. And there was no escape. Arrgh god, Wes, what had you done?!

Somehow, a director I loved a lot had gone and gorged on his own medicine. And you know what they tell you right? Never get high on your own supply. Well, Wes had. And now he was inflicting his habit on the rest of us. Which, frankly, is unfair.

And the biggest problem was that, in some ways, there was nothing wrong with the core story and characters. There was good stuff in there. I mean, Ralph Fiennes’ M. Gustave was a sublime creation. But it’s just that the sugar coating meant I was constantly taken out of the story. I couldn’t swallow this pill Anderson was serving up, it was too sweet, too sickly.

So the medicine, I’m afraid to say, just wouldn’t go down. But then, maybe I’m out of step with popular opinion? The Grand Budapest Hotel is Anderson’s most critical and commercially successful film to date, so what do I know?

And the rumour is his next film might be another stop motion. So maybe this is a chance for him to cut back a bit on his style and let the story and the characters do the talking instead? We’ll see, but I doubt much will change. From his point of view he’s found a sweet spot and there’s nothing to suggest he intends to stop now.

 

Making friends

Poetry

So you’re on a night out and things are going swimmingly.
But something splits your thoughts like divorce.
And so you’re ill at ease.
Are these people really your friends?
Or just here to witness your social life implode and slowly descend?
Cos nights alone at home got you here.
And now you’re just making amends.
And yeah, maybe fair enough and it’s all too little too late.
But you’re a problem solver.
Experienced now, you’re wiser and older.
No way will you let life dictate your slide from grace like a fallen soldier.
Cos now’s the time for that plan for battle.
Put together all casual like you’re planning your travel.
Cos you’re gonna nail this friend game with moves utter genius.
No chance you’ll be an outcast.
Doomed to insanity like mad King Oedipus.
If there’s anything that an old legend like that teaches us.
You just need stay calm and ensure your next moves are subtle and devious.
But there’s a fair chance people will say you were a sociopath.
Ego inflated… pure calculated doing the math.
Cos sometimes you stumble.
And get left thinking you’ll never get through this intact.
Stuck making small talk in some bar.
Proudly reciting dubious facts. 
Or like you’ve met your girlfriend’s family.
And you’re hyper aware of impressing her dad.
But maybe this is just a phase? 
And you’re trying it out and testing this fad.
Cos as you lay down the law and keep score you can’t help a smile. 
Then slowly you return to arresting the damned.