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.

 

Rebel rebel (time for a punk revival)

On my mind

Oh to be weird.
Hold on, wait. I am weird.
Weirder than most.
I love to be different and David Bowie’s Rebel Rebel was made for me.
When everyone ticks I tack.
It makes me feel slightly smug (and I’m smug about being smug – how meta).
But the funny thing these days is that, yes, everyone wants to be different but, CRUCIALLY, they want to be the same.
To carve their own path, but belong.
To each be a unique little snowflake, but part of the storm.

Maybe it’s always been this way?
(Not that I’m that different really. What a hypocrite.)
And Android cottoned onto this with their ads.
Apple too.
And the biggest joke about Apple is they like to persuade us all that we’re individuals owning their products, yet EVERYONE has a sodding iphone.
Anyway, I digress.

So where does that leave us?
I mean, are there any true mavericks left these days? Those auteurs and visionaries.
Because we should face up to the fact that David Bowie’s death, if we’re frank, left us with an almighty void to fill.
And with the world going somewhat down the crapper and Britain splitting from Europe and Trump building walls around America… the need for mavericks and rebels in 2017 could not be greater.

We need a punk revival.

(For society I mean. Globally. Or at least in the UK and USA).
I mean, going punk is exactly what craft beer brand Brewdog did.
They looked at the stuffy real ale market and shook it until all the crusty old guys fell out.
Trouble is… they became a victim of their own success.
How do you stay a punk when you’re now the mainstream?
That’s the rub. 
And as we know, many rebels eventually hang up their six shooters and put down their guitars and assorted weapons and call it a day.
Resigned to sit in a comfy chair by the fire with a sherry ready for an early night.
It’s inevitable.

But there’s always new blood coming through, right? Right?!
I’m talking about the young firebrands, the future deviants, the intensely passionate leaders and charismatic and cocky outsiders who like to look at the world differently.
THAT’S WHAT WE NEED.
And, honestly, I am drawn to these people like a moth to a flame.
Anyone that likes to disrupt and cause chaos.

Simply put: they’re cool. 
It’s basically where life starts to get interesting, right?

So that’s what’s on my mind.
Rebellion.
Disruption.
Destruction.
It’s time to tear down barriers and scrap rules and let’s all just stop squabbling over stupid things like borders and religion and race and class and creed and all that stuff.
Otherwise we’ll never get off this planet.
Because, let’s face it, there have GOT to be more enlightened civilisations out there in the universe right?
It can’t just be us.
So maybe rebels can be our salvation.
I just hope they get the message, wherever they may be.
And remember folks, David Bowie ain’t dead. He just went home.

Choose life.

On my mind

You all know the Choose Life speech from Trainspotting right? Well recently – with the release of the sequel, T2 – I entered a little writing competition, where we were given the task of updating said speech. And whilst I put mine together pretty quickly, I thought it would be worth sharing here, as I quite like it. So here you go.

Choose life. Choose your precious smartphone. Choose narcissism and selfie sticks. Choose Uber, Deliveroo and online dating. Choose FitBits and self-improvement. Choose masturbation. Choose the herd mentality, trolling culture and the turgid crap that is reality TV. Choose giving a damn about your privacy. Choose government surveillance, tracking cookies and facial recognition. Choose the police, kettling and racial profiling. Choose isolationism, alleged protectionism and border patrols. Choose turning our backs on Obama and voting for Donald fucking Trump, walling off Mexico and Islamophobia. Choose Brexit. Choose interfering in the Middle East and Africa. Choose trusting the conniving, supercilious banks. Choose escapism, geek culture and unrealistic heroes. Choose Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom bloody Hiddleston. Choose celebrity and becoming obsessed with each new shocking death. Choose being labelled and marketed to in every possible way. Choose being a millennial. Choose Generation Z.

Choose globalisation and losing our way.

Choose life.

RIP David Bowie: You remind me of the babe

Music, On my mind

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ll know… David Bowie died today finally losing his battle with cancer aged 69, and tributes flooded the internet because, despite what most of us like to think, Bowie was a freak. An oddity.

And we’re all odd freaks too (most of us), so we loved that he allowed us to embrace that. Simply put, he showed us the way – through his music, acting and constant reinvention. He took us to the heavens and the stars helping us expand our thinking, and he naval-gazed in his quieter moments, causing us to reflect inward and question ourselves.

On a personal level I discovered Bowie through old cassette tapes in my parent’s music collection. I had a listen and liked them, but didn’t quite ‘get it’, so put them aside and went back to my house records (I used to DJ a bit back then).

Then, around ten years later in my mid-20s, I found Bowie again.

Now I own an acoustic guitar and his songs had ways of finding me and making me sing alone in my room, expressing myself in a most liberating manner. From Space Oddity to A Man Who Sold The World to Starman, I sang my little heart out. What music was this? It was glorious and timeless (but in a good way, not a stuffy, Antiques Roadshow kind of way).

Then I became aware of his work in film, watching him steal scenes in The Prestige opposite Hugh Jackman. And so I revisited an ’80s, coming-of-age classic, The Labyrinth, where he was something of a force of nature, strutting his stuff in leather trousers opposite a young Jennifer Connelly.

I could go on… and on. But, well, you get it. If Bowie meant something to you then he meant something to you. And he kind of meant something to a great many of us, in profoundly different ways.

So, as tribute, below are a selection of clips that meant something to me.

Rest in peace David Bowie, you’re now among the stars.

 

On my mind… Keira Knightley

On my mind

A lot of ladies seem to hate her. I sort of see why. She can come across – in her performances at least – as a little smug. Yet in press interviews and chat shows she’s warm, personable, enthusiastic about her roles and really quite endearing.

Sticking to her acting abilities, she does have talent. And despite being lumbered with the posh tag, she’s played a variety of other types of roles with varying degrees of success.

never_let_me_go8

Born in southwest London in 1985, Kiera Christina Knightley broke onto the scene with a film called The Hole, then Pride & Prejudice and Atonement earnt her critical acclaim and the Pirates of the Caribbean movies gave her box office clout.

However, beyond the posh parts and the popcorn offerings, she’s chosen some interesting roles in her career to date. Here are some I’d like to highlight.

For me, these show the true Knightley.

Never Let Me Go (2010)
Opposite Andrew Garfield and Carey Mulligan in this rather sad and ponderous Kazuo Ishiguro adaptation, Knightley had her work cut out, but she put in a good performance.

A Dangerous Method (2011)
Opposite Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen she really had to up her game in this David Cronenberg directed tale of two heavyweight psychologists.

Anna Karenina (2012)
This epic tale marked the third collaboration between Knightley and director Joe Wright (the others being Atonement and Pride & Prejudice) and received high praise from critics.

Begin Again (2013)
Well received, critically and commercially, this sweet story had Knightley’s singer-songwriter character team up with Mark Ruffalo’s record label executive to record a new album.

Begin-Again-Keira-Knightley-and-Mark-Ruffalo-1

So what’s next?

Well, she’s got The Imitation Game out now (or soon), the tale of Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), the man who cracked the enigma device in World War II, which looks good and has a cracking cast.

Then epic survival yarn Everest, based on a true story – with a cast including Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin and John Hawkes.

What’s your favourite Knightley performance?

On my mind… Bill Nighy

On my mind

Bill Nighy is the Godfather. Of what, I’m not sure. He probably is someone’s godfather thinking about it. Maybe he’s the Godfather of rather dry, distinctly witty and faintly amusing supporting roles in British comedies?

Yeah, that sounds about right.

Salting the Battlefield

As some of you may or may not know, William Francis Nighy is one cool cat. And in the last few years or so he’s got even more Bill Nighy-like. Concentrated Nighy you might say. It’s always a delight when he pops up on screen, seemingly playing the same role no matter the film. Maybe he just plays himself? Maybe that’s his charm?

Whatever… his appeal is there, however elusive. And to pay our respects (I know he’s not dead, but we can still pay our respects) here’s my selection of his best performances.

Cameron Foster – State of Play (2003)
Brilliant writing with a great cast which included John Simm and James McAvoy, this TV miniseries introduced a lot of people to his work and probably launched him onto the A-list.

Billy Mack – Love Actually (2003)
With such a big cast in this film each was left with little screen time, Nighy made his count with some tender scenes as an aging rocker in this Richard Curtis love-in.

Philip – Shaun of the Dead (2004)
It’s often hard to describe his style as an actor. So understated, almost like he’s barely doing anything – as demonstrated opposite Simon Pegg in this modern zom-com classic.

Davy Jones – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)
No matter the actor, they all love a chance to play dress up and get big and silly. And if you’re going to be in a Pirates movie, go large. Nighy obliged bringing Davy Jones to life with aplomb.

Quentin – The Boat That Rocked (2009)
The sauve leader of a group of pirate radio DJs at sea, Nighy’s role is not a big one in this film, but he managed to steal all his scenes with a raised eyebrow or a twitch of a smile.

Dad – About Time (2013)
Apparently this film about family, friendship and making the most out of life was a wake-up call for Nighy. Whatever it was, it was another great collaboration with Richard Curtis.

Cliff – Pride (2014)
Playing a Welsh miner protesting the strikes in the ’80s, Nighy gave one of the most restrained performances in years and, in some ways, all the better for it. More of this please.

PRIDE

On my mind… Penelope Cruz

On my mind

Born in Madrid in 1974, Penelope Cruz Sanchez made her acting debut aged 16, before receiving critical acclaim for her role in Jamon Jamon the following year in 1992.

Since then her career has gone from strength to strength. She’s the first Spanish actress to receive an Academy Award (the second ever to be nominated), and the first to receive a star on the Hollywood walk of fame.

open-your-eyes-1340222001

She’s also a bit of a force of nature. Think about her performances, each one immediately hooks you in. Screen presence, allure, seductive sex appeal… All that stuff.

In terms of her performances I consider my favourites, it’s a mixed bunch. There is a theme, though, and her work is defined by a level of intensity, conflict and inner fire. Simply put, she compels you to watch her.

Open Your Eyes (1997)
One of her first major roles. One which saw her receive critical acclaim for a film praised for its intelligence and complexity. It got the inevitable Hollywood remake, with Cruz reprising her role as the seductive Sofia.

Blow (2001)
Critically this film didn’t do that well. Cruz, too, suffered the wrath of the critics, receiving a Golden Raspberry Award for her performance. Perhaps a bit of a harsh assessment. Still, it led to bigger and better things.

Vanilla Sky (2001)
Reprising her role from Open Your Eyes, Cruz gave a solid, if unspectacular performance in this remake. Overall, the film perhaps suffered from being even more confusing than the original, thus dividing people’s opinions.

Volver _Penelope Cruz_ 13

Volver (2006)
A high point in her career, particularly in terms of working with acclaimed Spanish director Pedro Almodovar. This film drew together many complex themes, all of which Cruz and Almodovar weaved together elegantly.

Elegy (2008)
A restrained, mature and utterly heartbreaking performance in this tale which had Cruz as the on/off cancer suffering girlfriend of Ben Kingsley’s misogynistic Professor. A surprise of a film and worth a watch if you get the chance.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
My pick of the bunch. A beautiful film and a hypnotic, wild performance from Penelope, opposite a cast that were far too sexy for their own good. This one won her an Academy Award (the first Spanish actress in history to achieve this).

Penelope+Cruz+Vicky+Cristina+Barcelona+Movie+8hG38pMdclql

So what’s next for Penelope?

Well, rumours keep surfacing of her involvement in the next Bond filmĀ  – Sam Mendes’ follow up to Skyfall – as the new Bond girl. She’s also recently written, directed – and starred in – the latest Agent Provocateur advert. Nothing to do with film, but Bond girls are glamorous, sexy and exotic. And if this ad isn’t that, then I don’t know what is.

Either way, it’s nice to have Cruz maintain her presence on screen. whether it’s adverts or films or – dare I say it – TV shows. Here’s to whatever comes next in the world of Penelope.

On my mind… Charlize Theron

On my mind

the_burning_plain19Having just watched The Burning Plain it’s become clear that we need to discuss the career of Charlize Theron. She doesn’t get anywhere near enough love (or interesting roles) and that needs to change. This isn’t an intervention or a rant. Simply put, this is a frank acknowledgement of talent.

As all the great actresses of our generation tend to do, she mixes blockbusters and smaller projects with consummate ease. Another point to mention is that, like some of Hollywood’s most beautiful actresses, she’s not afraid to remove the glamour and strip things right back, leaving little to hide behind except her performance. This is evident in Monster, but it’s also a strong theme in all of her work highlighted below. Still… I’d love to see her in more. Hollywood, it’s time to step up and send her scripts!

Anyway, here’s my pick of her best performances to date:

The Devil’s Advocate (1997)
She largely burst onto the scene here – opposite Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino – with a beautiful, tormented and captivating performance. One which set her career standard.

Monster (2003)
A deserved Oscar win for what is considered a powerhouse performance. When one of Hollywood’s most beautiful women transforms herself to this level you sit up and take notice.

North Country (2005)
Continuing a fine run of form she got a best actress nomination for this role in what some critics have argued – in some ways – was a more complex character to portray than her Oscar winning one in Monster.

The Burning Plain (2008)
Guillermo Arriaga (the writer behind Babel) directed this tale of loss and guilt and, whilst the film is somewhat confusingly edited, Theron shone in her scenes with another fine display.

Young Adult (2011)
There’s no doubt that director Jason Reitman’s tale here was both tough, tender and funny throughout. A large part of that was, once again, down to Theron, who balanced the film’s comic and tragic moments with equal skill.

On my mind… Rebecca Hall

On my mind

Born on 19 May 1982, Rebecca Maria Hall is a few months older than me. That fact isn’t significant in itself, it’s just one of the little ways I like to think that I identify with her.

She’s the daughter of theatre director and founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Peter Hall, and opera singer, Maria Ewing. Her siblings include theatre directors, designers, writers and painters. So it’s fair to say she’s from a creative background.

And looks wise, she’s striking. A sort of classic yet contemporary English rose. However, it’s worth noting that, whilst she has an English father, her American mother is of Dutch, Scottish, Sioux and African-American origin which, let’s face it, just makes her even more interesting.

Then there’s her acting. starterfortenSince breaking onto the scene with the first film in my list below, she’s quickly gone from strength to strength, picking her roles in a savvy way. She exudes a natural intelligence that’s hard to hide in the parts she plays (not that it needs to be hidden). Here’s my pick of her top performances:

Starter for Ten (2006)
It says something when gorgeous Miss Hall is cast as the geek. Alice Eve played the sexy one in the sweet, coming-of-age tale, yet it’s Hall’s performance we warm to as the wonderfully endearing love interest to James McAvoy’s rather annoying central character, Brian.

The Prestige (2006)
A magic trick has three parts: the pledge, the turn and the prestige. Did this role represent Hall’s ‘pledge’? Well, it was somewhat of a showcase and a big step up career wise invicky-cristina-barcelona-vicky-cristina-barcelona-08-10-2008-05-09-2008-17-g Chistopher Nolan’s convoluted and rather tragic tale of two rival magicians. And Hall more than held her own as the long suffering wife of Christian Bale’s magician.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
Making something of a name for herself playing ‘second fiddle’ to more overtly glamorous women (Alice Eve in Starter for Ten, Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz here) she shone in this movie – one of the best from Woody Allen in recent years – and gave her character real warmth; a performance which got her a Golden Globe nomination.

The Town (2010)
Another role playing the love interest of a mildly conflicted protagonist. This time opposite Ben Affleck’s sensitive bank robber. The film received strong praise for the ensemble performance of its cast, no doubt in part down to Hall’s convincing performance.

Next up for Miss Hall?

Transcendence – UK release 25 April 2014
Wally Pfister, long time cinematographer of Christopher Nolan, steps up to direct for the first time with this one: featuring leads Johnny Depp and one… Rebecca Hall. Another leap forward career wise, opposite one of cinema’s most bankable stars in this sci-fi thriller.

On my mind… Anna Kendrick

Music, On my mind

pitchperfectThis week I have mostly been thinking about Anna Kendrick. It’s not my fault I swear. In fact I blame her entirely. It all started with Pitch Perfect. Actually… that’s not true. Whilst watching that film over Christmas did inspire me to write this piece, my little love affair really started with Up In The Air.

She’s a most interesting actress – and if you had to pinpoint her appeal I’d put it down to a few factors. She chooses her roles with care, often playing interesting characters that are put in quite complex situations; also she tends to play characters that develop in subtle and often joyful ways – something difficult to do convincingly.

And finally she manages to bring a wonderfully endearing quality to the parts she plays, whether it’s the lead or a supporting role, she holds the screen well and disarms us with her wit, charm, intelligence and adorable nature – all wrapped up in one tiny, cute package.

In terms of characters played and films in which she’s starred, here are my favourites:

Up In The Air (2009)
Most of us remember our first proper job out of education being tough, but what if your first job is firing others from theirs? In Kendrick’s breakout role she played a rookie ‘downsizer’ brought in to fire people from their jobs in the most efficient way possible. She beat rising star, Ellen Page, to the role, and you can see why – her performance was a delight.


50/50
(2011)
A comedy about cancer? Surely not. Loosely based on the experiences of screenwriter Will Reiser, this film sees Kendrick as young therapist Katherine, helping Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Adam deal with his illness. Kendrick played her part beautifully, giving Katherine real warmth and believability as an inexperienced therapist who has blurred the lines between doctor and patient. Watch the clip below to hear Kendrick’s thoughts on the role.


End Of Watch
(2012)
Another role as a supporting girlfriend you say? Well, yes. Here she plays Janet, the girlfriend then wife of Jake Gyllenhaal’s cop, Brian Taylor, in this tough thriller/drama, written and directed by David Ayer and set in South Central Los Angeles. Kendrick’s Janet acts as perfect balance to how Taylor acts when on patrol, softening him in the film’s quieter moments. Watch the non-scripted scene below where the two actors – in character – just improvise. It made the film and you can see why – really touching.


Pitch Perfect
(2012)
The second highest grossing musical comedy behind School Of Rock and with a sequel on the way it’s fair to say this film was a success – another to add to the Kendrick filmography. With the tagline ‘Get pitch slapped’ and projectile vomit scenes, this was no Glee. And Kendrick was the smart and sassy centre of it all. In the riff-off scene below there’s a really sweet bit where she turns to her friends with a big ‘look at me’ grin. So cute and so Anna Kendrick.