On my mind… Keira Knightley

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.

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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.

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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?

Cosmopolis – a tedious trip for a haircut

cosmopolis-examWhat words can be used to describe how I felt about this film? Detached, alienated, nonplussed, baffled, underwhelmed. It’s a hard film to like, identify or engage with on any level.

Let’s back track for a second. Based on a Don DeLillo novel and directed by David Cronenberg, this film was always going to divide people. Not so much for extreme scenes, but because both Cronenberg and DeLillo are acquired tastes.

King of body horror
Cronenberg is known as the king of venereal or body horror, as his work – primarily his early stuff – explores people’s fear of bodily transformation or infection. Not for everyone.

I got my first taste of his style with Crash (1996). A supremely disturbing film that deals with car crash victims, sex fetishisms and scarring. Something I had to endure for the most part alone, after my friend couldn’t take any more and walked out after one freaky scene too many.

He’s perhaps toned down since those days. A History of Violence (2005) is arguably his most accessible and engaging film. Similarly A Dangerous Method (2011), another collaboration with Viggo Mortensen, was fairly well received.

robert-pattinson-hair-cut-cosmopolisDisconnected Pattinson
Robert Pattinson takes the lead in this film. In terms of career and perhaps mirroring Kristen Stewart’s strategy, Twi-hard’s favourite member of the undead has looked to gradually distance himself from the vampire franchise.

First with Water for Elephants (2011), facing off against Christopher Waltz’s evil circus owner, then a team-up for Cronenberg’s latest offering. Here he plays Eric Packer, a wealthy, young asset manager who decides to head across town in his limo for a haircut, despite the city being on alert due to a Presidential visit and protest rallies.

On the way all manner of individuals pay him visits inside the cool, calming interior of the vehicle; from business advisers discussing future strategy and other issues, through to doctors administering prostate exams.

Gradually it becomes clear that – through Packer’s interaction with these people – he’s living in a void, a vacuum, a dreamlike existence, devoid of any basic human connection and numb to the world around him. In that sense Pattinson was well cast and played the part convincingly, giving us occasional glimpses of Packer’s true nature, but mostly remaining hidden beneath a vacuous veneer of disconnection.

Cosmopolis-GiamattiCronenberg’s crazy world
Most characters – including Packer – never seem to be speaking to or even acknowledging each other during conversations. More often that not they’re allowing their innermost thoughts and musings to come out, seemingly at random.

The films builds – if you can describe it this way – to an encounter with a former employee, played by Paul Giamatti. Whilst their interaction follows a similar path to other characters Packer meets that day, Giamatti gives it sufficient bite to lift the film’s finale.

It seems that at this point, Packer’s numbness begins to wane, giving us further insight into his mindset. It’s still a big ask to engage with him as a character though, even right up to the end.

Breaking the Twi-hold
As dramas go this may sound intriguing, but in all honesty I just didn’t get it. A lot of the script was taken from DeLillo’s novel, so perhaps the wording requires a bedding-in period for the uninitiated. Maybe Cronenberg has just regressed to one of his more inaccessible phases?

Either way, Pattinson does well in the lead role and can be sure that he’s well and truly broken the hold Twilight may have held over him. Whilst this film didn’t rock my world, perhaps it was a good platform for Pattinson to push his career in a promising, new direction. Worth seeing if you’re a Cronenberg fan, but it will be a shock to the system for Twi-hards!

Michael Fassbender: The shame of Hollywood

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What is it with Michael Fassbender? Until a few years ago most of us had never heard of him. Now he seems to be in practically everything. Let’s get this straight, this post isn’t a rant in his general direction, I think he’s a phenomenal actor. It’s just we’re all liable to suffer Fassbender burnout if his output of films continues at the current rate.

michael fassbender in fish tankCast your minds back to 2008, his breakout came playing Bobby Sands in Steve Mcqueen’s, Hunger. This put him on the map. In 2009 he appeared in Fish Tank, a gritty drama set in an English council estate, highly recommended.

He then pretty much stole the show as Lt. Archie Hicox in Inglourious Basterds. Whilst Tarantino does write damn good dialogue and create a seriously tense, yet darkly comic scene – it’s Fassbender that makes this truly special. Watch the flicker of his eyes when he knows his time is up, then switching from German to the King’s English. Classic stuff.

Then in 2010 he appeared in Jonah Hex and Centurion, neither particularly memorable, critically or commercially. However, this didn’t stop the mighty Fassbender. The following year he really began to get into his stride, playing lead roles in Jane Eyre, X Men: First Class, A Dangerous Method, Shame, Haywire and Prometheus.

Let’s just take a step back for a second. All these films in 2011 were both critical and commercial successes. He’s not exactly limited himself in the type of roles he plays either: a Lord in a period drama, a superhero who can manipulate metal with his mind, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung, a sex addicted ad executive, an MI6 agent who gets beaten to hell by a real life mixed martial artist, and an android.

fassbender shameHe’s clearly a highly accomplished, versatile and chameleonic actor, who can convince in a number of roles. Indeed, Director Steve McQueen compared him to Marlon Brando in an interview. High praise, yet justified.

I think he must have realised this avalanche had to stop at some point. IMDb shows us he hasn’t had any films out this year, but has some in the pipeline. He could do with a break as far as I’m concerned. That said, I’m excited to see what he does next. I recently saw Shame, talk about stripping yourself bare as an actor and I don’t mean physically, although I imagine that took a bit of bravery too. An intense performance.

What’s next?
ridley scott cormac mccarthyI must admit, I’m excited about The Counselor. Written by Cormac McCarthy and directed by Ridley Scott, it’s got a cracking cast. As well as Fassbender in the lead role, it also includes: Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, and – my personal favourite – the legend that is John Leguizamo! Check out more info here. Looks promising, it’ll be good to have him back.