Viva Las… Blackpool!

donkeyblackp460Funny story. A few weeks ago I was catching up with friends and we were discussing that mighty rite of passage; the stag do. Conversation turned to when one of the lads (let’s call him chap 1) might pop the question, given the fact he’d always said his would be Vegas. Another lad (chap 2) – also getting married around the same time – said he was a bit stuck on location. I mean, how can you top Vegas?

I jokingly suggested the Vegas of the UK, Blackpool. Then watched with amusement as the idea took hold. With chap 2 sorted that left chap 1; would he ever pop the question? Then it happened; all the guys at the table simultaneously received a text, ‘Get ready for Vegas!’. Chap 1 had showed his cojones and she’d said yes. Vegas was on, Blackpool was on… all in all, a productive Sunday.

This got me thinking. As pre-trip ‘homework’ we should watch Vegas films to get us fired up. But then, what about Blackpool? And so… to compare and contrast, here’s my selection of film and TV that’s featured these two hedonistic and beguiling locations. Make of them what you will.

LAS VEGAS

That glittering, filthy jewel in the heart of the Nevada desert. The glamour, the lights, the debauchery. Vegas has featured in many films over the years, here’s a few of my favourites.

SwingersSwingers (1996)
Vince Vaughn largely broke onto the scene with this film, written by Jon Favreau (who went on to direct Iron Man) and directed by the under-appreciated Doug Liman (who went on to direct The Bourne Identity). Ultimately it’s a buddy movie about how a guy gets over a break up with a little help from his friends. There’s a lot of these type of films for women but not many for guys. In one part Trent (Vaughn) persuades Mikey (Favreau) to take a trip to Vegas to take his mind off his ex. What follows are some sweet scenes where the two hang out and chat up women, with Mikey failing in increasingly embarrassing ways.

Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
fear-and-loathing-in-las-vegasBoth Martin Scorsese and Oliver Stone tried to get this film off the ground and failed. It took the wonderful weirdness of Terry Gilliam to get it made. As your attorney I advise you to get wasted and watch this film. It’s a melting pot of insanity. Based on a Hunter S. Thompson novel it sees journalist (Johnny Depp) go on a series of psychedelic escapades round Vegas with his attorney (Benicio del Toro). Thompson shaved Depp’s head himself for the role, and that’s among one of the film’s most normal anecdotes.

Knocked Up (2007)
Continuing the drug-addled theme, although not quite to the extent of the last film, this one features scenes with Seth Rogen’s Ben and Paul Rudd’s Pete, as they head to Vegas to escape their women and cut loose. mouthfist1Their idea? Tickets to Cirque du Soleil and a bag of mushrooms. They return to their hotel where Pete takes stock of the room’s chairs and Ben verbally abuses him on his inability to accept love. If you’ve had mushrooms before you’ll agree this is one perfectly observed and hilarious scene.

Casino (1995)
Take a moment to consider the talent: Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Sharon Stone, James Woods, yes, even him. This came five years after Goodfellas, yet to me always felt like a companion piece. Pesci was on searing, frightening form as unhinged gangster Nicky Santoro, casino-1995-10-ga perfect foil to De Niro’s buttoned down casino owner Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein. Throw a wild harridan of a wife, Stone’s Ginger McKenna in the mix with Scorsese at the helm, and you’ve got one of the finest movies about gangsters, gambling and casinos ever made. Looking back, it’s films like this that get me excited about Scorsese’s forthcoming The Wolf of Wall Street.

Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
Remaking the ’60s Rat Pack original is no easy thing. You’re going to need someone with oodles of charisma. Step forward George Clooney. Hell, if you’re going to cast one Mr Charisma, why not two? Step forward Brad Pitt. Need substance as well as style? Step forward director Steven Soderburgh. This film not only looked like an ace in the hole on paper, but boy did it deliver. Oceans-11Bright, breezy, sassy, smart, stylish, and packed with brilliantly written and performed scenes. Sadly the sequels got a touch too smug and self-referential, but that takes nothing away from how fun and watchable the first one was. It holds up to repeat viewings too. A modern classic.

Finally on Vegas, there’s two more I’d like to mention: The Hangover (2009) should get a nod as a top-notch comedy, partly responsible for launching the career of Bradley Cooper. Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls (1995) should also get recognition. A film so clearly revelling in its own gloriously terrible trashiness, you can’t help but love it.

VIVA BLACKPOOL!

Anything the Americans can do, we can do better… ahem. Ok, perhaps what we can do is wholeheartedly embrace our Britishness, with all its glorious quirks and eccentricities. Hopefully summed up in fine fashion with this list.

thetrip_rbrydon_gq_5aug10_bbc_btThe Trip (2010)
Comedy giants Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon wandering around the countryside of Lancashire, Cumbria and Yorkshire, hanging out in restaurants doing impressions galore. What more do you need? Not only are their impersonations quite brilliant, but the chemistry and banter between the two is a joy to watch. This semi-improvised series contained some real gems, such as the Richard Gere scene. ‘I’m listening to you in an interesting way, continue.’

Boy A (2007)
Before Andrew Garfield became everybody’s favourite spider-based superhero, his career largely began with this film, based on a novel of the same name. boy aIt charts the life of Eric Wilson ‘Boy A’ on trial for murder as a young lad. Upon release from prison as a young man he focuses on becoming a better person, but the past comes back to haunt him. The film deals with how society views crime, punishment and rehabilitation, and it’s not a stretch to say it puts you through the emotional wringer. Indeed, Garfield won a Best Actor BAFTA in 2008 for his performance. The full movie’s now on YouTube, watch it here.

Nowhere Boy (2009)
Another British lad-turned-good-in-America. Before Aaron Taylor-Johnson pulled on his lycra and kicked ass with Hit-Girl, he turned in a cracking performance as a young John Lennon, nowhere-boy-lennon_1513287calongside legend-in-her-own-right Kristin Scott Thomas. The film focuses on his teenage years – from 1955-1960 – and begins with a day visit to Blackpool with his mother, Julia, which kick-starts Lennon’s love for rock ‘n’ roll. The rest, as they say, is history. Watch Taylor-Johnson’s thoughts on the film.

So there’s my somewhat epic list. Hopefully there’s some gems in there you haven’t seen, or would like to revisit. I have to say, writing this piece has obviously got me excited about Vegas, but also proud to be British. Some great stuff has come out of Blackpool and, whilst it’s not as glamorous or exotic, I for one will hold my head high on that particular stag do. Viva Blackpool indeed.

The wonderful weirdness of Johnny Depp

fear and loathing in las vegas

I was thinking about the Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill remake of 21 Jump Street recently – incidentally a really good film, Tatum is much funnier than I expected – and it reminded me of Johnny Depp’s cameo near the end. A complete scene-stealing, unexpected moment that lasts less than 2 minutes. It’s brilliant. Check it out.

This got me thinking about Depp’s career and his forthcoming role as Tonto in the remake of The Lone Ranger. What I love about Depp is the choices he has made. In terms of character, he’s carved out a career embracing the weird, wacky, offbeat, fantastical, macabre and deranged.

tonto johnny depp 2013It wasn’t always like this. Returning to 21 Jump Street for a second, Depp’s appearance in the remake was a nod to the fact he appeared in the original series (1987-90). That final year he made his film breakthrough in Edward Scissorhands (1990). With one of his strangest characters, he’d kick-started his career. However he didn’t return to the weird and wonderful again for 8 years, appearing in Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998). A film you can probably only truly appreciate if you’ve taken a hell of a lot of drugs.

fear and loathing in las vegasFor me, Fear and Loathing was the start of his wacky period which saw him give us fabulously strange characters in films such as: Sleepy Hollow, From Hell, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride, Pirates of the Caribbean, Sweeney Todd, Alice in Wonderland, The Rum Diary, and Dark Shadows.

So, from what we can see, his output for the weird, wacky and fantastical in on the up. Some say he’s sold out. I don’t entirely buy that. Like many successful actors, he has said he just wants to have fun and embrace new challenges that come his way. If that happens to be five (yes five!) Pirates of the Caribbean films then so be it. Being part of a franchise that’s grossed nearly $3 billion probably gives you a bit of room to express yourself.

alice in wonderlandThere are some that say he’s sold out whilst still managing to play quirky edgy characters. This may be true, but where’s the harm in that? If it means Depp can give us his version of The Mad Hatter, Tonto or Barnabas Collins, then I’m all for it.

As Hatter says to Alice, ‘You used to be much more “muchier” You’ve lost your muchness.’ Well I think Johnny Depp has begun to find his muchness in recent years, long may it continue!