Favourite female film characters with brightly coloured hair

Someone I know recently dyed her hair pink. She’d previously had it purple, or was it green or blue? I forget, whatever the colour I remember it looked cool at the time, because, let’s face it, if you’ve got bright hair you’re automatically fifty per cent more interesting than most of us.

I mean… it’s the same with someone with unusual tattoos. Are they more creative? More artistic? A tortured soul? Perhaps they are. I’d like to hope they are. Whether they are or not, I find these artistic additions and enhancements to people’s outward-facing personas to be endlessly fascinating. I get drawn in, like a moth to a flame.

And this got me thinking, as I do, about characters in film with bright hair, as there are a bunch – from Natalie Portman’s stripper in Closer to manic pixie dream girl Ramona Flowers in Scott Pilgrim. I am sure there are lots more, but below are a few I thought I’d pick out.

Who would yours be?

Natalie Portman as Alice in Closer (2004)

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Milla Jovovich as Leeloo in The Fifth Element (1997)

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Angelina Jolie as Gia Curangi in Gia (1998)

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Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Romana Flowers in Scott Pilgrim Vs The World (2010)

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Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Noni in Beyond The Lights (2014)

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Lea Seydoux as Emma in Blue Is The Warmest Colour (2013)

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Kate Winslet as Clara in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

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Knives Out: a twisty, hilarious tale from Rian Johnson

After getting lambasted by angry man-babies for his attempt to do something very slightly different with Star Wars, you could forgive writer-director Rian Johnson if he decided he wanted to retreat to the hills never to make a movie again. However, the best thing you can do, with most setbacks in life, is to get back out there.

And boy, he did. For Knives Out is a triumph and, for me, one of the best films of the year.

It perhaps helps that we’ve had a lot of blockbuster and superhero films of late. So with Johnson’s film being in the mould of a classic whodunnit, it’s probably a welcome change of pace for a lot of movie fans. A palate cleanser at the end of the year? Maybe. Whatever it is, it’s a great story. Rumour is he came up with the idea for the film shortly after finishing Brick in 2005, so it’s been a long time coming. I am glad he’s finally been able to bring it to the screen.

From the first few minutes you can tell this is going to be a fun ride. The dialogue is sharp and peppery, the editing and direction slick and assured, and the performances on point.

The film opens with the death of the patriarch of a large family, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) and the family being called in for questioning. So we get to meet them one by one: the daughters – eldest Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and free spirit Joni (Toni Collette), underachieving son Walt (Michael Shannon) and shady son-in-law Richard (Don Johnson).

From the first few minutes you can tell this is going to be a fun ride. The dialogue is sharp and peppery, the editing and direction slick and assured, and the performances on point. Indeed, it’s one of those films where you can tell the cast all upped their game, knowing they were making something special.

Lurking in the background of these opening exchanges is master detective, Benoit Blanc (played with a sublime southern accent and real gusto by Daniel Craig. Probably relishing the chance to lean into the sort of role he rarely gets to play). Slowly, he gets more involved, taking over the questioning from the police and unsettling the family.

In some ways he acts as antagonist, of sorts, trying to get to the truth of Harlan’s murder whilst keeping Harlan’s nurse Marta (Ana de Armas) close – for the story is primarily told from her point of view. She seems distraught at Harlan’s death but is clearly hiding something. But then so is everyone. In classic whodunit style most of the family have a credible reason as to why they might want to kill the old man.

The trick, these days, is to try and keep the audience guessing, but not to confuse them trying to be too clever with the plot. I’d say that Johnson does this in a remarkably accomplished way, getting the balance spot on. It all goes up a notch when bad apple son Hugh (Chris Evans) turns up. After Captain America you can see the joy Evans has in playing a bit of a bastard.

It’s also worth mentioning Ana de Armas. As our protagonist she is really holding the whole thing together. I’d only really seen her in a small part in Blade Runner: 2049, so it was nice to see what she could do in a more complex role – and she does well.

Johnson has apparently said in an interview that he’d be open to doing a sequel, following Benoit Blanc around as he solves other murders. I am torn on this as sometimes it’s better to let things lie and not end up watering down the impact you had striking gold first time round.

Whatever he ends up doing, Knives Out remains one of Johnson’s best pieces of work, adding another string to his bow as a filmmaker (Brick, The Brothers Bloom, Looper, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) and makes me excited to see what he does next.

Mission Impossible Fallout: the best one yet?

We were first introduced to super spy Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) in the first Mission Impossible in 1996 (directed by Brian de Palma), and it represented a bit of a departure for Cruise. His last film credited film before that was Interview with the Vampire (1994) and, with maybe the exception of Top Gun, he’d not really done action before.

Not that the first Mission was big on action, it was more a spy thriller with an action feel. And it’s fair to say the franchise has grown and morphed over the years. It switched gears, opting for full blown action for the second film and hasn’t looked back.

Now a juggernaut blockbuster, a huge part of the franchise’s success has been down to Cruise driving it, such is his star power.

For the sixth instalment, Fallout, Christopher McQuarrie returned as director (the first to do so), and went about giving it a different look and feel to his last film, Rogue Nation. The main premise here being the ‘fallout’ from all Ethan’s prior missions. So, in terms of setup (not that it matters much), we learn that Ethan’s team have lost three nuclear weapons which, obviously, they’d like back before a terrorist group called ‘the apostles’ decide to unleash them – as is the way with bad guys.

Blaming Ethan for losing the nukes is CIA director Erica Sloane (Angela Basset), who decides to pair him up with Agent August Walker (Henry Cavill) to ensure the job gets properly. Ethan’s a scalpel and Walker is a blunt hammer. They immediately butt heads, but both grudgingly accepting that they have the same goal.

Cut to a trial by fire for Walker, who has to immediately proceed with a halo jump out of a plane over Paris for his first mission with Hunt, infiltrating a fancy party to make contact with a lead that should get them closer to the nukes. And whether it’s intensely visceral brawls in bathrooms, foot or motorbike or car chases, Cruise is at the heart of it all.

Now, we know he does all his own stunts, and a major part of the appeal of watching these films is wondering what crazy stuff he’ll do next. To the point where you find yourself exclaiming, ‘Oh my God, that’s Tom Cruise, he’s running across the top of Blackfriars bridge in London! He’s really doing it!’ This happens multiple times – often within a single scene.

The clever thing the filmmakers have managed to pull off is finding new and inventive ways in which to get from one action set piece to the next. And new ways in which to put Tom Cruise is perilous situations. You can almost imagine the headlines, ‘Tom Cruise died filming the latest Mission Impossible.’ Whilst it would be sad news indeed, it wouldn’t be hugely shocking. Probably with people saying, ‘Well, it’s the way he would have wanted to go.’

I guess what I’m trying to say is that the Mission films are now a finely tuned machine. The action is tangible, visceral and exciting, and if CGI is used, it’s hard to pinpoint where or when. Indeed, McQuarrie manages to get a number of the action set pieces to feel like Christopher Nolan put them together, which is high praise indeed.

Then there’s the storytelling.
Yes, these films are action blockbusters, but they also feel like they deliver on character in a dynamic way. Never did I suffer from action fatigue, or feel that any character moments were being shoehorned into the story between the car chases and explosions, it all felt organic and well put together.

To the point where I’m comfortable saying that this is the best Mission yet.
Mr Cruise, I look forward to seeing what you’ll do for the next one, should you choose to accept it.

The rise of the action woman

Recently I was listening to a podcast with Alicia Vikander, one where she talked about her role as the new Lara Croft and how the character has been rebooted as a more realistic heroine for modern women.

She mentioned how it seems there’s momentum these days, indeed appetite, towards high quality, well put together, action-driven films that feature a female lead. She mentioned Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde and others, which got me thinking, is there momentum? Was there a specific moment that was the turning point?

Thinking back, Angelina Jolie has done the bulk of the heavy lifting since about 2000, with Charlize Theron playing her part too. But did they pave the way for the films we see now or has this been a longer time coming?

For me, I think the ’90s are a good place to start.
So below are the films and the various time periods that, for better or worse, I consider to have had a hand in where we are now. I’ve listed the actress, character, film, year, whether they were lead, co-lead or in a prominent supporting role, and the Rotten Tomatoes score, to give a rough indication of how the film was recieved by audiences.


THE 1990s

Yes we had Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in Alien at the tail end of the ’70s, but the ’80s were dripping in macho testosterone. So, for me, the ’90s is where this movement started to gain traction, with actresses like Linda Hamilton and Geena Davis leading the way, putting in decent performances in exciting, entertaining movies.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) 92%
Sarah Connor (supporting) – Linda Hamilton

The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996) 68%
Samantha Caine (lead) – Geena Davis

G.I. Jane (1997) 55%
Jordan O’Neil (lead) – Demi Moore

The Matrix (1999) 87%
Trinity (supporting) – Carrie-Anne Moss

THE 2000s

The good work the ’90s women put in gets somewhat undone at the start of this decade, with a bunch of terrible films (Eon Flux the biggest offender) and, whilst it’s no fault of the various actresses involved, it took a one-two punch of Angelina Jolie (Mr and Mrs Smith) and Uma Thurman (Kill Bill) to set things right. So by the end of the decade we were getting better films – and characters – with greater frequency (Hanna, Salt).

Then, by 2012, we’d probably reached a turning point. Angelina Jolie (aged 35 in Salt) couldn’t fly the flag forever, so others had to step up. Enter women like Jennifer Lawrence (22 in Hunger Games) and Saoirse Ronan (17 in Hanna), actresses that appealed and inspired a younger generation and helped push things further forward.

Charlie’s Angels (2000) 68%
Natalie Cook (co-lead) – Cameron Diaz, Dylan Sanders (co-lead) – Drew Barrymore, Alex Munday (co-lead) – Lucy Lui

Tomb Raider (2001) 20%
Lara Croft (lead) – Angelina Jolie

Resident Evil (2002) 34%
Alice (lead) – Milla Jovovich

Eon Flux (2005) 9%
Eon Flux (lead) – Charlize Theron

Mr and Mrs Smith (2005) 59%
Jane Smith (co-lead) – Angelina Jolie

Kill Bill (2003) 85%
Beatrix Kiddo (lead) – Uma Thurman

Wanted (2008) 71%
Fox (supporting) – Angelina Jolie

Salt (2010) 62%
Evelyn Salt (lead) – Angelina Jolie

Iron Man 2 (2010) 73%
Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (supporting) – Scarlet Johansson

Hanna (2011) 71%
Hanna (lead) – Saoirse Ronan

Hunger Games (2012) 84%
Katniss Everdeen (lead) – Jennifer Lawrence

2015 ONWARDS

In 2012 Disney acquired Star Wars as a property and set about making plans to expand the franchise with new films and characters, ones that would appeal to a modern audience. The majority of moviegoers want to see female characters better represented on screen, so franchises like Star Wars really need to lead the way.

Additionally, along with Marvel’s MCU and a smattering of female superheroes, even DC studios got in on the act, with a female-led action movie in Wonder Woman (something Marvel could only really match with supporting characters in films like Black Panther). Momentum and quality, though, had really shifted. If the below selection are anything to go by.

Mad Max (2015) 97%
Furiosa (supporting) – Charlize Theron

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015) 93%
Isla Faust (supporting) – Rebecca Ferguson

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) 93%
Rey (co-lead) – Daisy Ridley

Rogue One: A Star Wars story (2016) 85%
Jyn Erso (lead) – Felicity Jones

Wonder Woman (2017) 92%
Diana Prince (lead) – Gal Gadot

Atomic Blonde (2017) 77%
Lorraine Broughton – Charlize Theron

Black Panther (2018) 97%
Shuri (supporting) – Letitia Wright and Okoye (supporting) – Danai Garira

Ready Player One: a young man’s game?

‘Have you heard the news? Spielberg is directing Ready Player One!’ Thus went the geek cries across the interwebs – and I was one of them. For this was pleasing, one of cinema’s greatest directors was going to bring to screen a fast-paced and cinematic – but frankly tricky – book by Ernest Cline.

Mostly because it’s packed with ’80s pop culture references, which go some way to explain its huge popularity. So it made sense from a licensing point of view, that only someone with as many connections as Spielberg could pull it off. Plus, with the film straddling the real world as much as an artificial one, you’re effectively, almost, directing two films.

And there’s less than a handful of directors with enough experience to be able to juggle this effectively, and get something that’s both true to the book, cinematic and emotionally engaging to screen.

It also helps that it’s a young man’s adventure/coming-of-age story that’s set in a sci-fi future. One where humanity spends most of their time in a virtual world, because it’s better than the real one. Which is a perfect fit for Spielberg right?

At least, maybe it was almost two decades ago when he gave us films like Minority Report and AI. And to be honest, Tin Tin aside, this past decade he’s focused on more historical stories (War Horse, Lincoln, Bridge of Spies). Which had me wonder, would the heavy performance capture side of this film be beyond him? Is modern sci-fi and fantasy – on this scale – more of a young director’s game?

Well, we could argue that a director like Duncan Jones is (relatively) young and his performance capture fantasy fest Warcraft didn’t strike a huge chord with audiences and critics. So perhaps inexperience plays a part too. Moreover, computer game adaptations never seem to do well. Although Ready Player One isn’t an actual computer game, it does occupy a lot of that territory.

Ultimately though, beyond technology and techniques, a successful movie has got to be about the story and how much we engage with the characters. Spectacle can only get us so far. And granted, performance capturing huge chunks of any film must be a slog for a director of any age, but if we don’t connect with the characters we don’t like the film. Simple as that really.

Well, in the case of Ready Player One the story starts with the inventor of the aforementioned virtual world (the OASIS) James Halliday (Mark Rylance) and his death. This releases a recording in which Halliday says he’ll gift control of his world – and his vast fortune – to whoever finds three keys hidden within the game.

The way you find them is by knowing as much about past pop culture (films and retro gaming in particular) as much as Halliday does (or did). Luckily, our main character Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is one such geek. Perhaps the ultimate geek.

Although he’s not alone, other gamers (known as gunters) seek the keys, too. As does an evil corporation led by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn). Halliday’s vision was that the OASIS was free, a place of escape. But Sorrento and his gang would prefer to run lots of ads and monetise it (shout out Mark Zuckerberg).

So that’s the setup. (And a bit of my usual brain dump and rambling thought process.)

Here’s the thing. I read the book, as did my partner. She enjoyed the film but I only found it to be a so-so experience. For me, more, meh.

Now I don’t want to be one of those people that loves a book and finds any excuse to hate a film, honestly. I really wanted to like this film. I just don’t feel like it captured the spirit of the story in the way I’d hoped. Particularly given it was Spielberg at the helm – the ultimate blockbuster adventure director.

Without delving too much into specifics (head here for that), I get why Spielberg made most of the choices he did. Books give you a chance to add in a lot more detail, a chance for characters to allow their inner monologue to run wild, a chance to build up certain timelines and indulge in specific things you just cannot get away with in a film. In short, you can take your time.

In a film you’ve no such luxury. So Spielberg ditches a lot of the early setup of Wade building up his credits within the game, his initial meetings with love interest and fellow Gunter Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and other such indulgences. Out goes much of the real world scenes early on, in favour of getting straight into the meat of the action. He also has Wade meet Art3mis face to face much earlier than the book, presumably so they have more of a connection that feels real.

For me, the film comes alive when Wade and his friends are united (in both the real world and the OASIS) around the time they’re going after the second key. This harkens back the sort of storytelling and sense of adventure Spielberg brought to The Goonies (he more or less co-directed with Richard Donner), E.T. and countless other films.

Perhaps, on a second watch, I’ll find more that I love about this film. Perhaps, despite enjoying the book, the film wasn’t really aimed at me (I am in my 30s) and is, in fact, The Goonies for the gaming generation, Gen Z or whatever they are. Perhaps, subconsciously, I had set my expectations too high. Whatever the reason, I found this film to be good, but not great. (Although other opinions are available.)

 

Top five film and TV characters called Michael

A silly post now. I just want to celebrate my name. That, and I had a sneaking suspicion there were some cool film and TV characters called Michael. After all, it’s one of the oldest – and most popular –  names in the world.

Here’s a few that float my boat.

Mikey, The Goonies (1985)

Played by the legend that is Sean Astin, Mikey was the driving force behind the adventure – and subsequent scrap – the gang gets into with the Fratellis. They did find a One-eyed Willie’s pirate ship and treasure though, so that’s win.

Mike Lowry, Bad Boys (1995)

‘Mike Looowwry… Why don’t you whip it out for her, big boy? Yeah, right on your forehead.’ Martin Lawrence winding up Will Smith’s Mike Lowry, the smooth ladies man of their cop duo, in what is probably Michael Bay’s second best film (after The Rock of course).

Michael Corleone, The Godfather (1972)

Al Pacino, in his best role. No question. Those haunted eyes, realising what he has to become to take over as head of the family. Probably the scariest – and best dressed – Michael in this list.

Michael Burnham, Star Trek: Discovery (2017)

Not only is Michael Burnham, the lead character, a female with a male name, she is also a person of colour. Go Star Trek for mixing things up. Played by Sonequa Martin-Green, her character is a disgraced Starfleet officer who finds a place aboard Captain Lorca’s (Jason Isaacs) technically advanced ship, where she’s instrumental in the fight with the Klingons.

Blade Runner 2049: an idiot’s review

I’ll put this out there from the off. Only a complete numpty would go to see Blade Runner 2049 with just a vague memory of the original, but that’s what I did. The reason being is because, shock horror, I’ve never been a die-hard fan of the original and wanted a fairly untainted experience of the sequel.

Now I imagine this statement may cause many a film fan to start sharpening up their unlimited cinema passes in an effort to stab me in a rage, but it is what it is. Some films just didn’t grab me growing up, so I didn’t revisit them. Despite this one being a cult classic, revered by many.

So I’m almost – almost – coming at this sequel as a newbie. I mean, I’m aware of Deckard and replicants and how the 1982 original was loosely adapted from Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel Do androids dream of electric sheep? But anyway, enough apologising, let’s talk 2049 and my impressions of the film.

So the story starts with words on screen, bringing us up to speed. We learn that the evil Tyrell corporation who built the original replicants is now no more, having been replaced by the super evil Wallace corporation, headed up by nefarious-bloke-with-a-God-complex, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto on fine, sinister form).

Also, Blade Runners still exist and are tasked with hunting down old models and ‘retiring’ them. So in a tense exchange in the opening scene we meet Officer K (Ryan Gosling), attempting to bring in Dave Bautista’s protein farmer; in a scene reminiscent of Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds. Everything looks gorgeous and stylish and the tension is palpable, up to the point it explodes into action.

Which is very much how the film goes. Slow burn, intense and loaded with meaning and symbolism. It is almost style over substance, but Villeneuve treads that path well, just about keeping the balance between the two.

So after his encounter with the farmer, Officer K finds a clue which leads him to believe replicants are changing in a way that could have a significant impact on society. This leads him to search for Deckard (Harrison Ford).

And, to geek out and digress for second, typing this got me thinking the film could’ve been called Blade Runner: The Search for Deckard, but I guess Star Trek already took that. Shame though, had a nice ring to it.

Back with 2049, other than the details above, the plot is best avoided for fear of spoilers.

But what I will say is that, returning to my point about being a bit of a newbie, this film did world build (for the uninitiated) extremely well. As director Denis Villeneuve – in an impressive balancing act – managed to stay true to the look and feel of Scott’s original, but also put his own stamp on it.

For example, we get a look at the world outside of L.A., all hazy red and yellow mists, complete with abandoned cityscapes and giant statues, which speak of ancient, long-lost civilisations. Post-apocalyptic and then some. Set design must have had a field day, in a good sense, for this all adds to Scott’s world in a way that feels credible.

Villeneuve also builds on other concepts touched on in the original, such as the debate around what it means to be human. Here, Officer K has a companion, Joi (Ana de Armas) a hologram.

And whilst she may have started as a basic, out of the box programme, she’s sentient and has grown and evolved to the point where you get the sense they’ve shared many moments together and have an intimate connection. Inasmuch as is allowed for Officer K, who is not supposed to show – or succumb to – signs of emotion or humanity, and is subject to regular ‘baseline tests’ by his employers.

Moreover, the more time we spend with Joi and K, the more we come to understand him through how he interacts with her. He keeps his emotions in check for the most part, but is conflicted. Desperately trying to do his job, yet his need to discover his origins and come to terms with his latent humanity gnaws at him, and is brought home every time he lets his guard down and allows himself a taste of humanity with Joi.

It’s deeply sad, in a way. K longs for a human connection and to discover his place in the world, but cannot find it. In some ways, there’s a lot of DNA this film shares with Spike Jonze’s Her. And perhaps shades of Lost in Translation.

Fans of the original will probably feel validated too, given how the film is held in such high regard, this sequel has done a commendable job of ‘not messing it all up’. Gosling is a great fit for the lead and it’s really grounds the film and story when Ford shows up too. Armas, a relative up-and-comer, also puts in a fine performance as Joi.

Come awards season it would be a travesty if Deakins didnt get an Oscar for the cinematography on this one – as the majority of shots are pieces of art in their own right. Villeneuve, too, could be in for an award or two, building on his critical acclaim following Arrival.

For me, I was less enamoured with the film than some people (being an idiot newbie and all that) and felt it dragged in places, largely due to its 2 hour 44 minute running time and methodical pace of storytelling. But I appreciated the performances, questions it raised, way it was shot and, crucially, the type of film it was trying to be.

In the age of superhero films and blockbusters and godawful comedy remakes, this sort of cinema is neccessary and vital, but not to everyone’s tastes. So whether you’re a fan of the original or not, I urge you to give it a try, and go in with an open mind, pay attention and let the experience wash over you.

(I said much the same of mother! recently, but the point stands for this too.)

 

 

Is ‘mother!’ Aranofsky and Lawrence’s best work?

Ok, so here’s a thing. Darren Aranofsky has made another movie, and it’s one that’ll divide people, that’s for sure. I mean, let’s be honest, this should come as no surprise to us. For anyone that’s seen his past work, he hardly pulls punches when it comes to provocative imagery, challenging subject matter and intensely troubled characters. Requiem for a Dream anyone? Black Swan? Noah? The utter mind-bender that was The Fountain? Hell, even The Wrestler wasn’t a walk in the park (although it’s his most accessible work to date.)

And with mother! it’s fair to say he’s upped his game – or at least let off the shackles. I mean, I can only imagine the discussion with the studio… ‘You want to do what Darren? Er, ok. Wait, hold on. And now you want to do that? And that?! C’mon! You DO realise that Jennifer Lawrence is one of the biggest stars in the world and you want to put her through the absolute wringer?’

Because he really does. And some people, understandably, just can’t handle it. Plus critics are split, with many having reacted strongly (both good and bad); which is probably to be expected with an auteur’s work, but you still want people to see your movie and mother!, at the moment, is just about breaking even.

We also have to remember that word of mouth is a powerful thing – and critics are probably putting some people off, which is a shame. One even said that this is the most ambitious film to come out of a major Hollywood studio since Kubrick died. Which may well be true, but it’s fuel to the fire really, as a lot of people would take that comment as bad rather than good. Moreover, this is a film that’s also now part of a very small list, having achieved Cinemascore’s famous F grade, which only gets given to a piece of work that ‘goes out of its way to artfully alienate or confuse audiences.’

And this all has me wondering… do we as moviegoers just want films that are too safe these days? With superhero fodder galore and juggernaut franchises like Fast and Furious and Transformers going from strength to strength, and mind-numbing comedies being churned out all too often, I half suspect we’ve all become excessively comfortable, safe in our cotton wool bubble of mediocre expectancy. Which means that filmmakers like Aranofsky are vital to cinema, as bubbles must be burst as often as possible. Break the wheel and be anarchic with your stories Hollywood. Confuse us and make us nervous. We need it now more than ever.

And with mother! half the reaction it’s gotten might be because of the themes Aranofsky explores: nature and the environment, religion, humanity, celebrity and so on – and the incendiary way in which he does it. I mean, his approach does err on the side of mad visionary. For example, it’s been said he wrote the screenplay in five days in a kind of fever dream, and that Lawrence threw it across the room in disgust after reading it. But then, after reflecting, called the director the next day to tell him he was a genius.

And this kind of makes sense, misunderstood in his time and all that. A type of story-teller people aren’t going to get first time, nor should they. Also, people are people. When we don’t understand something we invariably default to anger and confusion. Plus, anything to do with religion (in this case Christianity) is often a powder-keg for a lot of audiences.

So as you might expect, story wise, this kind of film is best experienced cold and with little background, so I won’t say much. Other than the basic set-up is mother (Jennifer Lawrence) and Him (Javier Bardem) live alone in a house, which she’s busy decorating. He’s a writer, but with writer’s block. Then a man unexpectedly visits (Ed Harris), and he’s quickly followed by a woman (Michelle Pfeiffer); both of whom quickly become progressively more unwelcome house guests as the story unfolds. To the point where the final third of the film descends into utter insanity.

As for our way in, we follow events from mother’s point of view – and the camera sticks with Lawrence for most of the movie. Twisting and turning through the house, akin to the cinematography in Birdman. Often with the camera up as close as you can get, right in her face, picking up every little reaction and reminding the audience that not only is she beautiful, but also a pure soul, yet in pain and increasingly confused and angry with these house guests, frustrated at Him for not acknowledging her needs.

Bardem plays his part well too, allowing a lot of his natural charm to inhabit the character. But, lest we forget, he can do menace with the best of them, and this raises its head from time to time, leaving mother more confused than ever. She just wants his love and it never seems enough. And the interplay between the two of them in these type of moments is heartbreaking. Indeed, this could be the best performance of Lawrence’s career – more raw than Silver Linings Playbook (for which she won an Oscar) and more intense than Winter’s Bone (for which she was nominated).

She’s since said that this role took a lot out of her, and she doesn’t expect she’d take a similar part for a long time. Which is more than understandable. Ultimately, this is an Aranofsky film, so if you’ve seen any of his past work you’ll have an idea of what to expect. If you haven’t, go in with an open mind and interpret from the story what you will. Just know it won’t be an easy watch.

 

 

 

Nerds never say die

I recently read a book called Ready Player One that’ll soon be a movie.
Which got me thinking how growing up nerd was absurd.
So yeah, go ahead, shoot me.
Cos I get it.
Everyone’s obsessed with the 80s.
Which I confess, is so crazy.
As when we look back, we just remember the gravy.
Nostalgia goggles set to rose-tinted and hazy.
But it is what it is.
So let’s begin.
Now I could lie and say this begins in a violent and bloody way with our hero of the silver screen, Lucky Day.
Stealing scenes in Little Neddy Goes to War.
As telling you this, My Little Buttercup, would help settle a score.
But it’s not really true.
So I should start with when you and I got robbed.
By that bastard El Guapo.
Cos he wanted us to die like dogs.
But I confused him with moves more sly like fox.
And could define the word plethora.
(But I’ll keep that under my fedora.)
Next thing, I’d been smacked on my Dusty Bottoms.
And sent Back to the Future for being a loser.
Left in a flux, with no capacitor to be a true challenger to the powers that be.
Seduced by Delirium.
Fearing the Sandman had devoured my dreams.
Leaving behind his punk rock sister.
Till it was all I could do not to cower and scream.
But, somehow, she took pity.
And I found a reprieve.
So yeah, my life, until recently, has not been much fun.
I mean, everyone’s so serious.
Forever telling me that there can be only one.
But am I really deserving?
Lately, I’ve been fearing the Kurgen and when he’s returning.
As he’s the most devious type of vicious baddie.
Incidentally, shout out the mighty Mr Miyagi.
The way he taught me to treat my enemies was a gift and so savvy and kind of uncanny.
I remember how he and I would have a laugh in that amusement park.
Scaring the crap out of Scooby and Shaggy.
But to step back for a sec.
For most of my youth, I’d keep my mask in place.
Praying for an intervention at detention.
Because, in principle, I was a basket case.
But also a brain, an athlete, and a criminal.
So my teens were pivotal and perhaps my pinnacle.
Cos it meant so much to be part of that club.
A group where I could express and be free.
Which leads me to say, please… Don’t You (forget about me).
But remember when Jake and I ate cake when I was sweet sixteen.
Or when science helped me create a woman from my wildest dreams.
Or that time I gave jewellery to Hoggle cos he liked its gleam.
Forgotten that?
You know… it’s when we hung with Ludo and got our rocks off.
Before playing ‘let the wookie win’ got me stranded on that Starship Destroyer.
Oddly, dressed as Inigo Montoya.
Which resulted in a fight with the man in black.
Telling him, with conviction, that I’ll be back.
Cos his boss, the Emporer, had killed my father and should prepare to die.
Which didn’t have the effect I had come to expect.
Cos I’m a T-800.
I don’t have the flair to lie.
Even though I’m the scary type.
But bad things do happen when I embrace my machismo.
Think food after midnight, a glass of water, and a face-off with Gizmo.
But as you’d expect.
The point came when I started getting too old for this shit.
I’m a family man.
Fair cop, I’m good at my job.
But I can’t be bolder than Riggs.
He’s a mad man, with dark undertones.
I should have known something was up when he invited me to his vast thunderdome.
But anyway.
Maybe I’m better off freezing enemies in carbonite.
But if their force is strong.
There’s only really a half chance they’ll die.
Simpler to knock ’em out and toss ’em to the sarlacc.
See how far they fly.
Yet the obvious solution for a nerf herder like me, always seems to be the last to try.
So I tend to end up surrounded by bad guys.
Which gets me all pent up.
Makes me want to rip off my shirt.
Phone box style, like Clarke Kent does.
But yeah, there’s bad guys.
And then there’s me, a joker with my rifle and my gun.
Ready for fighting and ready for fun.
Cos I’m a ticking time bomb type of package.
Shouting Good Morning Vietnam to motivate the troops.
Trying to minimise their damage.
Cos I can’t help it.
I’m a funny guy, and a devil of habit.
Ready to travel to battle, all g’eed up in my Full Metal Jacket.
Hoping I can save Toon Town from these clowns and clear the name of Roger Rabbit.
But missions go wrong.
So I often spend time lying low.
Playing cards with my buddy Lion-O.
But he’s too good.
So I cheat harder.
Which doesn’t cut it with Cheetara.
Cos she’s smarter.
So I tell her it’s cool.
That we’re having a laugh.
And this behaviour is in no way damaging Snarf.
But any good will she has, at this point, vanishes fast.
Cos he’s so impressionable.
And we do lead him astray in a silly way.
Which makes me want to trade places.
Like Winthorpe and Billy Ray.
Then take a flight back in time as the navigator.
Till I end up clashing Nazis in a fight cos I’m the raider.
But as I was named after the dog, I won’t excuse my behaviour.
Even though, in archaeological circles, my methods have kinda fallen out of favour.
So I’ll just say this.
Remember that, there, up there, it’s their time.
Down here, it’s our time.
It’s our time, down here.
So with life it’s best just to plunge in, have adventures and say fuck it.
Cos it’ll all be over the second we choose to ride up Troy’s bucket.

Spider-Man: Homecoming – review

So Spidey is back – and now with added baby-faced Tom Holland. Back in the day Tobey Maguire had three goes at the role with Sam Raimi directing: Spider-Man (2002), Spider-Man 2 (2004) and Spider-Man 3 (2007). Then Andrew Garfield had a crack with Marc Webb in charge: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014).

And each, arguably, suffered from the law of diminishing returns. Spidey wasn’t dead but he had been battered pretty thoroughly. Then he popped up, teasingly, in Captain America: Civil War (2016)played by a young Tom Holland. And everyone loved his – albeit short – take on the character. Seems Spidey had returned and this time he was part of the MCU.

Hooray, this felt fresh and well-timed.

So we get Spider-Man: Homecoming a year later. Now some say this version of our arachnid hero is the best yet. Not just because having a younger actor play the role REALLY works and makes more sense (he’s supposed to be a schoolkid), but also because Tom Holland just seems a better fit as an actor than Maguire, and certainly Garfield.

Because, frankly, Holland plays to his strengths, making him cocky and intelligent yet vulnerable and with a big heart, which, naturally, brings him to Tony Stark’s attention. For you see, with Homecoming, he’s very much Tony’s protégé, with Tony a sort of tough love father figure towards Peter.

And as part of that tough love, after helping Stark out in Civil War he gets cuts loose, and told to basically stay out of trouble until he’s called upon, with Happy (Jon Favreau) his reluctant minder.

During which time hard-as-nails salvage guy Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) is nicking alien artifacts found during the aftermath of the chitauri attack on New York and turning them into weapons – and in doing so becomes the Vulture.

So little Peter has to prove he’s got what it takes to bring Toomes down, change from boy to man, and prove his hero status to become a fully fledged Avenger.

Which is all well and good. But the nice touches for me in this film come from things we’ve not seen before. THANK GOD the filmmakers didn’t show us how Peter got his powers and came to live with Aunt May. We’ve seen it so many times. Save for a quick line about being bitten by spider and how his aunt has been through a lot, that’s it. Great, let’s move on.

More thought along similar lines has also gone into Peter’s suit. As it’s made by Stark it comes complete with gadgets galore and a PA, but with a little twist to contrast Iron Man’s JARVIS. So from the types of web he can use (grenade, taser) to the suit’s modes (kill, surveillance), it adds a lot more to Spider-Man in terms of his capabilities as a hero and how he can fight.

Yet, as Tony points out, he needs to be a hero without the suit (much like Tony’s own journey in Iron Man). So there’s a couple of pivotal – and fairly emotionally weighty – scenes where we get to see what Peter is really made of. And it helps, of course, to have a worthy foe, because in Michael Keaton we get both comic book pedigree (Batman, Birdman) and oodles of charisma, where he can flip from charm to menace at the drop of a hat (he should really play baddies more often, it suits him).

Ultimately, it’s great that Spider-Man is with Marvel now. Sony, for all their efforts, never really found their groove with this character. And given the fact that Marvel just continue to go from strength to strength as they expand their universe, it’s encouraging that Spider-Man is now a part of that. Roll on Thor: Ragnarok.