Legend: Hardy gives us both barrels

Ronnie and Reggie. They almost sound sweet don’t they? Like Bill and Ben the flower pot men. But they’re not. Far from it. Ronald and Reginald Kray were possibly the scariest two brothers you could hope to meet (or pray not to meet) in London in the ’50s and ’60s. Born identical twins in 1933, they worked their way up the organised crime ladder to become owners of nightclubs and casinos, rubbing shoulders with celebrities, politicans and high society types alike.

Quite a story you might say, it would make a good film. Well, it’s been done before. In 1990 Gary and Martin Kemp (of Spandau Ballet) had a crack at it and did ok, receiving mildly positive acclaim. Yet they never quite had the cajones or screen presence to really do these two guys justice.

Fast forward fifteen years and we get a much slicker production, bigger budget, better cast and, most importantly, a lead that is nothing but menace and screen presence, Tom Hardy. As an actor Hardy had had a few decent parts for a few years until Nicholas Winding Refn cast him as Charles Bronson in Bronson. A towering, menacing performance that not only put him on the map, but showed the world that right here is an actor with real swagger, real menace, and intensity in buckets.

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And so the parts kept coming: an unhinged MMA fighter in Warrior, Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, Max Rockatansky in Mad Max: Fury Road… yet he still hadn’t really fully opened the taps. He still hadn’t showed us what he could do.

With Legend, now he has. Most actors would relish the opportunity to play a legendary gangster, but two? Well, now you’re just being too nice. Not that being too nice is something you could associate with the Krays, but if it was just ‘a hard man’ you were after you may as well call Vinnie Jones. What Hardy has done so masterfully with this film is provide depth and likeability to both Ronnie and Reggie.

You root for them (sort of). Now that’s a hard task, and a hard ask of an actor. You need endless charisma and screen presence, and you need to pull off a convincing double role (acting opposite yourself, or a stand-in or a broom or something, it must be confusing).

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In terms of story this film is based on a book by John Pearson, The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins. It was written and directed by Brian Helgeland (of L.A. Confidential fame) and focuses on Reggie and his relationship with his wife Frances (Emily Browning) and how he dealt with his increasingly volatile brother Ron.

We cover a fair amount of ground, from the start of the Krays’ rise in power to their involvement with the American mafia and British Lords and politicians. At times Helgeland veers slightly into black humour territory, particularly as Hardy gives us that wild-eyed psychotic stare that made Ron seem so menacing, channelling more than a good dollop of Bronson in the process. With Reggie he had a harder job, showing a sweet side as he wooed Frances, then turning quite frighteningly on a dime to show intense menace if something displeased him.

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In both performances he utterly convinces, sucking you in, compelling you to watch what – as either Ronnie or Reggie – he’s going to do next. The rest of the cast (David Thewlis, Paul Bettany, briefly) do a fine job, but ultimately this is the Tom Hardy show and there’s barely a second of screen time in which he doesn’t dominate.

And as far as British gangster films go, this has to be up there with the greats such as The Long Good Friday, Get Carter and Layer Cake (underrated in my book). Even if you take the British bit out, this is still a gangster film worthy of that title alongside other classics from around the world. It may be a touch long and the story may lack a bit of punch (despite much punching going on) and momentum, but one cannot argue with the committed intensity of Hardy’s two performances. They’re a fair few months off but, Oscar anyone?

(Oh, and Hollywood, offer Tom more parts like this please.)

Concrete jungle where accents are made of…

On my recent return from a flying visit to New York I found myself thinking about the accent. London is littered with accents but there’s something inherently ‘London’ about them all. I think the same applies to New York, whether it’s Brooklyn or Queens or Manhattan there’s differences to be picked out, but a commonality runs through them all.

As such, for us out-of-towners we think it’s all pretty much the same… A New York accent. And so, with films where an actor is putting on a New York accent we’re left thinking, is that good? Is it believable? Do they sound like a native?

What is a native in cities like New York and London anyway? These places were built on immigration and boast a melting pot of accents and cultures. Still – go with me on this – there’s an common accent to be picked out.

Here’s my pick of two actresses that have given it a darn good go in recent times.

Margot RobbieThe Wolf of Wall Street
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An Aussie with a scant filmography to her name (her stint in TV show Pan Am rather than Neighbours probably got her this gig) yet steps up not only with a convincing accent, but a commanding performance opposite DiCaprio.


Scarlett Johansson
Don Jon
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Born in New York you hope she’d do a good job (she was quoted as saying she knew women like this growing up). She still had to ‘put on’ a certain accent though, and happily delivered, going toe-to-toe with Gordon-Levitt’s Jon in this fizzy tale.

Has 24 always been a guilty pleasure?

redWith the recent airing of the first two episodes of 24 (this season entitled Live Another Day) we have the return of CTU and Keifer Sutherland’s most iconic character, Jack Bauer.

For some this means excitement. For others trepidation, or even a sense of weariness. ‘We’ve seen all this before.’ ’24 is so dated.’ ‘TV has moved on, it’s all about Breaking Bad these days.’ And so on, you might imagine audiences would exclaim before running for the safety of Game of Thrones or something.

The thing is, love it or hate it, you know what you’re getting with 24. Bauer, his face locked in a permanent scowl, on a one-man mission to threaten as many people as possible in a single day; moles inside CTU; a truculent head of station who refuses to listen to reason until the last possible moment, a chief of staff at the Whitehouse with an axe to grind. I could go on, but you get the idea.

It’s all part and parcel of what made the show so appealing. It was hardly mentally taxing, it reassuringly ticked the boxes each season yet… somehow it was captivating. And you found yourself caring about the characters, particularly Bauer. A man who puts himself through the mill time and again. The quintessential TV action antihero.

For this season they’ve shifted the action to the UK – specifically London – with the focus on the American’s use of drones in the Middle East (at least initially). Chloe is back looking a lot like Lisbeth Salander (she’s a European hacker now, what do you expect?). 24lad-enemyofstatetrailerWe’ve also got some new faces, including a new standard resident CTU hottie – previously we’ve had Nina Myers and Michelle Dessler, this time we get Kate Morgan played by Yvonne Strahovski – as seemingly the only person who is smart enough to figure out what Bauer is up to.

Oh, and of course Bauer is doing his usual, trying to save the President, a job – in the world of 24 – with possibly the shortest life expectancy of any you care to name, Bauer’s included. Yet, with all the organisations protecting this exalted position, you know it’s going to come down to one man to save the day and take the fall for all the people he’s killed along the way.

But that’s the point. It’s in much the same way Batman gets hunted at the end of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. We hunt him because he can take it. In fact this is probably why they brought the show back, there’s still life in Bauer yet.

The problem with resurrecting a show like this after a few years in the doldrums is twofold: you gave it new life because audiences missed it, they wanted more of that world and those characters. But they also want something new. And so the show’s producers have opted, in some ways, for the safest of risky approaches – set it in ‘edgy’ East London and make the baddies British.

Hats off to them for the first part, they largely avoided red buses and shots of Big Ben (they couldn’t resist a few), yet they couldn’t help themselves with the odd bit of casting with ‘cor blimey’ cockney accents. yvonne-strahovski-24-live-another-dayAnd also posh and mysterious uber-baddie shrouded in shadow (bit of a Sherlock nod there) is literally the safest bet when it comes to bad guys, at least Americans think so.

But this is nit picking. Like many others, when I first heard they were bringing Bauer and his gang back I sighed. Do we really need this show on the small screen again? Then you start to watch it, the little orange clock slams those seconds onto the screen – tick, tick – and I’m pleased to say I felt excited. And a little guilty, but still… excited.

Bauer, go do your thing. Just don’t expect us to praise you for it in public.

Bittersweet biopic – The Look of Love

I saw this at an advance screening back in November 2012. It doesn’t come out till the start of March in the UK, but as that’s realistically not that far off, let’s review!

The Look of Love is about the life and career of Paul Raymond aka the ‘King of Soho’, played by Steve Coogan. Born and raised in Liverpool, Raymond moved to London and opened Britain’s first strip club – the Raymond Revuebar – in 1958.

Featuring acts such as nude dancers performing with snakes, his club often grabbed headlines and incurred the wrath of authorities for its controversial nature. Yet, as you’d expect, this increased its popularity and success.

Within a few years Raymond expanded into publishing and bought adult title Men Only in 1971. However, the real reason he gained the ‘King of Soho’ name in the 1970s was down to property. Building his portfolio up purchasing much of Soho, he passed a fortune on to his grandchildren estimated upwards of £650m.

tamsin egerton steve cooganThe setup
Directed by Michael Winterbottom and starring Steve Coogan, the film features a strong cast including Anna Friel, Imogen Poots and Chris Addison.

It’s also a bit of a showcase for British comedy, with appearances from David Walliams, Stephen Fry, Matt Lucas, Simon Bird and more. In the case of Bird and Addison they’re hidden under a lot of hair (it is set in the 70s!), but you’ll laugh when you spot them.

To call it a comedy though, would be misleading. It’s a biopic – informative, tragic, funny, touching and ultimately bittersweet. It charts the rise of Raymond’s empire and the relationships with the women central to his life and success: wife (Friel), mistress (Egerton) and daughter (Poots).

Tender, tragic and charming
Coogan is quite brilliant in this role. In some ways Raymond can come across as quite unsympathetic; no time for his children, first abandoning his wife for his mistress, then mistress for whomever the next girl may be.

tamson egerton steve cooganCredit to Coogan, he manages to give Raymond a warmth and accessibility. He comes across as a guy trying to do his best, but doomed to make the same mistakes with all the women in his life, of which there are many. He also plays the role quite straight, allowing comic moments to reveal themselves accordingly – plus this gives room for more obvious comedic characters to shine.

Friel is outstanding as the fiery, yet vulnerable wife, coming in and out of his life at various moments. Egerton, too, plays her part well, as the sexy mistress who eventually runs out of patience with Raymond’s philandering ways.

For me, the biggest revelation was Poots as Raymond’s daughter, Debbie. Clearly a doting if misguided father, he indulges her every whim, including her desire to perform on stage headlining her own show. It isn’t a success and this kick-starts Debbie’s downward spiral, resulting in her death from heroin in 1992.

Poots gives Debbie an innocence and vulnerability that really gives dramatic heft to her fall from grace. Particularly when Raymond just isn’t there for her in the ways a father should be. When catching her doing cocaine for the first time, his fatherly advice is to ‘make sure it’s the best stuff and not rubbish from street dealers’.

Sex sells where love fails
This film shares a certain something with biopic Gia, based on the rise and fall of America’s first supermodel Gia Carangi, starring Angelina Jolie. It also had elements of Blow – a biopic starring Johnny Depp – based on the real life story of American cocaine smuggler George Jung.

Whilst both those were set in America, grand in scale and glamorous, The Look of Love is very much a British affair. Quirky, subtly amusing; finding comedy in tragedy and absurdity of the situation. There’s glamour, nudity and drugs, but it’s on more of an understated British level.

Ultimately, it’s an interesting little tale of a showman’s rise to fame through exploitation of the age-old motto ‘sex sells’. Yet what it does most cleverly – if you take away the glitz and glamour – is tell the tale of a man who surrounds himself with sex, yet fails to succeed at love. Either pushing it away with wives and girlfriends or – in the tragic case of his daughter – failing to live up to his responsibilities as a father.

Sometimes jumping between comedy and tragedy can seem jarring and uneven in tone, leaving the audience confused about what they are supposed to feel. Winterbottom does a great job, balancing these two elements to keep the film light when it needed to be, yet ensuring dramatic scenes still rang true.

So if you like true stories in a period setting, filled with tender, subtle drama and light, comic moments, go see it. But don’t expect an out-and-out comedy. It’s a more nuanced, reflective and complex tale – and that’s a good thing.

Gig review: Box of Ghosts and Years and Years

Last night I went to see my mate’s band, Box of Ghosts, perform at the Old Blue Last in Shoreditch, London. How to describe them? I suppose the general catch-all term for most up-and-coming bands these days is electro-pop. I think that term doesn’t do anyone any favours any more, it’s too broad.

I could talk about what they sound like: influences of Depeche Mode, Editors etc. Suffice to say they have a sort of sweeping, operatic, dramatic, punchy sound. I’m probably not doing them justice, they’re great live. Just watch the clip of their signature track ‘Silhouette’ below and judge for yourself. It’s a really well put together track. You’ll be tapping your toes without realising.

Following their set was the headline act, Years & Years. Another band that fall into the electro-pop fishing net definition. This particular night was their new single launch, ‘Emergency’. Check a clip of them performing the single.

I think perhaps they have more of a folk element to their music, slightly hard to define at least. The lead singer is interesting. A skinny guy with mad hair and a big, yet delicate, melodic voice.

Having only just heard of this band I’m going to say, for me, their signature track is probably ‘I wish I knew’. Found a nice little clip of them performing on the tube. A great sing-along track.

Anyway, if you like these bands get involved. Follow them on youtube, soundcloud, like them on Facebook – whatever it is you crazy kids do these days.

To sign off I’ve included some tracks below you might want to check out.

Damn, parkour is a tough sport!

parkour injuryWill I ever be any good at parkour/freerunning? I found myself asking this question last night as I sat in a London hospital with – yet another – injury. This time quite a bad one, a deep gash in my shin that needed two stitches.

Let’s rewind for a second. For those not familiar, parkour is essentially a type of movement used to overcome obstacles by way of vaulting, leaping, climbing, rolling etc. It’s done outdoors and – in London – often around housing estates, where there are lots of walls, rails, playgrounds. Ideal places to practice.

Still reading? Well, there’s an organisation called Parkour Generations that do lessons all around London. Well worth a go if you’re looking for a new sport. I realise, from my opening paragraph, I’ve probably completely put off you if you were considering it, apologies! To be honest, you can get injured in so many ways on a day-to-day basis. Crossing the road, preparing dinner etc.

The way I see it, I have no time for the gym, it’s such a static, sterile environment. It’s nice to train your overall body outside, doing something different, challenging, exciting. Injuries are bound to happen in any sport if you’re pushing yourself. You just need to know where your limits are. I was fully aware of mine but ignored the signs, hence the injury.

The video below was taken in the area I was training. None of the guys in the video are me by the way, I am nowhere near their level of skill, but it’s what I aim for. Well, except the flips, I’ll give those a miss!

Plus, these days, parkour has moved much more into the mainstream. No longer a niche, extreme sport, its influence can be seen all over the place, particularly in film over the last few years.

There’s a French film called District 13 which features one of the founders of the sport, David Belle. Well worth a watch if you’ve got the time. Good as a film as well as a showcase for the sport. Also, in Casino Royale there’s a scene featuring Sebastien Foucan, another parkour founding father. Watch the building site chase here, very cool.

So, back to my latest predicament. As I sat there cursing my stupidity at failing to admit my body’s limitations, it occurred to me that – in order to improve – that’s sort of the point. You have to push yourself. Dig deep, double your efforts, whatever it takes really. Cue 80s montage…

Blur, the Specials, New Order – Olympic closing concert, a tender affair

On Sunday night I was lucky enough to go to the closing concert of the London 2012 olympics. Not the one in the stadium, but the one on Hyde park. The one where Blur played their possibly last ever gig.

For me,  the day started about mid afternoon with New Order. Their gig was good, but took a little while to get going. It began with a downbeat, Joy Division flavour. The brooding, introspective music perhaps at odds with the sunny afternoon. They got into the groove with their up tempo dance numbers, rolling out the favourites, ‘Blue Monday’ etc. I have to say, they didn’t exactly light up the stage to start with, but grew in presence as their gig progressed.

So from New Order, next came the Specials. They showed a lot more energy, bouncing around the stage, getting the crowd going. Ska music has to be the easiest in the world to dance to, even the classic ‘dad dancing at a wedding’ dance is perfectly acceptable, probably even encouraged. It was great music to be leaping around to on a Sunday, with the sun slanting through the trees in a central London park.

And then came Blur. Around a 2 hour set, starting in the light and playing through into the darkness. The atmosphere was electric right from the start. Looking round, it was hard to gauge just how many people were in the sea of fans (80,000 I heard afterwards). It was like a happy, sun-kissed tide of 20 and 30-somethings reliving the naughties and Britpop.

I was on a mini trip down memory lane, recalling Blur songs I hadn’t listened to for about 10 years, much the same as a lot of the crowd I imagine. Tunes like ‘Coffee and TV’ and ‘Beetlebum’ were great to hear. As were expected crowd pleasers, ‘Song 2’ and ‘Parklife’. The standout was ‘Tender’. A beautiful, beautiful track for live gigs, prompting 80,000 people to sing along as soon as the first few chords started.

They rounded off the gig with a new track, ‘Under the Westway’, a great showcase of  Damon Albarn’s vocal talents, and a beautifully reflective, heartfelt piece. The look on Albarn’s face at the end of the final song of the night, ‘The Universal’ summed it up. He stared deep out into the crowd with shiny eyes, clearly holding back tears. Then thumped a fist to his chest and rose it skyward, no words were needed. A seriously special night.

The end of Blur? Not a chance, they’re just maturing like a fine wine – or a cheese Alex James might say – long may they continue!