The top 5 performances of Ralph Fiennes

Somehow, I’ve not written about the living legend that is Ralph Fiennes before. And, these days, he’s just getting better with age. Well it’s high time we address that and look at my pick of his best performances.

So here they are, my favourite five. Do you agree? What would yours be?

Voldemort
Harry Potter (2005-2011)
A twisted, reptilian serpent of a villain, stealing every scene as poor Daniel Radcliffe tried to keep up. His take on Rowling’s primary bad guy was just as you’d want it to be – melodramatic, flamboyant, tortured, deliciously evil and highly watchable.

the-lost-story-of-how-tom-riddle-became-lord-voldemort-is-as-epic-and-insane-as-you-would-833734

Harry
In Bruges (2008)
Where did this performance come from? Who knew Fiennes was so funny? Obviously it helps to have a dark comedy penned by ‘the Irish Tarantino’ Martin McDonagh with zingers aplenty to get stuck into, but Fiennes’ performance was deadpan genius.

In Bruges

M. Gustave
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
In probably the quirkiest Wes Anderson film yet, Fiennes ran the show as enigmatic Hotel Manager M. Gustave, thoroughly embracing scenes with casual shootouts, jailbreaks and geriatric loving; as if it was the easiest thing in the world to pull off.

Gareth Mallory
Skyfall (2012)
Filling Judi Dench’s boots as M is a hell of a tall order, yet Fiennes effortlessly slotted into Sam Mendes’ world of Bond as if he’d been there all along. Initially we’re unsure of his motives (in terms of Bond) yet they come to earn each other’s respect.

skyfallreduced-0017

Lenny Nero
Strange Days (1995)
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by James Cameron, this gritty sci-fi thriller was a favourite of mine growing up. Largely due to Fiennes’ committed performance as former LAPD cop turned bootlegger. Worth seeking out if you’ve not seen it.

RF Strange Days

Grand Budapest Hotel: should Anderson go back to basics?

grandbudapesthotel-2Is it possible for Wes Anderson to get more Wes Anderson-y? His latest film suggests there’s little direction to go in terms of packing one film with Wes Andersonisms. The director’s trademark flourishs litter the film. Whether that’s a good or bad thing remains to be seen.

Don’t get me wrong though, I love his work. Massive fan and all that. The Life Aquatic remains one of my favourite films. Anyway, as usual I’m getting ahead of myself.

To recap: the plot here largely starts with an old man sitting in a dilapidated hotel recounting the tale of how he came to own it. We flash back to him as a young man; a lobby boy taken under the wing of the enigmatic and exacting concierge Mr Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes).

As a creation, Gustave is a delight. Fiennes, all at once, makes him camp, flamboyant, flirtatious, matter-of-fact and sincere yet somewhat eccentric.the-grand-budapest-hotel-zero-clip640 He seduces his elderly guests and recites poetry to his staff at the start of each day.

The story kicks into life with the death of an elderly patron of the hotel who leaves Gustave a priceless painting, Boy With Apple. The family, led by the snarling Adrian Brody and psychopathic Willem Defoe, are rather unhappy with this decision (to put it lightly). So what begins is a tale of murder, revenge, imprisonment, breakout and more.

Along with Fiennes Anderson has gathered an impressive cast, one that seems to grow with each film. Most have small parts yet – due to the way the film has been marketed – you spend a lot of your time ‘cast spotting’… Or at least I did.

Returning to my earlier point about Andersonisms, a large cast is one of them. Along with his tics and flourishs, this is something that’s beginning to distract me somewhat. This film, for me, will probably improve on second viewing as a result.the-grand-budapest-hotel-ralph-fiennes Same applies to Moonrise Kingdom.

All that aside, the story here remains focused on the two central characters: Gustave and his loyal lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori). The chemistry and interplay between the two is charming and drives the movie. Both are interesting characters with a story to tell. Both need each other – there’s clearly an affection there.

And in terms of quirky world building, Anderson has outdone himself again. The actual Grand Budapest Hotel is an impressive creation: from the quaint little lift up the mountain and its impressive lobby to the sumptuous colours (red for the hotel interior, purple for the staff); the detail and way in which the film was shot (eat your heart out instagram lovers) is classic Anderson and every scene, set and scenic landscape should be – once you inevitably buy this on DVD – savoured and appreciated at length.

My only real reservation in this film lies in the fact that, for all its brilliance, I feel Anderson has reached the end of his creative tether in terms of giving the audience what they want – i.e. more and more of the world through a Wes Anderson lens.grand

For his next project I’d love to see him strip everything back: the cast, the little flourishs and creative oddities, all of it… and then just tell a story in his own unique way.

That could be a refreshing sight to see. Like a full length version of Hotel Chevalier or something. C’mon Wes, make it happen.

Take your ass back to the trailer park – part 3

Noah-director-Aronofsky-tweets-up-a-storm-4J21KFSF-x-largeIt’s January and the skies and cold and grey.’ Good line for a song? Perhaps if we turn it around. ‘It’s January and the skies are cold and grey, but it’s warm inside the cinema and therefore we shall stay… and watch many films.’

Ok the rhyme needs work but you get the idea. Escapism is the word of the day – and with many exciting films in front of us, I thought another ‘trailer park’ rundown is in order. Some of these are out soon, some we’ll have to wait. Don’t blame me, go read a book or something.

The Invisible Woman (February 2014)
Who likes a period drama and a love story? Here we have the tale of Charles Dickens (the legendary Ralph Fiennes) and his secret mistress (the gorgeous Felicity Jones). I’m not a huge fan of this genre, but I like the two leads and we may as well start the year on a classy note.


Noah
(March 2014)
What’s this? Darren Aranofsky turning his hand to the tale of a man with a wooden arc and a bunch of animals that go in two by two? Hurrah! Ray Winstone is in it? Oh god. Oh Noah. Before you panic just watch the trailer. It looks epic and has promise.


Transcendence
(April 2014)
Moving out of Christopher Nolan’s shadow his former cinematographer, Wally Pfister, takes the helm of this sci-fi thriller. Featuring two great leads, Johnny Depp and Rebecca Hall, this screenplay made the famous Hollywood ‘blacklist’ in 2012, and looks quite the spectacle.


The Other Woman
(April 2014)
Before it all gets too serious, how about a comedy? Cameron Diaz and Leslie Mann in a sort of buddy girl anti rom-com, which actually looks quite funny. Oh… and someone has finally cast Kate Upton in a film. If that doesn’t cheer you up this month there’s no hope.


Sabotage
(April 2014)
Yeah Arnie! And he’s got a cigar and a gun! You can tell I’m getting excited now right? This won’t just be a big dumb blockbuster though. It’s directed by David Ayer (the man behind Training Day and End of Watch) so should be smart to boot.


Jupiter Ascending
(July 2014)
Another epic beast here that puts me in mind of Cloud Atlas… and then I read the Wachowski siblings were behind it. They directed Cloud Atlas and the Matrix films, keep up. Seems they’ve decided to finally let their imaginations off the leash, and that’s really no bad thing.


Interstellar
(November 2014)
It’s great to see, particularly after Batman, Christopher Nolan going the other way, at least with his trailer, keeping it simple. This film sees a bunch of space travellers head through a wormhole. Plot details are shady, but it involves time travel and dimensions… maybe.

Skyfall, Mendes, Bond and badass Bardem

Bond team assemble! Ok, I’ve slightly mixed up my franchises but seriously, hats off to Sam Mendes. Or should it be hats off to Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson? The producers behind Bond in the Brosnan and Craig eras. Maybe we should also doff our caps to Daniel Craig? Not just for his performance as Bond so far, but for his recommendation for Sam Mendes to direct. His influence is clear to see.

What he’s done is strip Bond back, not just to the visceral, gritty feel we got in Casino Royale, but on an emotional level, to a point where he’s fallible, broken, hell-bent on resurrection and proving that, whilst he may be a bit of dinosaur in the modern age of espionage, he’s still a necessary tool in MI6’s arsenal. Let’s look at the factors that make this Bond one of the best we’ve had in a long time.
james bondSam Mendes
Many of you will know him as the Director of American Beauty in 1999, however the best reference point in terms of why he got the Bond gig is probably Road to Perdition in 2002, his first film with Daniel Craig. But then, he’s always had a common theme running through his work – family roots and close ties. From American Beauty and Revolutionary Road, through to Jarhead and Skyfall, his films have first and foremost been about relationships and the bonds between certain characters.

For those that doubted his ability to handle action, Id like to point out the opening sequence in Skyfall – an exhilarating rooftop motorbike chase, culminating in a fight on top of a train and kick-starting the film’s events. The whole sequence is tense, dramatic and thoroughly exciting – pitched perfectly between realism and fantasy, which is precisely what we expect from Bond.

There’s plenty of other scenes I could use as examples of why Mendes was the man for the job. Suffice to say he balanced action, drama and classic Bond moments with quiet, tender scenes that really gave the film weight and characters depth – particularly the relationship between Bond and M, which I’ll come to later.

Roger Deakins
Simply put, the man who makes Mendes look good! Deakins was Cinematographer on this film, the person who plans and coordinates the actual shooting of the film, capturing the Director’s vision on screen. Relationships between Directors and Cinematographers vary. In this case, Deakins has worked with Mendes before and also extensively with the Coen brothers. He’s been nominated for stacks of awards, including winning a lifetime achievement award in 2011.

In terms of Skyfall, there’s a veritable plethora of beautifully shot scenes: Bond staring over the grey London skyline, coffins draped in the Union Jack, the opening chase sequence in Turkey, a yacht sailing towards an abandoned island when we first meet Bardem’s Silva, then there’s the whole of the third act in Scotland.

If you want to capture the rugged, majestic beauty of a wild landscape, Deakin should be on your speed-dial as a Director. He’s the man behind No Country for Old Men, True Grit, Jarhead, Shawshank Redemption – I could go on, check out his body of work.

bond skyfallJavier Bardem
What a villian! Bardem seemed to position him as the perfect blend of deranged, menacing, calculating and camp, or at least sexually ambiguous. His first scene is a classic and up there with Heath Ledger’s introduction as the Joker in The Dark Knight.

In fact, there are a lot of similarities to be drawn between Bardem’s Silva and Ledger’s Joker. In terms of physical looks, chilling back-story and meticulously planned acts of terrorism. In Dark Knight, the Joker spends about a third of the film outwitting Batman and Gordon, similarly Silva runs rings around Bond and M from his introduction up until the closing act.

That said, I’m not suggesting Ledger’s Joker would fit in Bond’s world. Bardem’s Silva still remained very much his own creation in that sense. His motivation – a deeply felt vendetta towards Judi Dench’s M – drives his actions. You’ll have to watch the film to find out why – I’ll just say that Bardem gives Silva’s motivation for vengeance against M believability. So often in action films I’ve not got on board with the villian and his or her motivations to kill someone/take over the world. In this case Bardem makes it work, giving Silva a tortured soul and fire in his eyes.

Bond and M
When talking about Mendes and themes in his work, I mentioned relationships and bonds between characters. In this case, a key driver of the film is the dynamic between Bond and M. Whilst some might feel screen-time for stunning Bond girls has been somewhat sacrificed, you could argue Bond charging around with a beautiful girl in tow doesn’t give us anything new.
judi dench
Of course you get Bond girls here, but more time is devoted to M, arguably the ultimate Bond girl in the Broccoli/Wilson era. From her casting as the first female M in Goldeneye in 1995, through to Skyfall in 2012, she’s become progressively more influential with each film, particular in Daniel Craig’s time in the role.

There’s a scene where she’s deciding whether Bond is fit for active duty and Mallory – played by Ralph Fiennes – says to her, ‘You’re sentimental about him’. Mendes lets this relationship unfold superbly, culminating in a tender, elegant and heartfelt moment in the third act.

50 years of Bond
I’d like to finish with a musical clip below by A. Skilz and Krufty Kutz, submitted to Annie Mac’s show on BBC Radio One in the UK. They created it to celebrate 50 years of Bond. If you’ve forgotten what’s so good about the character and this franchise, remind yourself now. I guarantee you’ll be giddy with excitement at the end. Proud to be British.