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.

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.