An Ode To Acting

   Jon Favreau, the actor and director, and a man whose work I have enjoyed immensely over the years says every director should act. I cannot disagree with this. As a would-be filmmaker myself, I thought that it would be beneficial to take some acting classes myself. Unfortunately, though I was enjoying the course, midday through the course, the tutor decided to focus on poetry as the principal form of expression. I, philistine that I am, could not bear the thought of emoting poetry week after week, it is the one form of writing that I really cannot fully appreciate.

   In hindsight, I regret not sticking it out, because though even though I can marvel at a DP’s vision, and be wowed by a set designers or costumers’ eye for detail, be flabbergasted by a writer’s clever wordplay and ability to tell a story succinctly and subtly, the craft of the actor still remains, to me at least, a special kind of magic.

    I am not talking about your A-listers only. They maybe the draw, the ones who put bums on seats and keep the industry chugging along. They have to deal with the unrelated to the craft issues; stardom, maintaining a persona, always being on, especially in the blanket media age in which we live. Still, regardless how exceptional an actor/star maybe, their talent can only truly shine if those around them, the other performers, their fellow actors, do their part as well.

   Christian Bale is a, rightly, highly regarded actor. Aside from his infamous on set rants, he has turned in mesmerising performances in many films. One of his standouts of recent years was his Oscar winning turn in The Fighter as the real life Dick Eklund, substance abuser and trainer to Mark Wahlberg’s Micky Ward. Melissa Leo also garnered an Academy award for the same film, both were deserving of their accolades, but Wahlberg was equally as good in a less showy role. In fact you would be hard pressed to pick out a bad performance in that film.

   I’ll admit that The Fighter is probably not the best film to pick when speaking of the craft of acting. It is, after all, an incredibly well crafted film, where every element works. A better pick would be a soap opera or a made for television film. The expectation for these projects are different than those of a tentpole film. A made for television film especially, rarely raises the expectations of the watching audience. The actors, the ones we see in such fair, still have to give their all.

   It is the most public of jobs, on display for the entertainment and gratification of the masses, even when you do not necessarily believe in the material or agree with the story. Actors put themselves in the firing line. A bad film normally reflects badly on the actor, something Michelle Pfeiffer can attest to, as after her turn in the risible Grease 2 she did not work for two years.

   If it is not clear, I love actors. They bring the writer’s work to life and – more importantly – they live for that. The best ones, even the not so good ones, want to give a pleasing performance. They want to bring the character to life, they see things in the script that you may not of thought of, they bring perspective, they bring craft and caring. The rewards can be great, the success stories, the ones who light up our screens, these are the ones we hear about, the ones we see. So many, the vast majority, do it out of love, compelled to do it, ignoring the pragmatism of pursing a more amenable profession to do the one thing they feel they were born to do; act.

   Yet so many, the vast majority whose faces we may – sometimes – vaguely recognise, do it out of love, compelled to do it, ignoring the pragmatism of pursing a more amenable profession to do the one thing they feel they were born to do; act.

Guerilla – just don’t

Just to be clear, this is not a fair review of this programme. It is not fair because I found the programme so awful, that I could only manage to get through one episode of six. I started watching the second episode but had to switch off after twenty minutes. So, to be clear, I did not enjoy it.

    The programme I am speaking of is the much promoted and heralded Sky six-parter, Guerrilla. With the headliners being Idris Elba and Freida Pinto, advertising has, misleadingly, lead with their images. Perhaps Idris comes more to the fore in later episodes, but in the opening episode, it is Frida’s character that drives the story.

    So the story: Guerrilla tells the story of a group of militants who decide to free a political prisoner and wage war on the establishment after one of their friends is murdered by the police during a demonstration.

   We begin with Jas (Pinto) and her partner, Marcus (Babou Ceesay) visiting their activist friend, Dhari (Nathaniel Martello-White) in prison. Later they meet up with another couple, Julian (Nicholas  Pinnock) a peaceable activist, and his Irish girlfriend, Fallon (Denise Gough) and head to the pub. Elsewhere, Pence – played by Rory Kinnear, channelling his best Afrikaans accent for some unknown reason – is a policeman on a mission. He wants Julian dead and instructs officers to target him during an upcoming demonstration. During the demonstration, police plants make sure trouble starts. During the ensuing melee, the police beat Julian to death.

    An aside – as I write this I am trying to watch the second episode again. It is awful. Utter garbage.

    The fact that this is written by a black person is even more galling. John Ridley, off the back of the critically acclaimed 12 Years A Slave – once again I must admit I was not a fan of that either, though I did not hate it – is an American – and how it shows! – has already received some backlash for casting an Asian Indian, Pinto, in the lead role of a black activist drama, weakly offering that his own real life partner is of Asian descent and a strong woman! If we all decide to write dramas based on the people we like and admire, whilst using historical themes as our context, we can no doubt look forward to a version of Jews being liberated en masse by a black man because some well place writer totally knows a guy who would do that!

   If that was the only issue with this drama, it would be a minor one. An important one, but in the context of the sheer awfulness of the show, a minor one.  The sets are good and the clothing, though it would be a piss poor wardrobe department that could not recreate the seventies look with so much material and pictorial material available. The music? What the hell are they listening to?!I never such music in an English black household.

    Though actors are always struggling for work and black actors even more so, I can only believe that on seeing this, that there are many black actors who feel they dodged a bullet.

    I thought perhaps it was my age, as I was only a small child when this was set in the early seventies, but it is too terrible to be that. Ridley, for some reason known only to himself, decides that in the U.K.- in the early seventies – that Indian Asians, African blacks, West Indian blacks, Irish and Afro-Americans all hung out together, fighting against a near apartheid-like police force and their own liberal minded brethren!

   He introduces gun play – they can’t get any money together but they can get a gun?! – in the first episode. This is set in England! Nineteen seventies England! Gun was not easy to come by and if a black person had shot a white person of uniform – Marcus shoots an ambulance man – in the seventies, they would have called out the army!

   Now suffering episode three – oh god! – they are trying to mix with Marxist!

   This show is so mind-numbingly dreadful that I am struggling to find enough adjectives to describe it. It is meandering, cliched, indulgent, unbelievable, dreary, uninspired, mistaken and pointless. I really do not recommend this show, not even for curiosity value!

Artistic Borders

    Jules Winnfield, Zeus Carver, Mace Windu are all names that are familiar to film fans around the world. The Bible-quoting hitman, the reluctant, foul-mouthed, heroic, John McClane sidekick and the black Jedi. These characters, along with dozens – over one hundred – others, were brought to life by one man; Samuel L. Jackson.

   Samuel L. Jackson is one of the finest actors working today. He is also one of the hardest working having already appeared in over one hundred films with several either due to arrive in 2017 or slated for 2018. He is a man in demand. It was not always like that. Jackson achieved fame and acclaim late, not becoming well known until his mid-forties. A veteran of the business and having overcome substance abuse problems he had in younger years, Jackson wears his fame comfortably, exuding confidence and fulfilling the role of Samuel L. Jackson, movie star.

   Popular on both sides of the Atlantic, he is a regular in celebrity pages, on talk shows and in the press. He has talked of a love of golf, how seeing himself on screen is fantastic and fronted an important campaign highlighting awareness of testicular cancer. Jackson is no wallflower.

   Recently he has been in the press opining on the seemingly popular fad of casting black British actors for African-American roles. He asks, somewhat rhetorically, if African-American roles cannot be filled by African-American actors? Hmm. No doubt there are many African-American actors who, seeing the likes of David Oyelowo, Idris Elba, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Thandie Newton, John Boyega and most recently Daniel Kaluuya, have wondered what it is they have to do to be considered for such leading roles? Brush up on their English accents perhaps?

   Truth be told, Jackson’s comments are somewhat misguided considering his own situation. I doubt he is required to audition for the ‘Samuel L. Jackson’ like parts that are offered to him! Also in a country whose track record in race relations and African-American relations, in particular, is so poor, they still manage to have several notable figures who wield enough power and influence to not only get films made but bankroll them as well.

     With an entire network – BET: black entertainment television – dedicated to black televisual output as well as powerful producers and movers and shakers in entertainment, the avenues for black actors Stateside are many and varied, thus attracting talent from this side of the pond, where the opportunities for actors of colour are few and far between.

   Whereas the ‘Oscarssowhite’ hashtag was trending for the last couple of award ceremonies in the US, as actors of colour felt their contributions were being overlooked, here in Blighty such hashtags would be somewhat redundant as there is barely enough media featuring people or persons of colour to consider for awards.

   I suspect that Samuel had probably been hanging out with some of his lesser known black acting buddies and they got to whining about how them damn ‘Brits’ keep nabbing the plum roles. Samuel, being a good guy, felt that he could voice the concerns of some of his fellow black thesps, helping them out perhaps. He was wrong.

A Filmmaker’s Kind Of Movie – Locke

I was wanting to watch the movie ‘John Wick’, as it had not got much of a theatrical release here in Blighty, so checked to see when it was coming to one of the subscription services. Netflix and all the other streaming services had a date of February third. Brilliant, I’ve got Netflix, I thought, i’ll fire up that bad boy and enjoy one hundred minutes of action! Of course it was not available – damn you Netflix! – so I ended up watching ‘Locke’.

‘Locke’, as I say in the title, is not a film for everyone. The entire film is set in a car. There are no chases, crashes, flips or de’er doing of any kind. It is just the story of a good man who makes a life changing decision as the consequences of one night’s, long since passed, poor choice. It is Ivan Locke’s life unravelling. All set in a car.

Tom Hardy, the actor playing Locke, will never be a superstar. He will never open a film, because there is no ‘Tom Hardy’ film. That’s a good thing. In this film he is Ivan Locke. One never sees him as a character from any of his previous films, you just see the story of this man, Locke, on a fateful journey.

So why is this a filmmaker’s film? Even though the entire film takes place in the car, the camera work and editing is joyful. There are things that one may have read about or heard spoken of – the quadrant system as seen here –  the lighting, the overlapping edits, fades and of course, the script. This is not necessarily a big screen film, but, given the lack of physical action, it is still more than a stagy monologue. In fact on stage I suspect it would be quite flat. The fact that he is on a journey, the suddenness with which he has taken the decision and the impact it has on his life, make this a highly watchable film.

As I have mentioned, it is not for everyone, but, if like me, you want to be a filmmaker, this is one not to miss.

The Secret Service Of Seen It Before

Kingsman: The Secret Service is a peculiar film. Whilst highly enjoyable and well executed – by the ever reliable Matthew Vaughn – the story of a ne’er do well, diamond in the rough, London street youth, who is recruited to join the most secret of secret agent cabals, is entertaining yet immediately forgettable.

Taron Egerton –  posh playing street….irony? – plays Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin, a going off the rails, scallywag, whose father gave his life saving Colin Firth’s Harry Hart, a core member of the Kingsman. Hart, feeling guilty and indebted, takes Eggsy under his wing, offering him the chance to become a Kingsman. First he will have to pass the trials and beat out his rivals.

With this coming of age, finding-the-man-inside-the-boy story going on, there is also Samuel L Jackson’s Billionaire villain, Valentine to contend with. He has a plan to cull the planet, so as to save the planet.

The story is lightweight and a little nonsensical, not helped by an underwritten and frankly irritating villain. Samuel L Jackson plays the villain as a lisping, gregarious, violence averse, maniac. We never really care that he wants to destroy the planet, his argument for doing so seeming hollow, not even really believed by himself, which is the main problem. We do not believe Valentine as a megalomaniac.

Considering this comes from the usually highly reliable team of Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman, who brought us Kick-Ass and X-men: First Class, this is definitely below par. There is no point at which you believe that the Kingsman will not ultimately win. The film looks good, if a little CGI heavy – exploding heads? Really? – and Sofia Boutella as the lethal, Gazelle, wielding blades where her legs should be, is fabulous. The action sequences are expertly executed as well, especially the utter mayhem that is the church test!

KIngsman: The Secret Service, running at around one hundred minutes is entertaining enough and is not a terrible way to kill a couple of hours. The performances are all good, if, in some areas, a little underwritten (which I hate to say, as I am a fan of Vaughn and Goldman!)I know it is based on a comic, but I feel they could have done more with the characters. If they make a sequel – let’s wait for the numbers! – hopefully it will be a more cerebral effort and a little less comic show.

Never Work Again.

It is said that if you can find, do and get paid for what you love, you will never work again, the intimation being that you enjoy it so much it does not feel like work. Hmm. Envy is such an ugly emotion. Unfortunately, as magnanimous or blasé as one wants to be, there very little as an adult, competing with unknown peers, in this media rich, know-what-people-like-you are doing landscape, that is as envy inducing as encountering those people who have found their ‘passion’ in life. Especially if they have REALLY found it.

How is it that some people know what they want to do, in life, from the time they are nine or ten years old, yet many of us, decades into our working and, supposedly, experienced lives, still blunder about, hoping for a lottery win or an unusual turn of events? At various points in my life I have had notions of being; a graphic designer, a fashion designer, a clothing shop manager, a dancer, a singer( I was very young), a fighter(haha), fitness superstar – I do fitness but….- and an author. None pursued with any great gusto for various reasons, mostly because, for the most part, they seemed like a great idea at the time, then on reflection and investigation, not so much. Except for the writing.

I have always enjoyed writing, even when it has not  been very good or particularly interesting to anyone outside of myself. I’ve always enjoyed writing to be seen as well. It would be a lie to say I do not care if anyone reads this. If that was the case, it would be a diary! I write for, I hope, wider consumption. It is why I like film and television. It is why stories and documentaries bounce around in my head and I have the urge to put it down on paper and make a film or blog or story.

I understand, like anyone who writes a lot, that it is a hit and miss vocation. Very few have the talent or wit to write words that  every iteration is a gem or worth reading. We still do it; still make the films, write the stories, blogs, books. It is a passion. Admittedly it has not made me a brass farthing, so the notion of ‘never working again’ remains a distant one. Still I will keep writing, making films and planning, whilst spewing out the contents of my consciousness on the blogosphere, until hopefully I never work again.

Listed: Films I enjoyed in 2014

People love a list. Whether it is the order, the ease of information, or an OCD, general malaise, people love a list. People who write love a list more than most. When I speak of people who write, I mean fellow bloggers, journalist – ‘list’ is in their job! – and other sporadic scribes. The think about list is, once you begin to think of one it sparks tangents and makes writer’s block – argh! – a phantom fast fading. And so to my list. I had planned to make a ‘Top Ten’ of films of 2014, but quickly realised that though I had seen plenty of films in 2014, a lot of them were released before then. As I wracked my brain, trying to remember theatrical releases I had viewed, I noticed that, even though I had easily seen over ten 2014 films, several of them could not be categorised as films I enjoyed. That, of course, is another list. For now I will concentrate on, in no particular order, my favourite films of 2014.

1.) Guardians Of The Galaxy

The much anticipated, though not exactly well known, comic book adaption, hit the screens in late summer. A motley crew, pulled together by circumstances, as opposed to some over riding desire to fight for the greater good, GOTG made the likeable Chris Pratt a superstar. Playing the lead role of Peter Quill or the little known Starlord, he invested humour and dynamism into the character. Aided and abetted by the warrior alien Gamora, played with fierce gutso and  – more believe than her previous outings as a badass The Losers? Colombina? pur-leeze! – Zoe Saldana rocks as the literally green assassin. Dave Bautista, as Drax, finally gets a role that allows you to forget he use to be a wrestler. Vin Diesel uses his one line – ‘I am Groot.’ brilliantly. But Bradley Cooper gets a special mention for making a genetically modified racoon – that looks ridiculous written down! – utterly believable. GOTG is probably my favourite comic book film of 2014, high praise indeed when going to pick number…

2.) X-men: Days Of Future Past

I am a HUGE X-men fan. I collected the comics for years and am slightly protective of the ‘for cinematic purposes’ manipulation of the characters – it’s all wrong! Sorry. Anyway, like I say, I am a fan of the X-men. I loved Bryan Singer’s first two instalments, loathed the god awful Final Stand. Matthew Vaughan saved some face with the retro X-men: First Class. Great film, still wrong, but good film none the less. Allow me a moment of geeking out. In the comic of the same name, Day Of Future Past, the story was exactly the same. In a horrible future, mutants are hunted and slaughtered or captured by highly advanced robot sentinels. So I knew it was a solid story. In the comic, Kitty Pryde is sent back, but as the character is not established in film and Hugh ‘Wolverine’ Jackman is huge – though the second Wolverine film….yuk! – Wolverine is sent back in time.

Even though the story is the same, the fact that they decide to send back a different character instead of following the comic book, really works here. They do an absolutely brilliant – genius! – strand with the sentinels being organically adaptable in the future. This was a film that I was chomping at the bit to see and it did not disappoint. But as far as raising the bar goes, look no further than…

3.) Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Let me say right of the bat; Captain America: The Winter Soldier is awesome! I enjoyed the first outing, the establishing of the character and laying of the back story. No way did it prepare me for the epicness of the follow up! When this film flashed up on my subscription service, over the holidays, as being available for viewing, I rewatched it immediately. Over two hours long, it feels and moves like it is a ninety minute film. If you like comic book movies and have not seen this….what am I talking about? If you like comic book movies, you’ve seen this!

4.) Interstellar

Christopher Nolan. Jonathan Nolan. These boys know how to make a film. Obviously i am a fan of the Dark Knight trilogy, but my favourite Nolan film is Inception. In fact it was my favourite film of 2010, absolutely blew my mind. Interstellar comes pretty damn close. This is another film of massive scope and breathtaking execution. Like another space film before it – Gravity – it can only truly be appreciated on the big screen. Nolan makes eye popping, glorious, large scale, immersive, cinema films. Everything is big, close up, filling the screen. See it on the biggest screen you can.

5.) In Your Eyes

A bit of a curve ball  here. In Your Eyes tells the story of a man and woman from opposite sides of the USA who become psychically linked, thus able to observe each others life. This is not a film that got a theatrical release. By pure luck – well, stalking – my favourite film and television writer, Joss Whedon, let be known to his many psychotic fans, that he had penned a new film and left a link. I watched it and loved it. Starring one of my favourite quirky looking actresses, Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks is fantastic!) In Your Eyes is, for a linear film with conventional storytelling, unlike any other film I have ever seen.

6.) Edge Of Tomorrow

After Oblivion and the laugh-out-loud-for-all-the-wrong-reasons Jack Reacher, Tom’I’ll jump up and down on your sofa’Cruise was looking on the fast track to has-been-ville! Then came Edge Of Tomorrow. Playing a media consultant who finds himself reluctantly thrust into the armed forces and forced to defend the planet against an alien race, the Cruiser gets to play his best role since being a contract killer in Michael Mann’s Collateral. Ably supported and matched by the feisty Emily Blunt, Cruise shows humour, fear, desperation and the long missing star quality that had him dominating box office receipts for most of the nineties. If your not a Tom Cruiser hater – there are many – but have trepidation about seeing his films of late, I assure you, you will not be disappointed.

7.) The Grand Budapest Hotel
A late comer to my films of 2014 is the quirky Wes Anderson comedy tells the story of the exceptional concierge of The Grand Budapest Hotel, M Gustave, played quite brilliantly by Ralph Fiennes. It tells the story of how a grateful patron of the hotel leaves Gustave a priceless painting, much too the furious disappointment of her extended family. Thus follows a story that takes in a prison escape, the second world war, murder, romance, a monastery and priceless art. It looks beautiful, the story moves at a pace and the performances are superb. Definitely one to see of you have not.

8.) The Raid 2
After the kinetic, pulsating screen explosion of kicking and punching fury that was Gareth Evans’ announcement as a major filmmaker in The Raid, he brought out the sequel. As the initial film seemed entirely complete as a film and was such breath of fresh air in the genre of martial arts cinema, it was hard to see not only where Evans was going to go with a sequel, but how he was going to top the original. With this second film, buoyed by the success of the first, he had more money to work with and it shows. It looks fabulous, the sets are rich in colour and detail, a definite upgrade on the previous outing. The action is, as one would expect, bigger and more expansive. The story also works, involving more characters and higher stakes. Like the first film, The Raid 2 blitzes through ferocious action sequences and stunning violence, whilst still keeping an eye in the story. I would not say that the sequel surpasses the original, but it definitely matches it.

Oh Anna….

Anna Akana – – is an Asian actress, comedienne, and filmmaker with a channel on YouTube that has – including me – over one million subscribers. Her viewing figures are approaching the hundred million mark and she puts out opinionated and entertaining content on a regular basis.

Her monologues to camera, generally interspersed with snappy, comedic, skits are amusing and inspired. She tends to radiate a positive vibe, evident in most of her content output and monologues to camera.

As a fellow would-be filmmaker, I am a supporter of her works and enjoy many of her skits. Unfortunately, what I am not loving are her short films and it hurts me to say that! Let me first say, they are not terrible.

They do tend to be overly female-centric (she knows a lot of women!) and mildly dramatic. They are well shot, edited and framed. The acting is good, though – and I am no actor – the material does not give them enough to invest in, so they generally look as though they are acting.

Anna directs and mostly writes all of the films. She also tends to be in them; not always the star, but in them nonetheless. She also makes a LOT of films and content! In the past year alone she has made six shorts. Six. For anyone who makes films – especially as she also directs and appears in them – this is a lot, even if they are short films.

What is really disappointing is that pretty much every film is a good or great idea. I cannot help but feel that if she had taken more time to work on the scripts and explored the ideas further, she probably would have made a stronger, more resonant film by now.

My hope is that in 2015 she paces herself a bit more so that she might put out the great short film I am sure she is capable of creating.

Thank you ladies, thank you.

Only two weeks into my weekly review of random short films and I’m already thinking of branching out! This week I am reviewing/highlighting a YouTube video. Yes, I realise that technically most short films would also fall into this category, but this is not a short film. Nor is it – you’ll be happy to know – an “entertaining” funny vid. My review today is for an interview by THR (The Hollywood Reporter) of actresses. The round table – as they call it – had Oprah Winfrey(The Butler), Amy Adams(American Hustle), Octavia Spencer(The Help), Julia Roberts(Osage County), Emma Thompson(Saving Mr Banks) and Lupita Nyong’o(12 Years A Slave).
Though the gathering is set up as an interview and there are questions asked by the interviewers, mostly it is just these amazing actresses discussing their craft and eventually asking their own questions of one another. The other lovely thing is the obvious respect they had for each other, most having enjoyed the works of their peers over the years. Beside an interest in film and the celebrity persona, the lesson of watching this interview for any aspiring screenwriter, director, actor or actress is the insight into how much work being an actor/actress is. The perspective these actresses have on their careers; the roles they choose, the approach, the hurdles, the sacrifice, really show that this is a profession for those who love it. You cannot just like it and be a working actor or actress. This is a profession, an environment, for the committed only. Of course there is the odd person who gets ‘lucky’, but for the people who have careers, bodies of work, ‘lucky’ is not going to cut it.
The emotion and energy these ladies invest in their roles and then, as one forgets, the promotional work that follows taking a role, a film, literally takes over their lives for a period. The fact that they come over as levelled headed and humble and appreciate where they are and what it took to get them there, is a testament to their commitment, talent and courage. If you have any interest in film, watching this interview will open your eyes.

watch it here –

And because it is brilliant, inventive, and I wish I had written it!(Also feeling a little guilty for not actually reviewing a short!) Cat Jones ‘Flea’ – watch it. You’ll thank me.