It’s 2014 and at this point we’ve endured roughly thirteen years of Zach Braff in the public eye. But for a career nearing a decade and a half, Braff’s resume is pretty thin; dominated by Scrubs and Garden State, with a handful of voice roles, romcom leads and winky fanservice cameos (looking at you, Cougar Town). Perhaps this scarcity of involvement in, well, anything at all really, is the reason behind Braff’s Kickstarter pleas to help fund Wish I Was Here, his second feature film and maintain the final cut; apparently he doesn’t have £2 million of his own to throw at what is at best an ill-advised passion project and at worst, cinematic auto-fellatio forming some sort of un-aesthetically-pleasing twee ouroboros.
Wish I Was Here functions very much as a rejigged version of Braff’s first film. Instead of a down-on-his-luck struggling single actor, Braff now plays down-on-his-luck struggling married actor with kids Adian Bloom. Instead of stumbling across romance with a remarkably patient woman, he’s married to one (Kate Hudson). Instead of his mother dying, this time it’s the father stricken with terminal cancer (Mandy Patinkin). What we have here is Garden State 2: Garden Harder. Now far be it for me to criticise a writer/director revisiting the same themes in their work, but in Braff’s case it’s so blatant and feels so phoney, especially when the thing that kicks off the plot here is money troubles. When Aidan’s father reveals his battle with cancer is a losing one, and is choosing to stop paying for the expensive private yeshiva school Aidan and wife Sarah’s kids (Joey King of White House Down and Pierce Gagnon of Looper) attend in order to pursue experimental treatment, the family is forced to reconsider their options. Considering Sarah is the only breadwinner in a job she despises, whilst Aidan goes from failed audition to failed audition, the situation looks bleak. But for a multi-millionaire Hollywood resident like Braff, none of these things have really been a problem since the early ‘00s, making the film’s plot feel as hollow as one of those songs rock bands write about the trials of working-class life long after they’ve all moved to the city and formed drug habits.
Even worse is the fact these apparently insurmountable obstacles all kind of fade into the background and resolve themselves as Wish I Was Here trundles on. The money worries slip from focus, Aidan’s father shuffles off his mortal coil in remarkably peaceful fashion, his apparently eccentric and troublesome brother (played by Josh Gad, and who happens to be a blogger - who seemingly just makes lewd Twitter replies to Miley Cyrus - in the most unsubtle sly dig a creator has taken at their critics in recent memory) takes the news well and works through his other problems on his own, whilst Aidan’s supposedly unruly kids are only so when the script requires them to be and are easily fixed with disingenuous life lessons from pop.
As a director, Braff is solid but unremarkable, but the guy is clearly still stuck in the world of sitcoms as a writer - everything is played so broadly, whether it’s soul-searching in the wilderness or unnecessary quirkiness (cosplayers having sex in costume, sub-Scrubs fantasy cutaways, Rabbis on Segways) or tiresomely easy jokes. Wish I Was Here just straining so hard to be enlightening and feel-good; breathy recitals of Eliot and Frost poems, montages backed by indie-rock, fantastically terrible lines like “God can be whoever you want Him to be”, ironic slow-motion walks towards the camera… It’s no wonder Braff couldn’t get this thing funded through the regular channels without losing the final cut. I mean, props to him for having a vision and wanting to realise that fully without interference, but when two hours of film produce exactly two worthwhile moments - the major one being an early scene which finds Aidan at an audition for a minor TV part which has been recast for an African-American actor, with a waiting room of familiar faces like the late James Avery and Leslie David Baker (better known as Stanley from The Office), muttering banal dialogue to themselves; one complains that he once played Othello, another responds “We all did” - and one of which is the writer/director/star being punched in the face, the vision did not need to be realised.
Despite hailing from Bern, there’s very little about Silver Firs’ second EP that matches their home of Switzerland. Taking clear influence from African pop and the Soweto sounds that previously anchored Vampire Weekend, the four tracks on EP#2 are far warmer than its mountainous artwork would suggest; “Icarus” is infused with the spirit of so many beach sunsets, settling into a warm groove, highlighted by pinballing guitar riffs, whilst “Pendulum” swoons and sways further into a tropical feeling one would never imagine emanating from the Alps, but is totally befitting of the calm stillness so often associated with the area. As the EP closes out, “Heartland” adds some psychedelic darkness to the sextet’s palette and “Silent Rite” shimmers and shines with its stabs of synth lines and saxophone riffs, Silver Firs have marked themselves out as a potential indie-pop phenom.
Pop-punk is an odd phenomenon. When bands like Green Day and The Offspring broke big in the mid ’90s, there were legions of sneering punk purists waiting for the fad to fizzle out. Of course, it did, but once these giants of the genre started to fade away, a new crop of bands, led by Blink-182 and backed by major record labels, began to take their place on the cover of Kerrang! and on the walls of teenagers everywhere. When these bands started to lose face, Fall Out Boy and Panic! At the Disco took the ball and ran with it, adding eyeliner and melodramatic lyrics to pop-punk’s four-chord repertoire.
This cycle is likely to repeat forever, because, let’s face it; there is something intangible about pop-punk that appeals to every suburban outcast teenager. The latest pretenders to pop-punk’s paper crown are Gnarwolves, three skaters from Cornwall who have made a name for themselves through the good old fashioned method of touring their collective arse off. It seems to have paid off, as playing at every possible opportunity has caused their audience grow to the point where they are signed to Pure Noise Records and a spot at Reading festival. Could this, the band’s full length debut, be their Dookie or Enema Of The State?
Well, unfortunately for their bank balances, no. This is more of their Kerplunk! or their Buddah. Gnarwolves have not comprised the harder elements of their sound. Don’t get it twisted: Gnarwolves have evolved as songwriters, bringing some of their songs to an almost proggy three minutes, rather than their furious blasts of punk from before. But that big, chartbusting rock album sound is not where Gnarwolves are at now.
That is, of course, a good thing for fans of the bands previous material. Gnarwolves don’t stray far from the path that has brought them the smiling adulation of the UK’s small venue dwelling adolescents and 20-somethings that refuse to grow up. Gnarwolves prove that they have no intentions of shying away from the hardcore influences that made them such a thrilling live act, as the album opener “Prove It”, erm, proves, with its jolting blasts of distorted chords that kick into an appropriately speedy number about getting up off your arse and not complaining. This hardcore influence is perhaps most evident on the hidden track, which is colloquially known amongst the band as “The Hardcore Song”, and is essentially one long breakdown, but the influence is apparent throughout the rest of the album too. The whole of their debut is played at a ferocious pace, which very rarely pauses for thought, and breakdowns are plentiful.
Of course, Gnarwolves have never been a band that is likely to tell you that they “WANNNA SEE SOME PEOPLE MOVING!” in a stupid fake macho American accent. These Cornish punkers still wear their poppier influence like a badge of honour. Gnarwolves love to write a good hook, and they are abundant throughout this album. Perhaps this is most apparent on songs such as the pre-album single “Smoking Kills”, which contains not one, not two, but THREE refrains that rudely kick the doors of that part of your brain that remembers songs in and moves in for a good few days. Meanwhile, “Hate Me (Don’t Stand Still)” packs more memorable vocal melodies into three and a half minutes than some of most of the critically acclaimed albums of 2014 combined.
Perhaps the music is secondary in a lot of fans mind to the bands lyrics, which tackle every single problem involved with growing up and getting old. Yes, yes, there’s a prevailing sense of overcoming strife in the face of hopelessness, blah blah blah, but what is really amazing is that Gnarwolves have reduced these sentiments into easily shoutable slogans. This is not to discredit Thom Weeks as a lyricist: personally, I think good editing is a great skill to have, especially considering creative people’s predisposition to disappear up their own arse and get lost in metaphors that would make a GCSE poetry student cringe. For example, despite reams and reams having being previously written about using alcohol to escape your problems, nothing is more fitting with Gnarwolves “play it as fast and simply as you can” philosophy than “if we start drinking heavily, the walls might stop shrinking”. Meanwhile, the aforementioned single “Smoking Kills” gets to the root of the bands problems, when Thom declares “we are the product of a broken class but/we weren’t raised to be fucking morons”, which could perfectly sum up the thoughts of a generation trying to find a place for themselves in the midst of a recession.
Despite their lyrics pissed off and often despondent nature, Gnarwolves aren’t exactly advocating Sid Viscious style nihilism: in fact, they put people who give up firmly in their place on “Prove It”, with lines such as “By all means be a slob, lie around and quit your job/life goes on regardless of your protesting that it does”. It is completely unsentimental, but it exactly what tonnes of kids who have had their dreams shafted in the wake of mistakes made by people old enough to know better need to hear.
In all honesty, there isn’t a lot to say about this music (frankly, you’re a sucker for reading a thousand words about it). It’s simple, to the point, and doesn’t stray too far from the beaten path that was laid out in the 1980s. The thing is, Gnarwolves do what they do very, very well, and are far more deserving pretenders to the pop-punk throne than a whole shedload of other bands that lack the grit to warrant the “-punk” suffix. Gnarwolves have captured the angst of growing up in a raw way that relates more to early Blink and the Descendents than most of the tired old ’90s bands who continue to sing about teenage angst well into their 40s. Ultimately, if you don’t like pop-punk for what it is, this won’t change your mind – but if you do, to use an old cliché, this band could be your life.
It was during San Diego Comic-Con 2012 that Guardians Of The Galaxy was announced. Alongside Marvel Studios’ reveals of the then-upcoming sequels Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Thor: The Dark World, this third announcement came as a total surprise. The logo and concept art of the titular Marvel C-listers was baffling to many, who had expected a safer bet in the comic book giants’ expansion of their cinematic universe; the various iterations of the Guardians have by no means been a big name in comic books at large. Their inclusion in Marvel’s ever-expanding plans delighted fans of the colourful worlds of cosmic comics, but it seemed a risky play nonetheless. How on earth could a talking tree and a bipedal raccoon win over the movie audience, the majority of which had never picked up a comic book?
Yet here we are, two years later and the James Gunn-directed movie is a smash hit critically and commercially, beyond even the most positive of expectations. Groot and Rocket Raccoon are household names. The soundtrack went to Number 1 in the Billboard 200. The characters and stories that were previously locked away in the oft-esoteric world of comic books are everywhere, and more popular than ever. I’m a comic book reader through-and-through, yet prior to the 2012 announcement I had never read any of the Guardians titles, excluding the occasional crossover issue during a larger event. I began to read the comics, the eventual trailers got me excited, yet I went into the cinema still feeling unconvinced. I have to admit I hated Iron Man 3 with a passion, and I feared the same brand of unrelenting, hollow one-liners would weigh this movie down. However, my uncertainty quickly evaporated, and by about halfway through the film I was in love.
A short, emotionally charged opening scene of childhood trauma and alien abduction is the only real “origin story” we’re offered - and that’s the story of our primary protagonist, earthling Peter Quill, or “Star-Lord”, as he calls himself. That’s a huge breath of fresh air in this film - the Guardians aren’t grounded by the same untouchable lore as characters like Batman or Spider-Man. This lets the film move at breakneck pace, introducing each new character with the zany abandon. World-building is established in the background, quickly revealed in a sentence. We’re there, we’re on an adventure, we’re not spoon-fed exposition. Here’s a talking raccoon with a gun, his buddy is a tree. Enjoy.
The entire roster is likeable, fascinating and dynamic. Chris Pratt excels as the charismatic, cocky and hilarious Star-Lord, channelling Indiana Jones and Marty McFly in equal measure. Zoe Saldana’s Gamora is badass, a character filled with conflict between the cold ways of her “father” Thanos (a cameo from Josh Brolin) and the warmth of new friendship. Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel are fantastic as the weirdest members of the group, the mo-capped Rocket Raccoon (just called ‘Rocket’ in the film) and Groot, respectively; Cooper hits some brilliant emotional notes as the bitter escapee biological experiment, and Vin Diesel brings us the most loveable and kind-hearted tree of 2014 with just three words. Finally, we have the character I was the least optimistic about, but enjoyed the most. Former WWE champion Dave Bautista is hilarious as Drax the Destroyer, a muscle-bound behemoth with some of the best laughs in the film and a touching moment of compassion in the finale.
However, in terms of villains, the film could do better. Lee Pace is a great physical threat as Kree zealot Ronan The Accusor, but both he and Karen Gillan’s Nebula are rather generic villains, luckily balanced out by an utterly brilliant antihero - space-redneck (technically blueneck) pirate Yondu, played wonderfully by previous Gunn collaborator and former Walking Dead star Michael Rooker.
To be honest, it’s difficult to be critical of a film where I spent 90% of the running time grinning like an idiot. It’s colourful, it’s imaginative, and it’s good-hearted. It really felt like a film that will be remembered as a classic among bombastic space operas, rather than a dreary, needless, entirely commercial expansion of a Disney property (Thor: The Dark World, I’m looking at you). This is how you make a comic book movie full of weird characters - you play it straight. This is the secret of Guardians Of The Galaxy’s resounding, unlikely success. It doesn’t downplay anything, it doesn’t aim for “grittiness” or “realism”; it instead embraces the “comic book” part of “comic book movie”. I can only hope that the sequel knocks it out of the park again, and we get another soundtrack this great. Now I need to listen to “The Piña Colada Song” again.
Colin Farrell Confirmed As Lead For True Detective Season Two: Aaaand we’re off, folks! After a good four months or so of rumours, we’ve finally the first official casting announcement for one of the four lead roles in season two of everyone’s favourite bleakly existential and slightly gothic crime show. Colin Farrell’s name had long been in the mix, but the actor confirmed his casting in Irish paper The Sunday World, saying:
I’m doing the second series. I’m so excited…I know it will be eight episodes and take around four or five months to shoot. I know very little about it, but we’re shooting in the environs of Los Angeles which is great. It means I get to stay at home and see the kids.
With the In Bruges star’s involvement certain, will confirmation of either Vince Vaughn or Taylor Kitsch’s casting be far behind? Both actors were often rumoured in the same sentence as Farrell, so you’d imagine those rumours now look very likely. Neither actor’s name will quite inspire the show’s fans, but then again neither did the announcement of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson last year, and look how that turned out. Farrell & Kitsch would play two of the detectives investigating “the bloody murder of a corrupt city businessman found dead the night before a major transportation deal” and Vaughn would play a shady businessmen at the centre of the corruption.
The least certain role is that of the season’s female lead and third detective. Early buzz hinted at Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss, who has since refuted the claims in recent interviews. Last week The Wrap reported that there are seven actresses in the running for the part: Jessica Biel, Brit Marling, Oona Chaplin, Kelly Reilly, Malin Ackerman, Jaime Alexander, and Rosario Dawson, but gave Farrell’s Alexander co-star Dawson the upper hand. When looking at the role’s description - “a Monterey sheriff with a troubled past that has led her to a gambling and alcohol addiction” - Dawson certainly seems the most likely and capable pick of the bunch.
No word on when the season will air on HBO. One would imagine early in 2015 like its predecessor, but from whispers online and Farrell’s words above, it could very well end up moving to summer.
I like to have people be able to form their own opinion as to what it means and have their own ideas about things. But at the same time, no one, to my knowledge, has ever seen the film the way I see it. The interpretation of what it’s all about has never been my interpretation.
Despite no cinematic plans for the forseeable future, David Lynch has still been doing the media rounds this summer for the release of the Twin Peaks: The Complete Mystery boxset, and in an interview with Vulture, the bequiffed auteur still isn’t offering any clues about his 37-year old mindbending masterpiece Eraserhead.
The closest we’ve ever come to a definitive interpretation from the man himself came from his autobiography-cum-self-help book Catching The Big Fish:
Eraserhead is my most spiritual movie. No one understands when I say that, but it is.
Eraserhead was growing in a certain way, and I didn’t know what it meant. I was looking for a key to unlock what these sequences were saying. Of course, I understood some of it; but I didn’t know the thing that just pulled it all together. And it was a struggle. So I got out my Bible and I started reading. And one day, I read a sentence. And I closed the Bible, because that was it; that was it. And then I saw the thing as a whole. And it fulfilled this vision for me, 100 percent.
I don’t think I’ll ever say what that sentence was.
What a tease.
Hector And The Search For Happiness is a non-Cornetto Trilogy, non-franchise Simon Pegg film, so conventional wisdom would say it’s likely not good. Conventional wisdom is entirely correct. Pegg’s career choices away from the sweet embrace of Edgar Wright and JJ Abrams have not exactly set the world alight. Tending towards unchallenging light comedy roles and voice acting, he’s cemented his place as a go-to everyman in spite of being an actor of fine talent and wide range. Perhaps the sheer awfulness of Hector And The Search For Happiness might be a wake-up call to branch out a little more.
Hector is yet another “wealthy white person travels to find themselves” film, joining the interminable likes of Eat, Pray, Love and The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, using countries and cultures and people around the world as “exotic” window-dressing for a mid-life crisis of a milquetoast psychiatrist. As Hector decides his affluent Thames-side life and successful relationship aren’t enough for him to feel fulfilled, he jets across the globe in search of self-discovery. First to China to party with a loaded business man (Stellan Skarsgård) and a suspiciously affectionate local woman (Ming Zhao), then a non-specific African nation to help out in a village hospital and befriend a drug lord (Jean Reno), and on and on. As he goes, he notes down realisations about life and everything in it in a journal (dotted with frequently-animating cutesy drawings and doodles) which border on fortune cookie level of bland. “Avoiding unhappiness is not happiness”, “Listening is loving”, “People who are afraid of death are afraid of life”, “Sometimes happiness is not knowing the full story”; not even the worst Disney output descends to this level of cod-philosophical aphorism. That last bon mot is particularly awful as it comes when Hector discovers that his Chinese crush is in actuality a high-end call girl with a decidedly shitty life. So the only lesson this 40-something manchild takes away from the situation is that it sucks someone was paid to like him for a night…
Quite what persuaded a roster of acting talent like Pegg, Pike, Toni Collette, Skarsgård, Reno, and Christopher Plummer to partake in this empty soul-searching wank is beyond me. It’s poverty tourism writ large, insultingly insinuating that people who struggle and survive in non-white, non-western places somehow hold the big secret to happiness. African villages and Tibetan monasteries don’t exist to inspire bring meaning to the life of some guy who makes more in a year than they will in a lifetime, but apparently when presented in a bargain-bin cinematic parable, that’s okay. If there’s one saving grace, it’s the women of the film who’re actually given characters; namely Hector’s partner (Pike) and his ex (Collette). Both tear Hector a new one for being so idiotic in his “quest” and adequately sum up every problem an audience could have with this feckless manchild. However Pike’s ridiculously tolerant girlfriend is basically what misogynists think is a male fantasy brought to life (webcam conversations in lingerie, orgasming punctually during sex, no interest in marriage or children - which is apt as she basically serves as Hector’s mother figure too, packed lunch and all) which unfortunately negates any positives of her character.
After reaching some remarkably affecting emotional depths in The World’s End, it’s genuinely baffling that Pegg could pull such a 180° turn and make something so shallow and reductionary.
Yeah - Nic Cage came back one day on set, and he came down to set and he looked a little bit tired, a little bit - kind of like he’d been up all night. So I was like “Hey Nic man, how you doing man?” and he said “I’m alright’ and I said “You seem a little spooked out” and he said “Yeah man, I went up to Dracula’s castle…the ruins up in the mountains, and I stayed the night” and i said “What?! Why?” and he said “I just had to channel the energy, and it was pretty spooky up there.” We were shooting in Romania, Transylvania, and he just went up there to spend the night, as you do.
And then he walked away.
True story.Idris Elba's AMA on Reddit yesterday provided us with an excellent Nic Cage story which won’t surprise anyone even remotely familiar with Nic Cage.