Archive for Film

James Gandolfini and divas

James Gandolfini has passed away at the age of just 51, and I’m trying to work out why I have been so moved by the death of a total stranger.  It’s partly because he played the toughest of roles, Tony Soprano, with a thoughtfulness and compassion beyond almost any other actor of his or any other generation. Maybe it was the gay hitman he played in The Mexican, an otherwise bland film, where you found yourself rooting for him to be happy. Of course, there is also something unbearably sad about the passing of someone who, through his performances, gave so much to so many.

But I don’t think it’s either of those.  I think it’s because of the sheer humility of his path to the top.  Like many in his profession, he grafted in low paid jobs for years before getting his casting in The Sopranos, a casting which by several accounts was a very great risk.  They could easily have hired someone better known, or conventionally better looking.  But they went for him because, despite everything against him, he was the best.

James Gandolfini was a true artist.  And when I say that, I mean that his primary joy came from the work.  To him, the craft was first.  We artists live in an age – maybe we have always been in such an age – where we are continually reminded that, in order to be successful, we must be pushy and ruthless and overbearing and aggressive.  And, whenever many of us are told such things, we quietly think “but can’t my work just speak for itself?  If I produce work of sufficient beauty, won’t that alone make me shine”?

That’s why James Gandolfini was and will forever remain such a wonderful example.  From the accounts and anecdotes emerging today, he was a warm and humble man who made the very best of his talent.  He reminds us, vitally, that it’s possible to make it all the way, and not be a brute or a diva.   We are so often told that an artist’s work should be viewed separately from their personal life, that how they treated others has no bearing on their legacy, but I have always disagreed with that.  My greatest inspirations have always been artists whose gifts and achievements were matched only by their sense of humanity, which is why I think I will always have Kurt Vonnegut on a pedestal.  For his work, and the life that he led, it looks like Gandolfini should be on one too.

An Open Letter to Christopher Nolan, re: Transformers

Dear Mr. Nolan,

Please please please please reboot the Transformers franchise.  I realise that you are a very busy man and that you probably get countless requests from earnest fanboys wishing that you would breathe life into their favourite dramatic concepts but I can assure you that this request is different.  Well, OK, maybe it is not different but please hear me out.

Transformers were my favourite toys for years.  In Hasbro’s glory days, they were the best-selling gifts in the UK for seven Christmases straight.  Now they are on the big screen, where they find themselves secondary to the screen romance of Shia LeBoeuf and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.

Transformers, as an idea, is one of the best things there is.  It’s a fantastic allegory for what artificial intelligence might one day be like.  You see, so many writers envisage a time where robots rule over humans, where they will establish dominion over their creators in the same way that our empires subjugate others today.  Very few writers conceive of a time where there might be robots who, despite their intellectual and physical supremacy over us, might just choose – within the vast range of possibilities offered by robotic free will – to like us, and work with us.

However Michael Bay, the director who oversaw the three recent big budget films, turned Transformers into a parody of itself.  The plots had all the lightness and subtlety of a grand piano being pushed off an office-block.  They may have taken billions at the box office and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Megan Fox may have graced the sweaty dreams of many millions of men and women worldwide but, my God, they missed an open goal here.

We live in a time when human beings are building an artificial brain, where there seems to be a new algorithm poking its nose into our business each time we make a web search, and where our phones are so sure that they know best what we need that they have now started talking to us.

The time for a reboot is now. The Transformer series, just like Batman when you took it under your wing, has reached its lowest ebb.  The final film, Dark of the Moon, featured bad accents and Orientalist stereotypes and nauseating frat-boy office culture.  It is Batman and Robin with robots.  In fact, it might be nice if you could have a chat with Christian Bale, in case he’s kicking his heels. I think you two could really knock this out of the park.  Something dark, majestic and terrifying, where the first half-hour of the first film is a rainswept urban scene after nightfall.  I’ve seen this in my head a thousand times and I – ah, I’m sorry.  I’m doing that fanboy thing again.

Anyway, I just thought I’d ask, given that you seem to have managed making box-office smashes that don’t dumb it down.  Hope you have a great 2013, and I look forward to seeing what you do next.


With best wishes,

Musa Okwonga

P.S. I, ah, really liked Bane’s jacket in The Dark Knight Rises, if you could let me know who made it that would be awesome.