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October 31, 2021

Twenty One’s Gone Wrong

Don’t let the title mislead you. It wasn’t all a hot mess. The vaccination roll-out has allowed more shops and borders to reopen. In my corner, “Animating and Drawing etc” is exactly what the Doctor ordered.

February was off to a good start when a birthday message video made by fans in 2020 finally reached Peter Capaldi who took some time to respond to each contributor, such as:

“Lucy, in the UK, I haven’t seen you in a while. I hope things are going well with your animation and drawing etc. Please keep it up.”

As small a gesture as this was, getting a booster shot of encouragement from one of my favourite actors meant so much to me.

Since then I continued creating while staying mindful of the tasks at hand and the amount of sleep required to avoid burnout. Despite receiving the second dose of Pfizer just after my birthday, I was risking Covid for my passions beyond the desk.

In July I went back to London for the first time since December 2019. It was like I never left! Covent Garden and St James Park welcomed me with open arms and paws. At one point I even got as close as possible to the Euro 2020 Semi Final action.

Constellations at the Vaudeville was fun times, as Peter and Zoë Wanamaker worked their multiversal magic together. Theirs was one of four double acts performing the show over the summer, playing the same couple exploring the many possible outcomes in their budding romance, resulting in some bittersweetness. What a thrill to experience live theatre again. So many emotions. Terrific set design too, with striking use of lighting and balloons.

At stage door I thanked Peter for giving me hope, something to look forward to, and making the pandemic bearable. “Well,” he giggled, “it’s what we do, we have to keep at it.” He is so gracious but was legit concerned for everyone’s safety. His performances wrapped up the following Saturday without a single infection, as far as I know, so that’s good! He now also owns a copy of Moon Man, the charity fan art zine initiated by rathzem.com, as I had a spare saved for him.

The star man also had a big comic book movie around the corner. He’s the Thinker in The Suicide Squad – despite being a standout and James Gunn confirmed his role was “big”, he’s barely in the film compared to the rest of the ensemble but looks like he was a having a jolly good time being an evil geniussss. And he bosses every moment, especially in the meatier deleted scenes (bonus content). My reservations about Peter’s limited screen time and bald head aside, the film literally throws you right in there with equal amounts of spectacle, banter, fun visuals, oozing flesh wounds and heart. I’d say it’s DCEU’s best since The Dark Knight and Shazam!

I wanted to share it with a big audience on opening day… but I got pinged. After isolating for five days I managed to catch it at a Saturday matinee. There were just a handful of folks sat at the back.

Three months later…

Covid be damned as I was eager to immerse myself in the full uninterrupted cinematic experience at the BFI London Film Festival. Everyone had the same idea as the website crashed when member tickets went on sale. There are only enough mad dashes to Victoria and late night cabs I can take, so I missed Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog and Mamoru Hosoda’s Belle. But I did catch other new movies’ UK debuts, along with audiences across all age groups and the talent who made them. It was also a chance to observe how much my tastes have changed.

Being back at BFI felt like a warm hug.

The girl in the red dress is Bronte Carmichael – Madeline in Christopher Robin. She voiced the title character in Robin Robin, the Aardman/Netflix 30 minute animated musical, about a robin raised by mice. How appropriate! Instead of using clay, the team used felt materials to emulate the look of woodland creature Christmas ornaments. The techniques give so much life and warmth and terror to the characters, amongst them are a lonely magpie and a menacing moggy. Even the water is felt. Charm central.

My next movie was Ron’s Gone Wrong, aaaaand that was an hour and a half I may never get back… I’m referring to the gap between the two family premieres, during the lunch break that was spent in the shadow of the Royal Festival Hall watching the red carpet from high above trying to identify guests. Soon it was time to head into the Southbank Centre.

Before the key crew plus voice actor Kylie Cantrall introduced the film, the crowd was warmed up by a music video of # Sunshine on the film’s soundtrack. Alan Yentob was looking for his seat. When prompted everyone turned to see singer Liam Payne perched on the higher side stalls like he was a prince.

I went along with it sort of ironically, but he used to be in one of the biggest boybands in the world and I had a soft spot for them back in the day! Now I’m going to sound salty but in hindsight, as the days are getting shorter, I’d have opted for real sunshine.

But Locksmith Animation’s debut feature is still good fun. Following her success with Arthur Christmas 10 years ago, Sarah Smith co-wrote this picture with Peter Baynham and directed with Jean-Phillipe Vine and Octavio E Rodriguez. The hardest lesson they all learned was that the words “Gone Wrong” in the title of any film would jinx not only the production, but… everything else.

In collaboration with DNEG, the animation has super Pixar-quality rendering, considering it was made here in the UK and Disney/20th Century financed it. Visually is it on par with The Mitchells vs the Machines? I can’t say, but it’s held together by appealing character work and a witty script that makes light of the pros and cons of modern technology, such as online security being tampered with through AI smart devices. Think Big Hero 6 meets Her and Eighth Grade. Or The Social Dilemma for kids.

Young wallflower Barney might have pulled the short straw with his own faulty Bubble Bot – the love child of EVE and BMO – but he slowly embraces its glitchy imperfections, then cracks the code on real friendship. It’s as all-singing all-dancing as every other B*Bot, just wired differently in its function. So as a neurodivergent I connected to it on that level.

Now on to a proper nostalgic Saturday night at the movies, as the gala screening of Last Night in Soho was billed as.

Because this was an Edgar Wright picture I was expecting Simon Pegg to attend but saw no sign of him. I did however spot Guy Garvey with Rachael Stirling (it was her mother Dame Diana Rigg’s final film), and encounter Bridgerton’s Duke of Hastings.

With his buddies he sat on the same row as me. Don’t ask me how. In the spring I put Regé-Jean Page in one of my DECT films. I drew him as of the background characters, a star dressed in a blue suit. In real life, he wore a blue/navy shirt at the gala! What are the odds?

So Edgar Wright, co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns, the production team and some of the cast including Matt Smith (who’s not the only Doctor attending the festival) unveiled a truly original time travel thriller. The opening sequence sets the tone perfectly for a 60s homage, as Eloise prepares to head to the city to study fashion design, zoning in on the swinging decade.

Edgar’s always committed to the attention to detail, the needle drops, and turning genre on its head with genius editing and twists. There are even flashes of Shaun of the Dead with some ghoulish elements. Shot just across the river from this venue, all is not as it seems in past and present as everything slowly descends into a neon nightmare.

Back to reality…

The word nightmare is uttered too many times for me to stand. Between the London trips it was a gruelling week for I was juggling Inktober prompts (lagging behind, gave up), multiple projects, Covid tests and potential symptoms (negative) and reeling from all the back to back cross country travelling and crowd mixing. London is like surfing huge waves; I was losing my grip.

But keeping my head above water was the sweet tune of # St Christopher. From Peter’s upcoming album, the single was available to stream/download on the same day as his film’s LFF special presentation at Curzon Mayfair.

My zero chill day went by surprisingly quickly – I stayed in St James Park to witness a period drama for Netflix being filmed, after I was held up by a horse guard parade. On route to the venue I caught Peter’s pre-recorded interview on BBC 6 Music. That was my warm up.

The presentation at the art house was more low key than the galas, but Benediction generated quite a buzz at Toronto International Film Festival. All its London screenings were sold out.

It is a beautifully-directed anti-war biopic of Siegfried Sassoon. It took Terence Davies 5-6 years to develop; the first lockdown halted the Midlands-based shoot. He rewards us with an involving queer love story that’s a masterclass of acting, understated throughout yet several images pack quite a punch. It was a fantastic way to end my time at the festival in style.

But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a Bo Burnham moment.

Back in April I surprised my sister with a birthday meal at the first Last Friday street food gathering in over a year. Suddenly she felt out of her element, trembling; the pandemic messed with everybody, and now in the middle of October it was affecting me! My vulnerabilities were exposed. The smells and sounds of the Big Smoke were overwhelming. Binge-watching Squid Game must be more relaxing!

So it was nice to dive into something less chaotic and more introspective, yet never maudlin – it cracked a few smiles and not once did it ever feel like over 2 hours. The poet Sassoon, having fought at the Front, is disillusioned with the military, showing enormous compassion for the fallen and wounded. After the quitting the service he’s admitted to a psychiatric hospital, treated for “shell shock”. In a non-linear structure, transitioning with some often dreamlike effects, the film traverses his relationships with his contemporaries and his own family, culminating in a powerful ending I was completely floored by.

Jack Lowden and Peter played the same character across his adult lifetime, channelling fury and regret below the surface. They joined Terence and producer Mike Elliot for a Q&A panel after the credits rolled. I decided to speak up about the way NHS keyworkers were treated by today’s government, notably with weekly applause and a small pay rise.

What I should have said was, “did you notice parallels between WW1 and current events after watching the film?”

But on the spot I said a jumble of words and “when you read the script [was it intended] for this message to be reflective of current times?” Didn’t help that the mic was loud. What followed was a rumble of laughter…

But by now I’ve processed that no one was judging me or my rusty public speaking skills. The audience was laughing at the panel’s reaction; Peter’s long pause seemed to scream “that is a lot to unpack”. They wrestled with it but answered so eloquently.

Jack: “[…] I wasn’t aware at all during the making of the film the context of the world… of course you’re sat in your trailer or afterwards, aware of what was going on but […] because the film was written before the pandemic, I don’t think the film was made to be any great comment on what was then happening in the world. I think if anything, that is what happens all the time – when you make a film it’s that it then ends up being something that’s completely out of your control and people read into something that you weren’t even aiming for, which makes an absolute mockery of the film industry in the first place. Speaking as an actor as well if you’re going for a sort of meaning or mood but people think you’re sort of fun and cuddly, it’s kind of the same thing I’d imagine making the film, so no, I don’t think that was in our minds.”

Peter: “Yeah I think Jack’s right. As an actor you just try and do the bits you were doing. You just try and have it that space, until the bit of story you’re responsible for telling in that scene, and what other people make of it is up to them really.”

Pleased that it wrapped up in time for the trip home, I had just enough time to greet them, feeling the need to apologise for my awkwardly worded question. They were in good spirits all evening and dismissed any faults in my communication. “That was good, it’s a thinker!” said Jack.

I also told Peter I was nervous about coming to the event as it had been a long day but loved his soothing new record – “aww I’m glad you do, that’s so lovely!” Telling him personally that # St Christopher was my jam must have been the icing on the cake for him. It was as if his heart was going to burst and all the Capalfetti would have to be cleaned off the seats.

Yet all the emotions and thoughts weighing on me will linger over winter. Nothing bad happened, heck there wasn’t even an anticlimax. I’m still recovering from the sensory overload, the minefield of infections, wrong choices, social anxiety, and rejection from ScreenSkills’ Trainee Finder.

Now I’m reluctant to start or overindulge in anything without fearing it could be a waste of time or go wrong. I’ve never had this level of burnout in a while, and I’m not even on the frontline! This must be a delayed reaction from the pandemic. In the heat of the moment my nerves got the better of me.

Storms don’t last forever though – there will always be rainbows and gelato on the other side.

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Ay Corona!